Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Carbon-dating and the Bible

Is the earth more than a couple of thousands of years old? What about the dinosaurs, said to be roaming the earth millions of years ago?  We find once in a while, an article claiming such and such, from a few hundreds of thousands of years ago, or even millions or tens or hundreds of millions of years ago, were found. And then somewhere in the article, some carbon-dating jargon is often thrown in, giving the impression that everything was very scientifically established.  And true, most of us, go away, after reading such articles, with a nagging question in our mind, “But Bible seemed (seems to us) to suggest, the earth was only a few thousand years old; how come we have such discovery by scientists – inconsistency or what?”

C-14 dating
There are other forms of radiometric dating, but this article centred mostly on carbon (C-14) dating. Radiometric datings are used to estimate the ages of fossils, and indirectly giving indication of the broad age of the earth.  If one finds a billion years old object on earth, the reasonable extrapolation is that the earth was in existence a billion years ago (assumption, the object did NOT come from outer space).

Carbon-dating is specifically used only on fossils, here taken to mean, remains from things that were once organic, meaning it was alive, and fed, and the food could finally be traced back to plants, through the food chain.  And so, it is NOT exactly to be used on rocks, but would be used on wood fossils trapped in rock; and it is also used on animal or creature’s fossils, trapped in rock, and even in ice.  It can also be used on very, very old trees.  It can be used on coal and diamonds, too, as these were fossilized from trees and such.  It is NOT used on rocks as such, because of the inherent workings of the method – its very basis is radioactive decay of C-14.  This will be apparent when we look at how carbon-dating works.

A little bit of science, first
Although I once ambitioned to be a medical doctor, and I did NOT go that way, I was a “straight As” Biology and Chemistry student in my college years.  Until today, I still remember and understand much about Biology and Chemistry stuff, including the basic structure of matter.

The basic building blocks of matter, element (we called it), are the atoms, and each atom consists of protons and neutrons in the nucleus at the centre, and electrons, orbiting the nucleus. When we talked about carbon-dating, we have to touch on radioactive decay, and for this, we have to know what isotopes are.  Isotopes are variants of an element.  Each element has a definite number of protons; for the element of carbon, it is 6. It is the no. of neutrons that can differ; carbon can have 6, 7 or 8 neutrons.  Each of these combinations is called an isotope. Of the 3 isotopes of carbons, C-12 (6 protons + 6 neutrons), C-13, and C-14, C-14 is radioactive, and is subject to what we called radioactive decay. 

Radioactive decay happens at a consistent rate (fairly accepted), the measure used by scientists, for this, is called the half-life.  When C-14 or the radioactive carbon is fully decayed, it turns into Nitrogen (N).  What is half-life?  It is the time it takes for the isotope to be half-decayed, and for C-14, it is 5,730 years.  Yes, it takes 5,730 years to decay by half; and for it to decay by another half, to be ¼ left, it takes another 5,730 years (or another half-life).  This decay will go on and on, until the C-14 is fully decayed into a Nitrogen atom (Nitrogen-14; 7 protons & 7 neutrons {1 neutron became the additional proton}).

The table below shows the radioactive decay process, showing only the elapse of up to 7 half-lives. Starting with 100%, after 7 half-lives, the percentage remaining is small, and after 10 half-lives, the decay is almost done, and what remains, may NOT be detectable by present instrumentations.

Number of

Beyond 50,000 – 60,000 years, the methodology fails
For C-14, which is the key isotope in the carbon-dating, the half-life, as I have given above, is 5,730 years.  It means that after 7 half-lives have elapsed, 40,110 years would have elapsed; after 10 half-lives, 57,300 years would have passed by.  This means that, C-14 carbon-dating can be used to measure elapse of time up to about 60,000 years, and no more!  The simple reason is that after about 60,000 years, there is NOT the C-14 anymore, whatever C-14 would have become N-14 (Nitrogen).  After about 8 – 9 half-lives, the C-14 is so little that current instrumentation could hardly detect it. So, those reports claiming/implying that C-14 or carbon dating resulted in their conclusion that a find or object, was more than 60,000 years old (some put it to 50,000 years), are NOT correctly portraying a finding.

60,000 years is still a long time; Biblical indication is the earth is probably 6,000 – 7,000 years old!  But at least, we know that C-14 dating cannot be used to argue the earth could be millions of years old; simply the method cannot measure beyond 60,000 years!  Where does the notion of the millions of years, if NOT billions, comes from?  Well, it came from the secular (evolutionary) worldview. The evolutionary worldview interprets the universe and world to be billions of years old (Today we won’t talk about this evolutionary worldview).

The faulty assumption?
To narrow down further, and to explain there are assumptions made, in the use of C-14 decay in the dating methodology, that can lead to inaccurate results, we need to understand a little more of how the C-14 dating works.

