Creation Science

Creation Science Book Review

Thousands...Not Billions

Chapter 3: Carbon-14 Dating


Review by Greg Neyman

© Old Earth Ministries

Published May 2006


     In this chapter, DeYoung summarizes the research done by John Baumgardner on radiocarbon dating. 




     DeYoung starts out with an explanation of how carbon dating works.  One can get a similar explanation on the web by reading Carbon Dating from the Wikipedia website.  Briefly, normal carbon is carbon-12 (12C).  In the upper atmosphere, carbon-14 ( 14C) is formed when cosmic rays hit nitrogen-14 atoms.  These 14C atoms are incorporated, along with normal carbon atoms, into the cellulose structure of plants and trees, and they also enter into the tissues of animals. 

     When a plant or animal dies, no more carbon is added.  14C has a half-life, or rate of decay, of 5,730 years.  After this amount of time, half the original 14C has decayed into 14N.  Therefore, one can check the ratio of 14C to 12C in the dead sample, and using the half-life, one can determine the age of the sample, or, the age at which it stopped incorporating new carbon into its cells.




     DeYoung notes that this method can be used in support of biblical ideas.  He gives the example of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the linen wrappings of which were dated to between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D.  Thus, his noted carbon-14 result is that 14C dating supports the Bible.




     He notes that for ancient rock layers, given the half-life of 14C, all detectable amounts of 14C should have decayed long ago, and should not be detectable.  He claims that material older than 100,000 years should be "carbon-14 dead."  When dealing with 14C produced in the atmosphere, he is correct.  However, not all 14C is produced by the bombardment of cosmic rays upon our air.  He will deal with some of these other methods of 14C production later in this chapter, but he does not deal with all of them. 

     He notes that "In recent years, readily detectable amounts of carbon-14 have been the rule rather than the exception."  Is this claim true?  I could find no evidence of it, until I considered the source of the claim.  He is, of course, referring to young earth scientists who tested material that contains 14C.  While it may be true that a majority of rock layers contain 14C, there are numerous ones that are truly "carbon-14 dead."  Based on his explanation, as you will see, any dead layers invalidate his conclusion at the end of this chapter.

     DeYoung lists several young earth people who have studied, and identified, ancient rocks in the literature with detectable amounts of 14C.   I agree that samples can be found which are not dead, however, in highlighting these samples and trumpeting them to their followers, they ignore the other samples which are dead.  For some reason, you don't hear about these, because in the end, these would invalidate their conclusion, as you will see.  Therefore, the young earth scientists "found exactly what they wanted to find."

     DeYoung goes on to explain the carbon dating technique using accelerator mass spectrometry, or AMS.  This method can detect much lower levels of 14C than the method used prior to the 1970s.  Currently, the limit for age dating is around 62,000 years.  In the near future, scientists hope to have this extended out to around 180,000 years. 

     Finally, the author mentions a possible problem in the use of calibration standards.  Background radiation is measured first, using materials that are thought to contain no 14C.  DeYoung claims that since virtually all material contains 14C, this background reading is false.  He lists Precambrian graphite, purified natural gas, and optical grade calcite.

     However, background radiation, even if the samples contain minute amounts of 14C, would not influence the ages much.  And, since these samples are tested, they can be compared to other carbon-dead samples, and if they give too high a reading, they are known not to be carbon-dead.  In other words, when a new calibration standard is used, the scientists will know that it is not truly dead if it gives too high a reading, and thus the calibration material would be tossed out. 




     Coal is probably the most-used argument in young earth circles.  DeYoung begins his discussion with stating that much of the coal deposits are Pennsylvanian in age, or approximately 300 million years old.  Of course, he is stating this to claim that the coal should be carbon dead.  The RATE group obtained ten samples of coal, taking care to make sure that there was no or little chance of contamination, and sent these samples to laboratories for AMS analysis. The results showed that all ten samples had detectable amounts of 14C.

     DeYoung will address possible old earth explanations for this 14C in a later section, and I'll provide the rebuttal there.




     DeYoung gives a brief explanation of the standard geologic setting for diamond formation and delivery to the surface.  The RATE group had 12 diamond samples tested for 14C, with detectable amounts showing up in all samples, at a rate of about 1/3 that of the coal. 




