The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
5 Points

Carbon-14 Dating is not accurate.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/15/2015 Category: Science
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,123 times Debate No: 76566
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




Round 1 is acceptance. I would like to play the devil's advocate here.


I'm accepting and, in the comments, Pro has allowed that I start my argument in round 1, so thanks Pro.

Carbon-14 dating is a reliable dating technique that uses fixed atomic half lives. The rate at which atoms decay (losing electrons) is a fixed rate like the speed of light or the rate of gravity on earth. It's not a guess, it's a measurable, demonstrable fact. We know the atomic values of the parent isotopes (from which the current isotopes come), because we know the amount of protons each atom has and the electrons required to stabilize the nucleus, so when we find unstable forms of said protons (isotopes) we can tell by the fixed rates of decay, not guesses, how old something is. Because we have already demonstrated radiometric dating, we can take something that is of known age, like a biological relic or some ancient item made of organic material like wood, and subject it to radiometric dating. If the dating matches with the known age, we have a system that can be used to make accurate predictions and guess what. That is the case.

Unlike potassium-argon dating, carbon dating is only reliable up to about 50,000 years, so when we have archaeological items from human history, carbon dating is great because it is most reliable within that amount of time. Yes, the details of radiometric dating in general are very complex, but its principles can be simply explained.
does a pretty good job of explaining this process, but here's my paraphrase:
There are protons that make an atom a particular atom...hydrogen (1 proton), carbon (6 protons), nitrogen (7 protons), etc. To have a stable nucleus in the atom, the protons and the electrons need to match in number. So for carbon, this would be 6 protons and 6 electrons. If we have an item with unstable carbon, carbon 14, the atom does not have enough electrons, and given the unchanging rate of decay of carbon 14, we can tell by its instability how long it has been decaying from the parent isotope. So a non-decayed atom's nucleus would be stable and would have all of its electrons. Carbon 14 is unstable and therefore its age is measurable.

The resolution of this debate is whether or not Carbon 14 dating is accurate. Accuracy is not an absolute idea as it is subject to gradation. So I will claim that carbon 14 is very accurate with its age results of biological items within 20,000-50,000 years, even with the margins of error, given the massive amount of geological time and carbon 14's ability to narrow the age range of objects.

Also, Carbon 14 dating is really good with biological material because dead biological matter cannot absorb carbon 14, so if we find trace amounts of carbon 14 in dead organic material, we can tell when it died. The results can be verified by other scientific disciplines, and we can confirm its age conclusions on objects of already known age.

I anticipate a healthy refute.
Debate Round No. 1


There are a few problems I have with Carbon 14 dating and I hope to be completely proven wrong.

To predict the age of a dead organism, you must first assume that it has been undisturbed for however many years you conclude it to be. This disturbance could occur from sources of radiation in the earth such as uranium. The closer a substance is to uranium the more Carbon-14 there will be, thus making it inaccurate. Radon, bacterium, and other sources of error could have influenced the age of that organism.

Another assumption is knowing the Carbon-14/Carbon-12 ratio in the atmosphere at the given time it died. This changes as time goes on, and there is even abaration in our own atmosphere. This is known as the hemisphere effect. With an unknown ratio, it is impossible to determine how much Carbon-14 has decayed. For these 2 reasons, Carbon-14 dating is unreliable. I hope to be completely proven wrong in your next response :) Thank you and good luck!


The "problems" you have with carbon 14 dating are reasonable, they're just not actually problems....maybe they're more like confusions. Either way...

You say "This disturbance [of a dead organism] could occur from sources of radiation in the earth such as uranium. The closer a substance is to uranium the more Carbon-14 there will be, thus making it inaccurate."
Uranium is weakly radioactive, and what's great for radiometry is that its isotope has like a 4 billion year half life so it can be detected and measured within the samples you're worried about it contaminating.

I agree radon could influence the Carbon 14 in the organism, because radon is quite radioactive, but luckily there's way more carbon 14 transfer than radon transfer in a given environment thanks to the carbon-nitrogen-oxygen cycle. An organism's exposure to radon is a possibility; an organism's exposure to carbon 14 is a necessity. Radon is a decay of radium which is really only found in uranium ore, and with uranium's isotope's long half life, we would see it in a sample and could account for contamination.

We could guess what elements a living sample was exposed to, or we can be very certain that it had to absorb carbon 14 during its life because of the ubiquitous CNO cycle and requirements to live.

