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C14 equilibrium in the atmosphere

Carbon 14 is formed from Nitrogen 14 by cosmic ray bombardment of the upper atmosphere.

‘C.E.’ had written to us some months previously to ask for our responses to those who were skeptical of the claims of ‘dinosaur soft tissue’ (now largely accepted by the secular establishment, it seems, though not its obvious implications). On this occasion he had another query about an antiquated argument on our website. His query (and response by Dr Carl Wieland, edited to maximize its teaching value to readers) is featured here, while the earlier exchange on dinosaur soft tissue is below that.

Hello Dr Wieland,

I read through your entire response to the skeptics of the dinosaur tissue claims and it seems very thorough. Thank you for the response as it seems my questions are answered.

However, I had another question about an unrelated article on your website. In the article entitled ‘Carbon-14 dating explained in everyday terms’ you claimed that studies by Suess and Lingenfelter provide evidence that Carbon is entering the system 30–32% faster than it is leaving.

This article, as it states on the site, was written in 1979, more than a quarter of a century ago. It is mainly on our website for reasons of showing old magazine articles. Our current Answers Book [now Creation Answers Book] chapter on radiocarbon does not use this, not because we are convinced that it is no longer valid, but because there are far stronger arguments available. Regardless, it was based on information current at the time. We would recommend using the most up-to-date information, such as that provided by the RATE group [subsequent editions of the Answers Book incorporated this]. All such data is subject to revision and challenge, of course—see later comments re the importance of philosophy-of-science in this whole matter.

But according to other sources, there are dramatic fluctuations in the production rate. According to Arthur Strahler, sometimes the production greatly exceeds the decay, and other times the decay exceeds the production. Because of this the rate of production and decay cannot be extrapolated back in time to determine when the system should be in equilibrium.

— Arthur Strahler Science and Earth History p.158

What do you think about that argument? How does it affect the idea that the system should be in equilibrium if the earth is billions of years old?

Our current Answers Book [now Creation Answers Book] chapter on radiocarbon does not use this … there are far stronger arguments available.

Frankly, we are less than impressed with Strahler’s verbose tome. [Ed: Note that this is almost as out-of-date as the article in question; the 1999 ‘edition’ is just a reprint of the first edition from 1987 except for the preface. But it is not bad for amusement to see cranky antitheists in their dotage writing books for gutter atheist publishers like Prometheus.] For example, in many areas, e.g. philosophy and chemical evolution, this retired geomorphologist does not appear to have much clue of what he is talking about. In other places, it’s just so patronizing that it induces a good laugh, such as ‘No woman, I trust, would use such an argument.’ So Strahler’s comments, in the absence of stronger support, would of themselves not cause us to move away from use of this argument. The fact of moving away from a less valuable argument to a more valuable one does not mean that the former is necessarily wrong.

Furthermore, even if we were to grant that Strahler’s assertions were true, his argument actually, on the face of it, undermines the case for the usefulness of 14C dating in general, because this requires an equilibrium.1 However, when talking about 14C we now emphasize its presence in diamonds and coal as a great enemy for billions of years, as well as the fact that the Flood would have drastically altered the ratio of 14C to 12C. Our site also contains a number of articles carefully documenting radiocarbon found within Triassic sandstone, within Tertiary basalt, and so on. Of course, it shouldn’t be there if the system is millions of years old. Just type ‘radiocarbon’ into the search engine on our site creation.com, or see Radiometric Dating Q&A.

I’m trying to research the age of the earth in attempt to determine for myself what arguments are truly valid and which are not. Instead of accepting what mainstream creationists teach or what the skeptics have to say at face value.

But the whole point is that scientists cannot measure age. Rather, they measure the effects of processes over time, given certain assumptions. The best way to determine age is from an eye-witness or written record of same. See also The earth: how old does it look?

As far as scientific age indicators are concerned, we do not claim that they are proof of youth, but consistent with the Bible’s teaching. Our recent books such as Refuting Compromise have up-to-date information on the status of the age indicators, as well as the meta-science (philosophical) issues involved (on our site, see for example the introductory comments before a specific scientific rebuttal about another age argument). These latter are crucial, and once grasped, they can prevent you spending the rest of your life swaying back and forth trying to determine which position is best supported by ‘evidence’; which of course varies—that is why my colleague Andrew Lamb calls it the ‘evidentialist roller-coaster’. In the same way as we have moved on from the Suess and Lingenfelter argument used some 30 years ago, evolutionists will move on, but the paradigm overall is basically the same for both sides, for reasons explained on a previous feedback.

