I'm hoping for a little help, here.

Conor Wilson
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I'm hoping for a little help, here.

I have a Christian friend who is well aware of my puppy-torturing, kitten-barbequeing (sp?) atheist ways, and of course he wants me back in Christianity.  One thing that he mentioned, though, is something that I can't argue against: he asserts that science is considering the possibility that carbon-14 dating may be off.  Allegedly, carbon-14 decay seems to have gone at a different rate at some point in the past, and this, of course, is evidence that science is inadequate as a source of truth.

 

Now, I can already see *some* problems with his position.  (I'm not a complete idiot, even if I occasionally do a good impression of one.)  Science obviously outclasses religion any day of the week, because science can correct its mistakes without gutting the very reason for giving it high regard.  Religion can never make this claim; once you've said that a benevolent (...I know, I know, but stay with me, here...) omniscience has decreed...whatever it is...then either you're right or you're wrong, and that's all there is to it.

 

What I'm having difficulty with is this: for all I know, maybe science *has* discovered some sort of significant discrepancy with carbon-14 dating.  My money is on the idea that this claim is creationist crap, but I don't have the information to back up my instincts.  Can anyone here refute this idea/provide a link/point me in the right direction?  Thanks in advance.

 

Conor


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Conor Wilson wrote:One thing

Conor Wilson wrote:
One thing that he mentioned, though, is something that I can't argue against: he asserts that science is considering the possibility that carbon-14 dating may be off.  Allegedly, carbon-14 decay seems to have gone at a different rate at some point in the past, and this, of course, is evidence that science is inadequate as a source of truth.

This is really vague. Did your friend make more specific claims? 

The first thing I that comes to my mind is that carbon 14 only has a half-life of about 5,730 years, so it only needs to have decayed at a reasonably reliable rate for approximately the last 60,000 years. I don't know of any evidence which supports his claim, so there's really not much I can say. He needs to present evidence for this.

Also, what he's saying is pretty ironic. See, if we knew that carbon 14 decayed at a different rate at some time in the past and the rate at which it decayed, then we could simply adjust our dates to accommodate. This is better evidence that science works than that it doesn't work. Your friend is more likely trying to argue for Young Earth Creationism than that science doesn't work. Creationists are constantly harping about how science supports Genesis. 

Edit: 

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CF/CF210.html

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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Conor Wilson wrote:I have a

Conor Wilson wrote:

I have a Christian friend who is well aware of my puppy-torturing, kitten-barbequeing (sp?) atheist ways, and of course he wants me back in Christianity.  One thing that he mentioned, though, is something that I can't argue against: he asserts that science is considering the possibility that carbon-14 dating may be off.  Allegedly, carbon-14 decay seems to have gone at a different rate at some point in the past, and this, of course, is evidence that science is inadequate as a source of truth.

What baffles me is how someone could use this argment (even if true) and go from "carbing daying may be flawed" to "therefor the biblical timelime is correct."   What a leap.

 


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That's funny.There are far

That's funny.

There are far more kinds of radiometric dating methods.

Google will serve you both well.

 

If it's simply needing to prove that Genesis has some problems with time...

Look up in the sky. If you are looking at the Andromeda galaxy(M31) then the light you see happened approx. 2.5 million years ago.

If you can find the big dipper, use the two stars on the front to point to polaris(north star) continue  to cassiopeia (big W shape) and slightly angled from there is Andromeda.

 

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I've also run into arguments

I've also run into arguments against carbon dating, and therefore evolution. I've tried reading up but I still didn't understand all of it. Theists seem to claim c-14 dating has been disproven, therefore evolution is false. For instance they will say 'Scientists tested an object they knew to be 100 years old, and c-14 dating put it at 5,000 years old, therefore it is not a valid test means'

A thing to remember here is even if c-14 is proven to be unreliable, it doesn't present any more evidence for the existence of their god. Heck, even if all of evolution was false, it doesn't automatically mean god exists.

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Tell your friend to give up

Tell your friend to give up and look more deeply into science before trying to give an argument.

http://geology.about.com/od/geotime_dating/a/K_argon_dating.htm


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Conor Wilson wrote:One thing

Conor Wilson wrote:
One thing that he mentioned, though, is something that I can't argue against: he asserts that science is considering the possibility that carbon-14 dating may be off. Allegedly, carbon-14 decay seems to have gone at a different rate at some point in the past, and this, of course, is evidence that science is inadequate as a source of truth.