I have explained above that there are 3 isotopes of carbon naturally occurring: C-12, C-13, and C-14.  C-14 is the one which decays whereas C-12 and C-13 are stable. We also have said that when fully decayed, C-14 is changed into N-14.  However, at any point in time, in the air/environment, there is still a certain ratio of C-14 to C (C-12 + C-13 + C-14).  {C-13 could be omitted from the ratio}

Since C-14 is constantly decaying, will NOT the earth run out of C-14, eventually; and at the meantime, the ratio would be diminishing?  The answer is no, because C-14 is being added into the atmosphere, even as it decays.  How is it added? The rays from the Sun which contain high levels of energy bombard the earth’s upper atmosphere. These rays collide with atoms in the atmosphere and can cause the neutrons from the atoms to come off. Such neutrons could collide with Nitrogen-14 {7 protons & 7 neutrons} atoms (the atmosphere, mostly of nitrogen and oxygen) and convert them into C-14 atoms (changing a proton of N-14 into a neutron) {C-14 being with 6 protons & 8 neutrons}. C-14 then combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide (CO2); which gets incorporated into plants through photosynthesis, meaning, plant as food, contains C-14 and the other Cs.  Because plant is at the base of the food chain, and as well as living things take in air as they breathe, living things, as long as they are alive, they are having the same ratio of C-14 to C, in them, as the atmosphere.

Now, I said, at any point in time, there is still a certain ratio of C-14 to C.  And so, if today, I take a sample from you, and analyses it using AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometer), I will get a certain ratio of C-14 to C.  3 years from now, assuming you are alive, and I repeat the analysis, I will again get a reading.  This reading will be the same as that taken 3 years ago, if the atmospheric C-14 to C ratio is still the same, and the environment you in, has remained the same (without a nuclear explosion, for example, for such would definitely change the C-14 to C ratio of the air or environment).  The C-14 to C ratio in our body or that of any living thing gets refreshed all the time, and if the environment is in a steady state, then, as long as a particular living thing is still alive, the C-14 ratio is the same.  It is the moment that the living thing dies, that it stops taking in C-14 into his body; whatever C-14 in the body/fossil, decays, without replacement.  C-12 & C-13 remained the same.  Over time, the C-14 ratio will decline to zero.  Of course, it will take a long, long time, since the half-life of C-14 is 5,730 years.

Now, if we lengthen the time, and say, 2,000 years ago, I have taken a sample from a dying tiger, and calculated the C-14 ratio, and kept it; and today, I dug up the fossil of that tiger, and do another C-14 ratio, I would be come to the same conclusion as my written record of the tiger’s death, that the tiger died 2,000 years ago, according to the extent of the radioactive decay of the C-14 in the tiger.

In practice, the problem is that no one took and kept the C-14 ratio records of the old fossils (in those times, they died) which we discover or dig up, every now and then.  To know the extent of decay, we need to know the C-14 ratio at the time of death of the living thing, which I have said, in all old fossils, we do NOT know, because there are no records.  Scientists used the 1950 (that was the time C-14 dating was adopted)’s C-14 ratio as the default ratio, assuming that, that was and is the steady state C-14 ratio, of the atmosphere, across all time, over all places!  Now, that is a huge assumption that can introduce miles of margin of error!

No, C-14 ratio, to start with, is NOT constant across time and places
We will NOT go into great details, the factors that point to huge margin of error possible, but here are a few of them, with simple explanation:

1.      The production rate of C-14 is known to be 18.8 atoms per gram of total carbon per minute; and the decay rate is known to be only 16.1 disintegrations per gram per minute. It means C-14 ratio is on the rise.  It means, ceteris paribus, C-14 ratio 5,000 years ago, was a much smaller number than the same, today.  When we assume the starting C-14 of specimen at its death, the same as currently (or as the 1950’s standard), we will have inflated the extent of the decay by a huge margin, possibly tens of thousands of years!

2.      The production rate of C-14 might have been varied or disrupted across time, even as the atomic radioactive decay has remained the same.  Remember now, we say C-14 was created through the bombardment of cosmic energy rays on Nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere. Solar flares across time could have affected this process. Any weakening of the ozone layer over the Earth, could have also allowed more energy rays through and greater C-14 could have been resulted.  If ozone has thinned, it means rate of C-14 production has increased with time, meaning recent C-14 ratio would have been much higher than C-14 ratio of few thousand years ago. There is a magnetic field around the Earth which serves to protect the Earth from harmful radiation from outer space; and this field is also weakening or decaying.  Scientists are now tracking this weakening.  When more rays got in, it meant also that the production rate could have increased over time, contributing to higher C-14, and so, it would lead to over-statement of the extent of decay, and accordingly the age of the specimen in question. The industrial revolution could have upset the C-14 ratio.  Nuclear explosions affect the C-14 ratio of the atmosphere, too.

