Dating dilemma deepens: Moore on ancient radiocarbon

Feedback 26 June 2000

A vociferous anti-creationist, Jim Moore, sent us the following email in June 2000 (starting ‘JM:’). He asked us to publish it in our feedback section under his full name, including the letter in reply from a Geochron official, (headed ‘DR:’). Both contained careless accusations against the integrity of a leading creationist geologist without even bothering to read the article carefully, and a serious ethical breach against customer confidentiality by a Geochron representative. So we felt a timely response (starting ‘TW:’) by Dr Tas Walker, staff geologist from Creation Ministries International (Australia) would be appropriate.

JM: As a geologist, I read with interest the article [Dating Dilemma: Fossil wood in ‘ancient’ sandstone], wherein a sample of fossil wood from the Triassic of Australia was sent to Geochron Laboratory for dating and received a date for the sample of some 33,000 years rather than the expected 225 million.

TW: Our primary aim was to establish whether the wood contained 14C. Evolutionists believe the wood is some 225 million years old and don’t expect any. All detectable 14C would be gone in something like 50,000 years. On the other hand, creationists believe the wood was buried during Noah’s Flood some 4500 years ago and expect it will still contain 14C. Geochron found there was 14C in the sample as creationists expected. We are not surprised that some people do not like this result.

JM: Since fossil wood is typically completely relaced [sic] by silica with none of the original material left and wanting to get the “inside story” I wrote to Dick Reesman at Geochron and included your article. He wrote back commenting on it and gave his permission to post it here. He wrote:

TW: We consider that by providing this information, the lab has probably violated its fiduciary duty to CMI, its customer. It has a duty to maintain confidentiality with respect to customers and projects and any inquiries or disclosures should have been handled through, and authorised by CMI, not the lab or one of its employees. At the very least, the lab should have obtained CMI’s consent before releasing any information. One must wonder whether other clients can now trust Geochron not to reveal confidential information to their competitors.

Not withstanding, if JM wanted the ‘inside story’ why did he contact Dick Reesman? Dick Reesman does not manage Geochron’s 14C lab, nor was he involved in analysing the wood sample. He manages their K-Ar lab!

On the technical issue, JM should know that the original material is not always replaced in fossils. It is not uncommon for original material to be preserved or more frequently for the porous spaces to be impregnated (known as permineralization).

DR: Dear Jim,

Well, just as they say “All that glitters is not gold,” it is also true that “All that’s touted as—” may not be “— wood.” While I have not seen the paper in which the data on GX-23644 was discussed, I do see in the quote you quoted to me that “… it is uncertain whether any original organic carbon remained …”

TW: If Dick Reesman would read the paper properly he would see that the issues he raises are all dealt with. The uncertainty he refers to (out of context) is only whether or not there was any of the original organic material left. Geochron’s analysis established that some of the original carbon was still present in the sample. It was clear from the morphology that it was fossilised wood (see photo in article).

DR: Now let’s see if I understand this. We were sent a sample of supposedly 225–230 million year old fossilized wood (the client is even unsure of this) in which the client himself says he does not know if any of the organic carbon is original, and when we report a much younger measured C-14 age on it the client then says this is nowhere close to the (supposed) geologic age of the material, thus questioning the validity of C-14 dates.—Huh?

TW: Dick Reesman’s ‘Let’s see if I understand this’, shows that he did not know anything about the sample. To provide a reliable response he should have checked Geochron’s files rather than parodying what he was told by JM. So much for the ‘inside story’.

DR: Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Have you ever seen any 225 million year old original wood? Has anyone you have ever known seen any 225 million year old original wood? Have you ever seen a reference anywhere to any undoubted 225 million year old original wood? As far as I know nothing like this has ever been found anywhere by anyone at anytime. But perhaps I am just a skeptical old curmudgeon. Actually, no perhaps about it—I AM a skeptical old curmudgeon, and take pride in it.

