UD is honored to have Dr. Paul Giem as an occasional visitor. Here is Dr. Giem’s bio:
Paul Giem, medical research
Dr. Giem is assistant professor of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University. He holds a B.A. in chemistry from Union College, Nebraska, an M.A. in religion from Loma Linda University and an M.D. from Loma Linda University. Dr. Giem has published research articles in the areas of religion and medicine. His current research includes work on carbon-14 dating methods. He is author of the book Scientific Theology, which deals with a number of science–Bible areas, including dating methodology and biblical chronology.
One of the other UD commenters, franklin, is having a discussion with Dr. Giem in another thread. I invite the readers interested in scientific discussions to see the exchange. At issue is the age of particular fossils. As I’ve said before, formally speaking the age of a specific fossil is a separate question from the age of the Earth. An organism may have died recently, and it says nothing of the age of the Earth or the universe or even the age of the entire fossil record. Like agnostic Richard Milton, one does not even have to be a creationist to raise serious questions about the chronology of certain species. For example, the Coelacanth was presumed to be extinct in the late Cretaceous (105- 66 million years) ago only to be found alive today!
Darwinists are intolerant of any data point that may call into question their competence in weaving evolutionary stories. It is formally possible that life evolved, that many fossils are millions of years, but that some fossils are much younger than we have been told. That possibility is intolerable to them as symbolized by UD commenter franklin who is in the unenviable position of railing against anomalous findings of mainstream science laboratories. These anomalous findings have even been acknowledged in Darwin loving websites like Wikipedia and TalkOrigins.
I highlight one of the responses by Dr. Giem to franklin:
We will now move to another set of (related) topics, namely,
the de novo production of carbon-14 and the problem of carbon-14 diffusion in dinosaur bones
We will start with a brief history. Carbon-14 has been used to date civilization and pre-historic human remains. It attracted creationist attention early on, although most of the focus was on the fact that carbon-14 production and decay were not in equilibrium. Later on, the apparent presence of carbon-14 in coal was noted by R. H. Brown, among others. Andrew Snelling dated several pieces of carbonaceous material in old geological settings that had significant amounts of carbon-14 in them.
At about this time, I wrote an article detailing several different creationist models for explaining carbon-14 data while keeping a short timeframe for life on earth. See
These models were testable at certain points, and I recommended testing them. One of the predictions of one set of models was that there should be a small but at least theoretically measurable amount of carbon-14 in fossil material that would not have been expected to have it by standard theory. That is to say, the difference was testable.
I then set about to review the literature, a fairly close to exhaustive review (and AFAIK the best one out there), at
I took my results to the ICR, and persuaded them that they should do a formal systematic test of radiocarbon in coal. Their response was, paraphrased, “We don’t need that data. We already have enough data. That would be like shooting fish in a barrel.” My response was, “True, but there are a lot of people who don’t believe there are any fish in that barrel.” In the end they raised money for the project and did it. One problem with their data has been detailed above. Its seriousness depends on 1. whether one is willing to believe their results, 2. whether one is willing to believe their statements about the lab background, and 3. the level of evidence one is willing to insist on (which can be related to 1.)
The willingness to believe results is not a trivial point. I remember going to a lab once to double-check (actually triple-check) a reported negative pregnancy test in a lady who seemed to have classical symptoms of pregnancy. I found out that someone had entered it into the computer in error. Similarly, the lab routinely double-checks wildly abnormal potassiums, so if one wants a STAT result and suspect the potassium will be high, one is well advised to tell the lab to report the first value as a preliminary, so as to get a jump on treating the patient properly, rather than waiting for the final report.
However, this willingness to believe results can be abused. If one starts out by absolutely insisting that one’s side is right, one can always find a flaw in the data. One is tempted to label those with contrary data liars, so as not to have to deal with the data. One can then disbelieve their data, and wind up cherry-picking data to support one’s theory, in several different ways, until one completely lines one’s cocoon with cherry-picked data. This goes for all sides.
In any case, Baumgardner et al.did their study, and the latest report was published in the RATE book.
