Some Christians are not fans of radiometric dating. They believe that radiometric dating has been used to attack the Bible. These Christians seek to honor God’s Word, so the motives behind the argument against some scientific practices, such as Carbon-14 dating, are well-intentioned. Nevertheless, this approach can be confusing, if not wrongheaded, for the simple reason that Carbon-14 dating actually presents strong evidence for the Christian faith (and not against it).
How can that be?
Carbon-14 dating is but one of several radiometric dating methods, whereby scientists can determine the ages of things, by examining how quickly certain substances have decayed over time in a sample. Substances, like Carbon-14, will slowly break down, at a rate determined by the radioisotope’s half-life.
Radiometric dating methods, like with Carbon-14, get a bad rap among some Christians, in that the science of radiometric dating is used to suggest that the earth is really, really old… as in millions of years old… which runs contrary to a common view, that the earth is only 6,000 years old. However, it should be clarified that Carbon-14 dating, specifically, can only measure things in terms of thousands of years old, and not millions. But the calibration principle behind Carbon-14 dating, when applied to other substances with a much longer half-life, like potassium, allows scientists to measure dates in the range of millions of years. Therefore, the concern about radiometric dating in principle remains.
But how many Christians know that Carbon-14 dating actually has been used to confirm the Bible? Let me describe a few examples.
Why Carbon-14 Dating Actually Supports the Bible
In 2003, scientists were able to use Carbon-14 dating to accurately date a tunnel running underneath Jerusalem to redirect the supply of water. According to 2 Kings 20:20, King Hezekiah built a water supply tunnel, when the city was under siege, around the year 700 B.C. The Carbon-14 dating tests, performed on the wood used to make the plaster for the tunnel, gave results that perfectly match the Biblical record.
Now, how cool is that?
Here is another example of the value of Carbon-14 dating: In an amazing discovery in the 20th century, scientists were able to discover the age of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls are a set of ancient documents, including a large part of the Old Testament, that were recovered from clay jars, preserved for centuries in the caves at Qumran, most probably by a now lost Jewish sect, the Essenes. The Israeli Antiquities Authority concludes that the majority of the Dead Sea documents were written BEFORE the time of Jesus, with only a few scattered documents written, or copied from earlier documents, as late as the 1st or early 2nd century, in the Common Era.
For a seven-minute overview of how carbon radiometric dating works, and how it was used to demonstrate that many of the Dead Sea Scrolls could be dated back to several centuries before Christ, you should view this 7-minute video by Reasons to Believe:
Why is the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls so important? First, it serves as evidence for the antiquity and integrity of the Old Testament. Prior to the Dead Sea Scroll discovery, the oldest substantial Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament only went back to about the year 920 C.E., with the Aleppo Codex. The Dead Sea Scrolls pushed back that “oldest” date a full 1,000 years, before the birth of Jesus! Not only that, but the Dead Sea Scrolls also gives us crucial information as to the Jewish context, from which would eventually give birth to the early Christian movement, led by Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, that is pretty cool.
Thanks to Carbon-14 dating, Christians can have increased confidence that the Bible has historical credibility. In other words, Carbon-14 dating provides us yet another set of data points to further confirm that the Biblical writers were not “making up” the story of God, Israel, and Jesus.
Most of you will probably not need to read any further, as this brief explanation of the benefits of radiometric dating, with respect to Christian truth, should be compelling. But if you still want to push back, you might want to read on….
What If You Are Still Skeptical About Radiometric Dating?
Skeptics of radiometric dating contend that the reliability of radiometric dating depends upon certain assumptions being valid. Concerns about such assumptions do raise some important questions. For example, if the sample size is too small, or contaminated, then the radiometric dating technique will probably give skewed results. So, are the assumptions used by most scientists today reasonable?
In general practice, scientists understand these anomalies and do their best to account for them in their measurements. Otherwise, why would they be using such a tool, if they knew that the tool was inherently flawed or misapplied? That would be like using a stapler to drive in a nail, when what you need is a hammer. Furthermore, just because your hammer missed the nail a few times, does not necessarily mean that you throw away your good hammer!
