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Recent Work Pays Dividends

Recent Work Pays Dividends


American scientists from the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society set up a committee to study dating techniques which are often used to justify claims that the earth is very old. This was several years ago. Specifically, these scientists wanted to find out how the numbers obtained from most studies on rocks, could be explained in the context of a relatively young earth.

They therefore asked some supplementary questions that secular scientists were not asking. This team had their own ideas as to what the answers would be, but they had to actually do the studies to find out if these were valid. This research would require donations totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars since no government agency in the United States would support such work. The money did come in and the highly technical research was carried out.

The answers, while not exactly what they had predicted (in some cases), nevertheless did help to explain how young rocks and thus a young earth came to be the way they are. The secular data, when examined in the context of these recent studies, in no way justify conclusions of an old earth.

Originally the RATE team (short for Radioactivity and the Age of the Earth) had not intended to look specifically at Carbon-14 (C-14) dating. In that the half life of C-14 is only 5730 years, this element obviously is not a popular secular dating choice when the expectation is for ages in the million or billion year range. What this element can do for us, however, is to indicate an unexpectedly young age for certain materials. With so short a half life, a quantity of C-14, no matter how large, will be all gone (turned back into Nitrogen-14) within 43.6 half-lives or the passage of 250,000 years.

Most natural Carbon exists in the stable form called Carbon-12. Nowadays only one atom in one trillion is C-14. This latter atom is produced when a cosmic ray strikes an atom of Nitrogen-14. That converts the atom into a radioactive atom of C-14. However after 5730 years, one half of the radioactive Carbon atoms present will have reverted to stable Nitrogen-14. After another 5730 years, a further half will have decayed, leaving only a quarter of the original C-14 left after only 11,460 years. And the process of decay continues.

Everybody agrees on all this of course, so how can this be a problem for secular science? Living plants and animals all accumulate some C-14 while they are alive. Through photosynthesis, plants turn Carbon dioxide into food. Thus radioactive Carbon in fairly similar proportions to its presence in air, is turned into plant tissue. Animals eat plants, so they also contain C-14 in proportions somewhat similar to air.

Once a plant or animal dies however, it stops the intake of nutrients. The only place for the C-14 levels already present in this tissue to go, is down and out. Obviously organic material, no matter how well preserved, if it is older than a quarter million years, should contain absolutely zero radioactive Carbon.

Imagine then the surprise of the scientific establishment to actual analyses of ancient Carbon. Whether it is ancient coal or fossilized shells or whatever, all organic material contains detectable levels of C-14. Does this mean these materials are young in age? That is a good question!

Early C-14 studies, performed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, were conducted using a beta-decay counting technique. This method however was unable to distinguish cosmic rays from particles emanating from the Carbon source. Thus the method could not reliably measure low levels of C-14. Within the past twenty years however, the much more sensitive accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) method has come into general use. These machines are so precise that they are fully capable of measuring C-14 levels as low as 0.001 percent of modern Carbon (pmc). Based on the known rate of C-14 decay, a measurement of 0.79 pmc translates by a simple equation into an age estimate of 40,000 years.

% modern Carbon
0.79 40,000
0.24 50,000
0.070 60,000
0.011 75,000
0.001 95,000

The expectation of the secular science community obviously has been that organic Carbon materials considered to be millions, ten of millions or even hundreds of millions of years old, will contain no radioactive Carbon. The scientific literature however is full of studies on ancient materials, which have documented significant quantities of C-14 far in excess of the AMS threshold, even when extreme pre-treatment methods are applied to exclude any modern contamination.The recent study is a case in point.

The RATE team obtained 10 samples of coal from the U. S. Department of Energy Coal Sample Bank maintained at Penn State University. The large original samples in the energy bank had been carefully collected from recently exposed surfaces in active mines. They were placed in argon gas in specially sealed containers to prevent contamination. Later these samples were divided into smaller amounts, also sealed in non-reactive argon gas.

The RATE team selected ten samples from geographically widely dispersed sources, of which three were said to be of Eocene age (about 40 million years), three of Cretaceous age (about 100 my), and four of Pennsylvanian age (about 300 my). These samples were then analyzed for C-14 at one of the foremost AMS laboratories in the world. Obviously none of these samples should have contained any C-14. Nevertheless they all did.

The highest measured level was 0.46 pmc for a Pennsylvanian age coal and the lowest was 0.10 pmc for a Cretaceous specimen. These measurements suggested ages of 40,000 to 60,000 years for samples which secular scientists would date at 40 million to 350 million years. In similar studies, strenuous attempts by secular scientists have been conducted to eliminate any modern contamination, but in paper after paper, these people have had to admit that such values are “intrinsic to the samples” or real.

Many readers will realize that estimates such as 60,000 years are far older than a conservative young earth model would suggest. The RATE authors however consider various assumptions about likely C-14 levels on the early earth. For example, they assume that C-14 levels were initially near zero and that these steadily increased as time passed. By the time of the flood, when huge amounts of organic material were buried, the C-14 level in the atmosphere may well still have been much lower than our modern values. Thus the starting values of radioactive Carbon in these organic materials may have been much lower than modern observations would suggest. It would then require a much shorter period of decay to reach the values we observe today in these coal samples. Thus the real time interval could be much shorter than 60,000 years.

One further interesting observation is that the average values for the three coal samples are all close together: 0.26 pmc for Eocene samples, 0.21 for Cretaceous, and 0.27 pmc for Pennsylvanian. These values were all obtained by a world class laboratory. The data suggest that these samples were all buried about the same time. The indication is that huge depths of sedimentary rock were deposited in a single event — presumably the flood of Noah.

The RATE team has more studies, all with hard data and theoretical models, and all are consistent with a young earth model. Observers who are already committed to long ages, may choose to ignore these studies. The data however merit serious consideration. Now, more than ever, people who think that science has “proved” the earth to be ancient, should pause to read these papers. Discussion and criticism are fine and are appreciated. Ignoring these studies is not fine. Make no mistake, the creationists are developing a powerful paradigm / model.

Margaret Helder
December 2003

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