Category Archives: Paleontology

Data from the unrecorded past

Canadian microfossils – first life of evolution or deepest of creation?

A recent (March 2017) article claims that scientist have found the oldest fossils yet. Are they the traces of the first life forms to be preserved? Do they show the earliest known step in evolution? Do they show how long ago life began? Certainly, if our derived dating methods are correct, these are the oldest fossils. Even so, they raise a couple of questions about the story of the origin and evolution of life.

The Story

The article, based on research published in the journal NATURE,  claims the fossils not only set the origin of life farther back than ever before, but also support the theory that life arose around deep-sea hydrothermal (hot water) vents. It also suggests that Mars might have had similar forms of life early in its history.  The article claims that “It was primordial microbes like those described in the study that set in motion the evolutionary march toward complex life and, eventually, the appearance of humans 200,000 years ago.”

The Facts

What do we actually know about these fossils? They were taken “from the Hudson Bay shoreline in northern Quebec” and consist of “Tiny filaments and tubes made of a form of iron oxide, or rust, formed by the microbes…encased in layers of quartz” within iron-rich sedimentary deposits. These deposits are estimated by experts to be about 4 billion (thousand million) years old.

The Significance

Many evolutionists have said that the origin of life is not part of the theory of evolution, but clearly it is important to know about it. If the dates assigned to these deposits and the age of the  Earth, and the theory of the formation of the Earth, are correct, they “suggest ‘an almost instantaneous emergence of life’ after ocean formation,” according to lead researcher Matthew S. Dodd. Of course, that also sets the stage for the story of the long march of evolution that just happened to include humans at the end, at least so far.

Too soon?

Or does it? Nobody is claiming that these were the first living things. One of the researchers, Dominic Papineau, said the find “shows microbial life diversified to specialized microbes very early in Earth history.” The early date assigned plus the time it would have taken to evolve to that point from the first life explain Dodd’s “almost instantaneous” estimate. There would not have been much evolutionary time between the first conditions necessary for life on Earth and these fossils.  This should raise a question in the minds of properly-skeptical scientists: If life arose so soon from chance conditions, how hard should it be for highly-intelligent scientists to re-create the event? They have been trying to do so for decades, and have only produced a few relatively simple organic molecules that don’t do anything. The conditions that produce these chemicals also produce others that would interfere with the functions of biological molecules (poisons).

Too Modern?

The reason for the confidence in identifying such tiny traces as showing early life raises another question. The report notes that the fossils’ “structure closely resembled modern bacteria that dwell near iron-rich hydrothermal vents.” If the very earliest traces of life look so much like those left by living things now, clearly there was nothing forcing the further evolution of life. Fossils assigned dates from hundreds of millions of years ago also appear very similar to living things. Clearly there is no environmental or biological imperative for life to evolve. Granting for the sake of argument that life did evolve from some early microbes into all the other forms, it must have been a process in which random mutations somehow just happened to produce changes that added up to all the new features needed to live in new conditions in new ways even while the population they came from was doing fine in the old conditions.

Further Considerations

Some might say that this is where God stepped in, but that raises a couple of other questions. If we allow that God was actively involved, what else might he have done? Why not take the Bible’s creation account at face value, and question man’s ability to give dates to things supposedly long before humans existed? Why would God create by gradually nudging natural forces?

We should also consider the fossil record in this light. If we have traces left by tiny bacteria billions of years ago, where are all the traces showing the major steps of evolution? We find fossils dated around 500 million years old (3.5 billion years after these Canadian traces) showing all the major designs (phyla) of many-celled living things.  Some of those, too, are very similar to living things. There is a great dearth of fossils assigned to the billions of years between. It’s not that there aren’t any traces. There are mysterious burrows and footprints, small bits of shells, and some strange forms that don’t seem closely related to any living things. So how is it that the major work of evolution has no evidence over all that time?

Creationists can look at the same data and come to different conclusions. We can’t rely on our ability to derive dates from current evidence. We see many distinct forms of life and distinct sets of fossils at various layers, without having to imagine lines of many more forms connecting them. In general, the oldest fossils are forms that lived on the bottom of the ocean. The most recent include forms that are the fastest, most agile swimmers; animals capable of living in the highest, driest, and coldest regions; and birds which can fly more powerfully and higher than any other living things. The general pattern of increasing altitude and mobility holds throughout the fossil record, with an understandable degree of overlap. This could fit within a global-Flood model of geology.