However, a more general problem concerns whether or not observations made in the present can actually help us know the past. In particular, one critical assumption is that the radiometric decay rates, of different substances, have remained constant over time. For the past seventy years, since radiometric dating has been in use, the decay rates, of various substances, have proven themselves to be very reliable. Using the time-honored principle of the present is the key to the past, advocates of radiometric dating have used this tool to demonstrate the great antiquity of the earth.
Yet some have argued that decay rates have indeed changed throughout history, in an effort to suggest that the scientific consensus for a 4.5 billion year old earth can not be trusted. Instead, we should be thinking about a 6,000 year old earth, which would be consistent with some interpretations of the Bible, that rely on a literal, six 24-hour day view of Genesis 1, for the creation of the world.
In principle, advocates of this type of skepticism might be right. Variable decay rates might explain a young, as opposed, to an old earth. It is within the realm of possibility (though most of my scientist friends tell me that this is a very remote possibility).
But there is a serious problem with this type of skepticism: We currently have no compelling evidence to support the assertion that radiometric decay rates have changed over time to support the Young Earth hypothesis. Scientists have tried various methods to see if decay rates can be altered, including high pressure, radical temperature changes, etc., but the results have been negligible. Still, the decay rates for various substances remain essentially constant. So until contrary evidence becomes available, the scientific consensus regarding the reliability of radiometric dating remains in good standing.
The irony behind such Christian skepticism of radiometric dating is that opponents of the Christian faith have been known to use the exact same arguments in order to attack the Bible! Consider the following example:
One particular critic of orthodox Christianity, Robert Eisenman, contends that the Carbon-14 dating method used to date the Dead Sea Scrolls was flawed (dig into the comments section of this previous Veracity post, to see what I am talking about). To Eisenman, radiometric dating can only give us dates relative to the testing of other samples, and not absolute dates for those samples. This is the same type of argument used by Christian critics of radiometric dating!
Eisenman believes that the most pertinent of the Dead Scroll documents were actually written after the period of Jesus of Nazareth’s earthly appearance. Eisenman’s ideas are based on the assumption that the Jewish community at Qumran, was really connected to the early Christians, and that a competing group of early Christians effectively “made up” a good amount of the New Testament. If you follow Eisenman’s complex argument, you can come up with an idea that explains away a great deal of the New Testament.
Eisenman’s punch line? Well, James the brother of Jesus, was the real successor to promote Jesus’ teachings (if Jesus even existed), and the Apostle Paul was the great fabricator of what we call “Christianity” today….. Pretty ingenious, but it is an idea that every orthodox Christian I know would completely reject.
If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written during the New Testament era, as Eisenman proposes, it would undercut the current scholarly consensus that the New Testament was built upon a particular Jewish context, that had been well-established for several centuries before Christ.
Perhaps you have never heard of Robert Eisenman before, but you probably have heard of Dan Brown, the well-known author of the blockbuster “novel” The Da Vinci Code. Eisenman’s conclusions differ from Brown’s own conspiracy theory, but their beliefs are both predicated on the same false assumption, namely that the Dead Sea Scrolls were largely the product of the early Christian movement.
Eisenman’s logic borders greatly on being conspiracy-theory through and through, all made possible by a failure to appreciate the reliability of Carbon-14 radiometric dating. Eisenman is a very interesting scholar, but he is wildly out of the mainstream. Even the most liberal, critical scholars of the New Testament think Eisenman is a bit nutty.
I get why some Christians get really leery about radiometric dating, but here is my point: If Christians feel compelled to use the same type of apologetic arguments, against radiometric dating, in support of the Bible, that non-believers use to discredit the Bible, have we really gained anything? You “save” a traditional reading of the Genesis creation story, but you risk undermining the antiquity and credibility of the very text, from which we get the Genesis narrative.
Radiometric dating is not flawless, but it has actually been demonstrated to be a friend of the faith. If you stick with the reliability of radiometric dating, it will actually inform your faith in a positive way. If you dismiss radiometric dating, you open yourself up to all sorts of problems that only complicate one’s confidence in the Bible.
See this previous Veracity blog post from two yeas ago, and another post from a few more years ago, for more on radiometric dating, and why distrusting its reliability can be problematic for the Christian.
