Superman and the Myth of Carbon-14 Dating

One of my three-year-old son’s favorite cartoons is one that I grew up watching in the early 1980s—Superfriends. My son thoroughly enjoys watching Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the rest of the Superfriends clean up the weekly messes made by the thirteen members of the Legion of Doom. Recently, however, after watching an episode with my son, I realized that even the Superfriends propagate a “mess” every now and then. In one scene, Superman dug up an object underneath the Hall of Justice and subjected it to radiocarbon dating. Allegedly, the sample of dirt tested was 70 million years old. The cartoon heroes were certain of their findings because the sample of dirt had been tested using the carbon-14 dating method. Even though most children (and adults) who watch Superfriends (or similar cartoons) have very little, if any, knowledge of radiocarbon dating, they are sure to pick up on its “factual” findings.

Without going into detail of the ins and outs of carbon-14 dating, consider one basic truth about this dating method that few people (especially in the film industry), it seems, have been taught: radiocarbon dating is totally ineffective in measuring time when dealing with millions of years. In his 2000 book, Genes, People, and Languages, renowned geneticist of Stanford University, Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, in a discussion on the theory of human evolution, commented on radiocarbon dating, stating: “The most crucial dates in modern human evolution are unfortunately beyond the range of the radiocarbon method, which has a limit of about 40,000 years” (p. 61, emp. added). Staunch evolutionist Richard Dawkins also dealt with the limitations of radiocarbon dating a few years ago in his highly touted book, The Blind Watchmaker. He was even more critical of this dating method than was Cavalli-Sforza, saying,

Different kinds of radioactive decay-based geological stopwatches run at different rates. The radiocarbon stopwatch buzzes round at a great rate, so fast that, after some thousands of years, its spring is almost wound down and the watch is no longer reliable. It is useful for dating organic material on the archaeological/historical timescale where we are dealing in hundreds or a few thousands of years, but it is no good for the evolutionary timescale where we are dealing in millions of years (1986, p. 226 emp. added).

Although the idea that radiocarbon dating is an effective evolutionary dating method has been publicized for many years, both evolutionists and creationists stand in agreement that this dating method, which can be used only to date organic samples that once were living, is totally ineffective in measuring the alleged millions or billions of years of the evolutionary timetable. [In truth, even when dating things that are relatively young, carbon-14 dating is imperfect, and always based upon certain assumptions. (See “Dating in Archaeology: Radiocarbon & Tree-Ring Dating.”)] Unfortunately, because the “million year” myth of radiocarbon dating has been spread so widely for so many years—even being perpetuated by Superman in both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—it likely will take a long time before the truth of its ineffectiveness is heard and accepted.


Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi (2000), Genes, Peoples, and Languages (New York: North Point Press).

Dawkins, Richard (1986), The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton).


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