Conclusion

Fundamentalist science simply presents the facts: There is evidence that experts interpret as showing the age of these deposits is about 4 billion years. The traces appear to be very similar to those produced by bacteria living today near hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea today. Beyond that, if you want to believe that separately-created life forms were buried during the global Flood described in the Bible,  that’s a matter of faith. If you want to believe that life evolved from microbes over billions of years,  that’s a matter of faith, too.

References:

Canadian bacteria-like fossils called oldest evidence of life, Reuters, By Will Dunham, March 1, 2017

Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates
Matthew S. Dodd, et al., NATURE, 543, 60–64 (02 March 2017), doi:10.1038/nature21377, Published online, 01 March 2017

no evolution of gorillas

Evolution data shows no sign of evolution – again.

Evolution? The headline seemed to be saying there was more data showing how ancient apes split into two groups, one heading toward modern gorillas and the other leading to other modern apes — and humans. I’m blogging about “Fossils Shed New Light on Human-Gorilla Split,” LiveScience.com, By Charles Q. Choi,  2/11/2016.

As usual, the title of the original research report was a bit clearer: “New geological and palaeontological age constraint for the gorilla–human lineage split.” (Nature 530, 215–218 (11 February 2016) doi:10.1038/nature16510) In other words, the data merely shows a limit on when the split might have happened — assuming that it did happen, and that the dating method is accurate.

What is this all about? Fossil teeth again. One thing we know for sure, the fossil teeth that appear to be the oldest gorilla teeth ever found “resembled those of modern gorillas.” Not much to go on, but it sounds like there has not been much change (evolution) between Chororapithecus and living gorillas. Continue reading Evolution data shows no sign of evolution – again.

Another Great Story about Whales

The evolutionary story of how whales came to be is a classic example of how this sort of thing shouldn’t be considered the same as science that studies things we can repeatedly observe and test, even when it seems to be having success.  From Darwin’s speculating that “something like a bear” might have taken up eating stuff in the water for generations until the practice molded them into aquatic creatures, to a scrap piece of skull producing a picture of a paddle-legged swimmer when later discoveries of more extensive fossils showed it really had long, skinny legs and probably never stuck more than its head in the water.

The latest addition to the story is the report on “Fucaia buelli,” a very small whale classified as an “aetiocetid,” one of the extinct kinds of “toothed mysticetes.” Today, mysticetes are all toothless as adults, using the filtering structures known as baleen instead. They are commonly known as baleen whales: right whales, humpback whales, blue whales, and others. Evolutionists were thrilled to find fossils of adult whales with both teeth and baleen, assuming they showed how baleen whales came to be — they evolved from toothed whales that mutated to grow baleen, then they mutated so they lost their teeth. That second stage seems reasonable enough, it’s easy for a mutation to knock out the production of something. But what about that first step? Continue reading Another Great Story about Whales

Soft Tissues: Hard to stretch over millions of years

When scientists step beyond the proper limits of science, such as the limit of time in which things  have been scientifically observed and recorded, something other than the method of repeatedly observing and testing things will dictate how data is explained. Supernatural events and explanations are by their nature not limited by the limits of nature, so naturally natural philosophers (now called scientists) tend to avoid them. So, whatever we find in nature, most scientists today have to explain without considering what the Bible (or other religious source) says that God (or other supernatural entity) did in the past that might throw off such explanations. Obviously, creating the heavens and the Earth in one swell foop of six days is going to produce things that would take billions of years to form, assuming that natural processes alone could somehow do it.

So there are some things that “Young Earth” scientists have struggled to explain, such as how we can see stars that are billions of light years away. I believe there’s a simple supernatural explanation, but there are a number of (more or less) natural explanations that have been proposed. There are other things that mainstream scientists are struggling to show nature can produce, such as the origin of life.   Continue reading Soft Tissues: Hard to stretch over millions of years

The Cambrian explosion keeps popping…

Two news stories this week add to the bangs of the collection of fossils showing all sorts of living things that have few if any posited fossil-represented ancestors.  This “sudden appearance” haunted Darwin and arguably has gotten worse since. Like Darwin, evolutionists have continued to shrug and guess that for some reason most of evolution didn’t get recorded as fossils. Maybe the animals were too soft, maybe the water chemistry was wrong, maybe this, maybe that. After more than 150 years, how long does a supposedly scientific theory get a pass on bringing forth evidence for it’s greater part?  How can it be called an evidence-based theory, when belief in the theory has held in spite of this great lack of evidence for so long? It might be different if new fossils appeared to be making some dent in the problem (or it might be called too little, too late), but instead new fossils keep showing quite new (non-intermediate) forms, including features and whole organisms more like modern kinds than were known in these deposits before. Continue reading The Cambrian explosion keeps popping…

Are we just cousins of gibbons?

