Mythical Creation Science: Part 2 Doesn’t Carbon-14 Disprove The Bible?

Mythical Creation Science: Part 2 Doesn’t Carbon-14 Disprove The Bible? October 15, 2015

WhenCowsKidsCollideby Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows & Kids Collide

(You can read Part 1 here)

In the previous post in this series, I gave a lengthy, but hopefully accessible overview of how radioactive dating work using carbon-14 dating (also referred to as radiocarbon dating).

At the end, I pointed out two scientific and mathematic points that YEC supporters neglect to bring up:
1) In YEC, the earth is 6,000 years old.  This means that all radiocarbon dating should give us an age of 1.04 half-lives or less.  (Because I’m sporting, I’ll spot them 1,100 years and extend the half-life limit to 1.25 half-lives or 7,143 years and 9 months.)

2) The ratio of C-14 to C-12 in the atmosphere right now is 1 C-14 atom for every 1,000,000,000 C-12 atoms or 1 C-14: 1 trillion C-12 atoms.  To “fake” or “miscalculate” a half-life of 85,000 years, the ratio of C-14: C-12 needs to drop to 1 C-14 atom for every 32,768,000,000,000 C-12 atoms.   That mean we (real scientists) are off by 16,383 times the number of C-12 or C-14 atoms now.

This is what Riddle actually needs to prove.  Let’s see what he decides to bring to the table.

Objection One: If the ratio of C-14:C-12 was different in that past, this would make radiocarbon dating inaccurate.

Reply:  Yes.  It does.  That’s why scientists have been using calibration curves since 1967.

See, the papers that Riddle is citing for radiocarbon dating dates from 1952.  When we first used radiocarbon dating, scientists assumed the ratio remained constant because they had no way of measuring or correcting for it.

Scientists then did a neat trick: Egypt has a very long and fairly accurate timeline of artifacts.  Scientists started running radiocarbon dating on Egyptian artifacts of known ages.  As the artifact got older, the radiocarbon date started getting less accurate.  This was a problem: was the ratio of C-14:C-12 changing over time or did we have the wrong dates on the artifacts?

Scientists did another neat trick: Did you know that tree rings are very easy to date and only add carbon to the new growth ring of the year?  (I knew that, but never thought to radiocarbon date them as a solution to the problem.)  When you run radiocarbon dates year by year, the amount of C-12:C-14 changes. Because of that, scientists have made calibration curves that take into effect the changes over time.  I keep saying “curves” because the ratios changes between the north and south hemispheres – remember, the growing seasons are offset by 6 months – and a separate marine calibration curve.

Objection Two: The magnetic field is getting weaker over time.  This means that less cosmic rays reached the atmosphere to produce C-14 in the past.

Reply: Short answer: That’s why we have calibration curves.  (Did I mention the last revision was published in 2013?  We keep updating them.)

Longer answer: The magnetic field is changing over time.  Recently, it’s gotten weaker.  During other times, the magnetic field was much stronger.  Of course, the magnetic field of the Earth has also reversed itself so the magnetic pole that we call “north” was located near the south pole and vice versa.   We can prove this by looking at the magnetic field of rocks recovered from the mid-oceanic rift zone in the Atlantic ocean.

Plus, the amount of comsic rays that hit the Earth isn’t constant. You really should bring that up because I get to say “calibration curves!” again.

The total magnitude of change from the highest recorded magnitism to the lowest recorded magnitism is a power of 10. For the C-14 production rate to drop enough that a piece of wood that died on the first YEC day (wait….nothing died that day in YEC) the first day after the Fall now appears to be 85,000 years old due to mixed up ratio, the C-14 needs to drop by a power of 16,383.

You’ll need to flesh that hypothesis out a bit more.  Fair warning: NASA is really into cosmic ray research right now so don’t go too deep into science fiction without checking their publications,.

Did I mention calibration curves?  We can also use other living things that have longer yearly patterns like diatoms preserved in fossilized lake beds – lake beds show distinct yearly changes like tree rings.

Objection Three: Lots of animals and plants died during the Genesis Flood and were buried.  This would mess up the C-14:C-12 ratio.

Short answer: Nope.  The animals and plants would have the exact same ratio of C-14:C12 as the atmosphere when they died.  Now, if the C-14:C-12 ratio was different, we’d correct for that using..the calibration curves!  But the death of the plants and animals, by themselves, wouldn’t actually change the ratio in the atmosphere.

Longer answer: Still nope, but you forgot a point.  We’ve been buring that buried carbons as fossil fuels and releasing it back into the atmosphere.  That has caused the C-14:C-12 ratios to change.  How do scientists deal with that?  Math.  You use the….calibration curves!!!

*does the calibration curve dance*

Objection Four: A bunch of creation scientists got together and tested really old samples of wood and limestone and other things.  Since the scientists’ efforts found C-14 in the samples, the whole thing must be flawed!

Reply:  Did their findings support a Earth that is 7,000 years old or younger?   Oh, noes.

Well, the paper the book cited was not a real scientific paper.  It was published without peer review, failed to name the lab at which the AMS radiocarbon dating occured, failed to give detailed procurement records for the coal samples tested, doesn’t give an author contact, and still managed to only have an earliest date of 50,000 years ago.    That’s 8.7 half-lives, not 1.25.

That’s all.  Radiocarbon data wins.

*dances the calibration curve dance of happiness*


Read everything by Mel!

Mel is a science teacher who works with at-risk teens and lives on a dairy farm with her husband. She blogs at When Cows and Kids Collide


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  • Friend

    Bravissima! You just proved something truly incredible: that I can sort of grasp something science-y before I stumble around looking for a box of cereal. Yay science! Yay Mel!

  • FrequentFlyer

    Great job Mel! Now can you teach us the Calibration Curve Dance of Happiness? I hope it is immodest and defrauding. 😛

  • SAO

    The short answer is tons and tons of carefully researched, peer-reviewed science beats out some study funded for the sole purpose of proving a point that scientists have discredited.

  • Mel

    Currently, it’s a circular chick-walk ala jive with your arms waving in the air like you just don’t care. Add what you will – scientists enjoy adlibbed dances.

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    Really nice explanation.

  • RetroPam

    If the earth were 6,000 years old, the heaviest naturally occurring element would be Curium (96) or even Berkelium (97) rather than Uranium (92). “Curium’s most stable isotope, curium-247, has a half-life of about 15,600,000 years.”

  • pl1224

    “Of course radiocarbon dating wins–‘cuz it’s based on like really real reality which turns out to be more real than Bronze Age mythology any day of the week. Even you homeschooled fundie types should be able to grasp that real is realer than not-real.”

    At least that’s how my seventh-grade alter ego views the situation. I’ll admit she’s not all that articulate at times, but she’s pretty good at grasping essential facts.