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Carbon Dating

"One part of Dima [a baby frozen mammoth] was 40,000, another part was 26,000 and the "wood immediately around the carcass" was 9-10,000.
--Troy L. Pewe, Quaternary Stratigraphic Nomenclature in Unglaciated Central Alaska, Geological Survey



*The following comes from Dr. Kent Hovind at Creation Science Evangelism*



Let me first explain how carbon dating works and then show you the assumptions it is based on. Nothing on earth carbon dates in the millions of years, because the scope of carbon dating only extends a few thousand years. Willard Libby invented the carbon dating technique in the early 1950s. He calculated the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere today (about .0000765%), and assumed there would be the same amount found in living plants or animals since the plants breathe CO2 and animals eat plants.


Carbon 14 is the radio-active version of carbon. Radiation from the sun strikes the atmosphere of the earth all day long. This energy produces radioactive carbon 14. This radioactive carbon 14 slowly decays into normal, stable carbon 12. Extensive laboratory testing has shown that about half of the C-14 molecules will decay in 5730 years. After another 5730 years half of the remaining C-14 will decay leaving only of the original C-14. It goes from to to 1/8, etc. In theory it would never totally disappear, but after about 5 half lives the difference is not measurable with any degree of accuracy. This is why most people say carbon dating is only good for objects less than 30,000 years old.


Since sunlight causes the formation of C-14 in the atmosphere, and normal radioactive decay takes it out, there must be a point where the formation rate and the decay rate equalizes. This is called the point of equilibrium. Let me illustrate. If you were trying to fill a barrel with water but there were holes drilled up the side of the barrel, as you filled the barrel it would begin leaking out the holes. At some point you would be putting it in and it would be leaking out at the same rate. You will not be able to fill the barrel past this point of equilibrium. In the same way the C-14 is being formed and decaying out simultaneously. A freshly created earth would require about 30,000 years for the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere to reach this point of equilibrium because it would leak out as it is being filled. Tests indicate that the earth has still not reached equilibrium. This would mean the earth is not yet 30,000 years old! This also means that plants and animals that lived in the past had less C-14 in them than do plants and animals today. Just this one fact totally upsets data obtained by C-14 dating.

The carbon in the atmosphere normally combines with oxygen to make carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants breathe CO2 and make it part of their tissue. Animals eat the plants and make it part of their tissues. When a plant or animal dies it stops taking in air and food so it should not be able to get any new C-14. The C-14 in the plant or animal will begin to decay back to normal C-12. The older an object is, the less carbon-14 it contains. One gram of carbon from living plant material causes a Geiger counter to click 16 times per minute as the C-14 decays. A sample that causes 8 clicks per minute would be 11,460 years old (the sample has gone through two half lives) and so on. Although this technique looks good at first, carbon-14 dating rests on two simple assumptions. They are obviously assuming the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere has always been constant, and its rate of decay has always been constant. Neither of these assumptions is provable or reasonable. An illustration may help. Imagine you found a candle burning in a room. You could measure the present height of the candle (say, seven inches) and the rate of burn (say, an inch per hour). In order to find the length of time since the candle was lit we would be forced to make some assumptions. We would obviously have to assume that the candle has always burned at the same rate, and the initial height of the candle. The answer changes based on the assumptions. Similarly, scientists do not know that the carbon-14 decay rate has been constant. They do not know that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is constant. Present testing shows the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere has been increasing since it was first measured in the 1950s. This may be tied in to the declining strength of the magnetic field.