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Carbon-14 in diamonds: Refuting Talk.Origins

C S from United States wrote in:

iStockphoto diamond

I was looking at talk origins’ little archive on Diamonds and C14 in summary. They say Radioisotope evidence presents significant problems for the young earth position. Baumgardner and the RATE team are to be commended for tackling the subject, but their “intrinsic radiocarbon” explanation does not work. The previously published radiocarbon AMS measurements can generally be explained by contamination, mostly due to sample chemistry. The RATE coal samples were probably contaminated in situ. RATE’s processed diamond samples were probably contaminated in the sample chemistry. The unprocessed diamond samples probably reflect instrument background. Coal and diamond samples have been measured by others down to instrument background levels, giving no evidence for intrinsic radiocarbon.

CMI’s Joel Tay responds:

Dear C S,

Thank you for writing in.

Despite the claims of the demonstrably unreliable Talk.Origins site, they have failed to deal with the problems 14C poses for uniformitarians. First of all, they are wrong to suggest that 14C is a problem for biblical creationists. Radiocarbon does not pose a problem for the young earth position since 14C has a half-life of 5,730 years—meaning that no 14C ought to be detected in any sample that is believed to be more than about 100,000 years old. In fact, if a lump of 14C were as massive as the Earth, all of it would have decayed away in less than a million years.

Since the global flood would have buried huge numbers of carbon-containing living things (which formed much of today’s coal, oil, natural gas and fossil containing limestone), we would expect the ratio of 14C/12C to be smaller for samples that existed prior to the flood. But radiocarbon dating presupposes that the ratio in the past was the same. So a smaller amount of 14C in a sample is interpreted as the result of having decayed for longer, i.e. greater age, when in reality it was smaller to start with. On the other hand, any detection of 14C in samples that are supposed to be millions of years old would be extremely problematic for uniformitarians.

Contrary to the idea that radiocarbon poses “significant problems for the young earth position”, CMI has actually devoted an entire chapter in Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels detailing how 14C is a huge problem, not for creationists, but evolutionists.

On 14C in coal, in 2003, scientists obtained some coal samples from the US Department of Energy and carefully stored in its Coal Sample Bank. The coal samples were tested and 14C was detected in them indicating that these coal sample are not millions of years old. This is highly problematic for evolutionists and those who want to teach that the Earth is millions of years old. In an attempt to defend the paradigm of millions of years, some propose that the coal samples could have been contaminated in situ by migration of Carbon14 from the atmosphere to the Coal Seam, double capture of thermal neutrons produced by fission of uranium in the surrounding rock, or by contamination with modern carbon during the testing process. But the only evidence they have provided for such contamination is by appealing to how this data does not fit their paradigm of “millions of years”. And if the method is this prone to contamination, then it is hardly as trustworthy as claimed, so is an even weaker argument against the dates in the true record of Scripture.

However, as you have pointed out, the same RATE project also found radiocarbon measurements in not just coal, but also diamonds. Diamonds, being primarily carbon and with atoms in a tightly packed crystal lattice, are quite impervious to contamination. Yet when these diamonds were tested, we once again find 14C—highly problematic for the evolutionist—since uniformitarian geology places the age of diamonds at 1 to 3 billion years. Some evolutionists, realizing that they cannot appeal to contamination in situ with diamonds, attempt to dismiss this problem by simply appealing to the possibility of contamination by modern carbon during the testing process. But once again, where is the evidence of such contamination? It again appears to be nothing more than a convenient attempt at ignoring the evidence because the data does not fit their uniformitarian worldview. The charge of “contamination by modern carbon” is even more unlikely given that modern laboratories are equipped with sophisticated procedures to ensure that results are not contaminated by modern carbon. Dr Baumgardner performed this experiment with six alluvial diamonds from Namibia, one from South Africa, one from Guinea, West Africa, and four diamonds from two different mines in Botswana, South-central Africa. Therefore it is not possible to attribute 14C in diamonds as a one-time experimental error or sample chemistry. Neither can the findings be attributed to contamination by modern carbon since Dr Baumgardner also accounted for the amount of modern carbon in testing all 12 diamonds.

In Diamonds: A creationist’s best friend, Dr Sarfati refutes some of the common objections uniformitarians put forth in an attempt to defend their viewpoint. For example, Dr Sarfati demonstrates that those (which would necessarily include some of the articles by Talk.Origins) who appeal to background radiation in the detector as a source of contamination do not even understand that AMS doesn’t measure radiation but count atoms. In any case, the 14C/12C ratio in Dr. Baumgardner’s diamonds was well above that which can be explained by appealing to the lab’s background of purified natural gas.

[Update: See Cupps, V.R. and Thomas, B., Deep time philosophy impacts radiocarbon measurements, CRSQ 55(4):212–222, Spring 2019.]

Other more informed Uniformitarians have proposed that 14C was produced by neutron capture by 14N impurities in the diamonds. But this would have produced less than one ten-thousandth of the measured amount even in the best case scenarios of normal decay, so that this cannot be a viable explanation for radiocarbon in diamonds. Even worse, for this to be a real explanation, there must be independent evidence of high correlation of 14C ratios in a sample with its percentage of nitrogen content. But this would make the method almost useless.

In conclusion, Radiocarbon remains one of Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. The reading found in diamonds cannot be explained away by appealing to sample chemistry or other forms of contamination during the testing process.

I hope that helps,
Joel Tay

Published: 12 November 2016