Correspondence: Ark Search
November 28, 2011
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Your website offers some correspondence we had last year. [See below.] You may want to consider updating it now that Dr. Andrew Snelling has published (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v6/n1/mt-ararat-wood) additional information about the C-14 studies that were supposed to support the claim that Noah's Ark has been discovered on Mt. Ararat.
Even before seeing Snelling's article, I had already been disappointed, as he was, to learn that Noah's Ark Ministries International (NAMI) decided to go ahead with evangelistic crusades featuring their movie. They evidently believe they have already given the public all it needs to decide whether their claim is a hoax or not. I think they are putting the cart before the horse. Doesn't anyone's reputation for honesty rest on the truthfulness of his claims? Don't we need a fairly high level of expert scrutiny and independent confirmation of claims like the discovery of Noah's Ark, especially now that so much information is so readily accessible to so many through the Internet?
Has NAMI responded to the Snelling article? I tried to visit the old NAMI website (http://www.noahsarksearch.net/eng/) but found that it has been replaced by this: http://www.noahsarkmovies.com/arkmovie/eng/.
The NAMI organization still promises, "In the future, we will continue to invite academia to participate in historically, culturally, geologically and archeologically informed scientific research of the Ark, "but frankly, I now have serious doubts about the commitment of its leaders to keep this promise---doubts that can call their integrity and witness for Christ into question.
If you can find the time, I would be especially interested in your comments on Snelling's section entitled, "Why Does Pre-Flood Wood Yield Inflated C-14 Ages?" I had trouble following his reasoning there on two points.
1. I understand that there can be a relationship between the amount of C-14 produced in the atmosphere and the strength of the earth's magnetic field, but why should the correlation be linear, as I think Snelling suggests?
2. Snelling says, "... animals and plants were far more prolific in the pre-Flood world than in today’s world," but I do not understand why such a difference could impact the ratio of carbon isotopes in their remains.
I also wondered whether Snelling's answer to the question in his section title [i.e., "Why Does Pre-Flood Wood Yield Inflated C-14 Ages?"] can be confirmed through dendrochronological studies. Nevertheless, I appreciated his sharing what he knows about the NAMI C-14 data, and most of his analysis made plenty of sense to me. One may wonder what took him so long, or, if he had a confidentiality agreement with NAMI, why he suddenly felt free to ignore it, but I have too little information to sit in judgment, and I hate to start casting stones.
I have finally found time to look at the article you pointed to by Dr. Andrew Snelling. What a long-winded article! I am afraid I ran out of patience and did not read it thoroughly all the way to the end. I read enough, however, to observe that it contains much which is simply mistaken, as you hinted at---the date of the Flood is wrong, the conceptual model of the Flood is wrong, and the claimed consequences of the Flood are wrong: for Earth, for fossil formation, for tree-ring growth, for radiocarbon dating...
Did you notice that though the article gives many references, none of my creation science publications regarding radiocarbon and the Flood is ever mentioned? A now-ancient article by Whitelaw, which I exposed and refuted at an ICC long ago, showing that it contained factual errors of a most egregious sort, is referenced (still as if it supports Andrew's claims), but my refutation (Aardsma, Gerald E. "A Search for Radiocarbon in Coal" Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc. 1994, pages 1--8.) is not. A secular colleague at the Iso-Trace Accelerator Mass Spectrometry lab, U. of Toronto, where I did my Ph.D. work in AMS dating, is referenced, as if in support of Dr. Snelling's claims, but I, who knows from the inside out what it is that "Beukens, R. P." is talking about, and who knows that Dr. Snelling's claims are false, and who have tried very hard to explain in simple terms why they are false, am not.
To the best of my knowledge, I am the only scientist having Ph.D. training in radiocarbon dating to have worked and published within the creation science community specifically on the impact of the Flood on radiocarbon dating. I devoted more than a decade of my life to this topic. I found, among other things, (and published within the standard creationist technical literature, where creation scientists like Dr. Snelling could not possibly miss it) that the (fundamentally goofy) hypothesis (for anyone having even a rudimentary grasp of tree physiology) that post-Flood climate produced multiple tree-rings per year, which Dr. Snelling trots out without caveat or apology in his article, is false. (See http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/answers/c14_treerings.php.)
