A literal reading of the book of Genesis results in the conclusion that God created everything over the course of one week. Using the Biblical record of births and deaths the week of creation has been dated as occurring about 4,000 BC. While there may be some room in the Biblical record for some additional years, most conservative theologians conclude the Bible indicates the age of the universe is less than 10,000 years old.
Scientists have developed multiple methods for determining the age of fossils on earth which show the earth is millions, even billions, of years old. The most familiar of these methods is carbon dating. Carbon dating routinely returns ages for fossils several times older than the Biblical age of the earth. Doesn’t this prove the Bible, and especially the book of Genesis, is wrong about the ancient history of earth?
Carbon dating is the process of measuring the decay of carbon in organic material. All living organisms contain a carbon isotope known as Carbon-14. Carbon-14 is naturally unstable and at death it begins to decay down to Nitrogen-14. This process takes place at a known rate and is calculated in terms of half-life. The half life is the amount of time it takes for half the atoms to decay. The half-life remains constant no matter how many atoms are involved. The half life of Carbon-14 is 5,730 years. If an organism died with ten Carbon-14 atoms in 5,730 years half will remain and 5 Nitrogen-1 atoms will exist in their place. In another 5,730 years, 2 1/2 Carbon-14 atoms (yes, I know you can’t have half a C-14, this is just an illustration) will remain and there will now be 7 1/2 Nitrogen-14 atoms. Scientists measure the amount of C-14 remaining in an object and are able to develop an estimate for when the organism died.
Think of a large hour glass in which it is known exactly how many grains of sand fall from the top to the bottom each second. By counting the grains of sand remaining in the top the observer can tell how long ago the hourglass was turned over.
The process sounds simple enough, especially in a very simplified explanation like this one. Carbon dating, and all similar dating methods, have serious problems. Carbon dating has been repeatedly shown to produce inconsistent results. The same object tested multiple times has resulted in widely different dates. Also, tests of modern artifacts in which the date of the organisms death was known have produced results off tens of by thousands of years.
The biggest problem will all decay based dating methods is the assumptions made. Carbon dating assumes the amount of Carbon-14 present in the organism at death. The amount of Carbon-14 present at the death of a fossilized organism cannot be known for certain because no scientist was there to take an initial measurement. While the assumptions may be very plausible scientists do not know the amount of Carbon-14 present in an organism at its death.
If the imaginary hourglass had less sand in the top than was assumed then the measured time interval be greater because of the error in the initial assumption.
Carbon dating sounds like a very scientific and accurate way of determining when a fossil died. Christians are tempted to believe the organism lived many thousands of years ago because smart men have worked out an ingenious and complex method of measuring time.
Carbon dating does not measure time. Carbon dating is a very accurate way of measuring how much carbon and nitrogen isotopes are contained in a particular specimens at the time of testing. The time measurement is speculation based on certain assumptions whose validity cannot be tested or proven. Don’t let smart sounding words shake your confidence in God’s Word.