This article will answer several of the most common creationist attacks on carbon-14 dating, using the question-answer format that has proved so useful to lecturers and debaters. Answer: Cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere are constantly converting the isotope nitrogen-14 (N-14) into carbon-14 (C-14 or radiocarbon).
Living organisms are constantly incorporating this C-14 into their bodies along with other carbon isotopes.
So, if we measure the rate of beta decay in an organic sample, we can calculate how old the sample is. Question: Kieth and Anderson radiocarbon-dated the shell of a living freshwater mussel and obtained an age of over two thousand years.
ICR creationists claim that this discredits C-14 dating. Answer: It does discredit the C-14 dating of freshwater mussels, but that's about all.
von Fange, "Time Upside Down," in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1974, p. "Although it was hailed as the answer to the prehistorian's prayer when it was first announced, there has been increasing disillusion with the [radiocarbon] method because of the chronological uncertainties—in some cases absurdities—that would follow a strict adherence to published C-14 dates . What bids to become a classic example of `C-14 irresponsibility' is the 6,000 year spread of 11 determinations for Jarmo, a prehistoric village in northeastern Iraq which, on the basis of all archeological evidence, was not occupied for more than 500 consecutive years."—*C. Reed, "Animal Domestication in the Prehistoric Near East," in Science, 130 (1959), p. "A survey of the 15,000 radiocarbon dates published through the year 1969 in the publication, Radiocarbon, revealed the following significant facts: "[a] Of the dates of 9,671 specimens of trees, animals, and man, only 1,146 or about 12 percent have radiocarbon ages greater than 12,530 years.
This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature.
C-12 is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C-14.
But, as is clear even from the very brief discussion in the previous paragraph, radiocarbon dating can say nothing one way or the other about whether the earth is many millions of years old, since such dates are far beyond this method's range of resolution.
Thus creationists and others who invoke perceived weaknesses in radiocarbon dating as justification to cast doubt on the great age of the earth are either uniformed on very basic scientific facts, or else are highly being disingenuous to their audience.