Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 18, 2010- Carbon Dating: Science or SciFi?

The class took a brief hiatus from Case for Christ to discuss another issue important in apologetics...carbon dating.

The media will often report the age of an ancient artifact in a matter-of-fact manner than gives the perception carbon dating is scientifically accurate and reliable. A closer look at the science, however, reveals that the science is far from either.

Chemistry of Carbon Dating
  • Understanding how carbon dating works requires a basic understanding of chemistry.

  • Atoms are the building blocks of all matter. Atoms are made up of smaller particles called protons (+), neutrons, and electrons (-). The protons and neutrons make up the nucleus of the atom.

  • The number of protons determines the type of element. An atom with 6 protons is a carbon atom. If there are 7 protons, it would be nitrogen.

  • An isotope is a given atom with a different number of neutrons (giving it a different atomic mass). In carbon dating, the isotopes carbon-14 and carbon-12 are used. Carbon-14 contains 6 protons and 8 neutrons (thus the 14). Click here for more info.

  • Some isotopes are radioactive, meaning they decay by losing energy (radiation). Carbon-14 is radioactive.

  • All living things take in carbon-14 and carbon-12 through one process or another. Carbon-12 is a stable isotope and doesn't decay.

  • When organic organism dies, the amount of both isotopes is initial static. As carbon-14 decays through radiation, the amount of the isotope reduces at a fixed rate (half-life).

  • Since the amount of carbon-12 remains the same, the ratio between the isotopes can help determine the age since death of the organism (plant, animal or human). If the ratio is the same as the ratio in the atmosphere, there are 1 trillion c-12 isotopes to every single c-14 isotope. That ratio was determined by Dr. Willard Libby in 1949.

More specific information on carbon dating can be found here.

Problems with carbon dating
  • The science of carbon dating makes a number of assumptions:
1. The ratio of 1(c-14):1,000,000,000,000 (c-14) is accurate and constant
  • If the ratio is not correct, the basis for carbon dating is greatly flawed. A number of factor could have a tremndous impact on the ratio being constant: (a) Earth magnetic field seems to be weakening and would appear not to be a constant force. This greatly affects the process of c-14 and c-12 being made in the atmosphere. (b) Volcanic activity releases excess CO2 into the atmosphere affecting the ratio. (c) Made-made CO2 being released into the atmosphere at a greater rate today. (d) Nuclear weapons testing and nuclear power plants would affect the ratio with unnatural amounts of radiation.
2. Radioactive decay (half-life) may not be constant. Scientist believe it is actually quicker.

3. The biblical flood would have created an immense infusion of carbon into the soil making time-lines of millions now more into thousands.

  • The assumptions made in the science of carbon dating are too vast for the science to be considered reliable or accurate. If the the assumptions are 100% correct (which is highly unlikely), the science is still only accurate to 80,000 years due to the limiting factor of the half-life of carbon-14 being only 5720 years.

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