Kathleen Hunt made her inquiry to experts about the time that the research was actually being done. Heretofore, the usual explanation for most of the data was contamination during sample processing. Depending on the lab, proven contamination may range from 0.04 pMC or less, to 0.25 pMC. But by this time some researchers were coming face to face with data that was not easily explained by laboratory contamination. Furthermore, they were having to bet either with the data and against theory, or with theory and against data. Physicists get very cautious at that point. They were having to fill the Borexino detector with some 80 tons (5+ meters in diameter) of scintillant, and if it contained as much carbon-14 as the data indicated, the experiment would be useless. They finally opted to go with methane distilled from natural gas, naturally low in carbon-13, and to an even greater extent, carbon-14. That is why they answered Kathleen Hunt the way they did.
Several studies of natural gas have been published in Creation Research Society Quarterly, but the most fascinating data that has arrived are those of the Paleo Group on carbon-14 in dinosaur bones, which are hopefully well-known to the discussants here. Those bones have between 0.7 and 7 pMC, which is beyond even the worst reported contamination for a reputable lab. Therefore even if one tried to critique the Baumgardner et al. data, the critique would fail with the Paleo Group data.
An attempt was made to estimate how much carbon would likely be able to contaminate the results, and it was noted that the carbon content of the matrix outside of the bones was about 1/5th of that of the bones themselves (as far as I know, the carbon-14 content of the matrix was. Thus, it could be argued, the carbon should be diffusing out, not in.
I think this is a first approximation, but not adequate to completely rule out carbon-14 diffusion into the bones. As long as there is any carbon-14 outside, it can at least theoretically diffuse in. Diffusion can be (and usually is) a two-way street. A stronger case could have been made if the determination could have been made that the matrix had the same, or even better, less of a concentration of carbon-14. An even stronger case could be made if actual diffusion rates had been measured, although the latter would be extremely technically difficult, and the results open to challenge. That may answer one of your questions.
The second question, nuclear synthesis of carbon-14 underground, is related to the question of what to do with all this radiocarbon. One could attribute it to residual activity, but this necessitates a short age. For at 250,000 radiocarbon years, there should be less than one atom of carbon-14 per gram of carbon, and at 1 million years, if we start out with the entire earth’s mass (5.972 x 10^27 g–Wikipedia) being nothing but carbon-14, allow that 14.0 g of carbon-14 contains 6.02 x 10^23 atoms of carbon 14, we have
(5.972 x 10^27g) x (6.02 x 10^23 atoms) / 14.0 g
=2.57 x 10^50 atoms.
Taking the log2 of that, we have 167.5, which is the number of half-lives necessary to reduce this to 1 atom. 1 million years contains
1 x 10^6 years / (5730 years / half life) = 174.5 half lives, which means we have 7 half-lives (for a factor of around 128) to reduce that last atom to nitrogen-14. Residual activity means short age. Period.
So how else can we explain this carbon-14? For a long time, it was thought that contamination during sample processing accounted for all the carbon-14. But as Harry Gove, PhD and company are realizing, this is not an adequate explanation. So there are three others; machine error, contamination underground, and nuclear synthesis underground. These are discussed in my second paper. Machine error and contamination underground are discounted by most experts, leading to the only known option, nuclear synthesis underground.
There are quantitative problems with the nuclear synthesis that are detailed in both my second paper (and my book Scientific Theology before that), and in Baumgardner et al. Briefly, calculations have already been done, and the numbers of neutrons are orders of magnitude too low to account for the prevalence of carbon-14. In addition, unless the concentration of neutrons is much higher over the past 6000 years or so than in previous epochs (a, shall we say, non-uniformitarian assumption), such neutrons should have had an effect on such isotopes as cadmium 113. samarium-149, and gadolinium-157. The people who propose this have (so far) not worked out the numbers to see how many neutrons it would take to produce carbon-14 in situ. That should mostly answer the second question, although for franklin’s sake we can always go through the excruciating details if he wants.
The reader is invited to visit the original thread and decide if franklin is making a credible scientific case beyond saying “something could be wrong”. This is the same franklin who will rush to defense of OOL theories even after they’ve been discredited.