Thank you for your time and God bless your ministry,

You too.

Regards, Carl.

CE wrote earlier:

Let me first say that I have been blessed by your ministry. As a new college student your material has been quite helpful in discussion with my friends and family.

With that said I would like to make several comments on an article entitled Still soft and stretchy.

While I agree with the conclusion reached, Dr. Wieland made a mistake in his review of the latest dinosaur soft tissue discovery.

According to Dr Wieland, The fact that this really is unfossilized soft tissue from a dinosaur is in this instance so obvious to the naked eye that any scepticism directed at the previous discovery is completely history.

This is not necessarily accurate; it is too soon to tell whether or not the material was fossilized or not. As of know it is unknown if the material is original or if it only gives that appearance. Dr Matthew Collins of York University, UK. Commented,

’This may not be fossilisation as we know it, of large macrostructures, but fossilisation at a molecular level,’ He continued, ‘My suspicion is this process has led to the reaction of more resistant molecules with the normal proteins and carbohydrates which make up these cellular structures, and replaced them, so that we have a very tough, resistant, very lipid-rich material — a polymer that would be very difficult to break down and characterise, but which has preserved the structure,’

Eric Stokstad, writer for Science magazine notes,

‘Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, cautions that looks can deceive: Nucleated protozoan cells have been found in 225-million-year-old amber, but geochemical tests revealed that the nuclei had been replaced with resin compounds. Even the resilience of the vessels may be deceptive. Flexible fossils of colonial marine organisms called graptolites have been recovered from 440-million-year-old rocks, but the original material—likely collagen—had not survived.’

Tyrannosaurus rex Soft Tissue Raises Tantalizing Prospects’ (Science 307:1852).

It also needs to be noted that the tissue was not soft when it was first uncovered. All of the tissue had to be rehydrated during the mineral removal process. There indeed was traces of soft tissue recovered, but it was solidified thus Dr Wieland’s article gives a false impression that the material was fresh upon discovery.

While I do find it more plausible that the soft tissue did not survive for millions of years, we must jump to unwarranted conclusions. I feel the information to make such a judgment is not available at this time. … I do not wish to criticize … I only wish to help maintain creationist integrity.

God bless,

CW replied:

Dear [CE]


Thanks for your feedback; criticism intended to be constructive, as yours obviously was, is always appreciated. And we should always be quite prepared to address any mistakes and correct where necessary.

I am not sure, though, even being as ‘non-defensive’ as I can be, whether this in fact qualifies as an identified error.

Many of the issues you raise, e.g. the still-flexible graptolites, and the still-nucleated cells in amber, including both Stokstad and Collins, have been addressed on our site in this article—see Squirming at the Squishosaur: A refutation of a progressive creationist response to our articles on the finding of soft dinosaur tissue. Note that of course you won’t notice the softness in a tissue encased in a hard matrix, but once this matrix was removed by a complexing agent, the soft tissue was left behind—and we never implied otherwise. It is misleading to assume that the procedure generated the soft tissue; this was there all the time, so it it is a huge problem for long ages.

If you have ongoing questions after reading that carefully (it goes through a whole lot of material), please feel free to write to me directly at this address. [As shown at the beginning, C.E. took the advice to read it carefully.]

Maintaining creationist integrity is a worthy goal — please see the article by that name on our site. This was a sequel to Arguments we think creationists should NOT use.

Kind regards,

Carl W.

PS you may be interested also in some of the very pertinent quotes sourced from a recent secular article on the discovery and on the discoverer Mary Schweitzer. There is a web article coming called ‘Schweitzer’s Dangerous Discovery’ [at the time of original writing, the article had not appeared on our front page]. I think it makes it clear that the burden of proof will not soon shift.

Published: 30 September 2006


  1. Strictly speaking, this is only the case if there is no independent calibration. If one can firmly establish a historical date by written records, for example the construction date of a medieval cathedral, then one can calibrate the results of 14C dating accordingly. In fact, if one assumes constancy of decay, one can work backwards from such a fixed historical reference point to knowledge of the atmospheric 14C/12C relative to that of today. Otherwise, one has to assume that the 14C/12C ratio was the same as today (pre-industrial revolution, of course) and this in turn assumes equilibrium. Return to text.