October 7th, 2019 at 6:48 pm
The introduction of radiocarbon dating had an enormous influence on both archaeology and geology—an impact often referred to as the “radiocarbon revolution.” Before Libby’s research, investigators in these fields had to rely on methods of dating that were merely relative, such as comparing the layers of a site in which artifacts were found, presuming that the layers of a site were laid down chronologically. Relative dating simply places events in order without a precise numerical measure. By contrast, radiocarbon dating provided the first objective dating method—the ability to attach approximate numerical dates to organic remains.
October 9th, 2019 at 8:44 am
Thanks for stopping by Veracity and commenting. Radiocarbon dating has indeed been revolutionary, and it is an exciting gift for the apologetic ministry of the church.
August 21st, 2022 at 12:30 am
Carbon dating completely contradicts the bible by millions of years. Why did you not explain that in your article at depth. The schrolls,the waterway is irrelevant if the bible says earth is 6000 years and carbon dating says 4.5 million. Myself and my friends struggle with this. The atmosphere is the variable btw. You really didn’t provide any arguments against the earth being 4.5 million years old but yet you accept the schrolls to fit the narrative. Its like saying God created but everything evolved. This is exactly why i struggle with faith and fake Christians. Be better dude!
August 21st, 2022 at 10:04 am
Thank you, Christopher, for commenting.
By the way, carbon dating itself is not capable of dating anything to 4.5 million years. It is only useful for dating objects up to 50,000 years or so. Other dating methods, such as potassium/argon, are useful for objects in the millions of years category. You also probably meant to say “4.5 billion years”, and not “million” years, as the current scientific consensus puts the earth at 4.5 billion years old.
My struggle is just the opposite of yours and your friends, I suppose. For if the Bible can not be trusted to begin with, then the question of what the Bible has to say about the age of the earth being 6,000 years or millions of years is irrelevant. For if it scholars like Robert Eisenman are correct, and radio carbon dating can not be trusted to date the Dead Sea Scrolls prior to the period of the New Testament, then this lower’s our confidence in the reliability of the New Testament. Thankfully, radiometric dating in this case substantiates the validity of the Bible itself, which makes it even possible for Young Earth Creationists to make claims about a young earth. That should encourage us in the credibility of our faith, not undermine it!!
Furthermore, this should not rule out the possibility that Young Earth Creationism is correct. Perhaps the earth is only 6,000 years old. Furthermore, even if the earth is millions of years old, this does not necessarily imply materialistic evolution to be true. There are many “Old Earth Creationists” who do not subscribe to evolution, in that sense. Our “hill to die on” as believers should be the trustworthiness of the Bible as God’s Word, and not the age of the earth resulting from a particular interpretation of Holy Scripture.
The point is that Christians should not be using the arguments of atheists who wish to undermine the credibility of the Bible in an effort to attack other Christians who are not convinced by the Young Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible. We do not need to argue like atheists. We can do better than that!
Praise the Lord!!
August 21st, 2022 at 3:07 pm
Hi, thanks for the thoughtful response. Its one or the other. Earth is really old or really young right?This should not be a gray area because the bible provides a specific timeline. If time wasn’t relevant than there would be no dates in the bible right? So do you accept argon dating as accurate? Or do you dismiss it? Back to young world, that would put Noah’s story around 2500bc. Obviously you know there were many civilizations thriving before during and after Noahs flood. So was this flood litterally the entire earth to wipe out all man or just as far as the eye could see? There’s evidence for both. If it’s old world then when was the flood? If I cant see,hear,feel or touch God, its just this evil godless world , and all I have to go on is the bible, wouldn’t God make it so that its understandable and accurate for those who seek to approve? Im a man who grew up in friendsview church, my grandpa was an amazing pastor, but I’m really struggling with what to think and feel. I want to turn to God out of love and I want to tell everyone about him and the love I feel! I Don’t want to turn to him out of fear of death etc.. So If I dont fully believe how can I even connect with God in prayer? I appreciate you answer all my questions and any insight you can provide. Thanks
August 22nd, 2022 at 8:47 am
Hi, Christopher. In reading your response you address a number of questions that go way beyond the creation issue. It would take hours to hit each question and do them justice. So, please allow me to touch on the main points of my approach to building a sound apologetic for the Christian faith.
