Creative Science 24 – Organic Radioactive Dating

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.” Ez 37:1-2 (NASB)

Radiocarbon (C14) dating is based on the same basic principle of measuring a parent/daughter ratio and using the half-life to calculate total age. Unlike methods discussed in the previous chapter, C14 dating is useful for measuring the age of organic material. C14 dating has been used to date cloth, parchment, and other organic remains of otherwise known age with relatively good accuracy. This is possible because of how C14 is produced in nature and stored in organic remains. Like other methods discussed in the previous chapter, there are serious problems with C14 dating under various circumstances.

C14 is produced when cosmic rays interact with free nitrogen in the atmosphere. Photons with exactly the right quantum energy cause β+ decay of free nitrogen (N14) to C14. In this type of decay, energy added by the cosmic ray to the nucleus of an N14 atom causes a proton to convert to a neutron. The resulting C14 atom has too many neutrons for long term stability. Instability will cause the extra neutron to revert back to a proton (β– decay) and the excess quantum energy is given up as a photon. On average, it takes about 5730 years for half of a given sample of C14 to decay back to N14.

C14 in the atmosphere bonds with free O2 molecules in exactly the same way C12 atoms combine chemically with O2 in our lungs to form CO2 molecules. Through photosynthesis, CO2 gets absorbed into plants. Animals and people then consume plants. C14 absorbed through the digestive process is then distributed through the body. It tends to build up in solid parts like bones and teeth which may remain long after an animal dies. This is why C14 dating is so widely used for determining approximate age for organic materials, including certain types of fossils.

The first and worst variable is the assumed initial C14 density in the atmosphere. C14 is not at equilibrium as it should be if the atmosphere has existed relatively unchanged for at least a million years. Biological variables include the rate of absorption in various plants, and the diet of the animal. Samples from various tree rings of very old trees are used in an attempt to correct for these variables. C14 measurements assume no carbon exchange between the organic sample and its surroundings.

C14 dating is limited by the resolution of test equipment. With our best spectrometers we can resolve to a small enough ratio of C14 to calculate a maximum age of about 60,000 to 100,000 years. After 100,000 years there should be no measurable C14 left in any given sample. After 1 million years there should be no real C14 left in any given sample.

C14 has been measured in Precambrian diamonds and in coal seams buried below “old” rock strata assumed to be millions of years old. Conventional wisdom is that diamonds were formed deep inside the earth more than one billion years ago. There is no known process by which diamonds mined from deep below ground could have C14 atoms. Regardless of how it got there, the presence of measurable C14 in diamonds implies an upper limit to the age of the earth of thousands of years rather than billions.

In addition to finding C14 in carbon rich yet supposedly very old diamonds and coal, it also found in fossil remains. Measurable C14 has been found in every fossil containing any original organic matter that was ever tested. In an effort to ignore this problem, samples believed to be more than about 50,000 years old are usually considered to be contaminated when C14 is found. Another common solution is to simply subtract environmental background C14 radiation to mask the presence of C14 in samples. In other words, it is common practice to fudge results to intentionally ignore the presence of C14 in samples believed to be too old to contain C14.

Ten coal samples provided by the US Department taken from ten different sites from  different geological ages were tested at Pennsylvania State University for C14 content. Interestingly, all of the coal samples returned a similar age (average 49,600 years). The similarity of age results suggest a single hydraulic catastrophe in which the organic coal source was suddenly and universally buried. A universal planetary flood is widely denied by Materialists, yet C14 in the coal testifies to a singular event in the past like Noah’s flood described in scripture.

Calculated C14 ages of 50,000 years do not represent any real problem for young earth creationists. The reason is because the calculation is based on the assumption that the atmosphere contains an equilibrium amount of C14 and that no catastrophic climate or atmospheric changes have taken place in recent history. The Creation model includes a catastrophic atmospheric event, Noah’s Flood, less than 5000 years ago. There is no way to know with certainty how much C14 may have been in the atmosphere prior to the biblical flood, but based on the fact that atmospheric C14 today is well below equilibrium it is reasonable to assume the value must have been lower than today. It is also possible that the atmosphere contained substantially more water vapor prior to the flood. This would have further attenuated the production of C14 prior to the flood. Less atmospheric C14 prior to the flood would cause calculated ages to appear much higher than they actually are. In other words, the apparent 50,000 year age of coal could easily be 10 times greater than the real age. Not only does C14 in coal suggest a planetary flood, but when reasonable assumptions based on the biblical flood are figured in, coal age is easily placed in the range of the biblical flood.


About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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5 Responses to Creative Science 24 – Organic Radioactive Dating

  1. Todd Beal says:


    I ran across a related Institute for Creation Research article on diamonds here. The article page includes a pdf download. I also searched “diamonds” on the same website and found this list of articles. This is a great site (very academic).

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Todd, I highly recommend you sign up to receive the Acts and Facts magazine from It is completely free and it is a monthly mag with a variety of articles covering all facets of science, doctrine and apologetics. You’ll be glad you did, I promise. I’ve been a reader for about 3 years now and I treasure every issue.

  2. Interesting stuff! I am simply seeking a young-earth position, even if I don’t understand it all! Note Heb.11:3.

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