3.      The Genesis Flood (4,400-4,500 years ago?) was a massive event, and a divine event.  What changes it introduced into the atmosphere and our entire ecosystem, no one could fully know, but it is possible many “forces” of nature could have been disrupted or recalibrated or re-entered into flux.  For those of us who believe the accounts in Scripture, such a saying is entirely acceptable, for Bible even have an account that God stopped the Sun from setting for one day!  The Flood was of epic proportion; not our usual heavy rain with flood following.  In Genesis 7, we read that the floodgates of Heaven were opened, and all the springs of great depth burst forth, these lasted 40 days and 40 nights, with the entire earth submerged, eventually. The C-14 ratio prior to The Flood, during and after, could very well be very different.  What actually happened in the atmosphere in those days, when the heavens were opened; who knows?! But obviously that Flood was an important cut-off.

Re-visits showed too much misrepresentation
More recent re-visits of very old samples have shown many of the previous assertions of age of the samples were erroneous.  Scientists have reviewed the assumptions used in estimating the ages of the samples.  

For example, fossilized wood samples from rocks which have been previously dated to be from various ages of some tens to hundreds of millions years old (according to the evolutionists), when re-tested showed significant, detectable levels of C-14, meaning, they cannot be more than 60,000 years old.

Tests were done on coal layers that, according to evolutionists, again dated millions to hundreds of millions of years old, from samples collected from major coalfields. The samples again were found to contain measurable amounts of C-14, meaning all were within 60,000 years old.

Tests were also done on diamonds, and C-14 was found in them! Diamonds have traditionally been considered to be so old - millions to billions of years old, by evolutionary standards, these results of finding C-14 in them would be strong support for a more recent creation.

Refinement of C-14 dating possible
Remember, we said that some 60,000 years is still very far from the 6,000 – 7,000 years that the Bible is indicating to us, of the age of the earth.  Can C-14 be refined to capture more accurately, the age of fossils or finds?  The answer is yes, to some extent, at least for things post the Genesis Flood, but it needs the scientific community to be willing to work together to establish a series of re-calibrated C-14 ratios for use.  Let me explain a little:

The problem with the methodology is that we do NOT know the C-14 ratio at the time of death of the living thing that has fossilized.   The use of 1950 or current C-14 ratio is far from satisfactory; a better estimate of C-14 ratio to use (as the C-14 ratio at the time of death), should be arrived.  And it can be established with the help of actual historical records; and the reason I said, “at least for things post the Genesis Flood”, is because, most records would have been destroyed by the Flood.  If we can find some record of a living thing existed and died, say, 5,000 years ago, and we also happen to have the fossil on hand (maybe, the wood from a grave of a known age by historically reliable document(s)), we can mathematically, work backwards to obtain the C-14 ratio of 5,000 years ago. Other objects with reliable historical documented dates included the Dead Sea Scrolls, Minoan ruins and tombs of the pharaohs; these could be used for calibration, too. Using a basket of such agreed C-14 ratios would yield better results.  For example, for the more recent testing of the coal layers that was mentioned above, when more realistic C-14 ratio (derived for period around the Flood) was used, the ages of the coal deposits could be reduced to about 5,000 years, instead of the 60,000 years!

Today you know!
Knowledgeable and truthful people have come to understand C-14 dating can be useful up to 4,000 to 5,000 years, using calibrated C-14 ratios (from objects/artifacts of known age).  Why 4,000 to 5,000 years only, is because of the absence of reliable historical documents to help to work backwards, C-14 ratio of periods further back than the 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, and that was because of the Genesis Flood.  In any case, the greatest problem with radiometric dating, including C-14 dating, is the absence of knowledge of the (starting) C-14 ratio in the sample or fossil.

Some people go to the extent of saying C-14 dating support the young-earth view (of 6,000-7,000 years old).  I wouldn’t go as far as that, for as said, there is always an unknown, the C-14 ratio, at the ancient point in time.  Any proxy we used, are proxy calibrated from information of about 5,000 years old, and no older, and so, the methodology is good only for time as far back as about 5,000 years. The methodology is limited by the available proxies, but it does NOT point to the earth is only 6,000-7,000 years old.  C-14 dating does NOT necessarily say that it is impossible that the earth was in place earlier than 5,000 years. 

The many ages, given in textbook and journals, of old artifacts, etc, are in fact, men’s subjective assignment of ages within the broader framework of evolutionary geologic time scale framed by evolutionists.  The evolutionary worldview is quite well entrenched, and often people just plucked in, those millions and billions of years period, into an article of an old find, just to make the story, “sexy”.

What about the dinosaurs?
Are dinosaurs really of millions of years old, as we are commonly being told by the evolutionists, tacked along by the many so-called experts? Maybe, not, you-know!  Here is an article you can read for yourself -

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Dinosaurs mentioned in Bible, you-know!?

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