     This section is the most critical to the old earth creationist.  DeYoung tries to explain away the old earth explanations of how these traces of Carbon-14 got into the coal and diamonds.  He asks "Is there any way that new carbon-14 atoms could possibly enter and contaminate materials which are truly ancient?"  A good question, but this is the wrong question.

     First, he says some have proposed that earth's atmosphere or moving groundwater supplies new 14C to the ancient materials.  He says this would have to be a constant process, with new 14C being delivered constantly.  The material would have to be replaced over and over over millions of years.  To argue against this, he says the extreme variety in thickness, depth, and porosity of the rock layers would lead go great variation of 14C levels, but this is not what is found.  All 14C levels are fairly uniform.  This is only true to a point.  They are uniform where they are found, but 14C is not found in every rock layer, nor in every fossil fuel.  Some fossil fuels are rich in 14C, while others are dead.  Believers in this hypothesis have nothing to worry about from DeYoung's argument.

     A second proposal is that nuclear reactions from outside neutrons enter the samples and convert either nitrogen-14 or carbon-13 directly into carbon-14.  He admits that this occurs, but he claims that the "resulting C-14 amounts are several thousand times less than the range actually measured."  Since DeYoung gives limited information, we have no way of verifying RATE's calculations on this matter.

     The final explanation he addresses is that radioactive decay of heavy isotopes within the coal/diamond, such as uranium, create new carbon-14.  He explains this away by claiming that the amount produced is 100,000 times smaller than that observed in the coal samples.  Without viewing RATE's calculations, there is no way to verify their claim. 

     Herein lies the problem with the young earth culture.  Young earth creationists, who read this book, will accept the words of DeYoung as absolute truth.  It does not matter that the calculations may be wrong, or may have missed some key element.  DeYoung, and most creationist researchers, understand this about their culture, and use this "trust" in the fullest extent possible.

     However, I must point out that DeYoung only addressed three possibilities, when in fact there are more.  One of the most exciting research projects now being done examines the input of new 14C from sulfur bacteria, which commonly grows in coal even at great depths.  The scientists involved in this, and research into the third argument above, believes both contribute to the 14C levels.

    One must also realize that the threshold being detected by young earth creationists is very, very small.  It would not take much 14C to attain this level, even in coal.  When you consider that coal is 70 percent carbon, and diamond is nearly 100 percent carbon (except for impurities), the statistical number of carbon atoms you are dealing with greatly favors there being 14C even in ancient samples. 

     It is interesting to note that the young earth arguments are not attacking the carbon dating method itself...they are attacking ancient samples that give carbon readings.  The method itself is not under attack...yet (that comes in the next section). 

     So how do we defeat the young earth arguments?  They seem unwilling to accept the possibility of any contamination of 14C by any outside sources.  Of interest to defeating the young earth arguments is the diamonds.  If you will recall, the source of 14C is from the upper atmosphere.   However, with diamonds, which are produced at great depths, we are not concerned at all with atmospheric 14C.  The 14C in diamonds has to be produced during or after the diamond is made, most likely by radiation.  Given that diamonds are nearly 100 percent carbon, the chance for radiation from uranium or other heavy metals to produce 14C is greatly increased. 

     If you fire a bullet at a target that is 1 inch in size and 100 feet away, the chances of it hitting are slim.  However, with 100 percent of the target being carbon, its like standing on the ground and firing a bullet at the ground.   You can't miss the target.  Even the smallest amount of radiation could account for these miniscule readings of 14C in coal and diamonds.

     The same applies to cosmic rays.  Although they are greatly filtered out by our atmosphere, cosmic rays would still hit a coal sample when it is exposed to light.  Given that coal is 70 percent carbon, the chances that even brief exposure to light could cause 14C conversions, although slight, is present.  Remember, we are not talking about great amounts of 14C...we are only talking about detectable amounts, and AMS can detect very small amounts since it actually counts the 14C atoms. 

     This cosmic ray contamination is seen in the samples that DeYoung shows in Table 3-3 on page 57.  Notice that the first five samples are all mine samples, with very low levels of 14C.  The other seven samples average much higher, in one case 10-15 times the 14C of the mine samples.  These samples come from placer deposits.  Placer deposits are diamonds that were found in streams, after the earth's erosional forces eroded them and transported them in the streams.  In other words, they have been exposed to sunlight for a while.  DeYoung has actually provided evidence that cosmic rays at the earth's surface can cause 14C. 