Even still if we let the radon disturb the carbon 14, and let the bacteria absorb carbon 14 from a dead organism before it was fossilized, we have other organisms and geological strata from the same environment that we can radiometrically date--not just carbon dating--to comparatively verify. If carbon dating is inaccurate, then it would not yield similar numbers of known-aged-geological-strata near the organism's fossil site. But it does.
Google the Two Creeks Fossil Forest where this was the case.

Yes, organisms' carbon 14 levels match the amount in the atmosphere by way of directly or indirectly eating plants. That is to say a frog indirectly eats the plant by eating the fly who directly eats the plant. Plants absorb carbon 14 from the atmosphere, and, when eaten, transfer Carbon 14 so efficiently that humans share the same concentration of carbon 14 as the atmosphere even if we're only indirectly eating plants. Seriously? That's incredible! It's like part of the atmosphere is flooding us from the inside it's so dominant. So it's logical to say that if you found several fossilized remains, and they all yielded the same carbon 14 levels, it was the case for the atmosphere at the time of fossilization.

You said "Carbon-14/Carbon-12 ratio in the atmosphere at the given time it died...changes as time goes on, and there is even abaration in our own atmosphere."
It doesn't matter what the carbon ratio in the atmosphere was at the time of death of the organism, it matters what the carbon ratio of the atmosphere was at the time of fossilization. So if you had plants who were fossilized alive as it were, the carbon 14 levels in the plants are an indicator of the carbon 14 levels in the atmosphere at the time of fossilization. Yeah sure some bacteria could have been fossilized with the plant, but then were quickly replaced by minerals from fossilization.

Now let's imagine you have plant fossils and animal fossils yielding the same amount of decayed carbon 14. Even if the animal died 3 months before fossilization, the decayed carbon 14 levels match with the plant that was fossilized alive, and therefore indicate what the atmosphere was like at the time of fossilization. Work the fixed half lives for decayed carbon 14 back to carbon 14, and you have the levels of carbon 14 in the atmosphere at the time of fossilization.

Even if the atmosphere's carbon 14 levels change, which they do, so do the carbon 14 levels of plants that aren't fossilized yet. So whenever we get a plant fossil it's like a recording of the atmosphere at the time of fossilization.
Debate Round No. 2


Okay, I'm not really good at playing the Devil's advocate here :P Thus I urge the voters to vote for Con. I would still like to stir trouble though...

In this dating method, you must know the beginning amount of Carbon 14 to know how much time has passed. You can't determine the age of the organism unless you know how much C14 was there to begin and end. The beginning amount is hard to find. It is the concentration of the C14 to C12 in the atmosphere at the time the organism fossalized. We are unable to calculate both. This would be like saying you can give the values of X and Y in this equation: X + Y = 3. You could make an estimate of what X was and calculate Y from it. You can't take the Y value then and claim that it is evidence that X was the estimated value. Dat is all :)


Alright, I thought I had explained it well, but perhaps I didn't...
You said "you must know the beginning amount of Carbon 14 to know how much time has passed."
No. You need to know the amount of decayed carbon 14 in the fossil you have found, so that you can count the half lives back to non-decayed carbon 14 at the fossil's fossilization, which, as thoroughly mentioned before, is a sealed (fossilized) recording of how much carbon 14 was in the atmosphere at the time of fossilization.

How do you know if you have decayed carbon 14? If your fossil is of a once living organism that either is a plant or consumed plants directly or indirectly, then it has decayed carbon 14.

I found a fossilized plant with decayed carbon 14 levels that match the decayed carbon 14 levels of other fossils in the environmental area. The fixed rate--never changing, even if a nuclear bomb goes off--of carbon 14 is 5,730 years. So if I count backwards in time using this fixed number from the decayed carbon 14, I can count to when it was a non-decayed carbon 14 atom--as it is when it is absorbed by plants from the atmosphere--and at that time of fossilization, that is the atmospheric level of carbon 14.

You just need to work the math backwards in time, and you arrive at the beginning amount of Carbon 14 at fossilization.

I reject the claim that carbon 14 dating is inaccurate, because of the necessity of carbon 14 absorption by organisms who are or consume plants, the fixed rate of decay of carbon 14, and the atmospheric carbon 14 recording ability of a plant who was fossilized alive. Also, if carbon 14 dating was inaccurate, it wouldn't match up with known ages, or other dating techniques, but it does. Science is pretty cool.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by FlatEarthSociety 3 years ago
You may go into your claims. Tell the people at the beginning that I allowed you to do this in the comments
Posted by MagicAintReal 3 years ago
So for the first round, even though I have the burden of proof, I have to just type acceptance? Or can I go into my claims?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Aravengeance 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro conceded