September 23, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Archive: Radiocarbon Found in Ancient Coal

From 20 years ago this week: This article from Sept 25, 2003 dropped offline when the website was upgraded. We reproduce it here for readers’ benefit. —Editor

Radiocarbon Found in Ancient Coal   09/25/2003
Dr. John Baumgardner reported finding carbon-14 still ticking in coal samples that should be radiocarbon-dead. Because carbon-14 has a short half life of 5730 years, it rapidly decays, such that after 20 half-lives (114,700 years) carbon-12 would outnumber carbon-14 atoms a million to one. After 1.5 million years, if one had started with a pile of carbon-14 equal to the mass of the entire universe, not a single carbon-14 atom would be left. Therefore, carbon-14 should be totally absent in samples far younger than a million years old.

Baumgardner and a team from the Institute for Creation Research involved in studying radiometric dating methods submitted 10 samples of coal from three different geological periods (Eocene, Cretaceous and Pennsylvanian) to a leading radiocarbon dating laboratory, which uses the highly accurate accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) method. The samples measured 0.21 to 0.27 percent modern carbon (pmc), indicating they cannot be older than 50,000 years, and possibly much younger, even though according to the geologic column, the periods tested are assumed to range around 50 million, 100 million and 300 million years old, respectively.  The measured values “fall squarely within the range already established in the peer-reviewed radiocarbon literature,” says Baumgardner, and show “little difference in 14C level as a function of position in the geological record.”
Source: ICR Impact #364, October 2003.

Critics will undoubtedly complain that these creationists have an ulterior motive for questioning the old age of the earth, but doesn’t that criticism cut both ways? Are the motives of Darwinians pure as the wind-driven snow? Can we not brush aside the motive-bashing and just look at the facts? It’s the quality of the research that matters.

These scientists, each with PhDs from recognized institutions, took samples from the U.S. Department of Energy Coal Sample Bank maintained at Pennsylvania State University. They had the samples radiocarbon dated at “one of the foremost AMS laboratories in the world.” It was the laboratory, not ICR, that returned the measurements that carbon-14 was still ticking in the samples. Further, the ICR scientists are not the only ones who have found this to be the case. Baumgardner states that this is a well-known anomaly among geophysicists:

Routinely finding 14C/12C ratios on the order of 0.1-0.5% of the modern value—a hundred times or more above the AMS detection threshold—in samples supposedly tens to hundreds of millions of years old is therefore a huge anomaly for the uniformitarian framework.

This earnest effort to understand this “contamination problem” therefore generated scores of peer-reviewed papers in the standard radiocarbon literature during the last 20 years. Most of these papers acknowledge that most of the 14C in the samples studied appear to be intrinsic to the samples themselves, and they usually offer no explanation for its origin. The reality of significant levels of 14C in a wide variety of fossil sources from throughout the geological record has thus been established in the secular scientific literature by scientists who assume the standard geological time scale is valid and have no special desire for this result!

Unless evolutionists can come up with an explanation for how carbon-14 got into so many samples from so many locations, that all show similar amounts despite their position in the geologic column, the clear implications are: (1) the samples are not as old as claimed, and (2) the geologic periods, assumed to be successive, were more or less contemporaneous.

Dr. Baumgardner’s report is one of eight presented at the Fifth International Conference on Creationism in August by the ICR team named RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth). The other seven papers presented additional evidences that call evolutionary long ages into question. For a summary of these, see: ICR Acts and Facts #364, October 2003.

For an example of anomalous radiocarbon dates in the secular literature, see: Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences Vol 29 (May 2001), pp. 256-294, posted online 04/22/2003. It shows that dating of modern deltas by radiocarbon yields mostly unexpected results. How much more coal beds that are assumed to be millions of years old? A glimpse of articles discussing anomalous radiocarbon dates in a cursory Internet search shows that evolutionists have a few just-so stories available for explaining them: shellfish that exclude or ingest carbon-14 from their shells, etc. (see, for example, Quaternary Chronology and Dating by James S. Aber). But none of these appear valid for coal beds, which should have no radiocarbon at all if they were many millions of years old, as evolutionary geology assumes them to be.

Again, we see that evolutionists can be very creative in their storytelling. It’s not that they are unable to concoct a story to fit the data, but that the data require a story to fit a belief. The dates were not expected nor predicted. In the hands of a skilled masseur, sometimes they can be made to fit the theory. Other times, the evolutionists chalk them up as a mystery and leave it for future workers to figure out, never questioning their assumptions.

When various dating methods yield old and young ages, which results should be preferred? Results in the millions and billions of years require extrapolating, by many orders of magnitude, rates that have only been measured for a hundred years, while assuming no processes have intervened for vast periods of time not open to human observation. Young-age results, therefore have a much better observation to assumption ratio. Regardless of the implications, reason and scientific caution advise that we take a conservative approach, and place more credence in the methods that yield young ages. The Darwin Party will scream “but we need more time!”  Sorry.

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