Discussions between creationists and mainstream scientists typically have an apples-and-oranges character, much like discussions between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” advocates or politically “liberal” and “conservative” partisans.Each side has unshakeable beliefs and therefore insists on bending any available evidence to support them, so very little real discussion takes place.So scientists performing carbon dating routinely calibrate their findings to adjust for these known issues, using other dating techniques (such as counting the rings on old trees) to corroborate their findings and help them fine-tune the scale.But these and other seeming sources of uncertainty have been seized upon by some very vocal groups of creationists as loopholes, allowing them to challenge the validity of carbon dating.Although the number of carbon-14 atoms varies from one organism to another, the of carbon-14 atoms to carbon-12 atoms is basically constant—and roughly the same as the proportion found in the atmosphere.
Eventually, however, all the carbon-14 atoms will decay—or at least enough of them will that the amount of radiation they emit can no longer be distinguished from ordinary background radiation.
High in the atmosphere, cosmic rays strike nitrogen atoms, producing a radioactive carbon isotope known as carbon-14 (or .
Carbon-14, along with the more common, stable (nonradioactive) carbon isotopes carbon-12 and carbon-13, combine with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide.
But I realized the other day that even as an adult with a fair amount of scientific knowledge, I could not articulate exactly how or why carbon dating works.
So I did a bit of research to fill in the gaps in my understanding, and not surprisingly I found the details to be quite interesting.