Also Available in:
This article is from
Creation 28(4):26–27, September 2006

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

Diamonds: a creationist’s best friend

Radiocarbon in diamonds: enemy of billions of years


Last updated 1 Apr 2020


What do hard sparkling diamonds and dull soft pencil ‘lead’ have in common? They are both forms (allotropes) of carbon. Most carbon atoms are 12 times heavier than hydrogen (¹²C), about one in 100 is 13 times heavier (¹³C), and one in a trillion (10¹²) is 14 times heavier (¹⁴C). Of these different types (isotopes) of carbon, ¹⁴C is called radiocarbon, because it is radioactive—it breaks down over time.

Radiocarbon dating

wikimedia commonsHopeDiamond
The famous Hope Diamond which was found about four centuries ago.

Some try to measure age by how much ¹⁴C has decayed. Many people think that radiocarbon dating proves billions of years.1 But evolutionists know it can’t, because ¹⁴C decays too fast. Its half-life (t½) is only 5,700 ± 30 years—that is, every 5,700 years, half of it decays away. After two half lives, a quarter is left; after three half lives, only an eighth; after 10 half lives, less than a thousandth is left.2 In fact, a lump of ¹⁴C as massive as the earth would have all decayed in less than a million years.3

So if samples were really over a million years old, there would be no radiocarbon left. But this is not what we find, even with very sensitive ¹⁴C detectors.4


Diamond is the hardest substance known, so its interior should be very resistant to contamination. Diamond requires very high pressure to form—pressure found naturally on earth only deep below the surface. Thus they probably formed at a depth of 100–200 km. Geologists believe that the ones we find must have been transported supersonically5 to the surface, in extremely violent eruptions through volcanic pipes. Some are found in these pipes, such as kimberlites, while other diamonds were liberated by water erosion and deposited elsewhere (called alluvial diamonds). According to evolutionists, the diamonds formed about 1–3 billion years ago.5

Dating diamonds

Geophysicist Dr John Baumgardner, part of the RATE research group,6 investigated ¹⁴C in a number of diamonds.7 There should be no ¹⁴C at all if they really were over a billion years old, yet the radiocarbon lab reported that there was over 10 times the detection limit. Thus they had a radiocarbon ‘age’ far less than a million years! Dr Baumgardner repeated this with six more alluvial diamonds from Namibia, and these had even more radiocarbon.

The presence of radiocarbon in these diamonds where there should be none is thus sparkling evidence for a ‘young’ world, as the Bible records.

Objections (technical) and answers

  1. The ¹⁴C readings in the diamonds are the result of background radiation in the detector. This shows that the objector doesn’t even understand the method. AMS doesn’t measure radiation but counts atoms. It was the obsolete scintillation method that counted only decaying atoms, so was far less sensitive. In any case, the mean of the ¹⁴C/C ratios in Dr Baumgardner’s diamonds was close to 0.12±0.01 pMC, well above that of the lab’s background of purified natural gas (0.08 pMC).1
  2. The ¹⁴C was produced by U-fission. Actually, it’s cluster decay of radium isotopes that are in the uranium decay chain. This was an excuse proposed for ¹⁴C in coal, also analysed in Dr Baumgardner’s paper, but not possible for diamonds. But the numbers just don’t work out. In particular, ²²⁶Ra, a product of the ²³⁸U decay chain, produces ¹⁴C in one out of 31 billion decay events. That is, the branching ratio of cluster decay of ²²⁶Ra to ¹⁴C is 3.2 × 10⁻¹¹. Therefore, to explain the observed ¹⁴C, then the coal would have to contain 99% uranium, so colloquial parlance would term the sample ‘uranium’ rather than ‘coal’.2
  3. The ¹⁴C was produced by neutron capture by ¹⁴N impurities in the diamonds. But this would generate less than one ten-thousandth of the measured amount even in best case scenarios of normal decay. And as Dr Paul Giem points out:
    ‘One can hypothesize that neutrons were once much more plentiful than they are now, and that is why there is so much carbon-14 in our experimental samples. But the number of neutrons required must be over a million times more than those found today, for at least 6,000 years; and every 5,700 years that we put the neutron shower back doubles the number of neutrons required. Every time we halve the duration of the neutron shower we roughly double its required intensity. Eventually the problem becomes insurmountable. In addition, since nitrogen creates carbon-14 from neutrons 110,000 times more easily than does carbon-13, a sample with 0.000 0091% nitrogen should have twice the carbon-14 content of a sample without any nitrogen. If neutron capture is a significant source of carbon-14 in a given sample, radiocarbon dates should vary wildly with the nitrogen content of the sample. I know of no such data. Perhaps this effect should be looked for by anyone seriously proposing that significant quantities of carbon-14 were produced by nuclear synthesis in situ.’3
    Also, if atmospheric contamination were responsible, the entire carbon content would have to be exchanged every million years or so. But if this were occurring, we would expect huge variations in radiocarbon dates with porosity and thickness, which would also render the method useless.1 Dr Baumgardner thus first thought that the ¹⁴C must have been there right from the beginning. But if nuclear decay were accelerated, say a recent episode of 500 million years worth, it could explain some of the observed amounts. Indeed, his RATE colleagues have shown good evidence for accelerated decay in the past, which would invalidate radiometric dating.
  4. The ¹⁴C ‘dates’ for the diamonds of 55,700 years were still much older than the biblical timescale. This misses the point: we are not claiming that this ‘date’ is the actual age; rather, if the earth were just a million years old, let alone 4.6 billion years old, there should be no ¹⁴C at all! Another point is that the 55,700 years is based on an assumed ¹⁴C level in the atmosphere. Since no one, creationist or evolutionist, thinks there has been an exchange of carbon in the diamond with the atmosphere, using the standard formula for ¹⁴C dating to work out the age of a diamond is meaningless. Also, ¹⁴C dating assumes that the ¹⁴C/C ratio has been constant. But the Flood must have buried huge numbers of carbon-containing living creatures, and some of them likely formed today’s coal, oil, natural gas and some of today’s fossil-containing limestone. Studies of the ancient biosphere indicate that there was several hundred times as much carbon in the past, so the ¹⁴C/C ratio would have been several hundred times smaller. This would explain the observed small amounts of ¹⁴C found in ‘old’ samples that were likely buried in the Flood.


