There are many laws that govern the peculiarities of everyday life, of which Murphy’s Law is the best known. But in my engagement with those teetering within the creationism debate, I’ve discovered a new pattern of behavior that perhaps deserves its own name. Let’s call it “Libby’s Law”. Simply put, the longer one discusses the age of the Earth, the more likely a flawed statement about radiocarbon dating will steer the conversation into futility.
Radiocarbon dating is relatively easy to visualize and understand on a basic level, unlike many other methods in geochronology. The atmosphere contains trace amounts of radioactive carbon (14C). Plants absorb that carbon through photosynthesis, and animals via plants. When they die, however, the radioactive carbon decays at a known rate. Measuring the ratio of radioactive to stable carbon, we can estimate the age of carbon-bearing samples.
On the other hand, the technical details of radiocarbon analysis are extremely difficult to understand. The…
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