Carbon-14 in Fossils, Coal, and Diamonds

Best Evidences From Science That Confirm a Young Earth

by Dr. Andrew A. Snelling on October 1, 2012; last featured August 15, 2021
Featured in Answers Magazine

Carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) is a radioactive form of carbon that scientists use to date fossils. But it decays quickly.

Carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) is a radioactive form of carbon that scientists use to date fossils. But it decays so quickly—with a half-life of only 5,730 years—that none is expected to remain in fossils after only a few hundred thousand years. Yet carbon-14 has been detected in “ancient” fossils—supposedly up to hundreds of millions of years old—ever since the earliest days of radiocarbon dating.1

If radiocarbon lasts only a few hundred thousand years, why is it found in all the earth’s diamonds dated at billions of years old?

Even if every atom in the whole earth were carbon-14, they would decay so quickly that no carbon-14 would be left on earth after only 1 million years. Contrary to expectations, between 1984 and 1998 alone, the scientific literature reported carbon-14 in 70 samples that came from fossils, coal, oil, natural gas, and marble representing the fossil-bearing portion of the geologic record, supposedly spanning more than 500 million years. All contained radiocarbon.2 Further, analyses of fossilized wood and coal samples, supposedly spanning 32–350 million years in age, yielded ages between 20,000 and 50,000 years using carbon-14 dating.3 Diamonds supposedly 1–3 billion years old similarly yielded carbon-14 ages of only 55,000 years.4


A sea creature, called an ammonite, was discovered near Redding, California, accompanied by fossilized wood. Both fossils are claimed by strata dating to be 112–120 million years old but yielded radiocarbon ages of only thousands of years.

Even that is too old when you realize that these ages assume that the earth’s magnetic field has always been constant. But it was stronger in the past, protecting the atmosphere from solar radiation and reducing the radiocarbon production. As a result, past creatures had much less radiocarbon in their bodies, and their deaths occurred much more recently than reported!

So the radiocarbon ages of all fossils and coal should be reduced to less than 5,000 years, matching the timing of their burial during the Flood. The age of diamonds should be reduced to the approximate time of biblical creation—about 6,000 years ago.5

Rescuing Devices

Old-earth advocates repeat the same two hackneyed defenses, even though they were resoundingly demolished years ago. The first cry is, “It’s all contamination.” Yet for thirty years AMS radiocarbon laboratories have subjected all samples, before they carbon-14 date them, to repeated brutal treatments with strong acids and bleaches to rid them of all contamination.6 And when the instruments are tested with blank samples, they yield zero radiocarbon, so there can’t be any contamination or instrument problems.

The second cry is, “New radiocarbon was formed directly in the fossils when nearby decaying uranium bombarded traces of nitrogen in the buried fossils.” Carbon-14 does form from such transformation of nitrogen, but actual calculations demonstrate conclusively this process does not produce the levels of radiocarbon that world-class laboratories have found in fossils, coal, and diamonds.7

Dr. Andrew Snelling holds a PhD in geology from the University of Sydney and has worked as a consultant research geologist in both Australia and America. Author of numerous scientific articles, Dr. Snelling is now director of research at Answers in Genesis.

Answers Magazine

October – December 2012

God’s Word clearly teaches that the earth is young, and the evidence powerfully confirms it. So don’t miss this issue of Answers, which brings you up to speed on the ten best evidences for a young earth. Also discover incredible new examples of the Creator’s undeniable designs, a biblical view on political activism, the latest findings on the Dead Sea scrolls, and much more!

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  1. Robert L. Whitelaw, “Time, Life, and History in the Light of 15,000 Radiocarbon Dates,” Creation Research Society Quarterly 7, no. 1 (1970): 56–71.
  2. Paul Giem, “Carbon-14 Content of Fossil Carbon,” Origins 51 (2001): 6–30.
  3. John R. Baumgardner, et al., “Measurable 14C in Fossilized Organic Materials: Confirming the Young Earth Creation-Flood Model,” in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. L. Ivey, Jr., ed. (Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 2003), pp. 127–142.
  4. John R. Baumgardner, “14C Evidence for a Recent Global Flood and a Young Earth,” in Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative, L. Vardiman, A. A. Snelling, and E. F. Chaffin, eds. (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, and Chino Valley, AZ: Creation Research Society, 2005), pp. 587–630.
  5. For a fuller treatment and further information see:
    Don B. DeYoung, Thousands . . . Not Billions (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2005), pp. 45–62.
    Andrew A. Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation and the Flood (Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 2009), pp. 855–864.
    Andrew A. Snelling, “Carbon-14 Dating—Understanding the Basics,” Answers 5, no. 4 (Oct.–Dec. 2010): 72–75.
    Andrew A. Snelling, “Carbon-14 in Fossils and Diamonds—an Evolution Dilemma” Answers 6, no. 1 (Jan.–Mar. 2011): 72–75.
    Andrew A. Snelling, “50,000-Year-Old Fossils—A Creationist Puzzle,” Answers 6, no. 2 (April–June 2011): 70–73.
  6. Andrew A. Snelling, “Radiocarbon Ages for Fossil Ammonites and Wood in Cretaceous Strata near Redding, California,” Answers Research Journal 1 (2008): 123–144.
  7. Baumgardner, 2005, pp. 614–616.


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