To begin with, the central issue in Christianity is whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. For if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then as the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15, we are still stuck in our sins. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then Christianity is true. Period! Everything else about what it means to be a Christian flows out from the belief that Jesus is Risen. Thankfully, we have plentiful evidence that Jesus did actually rise from the dead.
Sadly, the approach that some Young Earth Creationists take on this has it all backwards. There are some that claim that if the earth is not 6,000 years old, or if the flood is not global in scope, then this raises some doubts regarding the validity of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. If you read back through Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, then I think you will see how absurd that really sounds. Our faith begins with the Resurrection, and not on figuring out never-ending debates on the age of the earth.
The only reason why we need to have confidence in the Bible is because Jesus is Risen. Because Jesus is Risen, we can trust that what Jesus taught and said is true. We have confidence in the authority of the Old Testament, because Jesus took the Old Testament to be His authority… NOT the other way around. We build our faith on what Jesus taught, so that when we look back on the Old Testament, we can then see how Jesus fulfills the intention and purpose that took God hundreds of years to begin unfolding through various authors of the Old Testament.
We need to learn to read the Old Testament in the way Jesus read it, and not try to force the New Testament to fit into a lens of a particular interpretation of certain Old Testament passages. If we try to do it the latter way, it just gets everything backwards.
Now, that does not mean that the Old Testament, which would include the story of Genesis which is the primary basis for the creation story, is unimportant or irrelevant. Rather, once we realize that Jesus is the completion of the Old Testament hope, then everything else we read in other parts of the Bible should begin to fall into place.
Hope that helps for now, as I need to run. Does that help any?
Blessings to you, Clarke.
August 22nd, 2022 at 1:44 pm
Could you please answer my previous questions in detail. I would very much appreciate it. You being a witness to me allows me to be a witness to others. If jesus’s resurrection is all that matters, Id like to hear the evidence of Jesus’s resurrection? And not hearsay from people who were followers. There are millions of fanaticle people today who light themselves on fire for dumb reasons lol so his disciples going to their death professing christ means nothing. Not josephus’s Christian translation. Real evidence. The only FACT I am aware of is his body was never recovered(his disciples could have easily removed it to further prove their movement, could have bribed the guard in front of tomb etc). If jesus resurrection is all that matters than their needs to be evidence otherwise we just have this book that does not make sense at all. It does not align with science at all unless you cherry pick things to fit your narrative. So yea i really want to hear what you have to say. All I want to be is a witness and to fully let myself go to christ. But I can’t if im filled with doubt and christ is absent in my life…
August 23rd, 2022 at 10:48 am
I can at least try to offer a brief outline here. You make a very good point that there are people “who light themselves on fire for dumb reasons”, so simply because someone makes a claim does not mean that anyone should just automatically accept it. But you should consider the other possibility as well. There have been millions of people who went to their deaths defending a particular view of reality, that was not accepted as truth by others. For example, we have people even today that deny that the Jewish Holocaust of WW2 never happened, that Hitler was never responsible for killing 6 million Jews. Does that mean that the thousands of men who fought the Nazis to free Europe from the grip of Hitler, and who died in the process, all died in vain? There are Holocaust Deniers who would dismiss what I just said because it is all “hearsay” from people who believed American war propaganda. This type of thinking can go both ways.
So, it is good for you to consider the evidence, but I would be careful not to dismiss the witness of the early Christ followers. Ultimately, it is about trust, and trusting the integrity of the witness of those early Christ followers. It would be good to begin with considering certain facts of evidence that both believing and non-believing scholars will grant as being historically true, when doing this type of investigation. All of these facts are attested to by atheists and agnostic scholars alike, not just Christians:
(a) Jesus existed as real person in real space-time history, in the first century in Palestine, as a Jew.
(b) Jesus died a death by crucifixion.
(c) The tomb was empty.
(d) The Apostle Paul is our earliest written source attesting to the bodily resurrection. See 1 Corinthians 15 again.
(e) The earliest Christ followers experienced something that encouraged them to believe that Jesus was Risen from the dead.
(f) The Christian movement grew quickly from a tiny group to overtaking the whole Roman empire within 400 years.