 

What I'm having difficulty with is this: for all I know, maybe science *has* discovered some sort of significant discrepancy with carbon-14 dating. My money is on the idea that this claim is creationist crap, but I don't have the information to back up my instincts. Can anyone here refute this idea/provide a link/point me in the right direction? Thanks in advance.

 

Conor

 

OK, your friend is probably just repeating an old canard about accuracy in science. The fact is that any measurement is going to have defined error bars where we simply cannot be absolutely certain. In the case of carbon 14 dating, it is simply not possible to date an object to say 13 October 8354 BCE at 10:04 a.m.

 

Allow me to explain a bit further.

 

Carbon 14 has a known radioactive halflife which is a matter of quantum physics. What make it useful is the fact that at the moment that a specific plant or animal dies, it stops participating in the environment and the level of carbon 14 is fixed at that point. By analyzing the amount of carbon 14 present, it is possible to get a decent idea of when it died. Past that, you should also know that the half life of carbon 14 is close enough to 5730 years and we can measure it accurately for about ten half lives before there is no longer enough to work with. Here is where the rub is:

 

If carbon 14 is produced in the environment at a steady rate, then we can use it for dating with a high degree of confidence. Mostly this is correct. However, there are slight variations in the rate of formation of carbon 14. The primary source for carbon 14 is when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere interact with nitrogen 14 (which is stable). However, that process is not perfectly constant.

 

  1. In our galaxy, there is a supernova about twice every century on average and that will cause a temporary increase in the level of cosmic rays coming in from space.

     

  2. Also, the earth's magnetic field changes slowly with time and this throws a small uncertainty into the works.

     

  3. If that is not enough, changes in the level of sequestered carbon entering the atmosphere also contribute to the uncertainty in carbon dating (forest fires, methane hydrate in permafrost being released by climate change, the industrial revolution for example).

 

So just how can we even use the carbon clock at all? Well, the fact is that it is not the only clock that we have which can be used on the same time scale.

 

For example, we can check the carbon 14 level in tree rings. Since we know when tree rings were made to an accuracy of about one year going back a few thousand years, we can get the first part of the carbon clock down pretty accurately. Past that, we can line those dates up with other dating systems, such as varves (annual deposits of sediment in rivers and lake beds) and ice cores from the arctic. Generally, we can use carbon dating to get dates accurate to between 30 and 50 years when they are compared to other sources of dating information.

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I'd heard that carbon dating

I'd heard that carbon dating is useless on marine life.
Makes a living seal read as being billions of years old.
So it only works for land life.

Kent Hovind took the fact that it didn't work on sea life to try and argue that it didn't work at all.
Sometimes you have to wonder whether he was deliberately being ignorant...


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There are tons and tons and

There are tons and tons and tons and tons of problems with C-14 dating. Luckily we have found work around to these problems. First a little piece of trivia. In the 1940's Willard Libby and James Arnold calculated the half life of radiocarbon (C-14) to be 5568 years. This value was used thought to be correct and used in radiocarbon dating experiments for quite some time. We now know that is 5730. However, because it would be confusing to change over to the correct value the original half life of 5568 years is still used even today. Is this a problem? Nope, its not off by enough to make a difference, once we account for all the other problems with C-14 dating.

 

Radiocarbon is produced in the earth's atmosphere when radiation hits nitrogen. I'm not a chemist and I don't know exactly how this happens so bare with me. Now, if the sun emits a constant rate of radiation then C-14 should be produced at the same rate. If this is true then we should see a build up of C-14 until it reaches critical mass and the amount of material decays at the same rate as it is produced. This is at about 62T. However, as we all know, the sun has periods of high and low activity. For this reason scientists have created calibration curves that were calculated by dating objects of known age (pieces of wood dated by dendrochronology, objects from tombs with written dates, etc...). What we can now do is compare the number calculated from a radiocarbon experiment to these charts to calibrate the age. It should be noted that this is only needed for objects more than 2500 years old (before 500 BCE).

