email - October 2006

Jack Doesn’t Know

The Carbon 14 Myth Continues

The feature article in our July newsletter addressed the myth that carbon 14 dating proves fossils are millions of years old because we regularly get emails like this one:

Jack has sent you a news article.

------------------------------------------ Personal message:

This is REAL science. Carbon 14 dating is very accurate. What's your answer?

Ethiopia unveils 3.3 million-year-old girl fossil - Yahoo! News

The email may be difficult to read if you aren’t familiar with the way Yahoo! News sends automatically generated messages. Jack was reading the Yahoo! News article about Little Lucy 1 titled “Ethiopia … etc.” and clicked on the link that automatically creates an email and sends it to us. Yahoo! News allows the sender to add a personal message. In this case, Jack added “This is REAL science . … answer?”

Last July we said that the reason for writing the feature article is so that we could answer emails like this one by telling the writer to read the July newsletter. We sent Jack an email to that effect, but it didn’t work because we got this response from Jack.

What the Carbon-14 (half-life 5730 years) does is give a minimum age for the artifact. That is, if the artifact is older than approximately 50,000 years then the C-14/C-12 ratio approaches zero. However, should it be younger than ~50,000 years then there has to be a useable (detectable) C-14/C-12 ratio. So an organic artifact with no detectable C-14 would at minimum be ~50,000 years old.

Clearly, he didn’t even bother to read our newsletter. If he had, he would have known that our essay begins by saying that all of a sample’s carbon 14 decays in 50,000 years. The fact that he told us what we already wrote is evidence that he didn’t bother to read what we wrote.

The ironic thing is that he must not have bothered to read the Yahoo! News article he sent us, either. If he had, he would have known the article didn’t mention carbon 14 dating. He just saw a headline that contained the words “3.3 million-year-old” and assumed carbon 14 dating was used to prove it.

If Jack knew Jack, he would have known that carbon 14 dating is a destructive test method. You have to pulverize part of the sample down to individual atoms, which are separated by mass. Nobody is going to take a piece of a priceless fossil and destroy it in order to find out how old it is; especially if they think it is so old that there will be no detectable carbon 14 in it anyway.

Furthermore, doing carbon 14 dating on a fossil (rather than a piece of wood from an Egyptian coffin, for example) is dicey because the fossilization process has certainly contaminated the sample. Fossilization turns something that was formerly living to stone by replacing the organic material with other minerals. (Petrified wood is the most beautiful example.) If a skeleton is petrified at all, the original organic material has been at least partially replaced by other minerals, which might include some carbon. In other words, petrifaction is contamination by definition.

The scientists examining the skeleton didn’t destroy part of it looking for carbon 14 because they believe there should not be any left in it. If they had looked, and had found some carbon 14, they would have said the carbon 14 was contamination introduced by the fossilization process.

The same issue of Nature that described Little Lucy included a five-page paper describing how they determined the date. That paper isn’t very quotable, full of sentences like these.

Stratigraphic framework is based on tephrostratigraphic correlations that allow direct comparisons between the DRP fauna and others of the Awash Valley (see Supplementary Table 1), where considerable effort has been focused on radiometric dating of volcanic strata interfingered with hominin-bearing sediments. Altered tephra indicated in Fig. 2 are not analysed due to complete weathering of glass shards. 2

If you wade through it, you find that the fossil itself was not dated. The age of the fossil was determined from the presumed age of the rocks. The rocks in this area weren’t radiometrically dated, either. They are presumed to be the same age as similar rocks that have been dated at other places. The ages of those rocks were determined by the supposed times of prehistoric earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, prehistoric changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, and fossils.

The fossils are most important because they tell what kinds of animals were living at the time, and what the climate was like at the time. “Knowing” how long it took for the fossils to evolve, and how long it took for the climate to change, they know which of the conflicting radiometric dating techniques is the “reliable” one.

It is pointless to argue with people like Jack because they are so sure they are right they don’t even bother to read or think. The article doesn’t mention carbon 14, and yet Jack thinks it proves the accuracy of carbon 14 dating.

We hope this doesn’t sound like we are picking on Jack. We are just using his email to substantiate our claims that some evolutionists believe silly things because they have been told a lie so often that they don’t bother to question it. We don’t think Jack is stupid. We suspect that his brain is fully functional. He just appears to be stupid because he has been misinformed, and hasn’t bothered to think about what he has been told.

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1 See our feature article on Little Lucy in this month's newsletter.
2 Wynn, et al., Nature 443, 21 September 2006, “Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia” pages 332-336