  1. Cupps, V.R. and Thomas, B., Deep time philosophy impacts radiocarbon measurements, CRSQ 55(4):212–222, Spring 2019. See also the summary article, Thomas, B., Contamination claims can’t cancel radiocarbon results, Acts & Facts 49(4), Apr 2020.
  2. Rotta, R.B., Evolutionary explanations for anomalous radiocarbon in coal? CRSQ 41(2):104–112, Sep 2004. ¹⁴C in coal was reported by: Baumgardner, J., Humphreys, D., Snelling, A. and Austin, S., The Enigma of the Ubiquity of ¹⁴C in Organic Samples Older Than 100 ka, Eos Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 84(46), Fall Meeting Suppl., Abstract V32C-1045, 2003. And also: Lowe, D., Problems associated with the use of coal as a source of ¹⁴C-free background material, Radiocarbon 31:117–120, 1989.
  3. Giem, P., Carbon-14 content of fossil carbon, Origins 51:6–30 (2001), grisda.org.
Posted on homepage: 24 September 2007

References and notes

  1. For example, the ‘Rev.’ Barry Lynn, leader of the anti-Christian group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, proclaimed in a nationally televised debate, ‘Carbon dating, that shows the earth is billions of years old!’ (Firing Line, PBS, 19 Dec 1997). Return to text.
  2. The time t since radioactive decay commenced can be given by N/N₀ = e–λt, where N is the number of atoms measured in the present; N₀ is the initial number; λ, the decay constant, which is related to the half life t½ by λ = ln2/t½. This presupposes that the system is closed, so that the loss of atoms is solely by decay, and that the decay rate is constant. See also Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, 2nd Edn, ch. 12, CPB, 2011. Return to text.
  3. The earth’s mass is 6×10²⁷ g; equivalent to 4.3×10²⁶ moles of ¹⁴C. Each mole contains Avogadro’s number (NA = 6.022×10²³) of atoms. It takes only 167 halvings to get down to a single atom (log₂(4.3×10²⁶ mol × 6.022×10²³ mol⁻¹) = log₁₀(2.58×10⁵⁰) / log₁₀2), and 167 half-lives is well under a million years. Return to text.
  4. AMS (accelerator mass spectrometry) counts the atoms themselves, and can detect one ¹⁴C in more than 1016 atoms, or measure a ¹⁴C/C ratio of <10¹⁶ or 0.01% of the modern ratio (0.01 pMC, percent modern carbon). Return to text.
  5. Otherwise the diamond would anneal into graphite, so-called pencil ‘lead’. See Snelling, A., Diamonds—evidence of explosive geological processes, Creation 16(1):42–45, 1993; cf. Diamond Science, diamondwholesalecorporation.com, accessed 22 May 2006. Return to text.
  6. Vardiman, L., Snelling, A. and Chaffin, E., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Vol. II, ch. 8, ICR, 2005. Dr Baumgardner also investigated many coal samples, and they also turned out to have ¹⁴C. Return to text.
  7. Baumgardner, J., ¹⁴C evidence for a recent global flood and a young earth; in ref. 6, ch. 8. See also his paper at globalflood.org: Measurable ¹⁴C in fossilized organic materials: confirming the young earth creation-flood model, 5th International Conference on Creationism, 2003. Return to text.