What about the evidence of Carbon-14 dating?

Question
What about of evidence of Carbon-14 dating? Isn't the world older than the young earth crowd states?
Answer
Thanks for your question.

Science is an ever-evolving field. They still deal with many unanswered questions and unresolved issues even in their methods of testing. Using incomplete information scientists and philosophers at times have made statements that they claim to be absolutely certain (the earth is a flat disk [Homer, Hesiod, Thales, Lucretius, and Democritus, the founder of atomic theory, etc.], there are only 1100 stars in the universe [Ptolemy's Sphere of Visible Stars], the world sits on a turtle [Hindu, Akupara], geocentric universe, static universe, Miasmatic theory of disease, Luminiferous aether, Phlogiston, the Four Humors, spontaneous generation, 1980's anti-arrhythmia drugs, which in the 1990s were shown to kill over 50,000 heart-attack patients per year, et. al.). Errors are so common there's an old joke scientists like to tell called, "The Streetlight Effect":

Late at night, a police officer finds a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees under a streetlight. The drunk man tells the officer he's looking for his wallet. When the officer asks if he's sure this is where he dropped the wallet, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. Then why are you looking over here? the befuddled officer asks. Because the light's better here, explains the drunk man. [1]

As a result of the Streetlight Effect, "assumptions," and where the money is thrown, there has been a lot of dubious science. Note, theologians aren't immune to this either.

Carbon-14, or Radiocarbon dating, is a way to discover the approximate age of an artifact by estimating the death dates of organic material. Carbon-14 (aka: C14, 14C) is a radioactive element with a half-life of approximately 5730 years (called the "Cambridge half-life," other half-life (5730 +/- 40 years and 5700 years are also discussed science literature). This means that half of the C14 will decay in 5730 years. So, if an item were 55,000-60,000 years old, the amount of C14 would be most likely be too small to calculate and at 101,000 years old, it would not contain any C14 at all. [2] Providing that the University of Pennsylvania Mathematics Department's calculations are correct, since C14 altogether disappears within 101,000 years it shouldn't be used by evolutionists to attempt to prove that dinosaurs lived a million + years ago.

This said, scientists have recognized for some time that the C14 dating is subject to error. One of the main reasons for its inaccuracy is because of contamination by outside carbon sources. Nature is not a closed system like scientific labs are, so inaccuracies of this sort will always exist. However, scientists have looked for more certain ways to calibrate and correct C14 dating. They now state that "dendrochronology," or the measurement of age by tree rings, is the most accurate way to calibrate and correct C14 dating. However, it too suffers from being completely accurate. Scientists actually arrange some tree ring chronology using uncalibrated C14 dating. [3] So, in essence, many times they are using mere circular reasoning to support any claim(s) they make?

In addition, Carbon-14 testing suffers from numerous problems. Some of them are: (1) Uranium-238 and Iron-57 testing have shown that the C14 decay rate is not constant; (2) the formation rate of C14 is not constant, as it has been effected by many factors (such as, the Industrial Revolution's coal usage, atomic testing [the quantity of C14 in our atmosphere was doubled during this era [4]], volcanos, thousands of years of solar cosmic radiation fluctuations, and the decay of the earth's magnetic field, et. al.); and (3) scientists now state that the production rate of C14 is higher than the decay rate, therefore throwing off all their past calculations. Will there be new discoveries in the future that will require another recalculation of the original calculations? There are numerous other observations that may be added to these, but these suffice in disproving the accuracy claims of C14 dating.

Though written in 1981, the assistant editor of the Anthropological Journal of Canada, Dr. Robert Lee's statement is still the stark reality of carbon dating even today:

The troubles of the radiocarbon dating method are undeniably deep and serious. Despite 35 years of technological refinement and better understanding, the underlying assumptions have been strongly challenged, and warnings are out that radiocarbon may soon find itself in a crisis situation. Continuing use of the method depends on a fix-it-as-we-go approach, allowing for contamination here, fractionation there, and calibration whenever possible. It should be no surprise then, that fully half of the dates are rejected. The wonder is, surely, that the remaining half has come to be accepted. No matter how useful it is, though, the radiocarbon method is still not capable of yielding accurate and reliable results. There are gross discrepancies, the chronology is uneven and relative, and the accepted dates are actually the selected dates. [5]

So, Carbon-14 dating is an invalid way of evaluating how old the earth really is. For an argument regarding Young Earth, please see, "What About Hebrews 11:3?" below.

Footnotes:

[1] "Why Scientific Studies Are So Often Wrong: The Streetlight Effect," by David H. Freedman, July/August 2010 issue of Discover Magazine (http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-aug/29-why-scientific-studies-often-wrong-streetlight-effect). Last Accessed 28 Nov. 2017.

[2] "Carbon 14 Dating Calculator," University of Pennsylvania Mathematics Department, (https://www.math.upenn.edu/~deturck/m170/c14/carbdate.html). Last Accessed 28 Nov. 2017.

[3] "But suffice to say the chronology before 4000bp is entirely dependent on C14 dates of the wood, and is thus tautologous." David A. Plaisted, Ph.D., "The Radiometric Dating Game," Department of Computer Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, (http://www.cs.unc.edu/~plaisted/ce/dating.html#Tree%20ring%20chronologies). Last Accessed 28 Nov. 2017.

[4] "Between 1955 and 1963, the use of atomic bombs doubled the amount of carbon-14 in our atmosphere." "Nuclear Bombs Made It Possible to Carbon Date Human Tissue," by Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian.com (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/nuclear-bombs-made-it-possible-to-carbon-date-human-tissue-20074710/). Last Accessed 28 Nov. 2017.

[5] "Radiocarbon, Ages in Error," by Robert E. Lee, Anthropological Journal of Canada, Vol. 19, No.3, 1981, pp. 9, 29.

Various Creation Positions

What is the Big Bang Theory?
What is the Day Age Theory?
What is Ex-nihilo?
What is the Framework Hypothesis?
What is the Gap Theory?
What About Hebrews 11:3?
What is the Intelligent Design Theory?
What is the Mature Universe Theory?
What is Old Earth Creationism (OEC)?
What is Progressive Creationism?
What is Theistic Evolution?
What is Young Earth Creationism (YEC)?

Related Notes:

What is the meaning of Day in Genesis 1?
Are there two different accounts of Creation?
What is BioLogos?
Did man eat meat before the Fall and the Flood?
A Universal or Regional Flood?
What About Dinosaurs?
Scientific Evidence for YEC?
How could there be evening and morning the first three days of Creation?
Extraterrestrials and the Bible?
Can a person be born an atheist?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).