email - May 2011
by Do-While Jones

Carbon 14 Diamonds

Can carbon 14 dating of diamonds prove a young Earth?

Tracy sent us this email:

Hi Mr Jones,

Iím a big fan of yours and have written in before about something random. Iím busy arguing on amazon.com about the age of the earth. Your articles on radiometric dating assumptions have been extremely helpful in educating me on this. I mentioned diamonds having detectable C14 as well as coal ĖI think I got that from creation.com. An evolutionist said you can easily find diamonds that have no C14, which is then evidence against a 6000 year old earth. The question is, how do I explain that? He takes C14 in diamonds as contamination and lack of C14 in diamonds as evidence against a young earth. How would you explain that? I donít even know if what heís saying is true. For all I know they all have C14 in them. Why would evolutionists ever look for C14 anyway? I donít want to ask the question without checking in with you as you are more experienced in arguing about this and may have encountered such a question before. Please help if you can!

Dead Diamonds

The short answer is, ďCarbon 14 canít be used to date diamonds because carbon 14 dating tells how long it has been since something died. Since diamonds were never alive, it doesnít work.Ē

Hereís the longer answer: the process that creates carbon 14 now is not necessarily the process that created carbon 14 when the diamonds were created.

These days, carbon 14 is continuously created as cosmic radiation converts nitrogen 14 into carbon 14 in the atmosphere. The rate at which carbon 14 is produced has reached equilibrium with the rate at which carbon 14 naturally decays back into nitrogen. So, the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 is reasonably constant. When oxygen combines with carbon to form carbon dioxide, it doesnít matter if the carbon is carbon 12 or carbon 14. The ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in carbon dioxide is the ratio in the atmosphere.

Green plants absorb carbon dioxide as long as they are alive. They use it to produce sugars, fats, cellulose and other organic material. When they die, they stop absorbing carbon dioxide. The carbon 14 gradually decays to nitrogen. The longer it has been since the living thing died, the less carbon 14 there is in the plant. The longer the plant has been dead, the lower the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in it.

Animals canít make their own food. They get the carbon they need to form tissues and burn as fuel by eating plants. Since they eat plants that are still alive, or have not been dead long enough for their carbon 14 to decay, the carbon ratio in the bodies of living animals is the same as the carbon ratio in the plants they ate, which is the same as the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the atmosphere. When the animal dies, its carbon 14 decays without being replaced. So, the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in an animal depends upon how long it has been dead, just like a plant.

All of this has nothing to do with diamonds because diamonds were never alive, and therefore never ate or breathed carbon 14.

Nobody really knows what created diamonds in the first place. Presumably, carbon atoms were pressed together under high pressure to make it crystallize. That's how artificial diamonds are made. So, we know natural diamonds COULD HAVE BEEN made that way. But just because natural diamonds could have been made that way, they werenít necessarily made that way.

Regardless of how the carbon came to be crystallized in the form of diamonds, we donít know the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 when it was originally formed. It doesnít matter if you believe God said, ďLet there be carbon!Ē or if a star exploded and created carbon from hydrogenóyou have no way of knowing how much of the carbon that was originally created was carbon 12 or carbon 14.

No matter how you look at it, you canít tell the age of a diamond by examining how much carbon 14 there is in it.

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