(g) While not all of the earliest apostolic witnesses died a martyrs death, some like Paul and Peter with a high degree of probability did. Furthermore, we do not have a single report of any of those early witnesses renouncing their faith or denying their testimony.
Compare all of that above to the situation with Mormonism. Of the earliest witnesses to Joseph Smith’s Golden Plates, about half of those witnesses to have “seen” the Golden Plates were eventually excommunicated from the Mormon church, after having become estranged from Smith (though a few did return). On top of that, there are no archaeologists living today who would concur with the Book of Mormon’s depiction that the Native Americans of today are descendants of any partial remnant of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Sure, as you mention, the disciples could have stolen the body. But we have no evidence that demonstrates this. Other objections can be raised as well, such as the “swoon theory,” that suggests that Jesus never really died on the cross, or the mass hallucination theory, that perhaps the 500 witnesses that Paul mentions in Corinthians all had some hallucinatory experience, that somehow resulted in producing no counter-narrative among the Christians that would have disputed their testimony.
Obviously, there are people, who while being given these arguments, will still not be convinced. But an honest assessment of the evidence must be weighed by every person. No one can absolutely “prove” the Resurrection to be true any more than just about any other historical claim from the 1st century can be proved absolutely either. The issue again comes down to trust, and in trusting that the early witness for Christ has the best explanatory power for explaining reality.
You might want to check out this earlier Veracity blog post regarding philosopher William Lane Craig’s argument for the Resurrection, for more detail:
To circle back around to the Young Earth Creationist argument that originally presented in the first blog comment, this is why it bothers me when people tend to hitch their Christian faith to viewpoints that lack an authentically long historical pedigree. While it is true that many early Christians assumed the earth to be young, as in about 6,000 years, the calculations they used do not match the calculations used by Young Earth Creationist movement that first became popular in the 1960s. Furthermore, more metaphorical or even allegorical interpretations of Genesis 1 & 2 were well known in the early church, which contradicts the complete rejection of allegorical interpretation adopted by the 1960s Young Earth Creationist movement. That does not necessarily disprove Young Earth Creationism itself, but it should give us some pause when looking at Young Earth Creationist ways of thinking that were mostly unknown among the early Christians.
See this blog post for more detail:
Anyway, I hope some of this helps you out. Anyone can come up with any number of objections to the Christian faith, just as it is possible for well-meaning Christians to come up with arguments for Christianity that come across as purely pro-Christian propaganda. The bottom line comes down to which worldview perspective can be trusted the most to make the most sense about reality.
Blessings to you.
August 23rd, 2022 at 11:56 am
You’re losing me unfortunately. There are thousands of pieces of factual evidence, artifacts, photographs to confirm the holocaust. Zero for the resurrection of christ. So circling back to my point, the only thing that “we” all know is the tomb was empty. So if an individual does not feel christ in their life, can not see God on this evil planet, zero evidence of resurrection, how are they suppose to submit themselves to an invisible being? Because they fear death and want to live forever? Who doesn’t? The eternal life “carrot” being dangled in front of us can not be all there is right? Because It takes a lot more firepower to convince these kids growing up on the internet and science let alone someone like me who grew up in the church. So I guess I’m right back where I started. I want to believe but until I really feel him working in my life I will always have doubt 😔 Thanks for your time
August 23rd, 2022 at 9:03 pm
I understand that it is difficult to pepper some random Christian apologist blogger, such as myself, with the assortment of questions you have, and expect to get them all answered to your satisfaction. But I’ll try to hit on some of your main issues, and give it my best shot.
Regarding holocaust denial, I hate to break it to you, but for every “thousands of pieces” of factual evidence, as you cite it, an intelligent Holocaust Denier is able to find ways to explain away each and every point of evidence. Humans are not completely rational. That’s why Holocaust Denial continues to persist, despite all of that evidence. That is why simply a rational and empirical examination of the evidence is never enough to establish a worldview. The intuitive element of being human has a lot more influence over how we live than we tend to realize. It all comes down to trust, coupled WITH an examination of the evidence in order to come at a satisfactory explanation of reality.
