FOSSILS — FLIM-FLAM OR
(Investigator 132, 2010 May)
"I take nothing
on faith –
I am a skeptic. You want me to take you seriously? Back it up with
That's the difference between science and fantasy." (Phil Plait, The
They've been appearing in the media: significant fossil finds!
First, there's Ida (Darwinius massillae), a 47 million year old
lemur-like creature of the Eocene period, who, said the British
Daily Mail (20/5/09) was, apparently, "our oldest relation".
What excites palaeontologists are her human-like characteristics
(forward-looking eyes and opposable thumbs) at a time when the primate
family tree was splitting into two groups, one with humans, apes and
monkeys, the other with lemurs and bush babies.
She's been hyped by her ‘promoters' as the "eighth wonder of the
world" and "the first link to all humans", and those who now own this
fossilised creature (dug from the Grube Messel Pit near Darmstadt in
Germany in 1983, and worth $1 million) have exaggerated her likely link
to Homo, while others are more careful, though they concede that D
massillae can shed light on human evolution, and it's the kind of key
fossil find Darwin predicted about 140 years ago..
Australian scientists have been busy too, telling us more about the
significance of the giant kangaroo (Procoptodon goliah) which became
extinct about 45,000 years ago (The Advertiser 23/6/09), and which
"evolved in response to increased aridity", thus hunting by humans was
a more likely cause of its demise than climate change.
Then we were introduced to Clancy, Matilda and Banjo (The Advertiser,
4/7/09), newly discovered dinosaurs (Wintonittan wattsi,
Diamantinasaurus matildae and Australovenator wintonensis) who lived in
the greenhouse-enhanced world of the northern (tropical) part of the
‘Antarctica/Australia' island 98 million years ago in the Middle
Cretaceous, when ‘we' were pulling away from ‘Antarctica', and ‘island
India' was en route to its collision with the SE edge of Laurasia.
Banjo was "Australia's answer to the Velociraptor, but many times
bigger and more terrifying". These new dinosaur finds mean that
Australia can yet again be regarded as prime source region for dinosaur
finds: it implies that many more extinct species remain undiscovered,
allowing the diminution of our still substantial ignorance of our past.
As an avid fossil-hunter in my late teens, I sometimes fantasised about
unearthing finds that would make the front page of the Merthyr Express,
and have the fossil gurus of the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff
phoning my parents (though we didn't have a phone) with the news
of a new species named ‘Dino williamsis'. I and my (only)
fellow-geology student, now Emeritus Prof Randall Baker of New
Bulgarian University, had free train travel there on Friday afternoons,
so we could study the best specimens from the geo-treasury that is
Since the rocks most accessible to me were of Silurian, Devonian and
Carboniferous age, and nearly all were in quarries and cuttings worked
over by previous palaeo-hunters, I knew that finding rare dinosaur
remains required longer journeys to the Jurassic/Cretaceous, and the
best that I could hope for was a fish's tooth. The other dream was to
find any Pre-Cambrian fossil during fieldwork in the Longmynd of
Shropshire: the closest I got was a highly ambiguous 'worm-trail'!
The above is a preamble aimed at Young-Earth Creationists and
Intelligent Designists (YECs/IDists). Ida, Banjo, Clancy and Matilda
are just four of the thousands of fossil species that severely
challenge their version of the Earth's story. I'd like to resolve what,
if anything, is wrong with that above: if it is flim-flam, I'd really
like to know, and why.
47 million years older than ‘Creation' (about 7,700 times older). How
does one explain this discrepancy?
Ida and nearly all
other life that's existed have become extinct, how does this fit the
concept of an intelligent and omniscient designer/creator?
did the ID god
(actually, God) construct the first male and female D massillae, and
what were ‘his' sources for blood, DNA, intestinal flora?
evidence, if any,
is there that the ‘German' volcanic lake into which Ida fell (she was
only 6-9 months old, and had a broken wrist) was part of the Great
Flood 4,500 years ago?
would one explain
the assemblage found in the 40 species fossil trove of Messel Pit (such
as partials of D massillae and a highly diversified vertebrate and
invertebrate Eocene fauna, all of the same age, including turtles,
fish, manatee, as well as a unique anteater, Erotamandua joresi, the
primal tapir, Hyrachus minimus and the primitive horse genus,
There's a creationist
lobby-group called Truth In Science which has been trying to persuade
the British government to have ID taught in schools. If TIS had its
way, would D massillae have been on that smelly and overcrowded ark,
along with Ken Ham's "15 kinds of dinosaur"? Could someone please
explain the mechanics of how breeding pairs were known about, found,
caught and transported to the Ark?
does a believer in
Bible ethics, including the Ten Commandments, view Britain's leading
ID/YEC proponent, Professor Andy McIntosh? He has used:
photograph of a
Cretaceous T Rex, called "Stan", sourced from the Oxford University
Museum for publication to accompany his article in the Salvation Army's
The War Cry (9/5/09), in which the museum caption was
omitted, and replaced with, in large font, "Dinosaurs coexisted with
humankind". In his article he writes, "God created dinosaurs on the
fifth and sixth days…and many died out in the Flood. (I thought that
the 15 kinds on the Ark were supposed to evolve extremely rapidly to
become thousands of dinosaur species and then become extinct,
presumably at the same time as H sapiens was becoming more numerous?)
unnamed photo of a S. Moroccan ammonite, probably of Lower Jurassic
age, with the caption, "Fossil evidence is consistent with a global
The line that "there
was no death, predators, prey and suffering before the Fall", and that
scary Australovenator was a vegetarian.
There is more of the same literal drivel, and it's shocking because Dr
McIntosh is a highly regarded leader in his field of chemical
engineering, thermodynamics and combustion theory at the University of
Leeds. I've written letters to the Editor of The War Cry, Major
Nigel Bovey, pointing out the caption errors, and requesting
corrections in a future issue.