TW: The paper does not say it was the original wood, but that it was fossilised wood. Surely Dick Reesman knows that the amount of original material preserved in fossils varies. For example, some dinosaur fossils (supposedly at least 65 million years old) still contain original bone material and even more surprisingly, some appear to still contain red blood cells and hemoglobin—see ‘Sue’ the T. rex including the original secular science journals cited therein [see also the later discovery of blood vessels].

And, if Dick Reesman were a real skeptic, he would be willing to question the supposed 225 million years age tag. Like many Skeptics, he is obviously very selective about what he is skeptical about! That’s why we should be Be sceptical of the Skeptics! It’s very similar to Lewontin’s admission regarding the materialistic bias applied in much scientific reasoning today about origins—even before examining the evidence.

DR: Let’s get farther down to the nitty-gritty. Andrew Snelling sent us a small sample of something that he called “fossilized(?) wood.” Probably he should have said “fossilized (?) wood(?)”. I have no idea what it really is. Neither I nor our C-14 lab manager could tell what it was when we received it, nor can I find anyone today who can tell me what it is. It is soft and kind of fluffy (well, that’s not the right word, but I can’t think of the right word right now) looking. Under the petrographic microscope it is opaque and kind of fluffy (well, that’s not the right word, but I can’t think of the right word right now) looking. Whatever it is, it does not appear to be wood now, and I can’t tell if it ever was wood.

TW: Only a small part of the sample was sent to Geochron and it may not be possible to conclude from their sample that it was wood. Most of the fossil is still embedded in the piece of sandstone (see photo in article) and it is easier to identify it from the larger sample. The identification of the wood was discussed in the article.

DR: But no matter. Whatever it is, it is the kind of stuff that I would expect to present a nice large adsorption area to permeating groundwater and to be just dandy for adsorbing stuff (such as organic carbon) present in that circulating groundwater—at any time in geologic history, including recently.

All we could do with the sample was to chemically pretreat it as if it contained wood, and to analyze what was left. This would have included many types of organic carbon that might have been adsorbed on, or in, the sample. We did not identify the sample as wood, but only put on our report what the client had identified it as.

TW: These objections were anticipated. The possibility of contamination was discussed with the lab staff and their conclusions are presented in the article. The d13CPDB measurements by Geochron are consistent with the carbon representing organic carbon from the original wood and not from contamination. Furthermore the quarry from where the sandstone was obtained is well above the water table, and in evolutionary thinking has been that way for millions of years. So the idea of circulating groundwater does not wash.

DR: Had this sample been submitted by one of our clients other than a Creationist we would have said it was not worth analyzing since no one knew what it was, and what good is a "date" on some unidentified material if it can’t be related to anything specific in the real world? Remember, I said before that we will more readily analyze bad samples for Creationists than for anyone else? After all, they can have us analyze whatever they want. And what do you think they would say if we declined to carbon date a “225–230 million piece of ‘wood’”? My suspicion is they would most likely say “Conspiracy of silence!” or something similar.

TW: Of course evolutionists would not think it worth analysing for 14C in Triassic material because they believe it is millions of years old. This demonstrates how a person’s worldview affects their science. Creationists expected to find 14C, and as real scientists, tested their prediction, and, presto, 14C was present.

DR: Let’s get even farther down to the nitty-gritty. If anyone can find me an undoubted piece of 225–230 million year old original wood I will carbon-date it for free and report exactly what I measure, PROVIDING the excavation of the wood is thoroughly documented by some neutral and unbiased …

TW: When Dick Reesman or Jim actually find such an elusive creature as a ‘neutral and unbiased’ observer, I hope they preserve him/her for posterity (cf. Matthew 12:30).