     Due to the structure of diamonds, this 14C could not be from groundwater contamination...unless the samples were not cleaned prior to examination.  However, DeYoung states that they were "rigorously and carefully cleaned."  In theory, therefore, one would have to extract the sample to be dated in complete darkness, and keep it in such an environment until it was dated.  I don't know if artificial light sources such as light bulbs would cause this effect as well, so that is also something to consider.

     Although we don't have enough research on the sources of 14C in coal and diamonds, there is enough evidence to give plausible reasons for its existence.  The young earth criticisms do not provide any problems at all for an old earth interpretation. 




     In this and the next section, DeYoung gives his young earth explanation of how to interpret the data.  This section proposes that the worldwide flood of Noah would have a great impact upon carbon dating.

     I agree that such a flood would have an impact, however, there is a problem...there is no geologic evidence of such a flood.  DeYoung presents this with the assumption that there was a flood, but this website and others has shown this to be a fallacy.  He claims the biomass was distributed uniformly throughout the earth's rock layers.  However, some fossil fuels/layers have no detectable 14C.  He goes on to claim that the rock layers corresponding to the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic, or all the rock layers from 543 million years ago to the present, are thought to be flood deposits.  However, this does not work when you examine the stratigraphy of the rocks.  Other young earth claims have been based on this, such as the one in the book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, but they fail when you examine them.

     Of even more significance is this claim..."the ratio of carbon-14 to total carbon was almost certainly less during pre-Flood times than it is today."  We actually know what the levels were throughout history, by studying several sources that preserve the history of the carbon levels.  In fact, we have the known carbon levels over the last 45,000 years.  If there was such a flood only 4,300 years ago as young earth creationists claim, it would show up in these calibration charts.  If you examine the charts, there is no indication of vastly different carbon levels from 4,300 years ago.  To be sure of this, look at the calibration charts yourself.     There is no indication of any significant event over the last 20,000+ years that greatly altered the carbon ratios.  (These charts only go back a little over 20,000 years, but other charts go back as far as 45,000 years.)

     DeYoung then suggests that the earths magnetic field may have been stronger in the pre-Flood period.  We know from geomagnetic studies that the field has fluctuated over earth's history...sometimes it is stronger, sometimes weaker.  There is no data to support a claim that the field was greatly stronger only 4,500 years ago.  In fact, the geomagnetic record goes back many millions of years.

     The final argument in this section is that since the earth is only 6,000 years old, some of the carbon-14 may be primordial, or existing from the moment of creation.  Since we know the earth is not 6,000 years old, this argument has no teeth.




     The final proposal by the RATE group is that the constant rates of radioactive decay may not have been constant in the past.  If you accelerate these decay rates, and squeeze them into  the last six thousand years, or, into the creation week, you can account for the presence of carbon-14, and other issues as well in the following chapters.

     I have addressed this claim on this website before, in this article.  However, one key point needs to be highlighted.  Old earth creationists love this argument, because it rebuts itself.  It is seen elsewhere with the originator of this theory, young earth creationist Russell Humphreys, and his helium arguments (the subject of the next chapter).  Unfortunately, when you cram all that radiation into the creation week, you vaporize the earth.  Condensing 4.5 billion years worth of radiation into a short amount of time also condenses 4.5 billion years worth of heat into this same time frame.  Humphreys is aware of this problem of heat, but he admits he is unable to provide an answer.   In short, the accelerated decay theory could be called the "vaporized earth theory."  Since we are here discussing this issue, then the theory must be wrong.




     In parting, DeYoung mentions one more possibility for further research.  Berylliun-10, with a half-life of 1.52 million years, could provide some good data.  If young earth creationists ever decide to go this route, we will be there to examine it and report the truth to you.




Carbon-14 Dating

Radiocarbon - An International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research

Coal - Wikipedia

Carbon-14 in Coal Deposits (Talk Origins)

Mass Spectrometry

Helium Diffusion from Zircons



     If you are not a Christian, and you have been holding out on making a decision for Christ because the Church always preached a message that was contrary to what you saw in the scientific world, then rest assured that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and you can believe in Christ and receive salvation, while still believing in an old earth.  Click here for more.


    Are you a Christian who believes in young earth creationism?  Now that we have shown the many difficulties of the young earth creation science model in this and many other articles, how does this impact your Christian life?  If you are a young earth creationism believer, click here.



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Chapter 6

Chapter 7

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