Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Organic material in dinosaur bones and distraction tactics

On Monday 26th August at 21.00 BBC2’s Horizon programme broadcast a documentary called ‘Dinosaurs: The Hunt for Life’ featuring palaeontologist Dr Mary Schweitzer. Her discovery of traces of soft tissue and red blood cells in the fossilised bones of a ’68 million year old’ T Rex has fascinated creationists since the first reports in 2005 but have, as far as I know, been studiously ignored by the establishment. So, was this documentary about setting the record straight or an exercise designed to nullify and explain away inconvenient evidence?

The discoveries themselves are fascinating, and can be studied in more depth by Googling on (Mary Schweitzer dinosaur soft tissue) or similar terms. There is a useful write up on Answers in Genesis here. The initial discovery was made when a large T Rex thigh bone had to be sawn in half as it was too big to load on to a helicopter to get it out of the desert where it had been dug up. A smell was noticed. Further analysis showed soft tissue with blood vessels that still retained some elasticity and contained blood cells. It was hard to suppose that this organic tissue had remained intact for 68 million years, but the idea that the bones might have only been perhaps a few thousand years old was truly unacceptable.
Was this the ‘Mount St Helens’ (*) of palaeontology? As Dr David Menton (a cell biology PhD working with Answers in Genesis) said, “It certainly taxes one’s imagination to believe that soft tissue and cells could remain so relatively fresh in appearance for the tens of millions of years of supposed evolutionary history.”

When, inevitably, the findings were challenged, Dr Schweitzer’s team published more analysis which proved by multiple independent analysis of another dinosaur fossil that vertebrate specific proteins (collagen, elastin and haemoglobin) were present.
68 million year old organic tissue?

The documentary did not mention the age/dating problem Dr Menton and other creationists raised, that since organic tissue could hardly be expected to survive 68 million years, perhaps the dates were wrong by orders of magnitude. As Dr Schweitzer quoted a sceptical colleague saying to her, ‘I don’t care what the data says, this is impossible.’ That response would be understandable from someone who holds to millions of years as a non negotiable axiom. What do we do when faced with facts that challenge the world view we have built our lives upon? Rejection and denial are likely.

That was about all the time given to the sceptics, no time at all was given to creationist response and analysis. Of course, it is not possible to conduct an experiment to see whether soft tissue can survive for millions of years, so we are down to assumptions and world views.  What it boils down to is that if these bones are only a few thousand years old, as the soft tissue suggests, the whole Darwinian project of explaining the world without a creator fails utterly. And secularism and materialism fall with it. The materialists are hardly likely to concede this.
Dinosaur DNA?

The rest of the programme wandered off into various tangents, including a walk in the Gobi desert with discussion about fossil hunters who were only after profit from selling dinosaur bones. These people were destroying valuable scientific evidence, we were told, for personal gain, the market having gone ballistic after a T Rex fossil was bought for $7.3 million dollars by a Chicago Museum. There was also the usual speculation about dinosaurs evolving into birds. An interesting line of enquiry has opened as to whether enough intact dinosaur DNA can be recovered to tell us more about what these animals really looked like. The famous dinosaur hunter Dr Jack Horner, Dr Schweitzer’s mentor and allegedly the model for the Sam Neill character in ‘Jurassic Park’, expressed hope that dinosaur DNA would teach us more about what living dinosaurs were like. 

Ironically, the illustration of a horse (The winsome Dr Schweitzer was filmed riding and grooming her horse) was used to suggest that our recreations of extinct animals based on their bones was most likely inaccurate. Er, yes-creationists have been saying this for decades! Nebraska man being perhaps the most notorious example, although many other reconstructions of supposed human ancestors have been dreamed up and called evidence on the most scanty fossil fragments. Will dinosaur DNA help us, as Dr Jack Horner suggested, help us find the ‘real evolutionary information’, or even as was hinted enable the genetic engineering of live dinosaurs, as perhaps hinted at in the programme’s title ‘Dinosaurs: the Hunt for Life’? Of course the fact that these conversations are even taking place is indicative that the reality of undecayed soft tissue in supposedly millions of year old bones is now being grudgingly accepted as fact.
Untestable hypotheses and wrong questions

Dr Schweitzer did seem to have a more open mind than some, mentioning that ‘a lot of dinosaur work is based on untestable hypotheses’ and that ‘The world of dinosaur science is asking the wrong questions’ but she apparently remains committed to millions of years. Creationists however suggest that it seriously stretches credulity to believe that proteins could survive that long. Taken together with the many global dragon/dinosaur legends and depictions of dinosaurs in primitive art like the Cambodian stegosaurus carving (another piece of evidence that tends to be ignored by mainstream media) this remarkable finding points to a much younger age of the earth and far more recent age of dinosaurs than can be accounted for by a materialist world view.

Finally, the documentary discussed the means hereby large animal carcasses became fossils. The animals were rapidly and completely enclosed in fast moving sand or mud. How this happened was not mentioned, but we do know it must have happened rapidly because animals that die and fall to the ground in normal conditions are eaten and scattered by scavengers within days if not hours. This is a matter of direct observation, not speculation. A global flood remains the best theoretical model to explain the large scale fossilisation of dinosaurs. Really finally, a few representative dinosaurs could have fitted on Noah’s Ark. According to the Bible, God sent the animals two by two, He would quite obviously have chosen young specimens as these would have had greater breeding potential and taken up less room and eaten less. Obvious enough when you allow yourself to think about it. 

In summary, ‘Dinosaurs: The Hunt for Life’ was interesting as much for what it left out and for various distractions as for its analysis of the fascinating discovery of soft tissue, protein and red blood cells in dinosaur bones. This unexpected discovery has the potential to force a re-evaluation of the dogma of long ages and millions of years, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for evolution to have taken place. It seems that the establishment is not about to let that happen even if they are finding it increasingly difficult to explain Dr Schweitzer’s findings away.

I loved the quote from a nameless scientist ‘I don’t care what the data says, this is impossible.’

As Dr Schweitzer remarked, ‘How is this science?’


(*) The mount St Helens explosion and subsequent events demonstrated that changes such as laying down strata and burial of trees could happen over days in the right catastrophic conditions, providing direct evidence that millions of years were not necessary to lay down rock layers. See for example this item on the Mount St Helens eruption.





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