Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Dinosaur and the Dodo Bird

Recently we made a trip to Glen Rose, Texas, including Creation Evidence Museum, Dinosaur Valley State Park and Dinosaur World. Glen Rose is probably best known for and associated with dinosaurs by outsiders. The Creation Evidence Museum story of dinosaurs promotes a biblical worldview of creation, while Dinosaur Valley State Park and Dinosaur World accept the standard evolutionary origins model.

Most everyone seems to have heard of the dodo bird, even though it was only known to live on one island in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius and has been extinct over 300 years. The dodo has suffered the indignity of perceived stupidity and was even for a time called a "scientific fraud". I've always joked that we have pretty well survived the extinction of the dodo bird and are none the worse for it, but in a way its extinction is a sad commentary on human interaction with the rest of God's creation. In 1977 University of Wisconsin ornithologist Stanley Temple claimed that the extinction of the dodo bird was responsible for the near extinction of the tambalacoque tree in Mauritius -- theorizing that the seeds of the tambalacoque germinated only after passing through the digestive system of the dodo bird. An interesting theory, it has since been proven false, though it still finds much press as the truth.

An interesting recent development in the study of the dinosaur is the discovery of "soft tissue" (blood cells and blood vessels). Since most modern scientists reject creation and a young earth, and since the Tyrannosaurus rex fossil with the soft tissue was dated at 70 million years, and and since biochemical decay rates do not allow for findings of soft tissue this old, there was a dilemma. Mary Schweitzer, the paleontologist who made the discovery, stated: "Finding these tissues in dinosaurs changes the way we think about fossilization, because our theories of how fossils are preserved don't allow for this." Evolutionary scientists, including Schweitzer, complain that her "research has been hijacked by 'young earth' creationists, who insist that dinosaur soft tissue couldn’t possibly survive millions of years." A statement of paleontologist Thomas Holtz Jr. (University of Maryland) shows how evolutionary scientists dogmatically approach the matter. He says that Schweitzer’s work is "showing us we really don’t understand decay." They are only willing to ask the decay question -- not the age of the earth question! That invokes too many problems for their well-set theories. Some people act as if scientists and paleontologists* are neutral arbiters of nature's truths, with no agendas or presuppositions. This simply isn't true. They can be driven by frame of reference, feelings, folly, fame and fortune.

Illustrative of such states of mind is the 19th century "Bone Wars" competition between paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel C. Marsh. Among other things, the Bone Wars gave us the well-beloved Brontosaurus. It is "alive and well" today, even though it never actually existed and hasn't been recognized by paleontologists for well over 100 years!

"Nebraska Man" was not only a case of mistaken identity, but also of scientific bluster and braggadocio. In short Nebraska Man was a possible human ancestor identified on the basis of a tooth found in Nebraska in 1917. Though found by another, Henry F. Osborn made the identification, though within the decade the ID was retracted when it was discovered to be was a peccary/wild pig tooth. Osborn engaged in gleeful repartee with William Jennings Bryan and even "suggested mockingly, the animal should have been named Bryopithecus 'after the most distinguished Primate which the State of Nebraska has thus far produced'." [Bryan was from Nebraska. Osborn was engaged to testify on behalf of John Scopes and evolution at the Scopes Monkey Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes). Bryan was engaged in the prosecution. Before the trial began, Osborn went quiet about Nebraska Man and opted out of testifying.]

David R. Herhey investigated "The Widespread Misconception that the Tambalacoque or Calvaria Tree Absolutely Required the Dodo Bird for its Seeds to Germinate" and reported his findings in Plant Science Bulletin, Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 2004. His "Lessons From The Dodo-Tambalacoque Myth" provide welcome advice to our "dinosaur approach" as well.
1. Peer review in even the most prestigious journals, such as Science, sometimes fails and results in flawed articles being published. Therefore, readers should retain a healthy scientific skepticism even for published articles. Rigorously, but objectively, evaluate the experiments and arguments that the author(s) makes.
2. Once a flawed, but appealing, hypothesis is published in a prestigious scientific journal, it may have tremendous staying power even when rebutted in print.
3. Scientific articles sometimes lack the required scientific objectivity and try to provide only support for an hypothesis and ignore contrary evidence or alternative hypothesis.
I'm no scientist, but I don't have to believe something just because scientists say so. According to evolution, I should be able to eat worms and bang my head against a tree every day, and in a billion or so years my descendants could become human woodpeckers. According to common sense, I'd die of head trauma and intestinal problems and my descendants would politely pronounce my eccentricity and quietly go about their human choices.

* Scientists who study the fossil record

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