DR: … expert stratigraphers who can attest that it is in its original 225–230 million year old geologic position, and providing that the identity of the material as wood in its’ original condition is attested to by a couple of neutral and unbiased expert botanists, and providing that the wood is of significant size—say 50 or 100 grams minimum, and finally, providing that after the analysis I am given full legal ownership of the sample and full rights to do with it whatever I want—such as auctioning it off to the highest bidder, or selling it outright for whatever price I can get. This is a lifetime (mine) offer.

TW: This report of 14C in fossilised wood is not an isolated case. There are a number of other examples where we have confirmed that 14C is present in wood that is supposedly millions of years old. For example:

They are widely accessible so JM and Dick Reesman really have no excuse for implying that it’s an isolated occurrence. It doesn’t seem like Dick Reesman is aware that Geochron did these 14C analyses for us too. But we appreciate his offer and will be very happy to negotiate a suitable arrangement, hopefully in the near future.

Furthermore, it is not just creationist researchers who have found 14C in material supposed to be millions of years old according to the currently fashionable dating system. For example, samples of coal almost invariably have measurable 14C [Lowe, D.C., Problems associated with the use of coal as a source of 14C-free background material, Radiocarbon 31:117–120, 1989]. Note that the coal samples were analyzed to find a source devoid of 14C to use as a blank in the processing of samples for 14C dating—evolutionary scientists would not normally bother trying to measure 14C in stuff they think is millions of years old. That is probably the reason there are not many hundreds of reports of 14C in supposedly ancient fossils.

DR: Jim, GX-23644 was a very small sample, and was mostly non-combustible. I do have a little bit of the pretreated material left in our archives. Send me your mailing address and I will send you a small amount of the small amount I have. You can then see if you can identify what it is, or find anyone else who can. Normally I would not do this. The sample material rightly still belongs to Andrew Snelling, but since he has apparently said in public that it is original "225–230 million year old wood" on which we obtained a much younger radiocarbon age, the "public" should have a right to examine it, to see if he is correct in his original identification.

TW: Yes it was a small sample, but obviously more than adequate for Geochron to do the 14C testing. The rest of the sample is in CMI’s Australian office. It may be possible to obtain more samples from the quarry in Australia. Although the sample was mostly noncombustible, probably due to the amount of permineralization, it obviously contained enough carbon to give a meaningful analysis.

Note that the sample belongs to Creation Ministries International not to Dr Snelling, because he did the work as an employee of CMI. We would expect Geochron to treat their clients in a professional and ethical manner and not pass clients’ samples to a third party without permission. CMI would be prepared (indeed we would be very pleased) to consider a proposal to explore this issue further. We would consider allowing more of the sample to be submitted to an agreed expert for identification, provided the procedures were agreed beforehand and, by advance agreement, the results properly reported and made fully available to CMI, including for publication if desired. We would also require the opportunity of observing any tests that were conducted.

DR: Hey, if it is indeed 225–230 million year old wood and we got a radiocarbon date of only about 33,720 years then we got the wrong age. But, if it is not really original 225–230 million year old wood, or some original residue thereof, then everyone, including Andrew Snelling, is wasting his or her time talking about it.

TW: Just possibly, Dick Reesman, the radiocarbon date is much closer to the truth than the 225–230 million year ‘age’. Your bias seems to prevent you from accepting the clear evidence against the standard geologic time scale. You would rather doubt the accuracy of your own lab’s analysis than question the status quo. It just underlines the point we make that philosophical bias plays a big role in how we all look at the data in historical science (where you cannot directly observe the past). The results do present a problem to the millions-of-years philosophy. That was the point of the project. It seems like the idea of a ‘young world’ as described in the Bible, is too radical for many people to face. The Apostle Peter prophesied about such ‘scoffers’ who would deny a recent Creation and global Flood so they could laugh at the idea of a coming judgment where everyone would have to give an account before their Maker (2 Peter 3:3-7, cf. Jesus Himself affirming the fact of the Flood, Ark and coming judgment in Luke 17:26-27).

Best regards,
Dick Reesman
[End Letter]

Jim Moore

Tas Walker

Published: 1 February 2006