February 8, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Bizarre Fossils Raise Questions

For decades, students have been taught that the fossil record shows a long, slow, gradual progression of increasing complexity over millions of years.  Scientific data are usually not so simple.

  1. Surprising youth in old fossil:  When you see the word unexpected in a headline, expect the unexpected.  “Unexpected exoskeleton remnants found in Paleozoic fossils,” reported PhysOrg about chitin protein remains found in scorpion-like arthropod fossils alleged to be 310 million and 417 million years old.  The previous record was 25 to 80 million years.  The subtitle reads, “Surprising new research shows that, contrary to conventional belief, remains of chitin-protein complex — structural materials containing protein and polysaccharide — are present in abundance in fossils of arthropods from the Paleozoic era.”
        George Cody of the Carnegie Institution “speculates that the vestigial protein-chitin complex may play a critical role in organic fossil preservation by providing a substrate protected from total degradation by a coating waxy substances [sic] that protect the arthropods from desiccation.”  Is he claiming the proteins protected the rock impressions, and not the other way around?  Other than that, the article did not explain how proteins could last for over 400 million years.  Prior to the discovery, it was unexpected, surprising, and contrary to conventional belief.
  2. Antarctic forests:  The caption of artwork in a BBC News piece reads, “Dinosaurs once foraged beneath the Southern Lights in Antarctica.”  It shows young dinosaurs admiring the skylights while grazing around conifers in the long polar night.  “It may be hard to believe, but Antarctica was once covered in towering forests.”  Fossil trees in Antarctica have been known since Robert Falcon Scott explored the frozen wastes of the south polar regions, finding evidence of a subtropical climate where no trees grow today.
        Jane Francis (University of Leeds) has spent 10 seasons collecting samples.  As she described her adventures, it was evident the surprise of fossil trees in ice has not worn off:

    “I still find the idea that Antarctica was once forested absolutely mind-boggling”, she told the BBC.
        “We take it for granted that Antarctica has always been a frozen wilderness, but the ice caps only appeared relatively recently in geological history.
        One of her most amazing fossil discoveries to date was made in the Transantarctic Mountains, not far from where Scott made his own finds.
        She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”
        These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech.  At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.

    The article says that this was not the only period of warmth.  Fossil plants dated 100 million years old indicate the area must have resembled forested areas of New Zealand.  “We commonly find whole fossilised logs that must have come from really big trees.”  One of the specimens found is Ginkgo biloba, a well-known “living fossil” that was thought extinct from the age of dinosaurs till living trees were discovered in Japan (cf. NW Creation.net article with links).
        How did the trees adapt to the polar light conditions, when long periods of darkness alternate with six months of light?  Francis did experiments growing trees in simulated polar light conditions and found they adapted remarkably well.  In addition to the trees, dinosaurs lived under these conditions.  One kangaroo-size vegetarian dinosaur had large optic lobes, possibly suggesting adaptation to the low light of the long winters.
        The article tried to tie this evidence into the current debate over global warming, but clearly the climate changes of those prior times were not caused by humans.  “Visiting the frozen wasteland of Antarctica today, it is hard to believe that rainforests haunted by small dinosaurs once flourished where 3km thick ice-sheets now exist, the article ended.  “However, the geological record provides irrefutable evidence that dramatic climate fluctuations have occurred throughout our planet’s history.”

  3. Snakes alive and dead:  Fossil snakes show remnant hind legs, reported MSNBC News.  At first, this seems to support the belief that snakes descended from lizards, and lost their legs through evolution.  The snake fossil studied by Alexandra Houssaye (National Museum of Natural History in Paris), named Eupodophis descouensi, has “ultra tiny 0.8 inch legs” with “four anklebones but no foot or toe bones.”  It appears that calling these structures legs requires some interpretation; they were clearly not used for walking.
        Questions remain, however, about the evolution of snakes.  “The oldest snake remains are dated to 112 to 94 million years ago, and this snake is dated to around 90 million years ago,” Houssaye said.  Yet her evolutionary story seemed to allow opposite conclusions: “If something is not useful it can regress without any impact on the (animal’s) survival, or regression can even be positive, as for here if the leg was disturbing a kind of locomotion, like for burrowing snakes or swimming snakes.”  But why would useless structures remain for 4 to 22 million years?  It would seem millions of generations of snakes would have had to contend with useless structures getting in their way, if it took that long for legs to regress.  Houssaye was not prepared to announce a victory for evolutionary theory: “The question of snake origin should not be resolved in the next 10 years,” the article quoted her saying, ending, “She is, however, hopeful that all of the separate teams working on this puzzle can one day pinpoint what species was the common ancestor of all snakes.”  The lizard-like ancestor, if there was one, is not known from the fossil record.
        According to Live Science, which also reported the story, “the bones suggests that evolution took snakes’ legs not by altering the way they grew.  Instead, Houssaye said, it looks as though the limbs grew either slower or for a shorter period of time.”  PhysOrg’s coverage includes an image of the very simple structures.  According to this entry, “Only three specimens exist of fossilised snakes with preserved leg bones.”  None of the articles mentioned whether the structures had a function, or might have been developmental anomalies, such as when babies are born with an enlarged coccyx (cf. CMI).  What evolutionary stories could be told if a fossil two-headed snake were found?

Only the third entry tried to tie the fossil to an evolutionary prediction, but even then, the story was not straightforward.  It is not clear, for instance, that the loss of legs represents an increase in genetic information or in fitness.  Flightless birds are adapted to their land-based habitats, but it would be a greater leap for birds to evolve from ground to air than the other way around.  Same for snakes losing legs instead of evolving them de novo.  In the first two entries, though, the discoveries were clearly unexpected, surprising, and contrary to conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom is not always wise.  A better term might be conventional folly, or popular credulity.  Enough reports like this, and a consistent theme emerges: evolutionists are clueless about not only their own theory of common ancestry, but about the millions-of-years scheme on which their theory is built.  You can’t just read one BBC News or PhysOrg article to get the whole picture.  Individual articles present puzzles, but maintain the triumphal theme of the march of secular science toward Understanding Reality.  That is a false picture.
    Sites like CEH help document the reality, that secular scientists sold on an evolutionary world view maintain their belief system by telling stories in spite of the evidence.  And for you creation-bashing lurkers out there who lambaste CEH as anti-science, pay attention!  This is not anti-science, because we clearly honor and support legitimate scientific discovery and analysis (see yesterday’s entry, for instance).  This is anti-storytelling – anti- twisting evidence to support a belief system.  An honest rationalist skeptic should join with us in that goal.

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