For my own part, I don't mind my research results being left out of Dr. Snelling's article. But I feel that the general Christian public, at whom the article is aimed (and in front of whom the offering plate is being passed: "Help keep these daily articles coming. Support AiG.") is not being treated fairly by this exclusion. They are being unwittingly propagandized rather than accurately informed. As I see it, Dr. Snelling is free to drink the Koolaid if he so pleases. But he should not serve it up to his unsuspecting guests.
Meanwhile, isn't exclusion of vital contrary information the very behavior Dr. Snelling decries about NAMI in his article?
So I lost patience with the article, as I have said, and didn't make it through to the end.
But let us ignore the article. The real point of interest in the present context is the radiocarbon data which it divulges.
Dr. Snelling's table presents 6 dates on 4 samples. Five of the dates, on 3 of the samples, are from essentially modern wood. Whatever structure they came from was quite clearly not part of the ark. This does not instill confidence in the research team. They appear to have misidentified essentially modern wood as ark remains in 3 out of 4 instances.
The sixth date is the only one of interest as far as potentially being ark remains goes. The confusion between "radiocarbon age BP" and true calendar age of the wood, mentioned in our previous correspondence, has indeed been made. When this confusion is corrected, this sample does come out in the right age range for the ark.
Unfortunately, however, this lone date also fails, rather badly, to inspire confidence. In fact, either it is an outright fabrication, or it represents the efforts of a novice at radiocarbon dating, or something has gotten tampered with at some point along the way.
The other samples were dated by Labs 1 and 2. This sample alone was dated by Lab 3. Notice that the radiocarbon content of the sample is reported as "4269 -- 4800 years BP". Professional labs report radiocarbon content as "X +/- Y years BP", as the table shows for the Labs 1 and 2 samples, not as a range "A -- B".
Professional labs round results to the nearest significant digit, as the table shows for the other samples. The reported range for this sample should thus read "4300 -- 4800" not "4269 -- 4800" if it were by a professional lab.
Professional labs include a delta C-13 measurement, as the table shows for the other samples. There is none for this sample.
Conclusion: If the ark search team has wood which is really of the Lab 3 sample's age range, then they should make every effort to get a reputable radiocarbon age determination done on it. If the calibrated radiocarbon age comes back within a few centuries of 3520 B.C., as previously discussed, they have found something of real interest which is worthy of significant additional field effort. Until they have such a reputable radiocarbon determination, however, there is little reason to give credence to their claim of having found the ark.
April 29, 2010
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
My brother sent me this link yesterday http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/04/27/noahs-ark-found-turkey-arafat/ reporting a new claim for discovery of Noah's ark. (The link appears to have a typo at the end, but it worked for me.)
You can find more at other websites. My son showed me a Chinese website he found about this with more photos, for example. ...
There are a lot of questions that still need answers. If the reported carbon dating is accurate, this structure is about 700 years more recent than we expected. I have not seen any mention yet of the margin of error in the dating or the details about what was tested and whether all of the appropriate corrections were made or not. Time will tell. It is exciting and certainly more promising than other recent claims that made the news.
I agree with you that it appears to be more promising than previous claims at this stage.
The radiocarbon date on the recovered wood is really the determining factor. The Flood happened ca. 3500 B.C., that we can be certain of. The wood the ark was made of must predate this, since radiocarbon measures when something dies, and the trees the timbers were made of would have been cut down prior to the Flood. So we might reasonably expect wood from the ark to date in the range of 3600 to 3500 B.C.
The news reports are all claiming a date of 4800 years ago (not B.C.) for the wood in the present case. This yields a calendar date of 2800 B.C. If this were the end of the matter the present claim would be unambiguously falsified. But there is a possibility the press and/or even the original research team has this radiocarbon date garbled, and it is this which must now be gotten to the bottom of.
Specifically, the radiocarbon date will have been reported back to the researchers from the radiocarbon lab both as a "radiocarbon age BP" date and as a "calibrated age BC" date. The "radiocarbon age BP" number is just a measure of the radiocarbon concentration in the wood and does not correspond to calendar years. The date, in true calendar years, is given by the "calibrated age BC" number.
As it turns out, the "radiocarbon age BP" corresponding to the date of the Flood (i.e., 3520 +/- 21 B.C. according to our best Biblical Chronology reckoning at present) is ca. 4770 BP. Thus, if it is the uncalibrated "radiocarbon age BP" of the wood which is appearing in the press reports, rather than the calibrated calendar age, then this wood is pretty much bang on the date expected for wood from the ark. In that case, when combined with the location of the discovery, the only reasonable conclusion would be that the wood is in fact from the ark.
I'll keep you posted as I learn more.