We’ve all seen the depictions of the “Tree of Life” with humans at the top (older versions had some races closer to the top than others), but as leading evolutionists have pointed out, that’s a misleading view of evolution. Indeed, it was held by a number of leading evolutionists in the past, who saw evolution as just such a progression of increasingly superior or “fitter” organisms leading up to us (and someday to descendants of ours so advanced we would look little different from chimps in comparison).

The more popular view these days is to emphasize that humans are nothing special in evolutionary terms. After all, look at the microbes that today leave traces (stromatolites) that appear identical to fossils dated billions of years old. How’s that for surviving? Humans are just the latest fad in this view, our tiny twig on the tree of life not being any more special or favored than any of the others. The perch we may eat for supper is seen as just as evolved in its own way as we are, and from the same fishy ancestor. For that matter, I might just as easily have titled this post, “Are we just colonies of specialized microbes?” However, it was inspired by a recent report a lot closer to home in evolutionary terms. Continue reading Are we just cousins of gibbons?

Life is funny — I mean, the way some evolutionists think about life is funny.

Normally when I comment on a new article, I simply have some doubts and questions and a different way of looking at things, but sometimes I see articles that seem so funny to me I’m afraid my response will offend some people… but please excuse me if I can’t help it in a case like this:

“Life Started On Earth 300 Million Years Earlier Than We Thought”

This is the title of an article from the Huffington Post ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/earth-age-carbon-study_562688dfe4b02f6a900e2320?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592 )

It’s based on a scientific report that isn’t so funny itself, but this presentation for public consumption has this side-splitting subtitle or lead-in quote: “Life on Earth may have started almost instantaneously. With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly.” Yup, just throw a bunch of cosmic dust around a baby star until it balls up into a planet, maybe has some of those basic amino acids, the “building blocks of life” mixed in, and POOF! there’s your life for you! Just like magic! Practically a miracle… whoops, I mean, perfectly natural, of course. Must be happening all the time… well, somewhere, out there with all those other planetary systems forming. Of course, in this context, “almost instantaneously” and “very quickly” refers to several hundred million years. Then again, the processes taking place in most of that time could be said to have little direct relevance to the formation of life.  If you’re going to believe that raw chemicals came together and became a living thing all on their own, you may as well believe it happened quickly. But what’s behind this bold pontification?  Continue reading Life is funny — I mean, the way some evolutionists think about life is funny.

Chinese teeth claimed to alter “Out of Africa” story

Here’s a news story regarding human evolution, or rather, the old-
Earth saga of the wanderings of modern humans. It’s claimed that a
bunch of teeth found in a cave prove that humans left Africa behind
long ago, moved to China, and then spread out from there.

Hmmm, seems there have been a lot of fossils coming out of China with
claims to being the first and best. Several of the key dino-bird
fossils showed up with stories of having been dug up by farmers, and
nobody has found another of the same species since. Is there something
fishy here? Could the Chinese be up to something for the prestige?
There certainly seems to be a note of pride in this quote:

“Our discovery, together with other research findings,
suggests southern China should be the key, central area for the emergence and evolution of modern humans in East Asia,” the study’s co-lead author, Wu Liu, of China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, told Live Science.

Continue reading Chinese teeth claimed to alter “Out of Africa” story

bird dinosaurs - Archaeopteryx fossil

Dinosaur birds were flying like modern birds

While I was researching the story on the oldest fossil shrimp, I noticed another story about one of my favorite subjects, birds that lived with dinosaurs.  The title is “Tiny ancient fossil from Spain shows birds flew over the heads of dinosaurs.” Now, a lot of creationists would read this and imagine robins and bluejays and such, but fossils of modern birds like those aren’t found in the same rock formations as dinosaurs.

It should also be noted that it isn’t news that there were extinct kinds of flying birds that were fossilized in Cretaceous and even Jurassic rocks alongside dinosaurs.

What’s exciting about this find is it provides very strong evidence that the extinct birds in the “early” or deeper Cretaceous layers had wings that were just as complex and well-designed for flying as modern birds’.  Continue reading Dinosaur birds were flying like modern birds

A Tale of the (Evolutionary) Tooth Fairy

Here’s a cute one. How do you get animals with a special substance in one part of their body, but not anyplace else? You start with ancestors that had it everyplace else but that part! Sounds like a joke? Take a look at “Fish scales to fangs: Surprising tale of how teeth got their bite” – the Yahoo version of a Reuters report By Will Dunham,  September 23, 2015.
Continue reading A Tale of the (Evolutionary) Tooth Fairy