Interestingly, the lack of pure rationality among all humans is perfectly explained by the Christian story, which tells us that our rebellion from a holy and loving God has distorted our view of reality, and no one is immune from that. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Furthermore, to insist that all “we” know is that the tomb was empty is not all we know. Even the most skeptical of scholars acknowledge this.
Yes, it is important to also have a personal experience with God to reinforce other points of evidence. But even there, one should be cautious. The problem with trying to “really feel him working in my life” is that such feelings rarely endure. Marriage is a good example of how this works. A lot of folks can really “feel” the love in a dating relationship, only to wind up get a divorce just a few years later, if they get married. It happens all of the time. At some point, you just have to trust that you love the other person and that the other person loves you, and that God has brought you together. Otherwise, it is exceedingly difficult to try to make a marriage last. The same can be said about Christian faith. Feelings can come and go, but ultimately it is about having a relationship with a person whom you can trust, and being a part of a community of faith where you can share your hopes and dreams, along with your insecurities and doubts. I hope you some community like that.
It is okay to have doubts. God is big enough to handle them. The key is to learn how to trust Him in the midst of your doubts.
Blessings to you in your spiritual journey.
August 23rd, 2022 at 9:28 pm
Thanks for the response. What I meant by feeling God in my life was wondering when my cup will fill? Spirituality and physically. I know I’ll just be let down and disappointed if I expect God to answer a prayer for once in my life so thats why i hope to find answers in the bible. But in the end i always end up with more questions. I think God will cut me some slack as I still seek him even though I’ve endured 10 years of miserable suffering. I have doubts and I’m honest about it. Sometimes I just dont know how hard to try for something when it could be the opposite of what his plan is. It is what is. Take care
August 22nd, 2022 at 10:00 am
Back for a few minutes to address a few other questions/concerns you had:
(a) Regarding the age of the earth question specifically, as well as the extent of the flood issue, Christians have been divided on what the correct answer is, so it is hard to give a definitive response. There are basically three schools of thought: “Young Earth Creationism” teaches that the earth is 6,000 years old and the flood was global, so therefore, the entire framework for modern science needs to be rebuilt, in response to that interpretation of the Bible. “Old Earth Creationism” teaches that the modern scientific consensus regarding a 4.34 billion year old earth is correct, that the flood was a large local flood that wiped out the known world of the time, but that Adam and Eve were specially created, and therefore, the Neo-Darwinian scientific consensus regarding evolution should be held as suspect. “Evolutionary Creationism” teaches that the modern scientific consensus regarding the age of the earth and evolution is fully compatible with Genesis, as Genesis was written not to tell us give us a scientific explanation of creation, but rather, was written as a polemic against pagan understandings of creation. There are a number of articles here on Veracity that address these questions. You can just enter something like “creation” in the search bar to explore these different perspectives for yourself. The main thing is to realize that whereas Christians do differ on HOW God created the earth (and how long it took), all true Christians believe that is was the God of the Bible WHO created the world, and not some other god.
(b) Regarding having an “understandable and accurate” Bible….. The biggest difficulty here is that we have to realize that the Bible was written in a specific historical context, which is different from a 21st century perspective. There simply is no shortcut around trying to figure out how an ancient Israelite would have viewed the world, and understood what God was revealing through Scripture, as opposed to assuming that the Bible was speaking directly to us in the 21st century. Yes, God’s Word is timeless, as the Bible was written FOR us today, even though something like Genesis was written TO a 15th or 13th century B.C. Israelite audience. If someone is not sitting under someone else’s teaching that tries to expose us to the historical background of the Bible, then it might be worth considering finding a local church that does try to help us to appreciate the historical context in which the Bible was written.
(c) Regarding turning “to him out of fear of death,” etc…… It is a bad idea for folks to think that we should turn to God because we want to avoid the pains associated with hell. Instead, we should turn to God because of God’s love for us. This does not mean that hell is not real, but that we need to have the right motivation for turning to God in the first place. To use an analogy, it would be wrong to get married to someone because you do not want to be alone for the rest of your life. Rather, someone should get married because you truly love the person you hope to marry. Marriage should be based on love, and not out of fear. The same applies to having faith in Jesus.
I hope some of this might help. Blessings to you in journey.