Diamonds Aren’t Forever?

The Institute for Creation Research has a project called RATE, whose intent was to overturn radiometric absolute dating methods as evidence for an old age of the earth. One of the arguments that they made was that diamonds contain significant levels of the radioactive carbon 14 (14C) isotope, indicating that they cannot be older than about 50,000 years old, and thus point to a young age of the earth. This sort of technical wrangle is something beloved of young-earth creationists (YECs), and indeed one such person going by the handle “tripa” has commented here on another thread about the RATE diamond study.

Physicist Kirk Bertsche has responded to the RATE diamond and coal studies with an essay hosted on the American Scientific Affiliation website. Dr. Bertsche notes a number of inconvenient facts that undercut the arguments made by ICR’s advocates, including standard procedures within radiocarbon AMS work that were ignored or not followed properly, and indications from the RATE measurement results themselves whose obvious interpretation points to sample contamination. It is an elegant take-down of yet another antievolution argument whose pseudo-technical gloss is intended to impress rather than to inform.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

9 thoughts on “Diamonds Aren’t Forever?

  • 2008/08/06 at 7:09 am

    Thanks, Jon, I’ve added that link to the article on PT.

  • 2008/08/06 at 7:43 pm

    Reminds me of a short debate I had with a creationist high school teacher a few months back in which he told me that ICP MS could count individual atoms.

    Re: diamond specifically is an area of great interest for me that I have worked on for ~40 years although not with concern for age dating particularly. If memory serves me, Chuck Naser at the CIWGL was one of the first to develop a technique for direct age dating of individual diamonds based on isotopes (but not carbon isotopes). It’s about 15 years since I was interested in that so my recollection is not very good.

    In general since the phase equilibria of diamond requires very high pressures, we tend to assume that diamonds at the earth’s surface are older than the host rocks which contain them, e.g. kimberlites and lamproites. Since the host rocks are much easier to age date by different isotopic methods it is generally concluded that the diamonds they contain which are either xenocrysts in the overall matrix, or phenocrysts within other xenocrysts of peridotitic or eclogitic composition, that the diamonds are older than the host rocks. Note I say host, not source rocks. Therefore, since virtually none of these host rocks has been dated at less than ~60 my bp, and since all the experimental evidence (which is vast) indicates that natural diamond is only formed at pressures exceeding 35,000 atmospheres, this blows a huge hole in the RATE claim.

    As usual, the complexities of real science are completely ignored by the creationists.

    I regret to say that I have not seen the original RATE poster session that presents the diamond claims because they appear not to be available anywhere on the web. This is unsurprising in as much as poster sessions are not peer reviewed or reviewed at all for that matter except by critics on hand when they are presented. That alone is telling.

    Further to all of the above, there is also the fact that a) natural diamond contains measureable amounts of nitrogen which under neutron radiation can be transmuted to 14C, and b) that it is possible and has been for the last ten years to manufacture synthetic diamonds which could very easily contain 14C in significant quantity. However, it is also unambiguously possible to identify such diamonds as synthetic, so the question arises, did the RATE study offer any of their samples to anyone else to “confirm” their interpretation?

    Somehow, I am skeptical…


  • 2008/08/06 at 10:38 pm

    This just goes to show how shallow your doubt-ridden “science” is, Wes.

    As anyone who watched “Superman” could have told you, diamonds are created when enormously powerful beings crush coal in their hands.

    Clearly, diamonds are from the preNoachian era of giants.

    No wonder the only thing scientists date is carbon!

  • 2008/11/11 at 12:49 am

    This cannot be true. 50000 is a very short period of time for diamonds.

    Oldest diamond, thanks for the link.

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