Man has a great desire to learn about the past. Determination of how old relics from the past are is of great importance to everyone involved in studying the past, and as a consequence scientists have developed numerous methods to determine the age of old things. Many of these methods depend upon "radioactivity", which is a special behavior exhibited by certain elements. These methods are often called "radioactive dating" methods. Probably Radiocarbon Dating is the most well known of all these techniques, and even many laymen have heard this name.
Radiocarbon dating is a powerful tool of science, and it has been used with great success for studying the past. This is one reason why this method is widely known even among those who do not have any direct touch with the world of science. Interestingly, in the past two hundred years almost every new discovery of science has been used by someone or other to claim that the Bible contains errors, and radiocarbon dating has not been spared by people who make such claims.
In connection with the creation/evolution issue one often hears the statement that the radiocarbon dating has established that biblical chronology of human history is wrong and that this method has established that man has been on the earth for more than 50,000 or 100,000 years. This, and similar claims about radiocarbon dating are very interesting and they need a closer investigation. We will do thin in the form of the following question-answers for convenience:
QUESTION: I have been told that radiocarbon dating has been used to establish that certain organic remains are more than 50,000 years old. If true, this establishes that creation of life took place tens of thousand of years before the date that is obtained from Genesis!
ANSWER: Organic remains from the past usually come from animals or plants, and therefore if these organic remains are really 50,000 years old, then we will have to rethink about our interpretation of Genesis. But before one hastens to abandon Genesis it is necessary to investigate these claims. One should not forget that such claims have been coming against Genesis with a certain intensity now for over four centuries. People claimed that this book is wrong in several thousand places, but all these alleged errors only vanished with time. Genesis has stood the test of time, and therefore all claims against it should be investigated objectively.
Whenever a standard of measurement is used to measure a quantity (for example, mass, length, time, etc.) it must first be checked for accuracy. This is usually done by evaluating it against a standard that is known for accuracy. For example, a standard for measuring weight has to be checked against the calibrated weight held by the Department Of Weight And Measurement. In the same way, if the radiocarbon method has to be accurate, than it has to be checked against ancient objects of known age. For example if something is known to be four thousand years old, and if the radiocarbon methods gives the same age, than this method can be considered accurate up to that age. But if it gives a different date, then it has an error, the percentage of which can be calculated.
Radiocarbon dating techniques have indeed been calibrated against ancient objects of known date, and in a good number of cases it is seen that as the sample gets older, the ages determined starts to deviate more and more from the actual value.
This means that as relics from the past get older, the ages given by the radiocarbon method must be accepted with caution. Further, these dates have been checked and calibrated only for about past five thousand years. This means that all measurements which are related to objects older than this, the dates are uncertain. This uncertainty might be higher than anybody’s guess because of past worldwide disturbances like the flood, making a 5500 years old object look like it is 55,000 years old. A few years ago scientists would have laughed off any suggestion about a worldwide catastrophe, but in the recent years this has all changed and many of them have even proposed the occurrence of one or more catastrophes in the past.
All of this taken together indicates that there is nothing yet in radiocarbon dating which has contradicted the Genesis ages. This method has not been calibrated beyond 5000 years, and a worldwide catastrophe like the universal flood might drastically alter all the dates around and beyond this time making uncalibrated dates highly suspect.
QUESTION: I heard that in some cases radiocarbon dating has given such grossly wrong results that we should altogether abandon this method of dating ?
ANSWER: It is true in some cases this method has given excessively wrong ages. for example, shells of live freshwater clams have, interestingly, shown that they have been dead for over 1700 years ! There are a number of reasons why a few specimens give such misleading results, and a good many of the reasons are understood today. Since we already understand a good many of the exceptions in the calibrated region of 5000 years, there is no cause at all for abandoning this method.
However, the exceptions do remind us that all results must be evaluated carefully, and should not to be accepted blindly. Also, this calls for great caution for accepting any dates beyond 5000 years because they have not been cross checked or calibrated with any certainty.
QUESTION: Is there anything of significance which you might want to tell me in this connection ?
ANSWER: Yes ! Careful study and analysis of the atmosphere of the earth has brought some interesting facts to our notice: when this method of dating was developed for the first time, a crucial assumption was made. They assumed that the production and decay of radiocarbon in the atmosphere is in equilibrium. This means that the rate of production is exactly equal to the rate of decay. It has been estimated that it would take a maximum of about 30,000 years to establish this balance.
However, numerous measurements and analyses later demonstrated conclusively that this equilibrium has not been established so far. This has a radical implication both for evolutionists as well as creationists: that the earth’s atmosphere is less than 30,000 years old !! This indicates that the earth’s atmospheres is not billions of years old contrary to what is assumed by many. On the other hand, here is a date which is closer to the age given by the Bible rather than by the theory of evolution.
CONCLUSION: Almost every discovery and invention has been used by some to attack the Bible. Radiocarbon dating has also been used by some for this purpose. However, careful evaluation demonstrates that instead of refuting biblical data, radiocarbon dating methods only support them — to the best of our knowledge.
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