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Carbon dating gives inaccurate results (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Carbon dating gives inaccurate results (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CD011:

Carbon-14 dating gives unreliable results.

Source: Lee, Robert E., 1981. Radiocarbon: Ages in Error. Anthropological Journal of Canada 19(3): 9-29. Reprinted in Creation Research Society Quarterly 19(2): 117-127 (1982).


CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

This rebuttal is problematic before Talk.Origins even starts it, given that it is supposed to be a rebuttal to a creationist claim, yet the claim was originally published in a secular journal. Talk.Origins has not shown that it is (originally) a creationist claim, yet in its rebuttal criticises "creationists" for supposedly getting the claim wrong. This shows that Talk.Origins' disagreement is ideological rather than evidence-based.

1. Any tool will give bad results when misused. Radiocarbon dating has some known limitations. Any measurement that exceeds these limitations will probably be invalid.

This works both ways. Uniformitarian geology and Flood geology are two totally different theoretical systems of geology, and so the limitations of Radiocarbon dating in one are not necessarily the same as the limitations of the other. According to modern Flood geology there was a rapid increase in 14C following the Flood. Therefore extrapolating dates much beyond about 1,000 B.C. on the basis of Uniformitarian assumptions will result in measurements that exceed the limitations of 14C dating under Flood geology, and which are therefore invalid under that theoretical system, but will be within its limitations under the assumptions of Uniformitarian geology.

In particular, radiocarbon dating works to find ages as old as 50,000 years but not much older. Using it to date older items will give bad results.

This is begging the question since the only way to know if an object is too old to date by radiocarbon dating is to date it by another method within the same theoretical system. An object interpreted as too old for radiocarbon dating by Uniformitarian geology may not be interpreted as too old for radiocarbon dating by Flood geology. If an object is really a million plus years old as interpreted by Uniformitarian geology then it should not have any 14C left. On the other hand Flood geology interprets these objects as only a few thousand years old and so predicts that they will still have 14C. The fact that 14C has been found in objects interpreted as a million plus years old by Uniformitarian geology demonstrates a successful prediction by flood geology.

Samples can be contaminated with younger or older carbon, again invalidating the results.

Thank you Talk Origins for proving the point of the claim. They are once again begging the question since the way to determine if an object is contaminated with "younger" or "older" carbon is by dating it with some other method.

Because of excess 12C released into the atmosphere from the Industrial Revolution and excess 14C produced by atmospheric nuclear testing during the 1950s, materials less than 150 years old cannot be dated with radiocarbon.

No kidding! This just shows the importance of initial 14C and how it can influence date calculations. According to Flood geology, the Flood was followed by a rapid increase in 14C, causing the same situation just after the Flood.

In their claims of errors, creationists do not consider misuse of the technique. It is not uncommon for them to misuse radiocarbon dating by attempting to date samples that are millions of years old (for example, Triassic "wood") or that have been treated with organic substances. In such cases, the errors belong to the creationists, not the carbon-14 dating method.

Talk Origins clearly does not understand that Uniformitarian geology and Flood geology are two totally different theoretical systems. Misuse in Uniformitarian geology may not be misuse in Flood geology and vice versa. Since creationists assume that there are no objects so old that they cannot be expected to contain any 14C, it is reasonable to test objects that uniformitarians believe should contain no 14C, such as coal. On the other hand, it would be misuse, under the creationist system, to attempt to get accurate dates of objects believed to be over say 3000 years old, whereas uniformitarian assumptions would not preclude that.

Attempting to date samples that are supposedly millions of years old is not a "misuse" of the method as claimed. First, it is good science to test rather than assume, so even if one does believe that the sample is outside the range of the method, it is appropriate to test this belief with empirical measurement. Second, if the sample was really outside the range of the method, the result should be no measurable C14, and therefore an "infinite" age or an unspecified age greater than the method allows, not a specified-but-incorrect age. The "misuse" claim is an excuse to explain away a result that doesn't fit the evolutionary orthodoxy.

2. Radiocarbon dating has been repeatedly tested, demonstrating its accuracy. It is calibrated by tree-ring data, which gives a nearly exact calendar for more than 11,000 years back. It has also been tested on items for which the age is known through historical records, such as parts of the Dead Sea scrolls and some wood from an Egyptian tomb. Multiple samples from a single object have been dated independently, yielding consistent results. Radiocarbon dating is also concordant with other dating techniques.

Correlating Radiocarbon dating to historical dates is not at issue since both Uniformitarian geology and Flood geology agree that this is valid, but calibrating it by tree-ring data is problematic.

  1. Beyond living trees, tree-ring data is based on matching tree rings from fragments of dead trees.
  2. The match is rather subjective in that it requires a visual match of patterns,
  3. Ring patterns are not unique but tend to repeat themselves.
  4. Ring patterns are not consistent even within the same tree.
  5. Trees can grow more than one ring per year
  6. Ring patterns are often matched by radiocarbon dating, even over better statistical matches.

All of these factors raise doubts about tree-ring dating, but the use of radiocarbon dating in matching rings disqualifies tree-ring dating as an independent way of calibrating radiocarbon dating. Furthermore, it means that both methods are calibrated to each other and so a match of dates between the two methods does not prove that the dates are accurate.

See also

Radiometric dating

Radiometric dating problems

Accelerated decay

Carbon-14 dating

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