 

Another problem is the deep ocean. The ocean exchanges carbon with the atmosphere. Sometimes carbon (and C-14 with it) can get trapped in the deep ocean, where it can remain for hundreds and thousands of years. While in the deep ocean, radiocarbon will decay. When water from the deep ocean wells up and ultimately rejoins the rest of the carbon exchange cycle, it dilutes the C-14 content with C-12 (regular carbon). This is also taken into consideration with the calibration curves.

 

Next we get to local problems. Rocks, like the deep ocean, can also act as carbon sinks. When rocks are formed carbon is trapped in them. The C-14 part of this carbon decays. When rocks erode by rain (or other forces) they expel their carbon into lakes and rivers. This, of course, dilutes the C-14 with C-12. For this must be taken into account when calibrating the age and can be done so by measuring. Also, C-12 diffuses over over plant leaves easier than C-14 (because its lighter, C-14 has 2 extra neutrons). When animals eat the leaves they dilute the C-14 in their body. This travels up the food chain and charts must be made for each species.

 

There are also problems with contamination. This can be avoided by good lab practices and by dating the insides of objects (the inside is less likely to be contaminated because its protected from the outside world).

 

Also, where funding permits, it is better to send two samples, each to different labs. If the results are the same then it is much more likely that there was no contamination or other complications with the experiment.

 

Sorry, I don't have any sources. I took a course on archaeology and the physical sciences and I'm just repeating what is in my notes. Hope this helped!


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It should be noted that

It should be noted that carbon dating is NOT used for the VAST majority of exploring Earth's history. It doesn't last long enough. Elements like uranium are used. So whenever a theist mentions carbon dating, you already know they haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about. Carbon would only be so useful if the Earth really was only 6000 years old.

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Kent Hovind has more to

Kent Hovind has more to worry about prison dating than carbon dating.

 

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Vastet wrote:Carbon would

Vastet wrote:
Carbon would only be so useful if the Earth really was only 6000 years old.

Lol. Unfortunately for them, carbon dating can still be used to date organic remains to about 60,000 years, which is already an entire order of magnitude older than the age of the universe.

 

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Thanks again,

Thanks again, everyone!

 

Conor


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OK, carbon dating has

OK, carbon dating has issues. I thought that I had covered that much.

 

However, the fact is that there are several other methods of dating stuff that are useful in the range where carbon dating applies. Each of those dating methods also has issues but the overall idea is that when several different methods of estimating a date overlap, then one can have some confidence that each of them is adequate within the limits that each provides.

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.

Quote:
...he asserts that science is considering the possibility that carbon-14 dating may be off.  Allegedly, carbon-14 decay seems to have gone at a different rate at some point in the past, and this, of course, is evidence that science is inadequate as a source of truth.

There is no hope for believers.

There is NO reconsideration of the decay rate, period. End of that discussion.

C14 is produced by cosmic rays. The more C14 the younger. About fifteen years ago there was some speculation that a nearby nova/supernova might have increased the cosmic ray flux and made some old things appear younger. Any such event would work in favor of creationists. To make things appear older there would have to be a decrease in cosmic ray flux. There is no conceivable mechanism by which this could have occurred.

The reality is C14 dating is used almost exclusively to date human activity. At the time this suggestion was made C14 dating was only good for about 16kyr and it might have explained why the sudden appearance of human artifacts 6kyr ago. That is things over several thousand years might appear to be bunched into a younger date. This has since been discarded. It explained nothing. Other dating methods are reasonably consistent with no increase in C14 in the atmosphere.

There is more to it than this but these are the fundamentals.

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As far as an argument for

As far as an argument for questioning science, the reverse is true. 

It is only by scientific techniques that we could get any real assessment of the accuracy of carbon dating.

The accuracy of carbon dating is going to be dependent on the assumed rate at which carbon-14 is generated, which has appeared to be constant, but it may have varied if the rate of cosmic ray bombardment has varied.

This is vastly more likely that the other option which Young Earth Creationist scientists ( there are a  few) have speculated on, that the decay rate has varied over time.

 

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Introduce him to potassium

Introduce him to potassium argon dating and all the rest of the methods and he has no argument. Like somebody else said, there are many other methods.