Meteors, Dinosaur Droppings, and More

Joel at Naturalis Historia has a knack for organizing and describing scientific evidence in a clear and readable fashion. Perhaps this comes from years of experience teaching biology to college students. He posts sporadically, but all of the material is worth a careful read if you are interested in science and the evidence that convinces so many Christians in the sciences of the age of the earth and the basic reliability of evolutionary biology. He writes the kind of science-based posts I wish I had more time for, but can only occasionally achieve.

The question posed in Evolution vs. God is ill posed, as no one can give sound bite evidence for evolution observed on the time scale of a human life. (See The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for more on this video.) But this does not mean that evidence does not exist, that it is not convincing, and that it cannot be understood. A couple of recent posts are excellent cases in point.

First a post from back in June:

The YDB Event: The Most Recent Global Catastrophe in Human History? that explores recent research on the Younger Dryas Boundary.

The Young Dryas Boundary (YDB) has long been recognized in sediments around the world as marking the beginning of a time in which the world experienced a global decline in temperature for a period of about 1300 years. This period of cooler and dryer weather has been called the Younger Dryas. The boundary that marks the beginning of this period has been dated by various methods, but most prominently C14 radiometric dating, to be right about 12,800 years ago. The YDB also corresponds to the sudden disappearance of many large animals including the American mammoths, mastodons, american camel, dire wolf, native horses (remember all horses in NA today were brought here from the old world) and giant ground sloth in North America, just to name a few. Below are a few examples showing how visible this boundary point can be in the geological record.

Over a series of papers the case is being made (and challenged) that this boundary represents an asteroid strike that eventually wiped out the already challenged mega fauna (mammoth, mastodon, and the saber-toothed cat, smilidon) that went extinct somewhere around this time. It is also suggested that this event wiped out the Clovis culture in North America, which was then repopulated from Central America. Joel lays out the evidence quite well, points to the original literature, and describes how this is an excellent example of science at work. Arguments are made, challenged, tested, and refined.

“But wait you promised dinosaur droppings!” I hear exclaimed. As interesting as asteroid strikes and extinctions may be, you really want to know about dinosaur excrement.

In a more recent post Joel looks at the prevalence of animal excrement in the fossil record: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood. Fossilized dinosaur droppings make quite beautiful “rocks.” While whole skeleton fossils are relatively rare, coprolites or fossilized poop is not. And this is even more the case for other species. In fact he points out that this is a serious challenge to the idea that the fossils in the Green River formation were deposited in a single massive flood.

But dino droppings are just a drop in the bucket in terms of the feces preserved in the geological column. Bird feces in the forms of massive layers of preserved guano and fish fecal pellets are found in massive numbers. To provide just one example, the Green River Formation in the western US is famous for its fossilized fish. Creationists have questioned how they could be preserved so well in the millions of layers of sediments. Leaving that question aside here, these layers also contain countless fish coprolites as well. … These coprolites are found in conjunction with layers in which fish are also found. Fish coprolites in this area surely must number in the many billions and be represented at least 1000 to one over the presence of fish. If, as Woolley suggests, that coprolites in these rocks represent the voided contents of fish caught in a global flood then here again we have far more poop than one would expect to find coming from a fish in such a short period of time.

Fossilized droppings may not point to the so-called missing links in the fossil record demonstrating evolution by natural selection, but they certainly point to an old earth and a large number of creatures present over an extended period of time.

But wait, there is more. This one not from Naturalis Historia, but from ScienceNow and the journal Geology, marginally related to the above, but I thought it pretty cool. Not only are there many examples of fossilized excrement, we now have fossilized whale vomit as well, as this story in ScienceNow reports: Stinky Whale Clumps, Now in Fossil Form.

Rocky lumps found eroding from ancient clay-rich sediments in Italy may be the first known fossils of ambergris, a fragrant and flammable substance produced in the intestines of sperm whales. What’s more, according to a new study, the large number of lumps discovered within a very small area hints that these fossils may be all that’s left of a mysterious mass die-off of the giant creatures.

In work reported in a new article in the journal Geology researchers found 25 or more clumps of fossilized ambergris in a small area – some 1200 square meters (a bit less than a quarter the size of a football field). Fossilized squid beaks in the clumps along with structural and chemical analysis support the identification as fossilized ambergris. The high density in one location points to a mass die-off for some unknown reason, although other explanations are also possible. But there are no skeletons or traditional fossils. The formation in which these clumps were found dates to some 1.75 million years ago, making it relatively recent compared with the dinosaurs (who died out some 66 million years ago or so after a reign of 135 million years). The flesh and bones decayed away, and only the fossilized ambergris remains as a monument these whales. The picture above from wikipedia is of modern sperm whales, very much like the sperm whales of 1.75 million years ago.

Whales, by the way, evolved from a land mammal between something like 50 and 40 million years ago and although research continues and all steps are not yet clear, this is a case where an abundance of transitional fossils exist. So many that Hugh Ross commented on them in an article Thank God for Whales. (Joel has an article at Naturalis Historia that comments on this as well.)

I believe that all these “transitional forms” for whales show up in the fossil record because God likes whales. Knowing their propensity for rapid extinction, He kept on making new ones. Evidence shows an apparent progression from fresh water habitats to sea coastal regions to proliferating throughout all the world’s oceans. God must have had His reasons for gradually expanding both the habitats and populations of whales.

From the point of view of progressive creation, this explanation makes sense I suppose. I, however, find the presence of these transitional forms to be powerful evidence for evolution.

What would it take to provide convincing evidence for evolution?

What do you find most convincing (or troubling)?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you would like to comment please see Meteors, Dinosaur Droppings, and More at Jesus Creed.

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