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3. Does Coal have a residual level of C-14 left from before the Flood?
Does coal have residual C-14? This question is of extreme interests to Creationists because it is felt by many that this question will help determine whether Creationism itself is viable as a scientific theory.
In the Creation model, all the layers of the geologic column were laid down 4350 years ago in the global flood. Also, taking into account the dilution effect of the antediluvian world, the Carbon ratio at the time of burial was maybe 1:300 of today's C-14/C-12 equilibrium of the Biosphere. So, The creationists predict that fossil carbon should have residual C-14 of maybe 1:500 of today's C-14/C-12 equilibrium of the Biosphere. A ratio of 1:500 would give fossil carbon an apparent age of approximately 50,000 years.
Lets see the Creation model visually. Looking at the graph to the left we see a red exponentially curved line which shows what would happen to the C-14 level in a fossil sample that was buried for 9 half-lives, approximately 51,570 years ago. The large A indicates the starting point, indicating when the fossil was buried, assuming no change in the C-14 level.
Instead of having the sample buried for 51,570 years, the Creation/Global Flood model dictates that the sample was buried a short while ago while only its apparent age is 51,570 years old. This apparent age is a product of the carbon ratio of the sample when it was buried. At burial, the sample contained maybe 1:300 of today's C-14/C-12 Biospheric equilibrium.
Looking at the graph to the left, if we follow the red exponentially curved line from the time of today, (starting on the right side of graph) we intersect the flood model C-14 level (1:300 of today's C-14/C-12 level) approximately 4350 years ago. This intersection, labeled by the large B, indicates the time of the burial when the global flood destroyed the whole Earth.
NOTE: This date can vary depending upon the Biblical Manuscript that is used. This web page uses the Massoretic text as its prime source. Click the following link to see a comparison of the different Ancient Biblical Manuscripts.
In the Evolution model, all the layers of the geologic column were laid down over approximately 600 million years. Most of the fossils and coal is thought to have been present several hundred million years ago.
Dr. Paul Giem in his book Scientific Theology (listed below in the references) has worked out the math for predicting what C-14 would be present after just one million years: "If we started with the entire earth's mass being C-14, within 1 million years all of the C-14 would have decayed to N-14 except for 1 atom, and that one atom would have a roughly 99% chance of decaying." So, the Evolutions must predict that fossil carbon should have absolutely no residual C-14 in organic fossils.
From the Creationary perspective, the factor that allows for the presence of residual C-14 in organic fossils, is the recent aspect of its burial in the Creation/Global Flood model. The C-14 has not had sufficient time to fully decay into Nitrogen-14 as is predicted by the Evolutionary model.
How Easy Is The Difference To Detect?
The major problem with most methods is that the background radiation is high, swamping the C-14 radiation. The several types of background radiation needs to be controlled in different ways. Neutrons coming in from all directions are absorbed by the presence of paraffin or boric acid. Radon gas is eliminated by time. Radon has a short half-life, so the sample is held until the Radon is eliminated. Another problem is the ever present bombardment of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are either shielded against with steel or lead, or the use of an anticoincidence detector, which allows them to be electronically ignored, is used.
Using all of the shielding methods, the gas decay or liquid scintillation counting of C-14 can give dates as old as maybe 30,000 years old (radiocarbon years) or 1/40 of the present C-14/C-12 ratio.
Some have expanded the range to maybe 50,000 radiocarbon years or 1/500 of the present C-14/C-12 ratio, by using special shielding deep underground and long counting periods. Unfortunately, large samples containing 5 to 10 grams of Carbon are need. To do one of these expanded range counts, it often takes samples of bones as large as half a kilogram.
In the late 1970s, it was suggested by a few groups that C-14 determinations might be done using a Tandem Accelerator Mass Spectrometer to measure C-14 at much lower levels than is possible with normal methods. In this method C-14 atoms are transformed into negative carbon ions enabling individual C-14 atoms in a sample to be counted. This process, according to many, would eliminate most or all of the background problems associated with the normal methods of determinating C-14 concentrations.
Predictions as to how far back the Tandem Accelerator Mass Spectrometer might allow them to go in radiocarbon years ranged from 50,000 - 60,000 to over 100,000 radiocarbon years. So now for the first time the presence of a residual C-14 in fossilized carbon, that the Creation model predicts, can be tested.
In testing the Tandem Accelerator Mass Spectrometer, a major problem appeared. Normally as in any test with decay counting, background counts must be made. Usually fossil carbon is used for the background count since it is assumed that the fossil carbon is anywhere between 60 and 600 million years old and therefore cannot possibly have any C-14 left.
R.H. Brown reported in Origins 1988(15), p. 39-43 that "infinite age" samples of fossil carbon are being reported in the literature as having C-14 ages in the 40,000-year range. The laboratories doing this research are from Europe, Canada, and the USA (Brown et al. 1983; Jull et al. 1986; Beukens, Gurfinkel, and Lee 1986; Grootes et al. 1986; and Bonani et al. 1986).
"Contamination from our present Biosphere" was the most widely used interpretation to explain the presence of these "unexpected results".
In addition Radiocarbon (Vol. 29, No. 3, 1987) contains two different reports that attempted to explore the limits of this "contamination". The first group, from Simon Frazer University in British Columbia (Vogel, Nelson and Southon 1987) measured 43 samples of anthracite (coal) from Pennsylvania, USA, that had been given the best known pretreatment to remove contamination by modern carbon. The sizes of the samples ranged from 0.5 to 20 milligrams. They all yielded around 43,000-year C-14 dates, regardless of the sample size.
They associated this 43,000-year age limit to machine background and contamination during sample preparation.
The second group, from the University of Toronto in Ontario (Gurfinkel 1987) stated that "One of the major problems encountered in this study was the apparent presence of C-14 contamination in samples that were assumed dead . . . it could not be assumed that even the oldest samples were necessarily C-14 free (p. 342).
Gurfinkel, went through a meticulous process using graphite, calcite, limestone and anthracite samples to come up with her conclusion. All she could say is that "infinite age" samples should be expected to have "contamination" giving dates as recent as 43,000 years, which is similar to what the Simon Frazer University group obtained.
As more and more groups looked at this problem, it has become common knowledge that there is a wall at about 50,000 C-14 years that is not passed in practice. Such a wall of "contamination" is exactly what the Creation/Global flood model predicts, and the 50,000 C-14 year figure is well within the limits that I have explored earlier in this web page.
The presence of this "contamination", other than it being some anomaly, such as a machine background problem or even sample contamination during sample preparation; It is definitely not what the evolution model predicts at all. These samples should be void of any C-14 atoms period. After all, the samples should be hundreds of million years old!
Copyright © 1998 - 2013 by Michael Brown all rights reserved
Officially posted September 25, 1998
last revised February 5, 2013