Carbon Dating explanation (It Couldn't Just Happen)

(Lisa) #1

Working my way through It Couldn’t Just Happen to prep for CC Challenge A this coming year…

I need another set of eyes to tell me if the explanation of carbon dating is correct:
p55 "…a certain percent of different radioactive elements slowly turn into other elements. Carbon 14 turns into Carbon 12."
p58 "Scientists assume that originally all the material in a radiometric sample was carbon 14 or rubidium or whatever. What if originally part of the material being measured was already carbon 12? … Since we do not know what was there originally, the dates may be very far from correct."
p58 “Experiments have shown that carbon 14, for instance, does change into carbon 12 at different rates, depending on factors like heat and radiation. Also, we know that high electric voltages definitely change the rate of decay of many elements.”

I thought it worked like this:
-there are several isotopes of carbon in the atmosphere
-living things exchange carbon with the atmosphere until they die at which point they do not take on any more carbon
-the carbon 14 undergoes radioactive decay to nitrogen 14
-the carbon 12 is stable and does not undergo decay
-measuring the amount of carbon 14 and carbon 12 in a sample and calculating the current ratio allows you to determine how long ago the organism died (since the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the atmosphere does change some over time, you need to use a calibration curve…these are developed by measuring carbon ratios in tree rings and other once living things that can be dated by other methods)

I could not find anything about decay rates changing based on heat or radiation and the author gives no source so should I doubt that statement also??

(Christy Hemphill) #2

@jammycakes James, can you answer this or point out some good links for us?

(Phil) #3

This is sort of the go-to article for dating, written in a Christian perspective. It explains a lot about various dating techniques, but the carbon specific part of the article in about half way through the paper. It is all good stuff for basic understanding.

(Phil) #4

Of course, don’t tell my wife I am looking at Christian dating sites. She might get the wrong impression.

(George Brooks) #5

Typo: “Carbon 14 turns into Carbon 12”.

(Lisa) #6

Thanks…that was my typo, not the original author’s :slight_smile:

(James McKay) #7

Hi Lisa,

Your understanding of carbon-14 dating is correct. I’ve no idea where the author of It Couldn’t Just Happen got some of his facts from, but they are simply … what’s the word I’m looking for? … oh yes, “wrong.”

As you correctly stated, carbon 14 turns into nitrogen 14, not carbon 12. He’s simply not getting his facts straight here, and that is completely unacceptable for any science textbook, no matter what worldview it adopts. I’d ask some serious questions about whether he’s qualified to be writing on the subject, and what kind of editorial oversight it’s had. Real science textbooks are peer reviewed.

Again, untrue. Scientists don’t blindly assume anything. Scientists have some clever ways of figuring out the original composition of a sample; the calibration curves against tree rings that you mentioned are one example of this. They also do a lot of cross-checks between different dating methods to figure out which ones work in which circumstances and to test the assumptions to see whether or not they are valid.

At best misleading; at worst, completely untrue.

There have been a small number of studies in recent years that seem to suggest that some radioactive decay rates can vary slightly with certain environmental factors. However, the findings are controversial, replication of the results has been spotty at best, the necessary conditions are extreme, and in any case, even if the effects are real, they are far, far, far too small to have any significant effect on radiometric dating results.

Current YEC thinking is that nuclear decay rates must have been much faster — by a factor of a billion or more — during the first two days of the Creation Week and during the Flood. This was the subject of a $1.25 million, eight year project called RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) run by the Institute for Creation Research from 1997 to 2005. Unfortunately, their conclusions degenerated into complete absurdity — they admitted that this much radiation in this short a time would have released enough heat to vaporise the earth’s crust many times over.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that accelerated nuclear decay in general — and certainly on that scale — is complete science fiction.

(Bruce Holt) #8

It is worth noting here that It Couldn’t Just Happen is not a science textbook. I think Richards wrote it to be a sort of apologetics book for kids. That said, he addresses many science topics, and I think it is indisputable that he was unqualified to write on the subject. As you have previously pointed out so well, James, it is inexcusable for Christians to be carelessly promulgating information that is demonstrably false.

We had some discussion about the substandard textbook review process for some “Christian” textbook publishers last year.

(Lisa) #9

Yes, I think “apologetics for kids” is how I’d characterize this book (which is no excuse, and arguably if you’re writing something to bolster someone’s faith, it’s fairly important to get your facts straight).

@cartophile How did you handle this book with your teen? I’m thinking my approach is two-fold:

  • The book is a demonstration of what happens when someone writes in an area beyond their expertise. They make errors that are quite obvious to those knowledgeable about the subject because their knowledge is cursory. I will point out some of the errors, showing my son how to use actual scientific sources to check what he’s reading.

  • The author had a good intention - to bolster your faith. But in trying to make his case, he employs many fallacies. We’ll identify some of the major fallacies (from my notes so far the big ones are false dichotomy, straw man, argument from incredulity, moving the goalposts, quote mining, conflation of concepts). We’ll also talk about more appropriate ways to approach science & faith.