Doesn't Carbon Dating Prove the Earth Is Old? | The Institute for Creation Research

Doesn't Carbon Dating Prove the Earth Is Old?

Perhaps no concept in science is as misunderstood as "carbon dating." Almost everyone thinks carbon dating speaks of millions or billions of years. But, carbon dating can't be used to date either rocks or fossils. It is only useful for once-living things which still contain carbon, like flesh or bone or wood. Rocks and fossils, consisting only of inorganic minerals, cannot be dated by this scheme.

Carbon normally occurs as Carbon-12, but radioactive Carbon-14 may sometimes be formed in the outer atmosphere as Nitrogen-14 undergoes cosmic ray bombardment. The resulting C-14 is unstable and decays back to N-14 with a measured half-life of approximately 5,730 years. Thus the ratio of stable C-12 to unstable C-14, which is known in today's open environment, changes over time in an isolated specimen.

Consider the dating of a piece of wood. As long as the tree lives, it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, both C-12 and C-14. Once the tree dies, it ceases to take in new carbon, and any C-14 present begins to decay. The changing ratio of C-12 to C-14 indicates the length of time since the tree stopped absorbing carbon, i.e., the time of its death.

Obviously, if half the C-14 decays in 5,730 years, and half more decays in another 5,730 years, by ten half-lives (57,300 years) there would be essentially no C-14 left. Thus, no one even considers using carbon dating for dates in this range. In theory, it might be useful to archaeology, but not to geology or paleontology. Furthermore, the assumptions on which it is based and the conditions which must be satisfied are questionable, and in practice, no one trusts it beyond about 3,000 or 4,000 years, and then only if it can be checked by some historical means.

The method assumes, among other things, that the earth's age exceeds the time it would take for C-14 production to be in equilibrium with C-14 decay. Since it would only take less than 50,000 years to reach equilibrium from a world with no C-14 at the start, this always seemed like a good assumption.

That is until careful measurements revealed a significant disequalibrium. The production rate still exceeds decay by 30%. All the present C-14 would accumulate, at present rates of production and build up, in less than 30,000 years! Thus the earth's atmosphere couldn't be any older than this.

Efforts to salvage carbon dating are many and varied, with calibration curves attempting to bring the C-14 "dates" in line with historical dates, but these produce predictably unreliable results.

A "Back to Genesis" way of thinking insists that the Flood of Noah's day would have removed a great deal of the world's carbon from the atmosphere and oceans, particularly as limestone (calcium carbonate) was precipitated. Once the Flood processes ceased, C-14 began a slow build-up to equilibrium with C-12—a build-up not yet complete.

Thus carbon dating says nothing at all about millions of years, and often lacks accuracy even with historical specimens, denying as it does the truth of the great Flood. In reality, its measured disequilibrium points to just such a world-altering event, not many years ago.

* Dr. John Morris is President of ICR.

Cite this article: Morris, J. 1998. Doesn't Carbon Dating Prove The Earth Is Old? Acts & Facts. 27 (6).

The Latest
NEWS
Inside December 2021 Acts & Facts
How can we understand Christ’s role as our mediator from a scientific perspective? Why was ICR's first dinosaur excavation significant for...

APOLOGETICS
Christ’s Providence Is Clearly Seen in Bird Migrations
Just as monkeys can’t accidently type Shakespeare texts, birds can’t migrate by evolutionary luck, despite imagined eons of time for “lucky”...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Snowflakes
by Christy Hardy and Susan Windsor* You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation with...

ACTS & FACTS
The Gift of God Himself
Each Christmas we remember how deeply God loves us. His wondrous plan of salvation—first set in motion in the Garden of Eden—was miraculously...

ACTS & FACTS
Early Land Plant Evolution?
In a recent Science article, two evolutionists consider land plants (embryophytes) to have evolved from stoneworts (charophyte algae).1 A...

ACTS & FACTS
Biblical Creation and Intellectual Foolishness
In a recent interview discussing his new book In Quest of the Historical Adam, philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig acknowledged his...

ACTS & FACTS
Are Birds “Cousins” to Reptiles?
Are today’s birds genealogical “cousins” to today’s reptiles due to a shared evolutionary ancestry? No. However, birds and...

ACTS & FACTS
Haleakala National Park: One of Many Young-Looking Volcanoes
You can start the day atop the cold peak of Mt. Haleakala and end it on a warm beach on Maui. The sprawling volcanic mountain rises 10,000 feet above...

ACTS & FACTS
The Oceans Point to a Young Earth
by Jeffrey P. Tomkins, Ph.D., and Tim Clarey, Ph.D.* Over 70% of Earth's surface is covered by water, most of which is marine and contained in...

ACTS & FACTS
Jesus Christ Is Our Perfect Mediator
We’ll never get bored throughout eternity. There is always something wonderfully new to learn about our precious Lord Jesus, the uplifting Holy...