March 29, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Scientists: Who Can You Believe?

Scientists form a kind of knowledge priesthood in our modern world, but when long-taught principles get overturned, it raises questions on what scientists really know.

  1. Windy geology:  Wind is a more powerful force for eroding mountains than previously thought.  University of Arizona quoted Paul Kapp, an associate professor of geosciences at U of A saying, “No one had ever thought that wind could be this effective.  You won’t read in a textbook that wind is a major process in terms of breaking down rock material.”
        According to the press release, “Bedrock in Central Asia that would have formed mountains instead was sand-blasted into dust” called loess that forms large sedimentary deposits.  Looking at the extent of the Loess Plateau south of the Gobi Desert, the largest deposit of wind-blown sediment known, Kapp calculated that wind can be just as effective as rivers and glaciers in wearing down mountains.
  2. Sabertooth vegan unicorn:  A fossil of a very strange beast called Tiarajudens has been found in Brazil with 5-inch-long, dagger like teeth, resembling those of a sabertooth cat.  This dog-size animal, though, was apparently vegetarian.  PhysOrg said archaeologists found it, but they probably meant paleontologists; National Geographic News showed an artist reconstruction of it baring its teeth in a fierce pose.
        One of the discoverers remarked that it “looks like a combination of different animals, and it takes some time to believe it when you see this animal in front of you.”  Usually, dagger-like canines are marks of carnivores.  Did these animals use them to hunt plants?  Or did they intimidate rivals or scare off predators?  No one knows.  National Geographic speculated, “The answer may lie in evolutionary experimentation,” a statement that implicitly personifies evolution.
        Jorg Frobish, commenting on the fossil in Science,1 said that synapsids like Tiarajudens have been “historically but erroneously known as ‘mammal-like reptiles’” – another reversal from what many textbooks and TV documentaries have called them.
        In this specimen, “the degree of heterodonty (tooth differentiation) in Tiarajudens is remarkable.”  Saber teeth are “exceedingly uncommon in herbivorous forms,” he added, saying the teeth in Tiarajudens are “extraordinary”.  What does this mean for our understanding of fossil teeth?

    These findings raise a question: When is a saber tooth a saber tooth, and when is it a tusk or simply an enlarged canine?  The existing literature is quite imprecise, but saber teeth tend to be laterally compressed, whereas tusks tend to be rather round in cross section and continuously growing, such as in modern elephants, wild boars, and walruses.  Finally, the distinction of saber teeth and tusks from ordinary large canines appears to be vague and primarily based on length.  Tiarajudens seems to further blur this distinction, since anomodonts evolved both approaches (saber teeth and tusks) to enlarge their canines, even though they might have had similar functions, such as deterring predators and intraspecific display or combat.

    Frobish and the authors of the paper in Science2 mentioned evolution often, but only in respect to their belief that these animals evolved.  For instance, Cisneros et al said, “This discovery provides new insight into the evolution of heterogeneous dentition in therapsids and broadens our understanding of ecological interactions at the end of the Paleozoic.”  That, however, does not explain how or why saberteeth evolved in this particular animal.  They admitted that “The function of the saber teeth is unknown, but probable uses include deterring attack from predators and intraspecific display or combat.”
        Evolutionists would have expected such derived features to evolve much later, not 260 million years ago.  Will they ever know without being able to watch the animals in action?  Whatever evolutionists have to say about it now, they clearly did not predict finding saber teeth so early.  Cisneros told Live Science it was “like finding a unicorn,” it was so bizarre.  “You see it, but you don’t believe it.

  3. Early Americans:  The Clovis culture was supposed to represent the oldest human presence in North America, but now stone-tool evidence of “paleo-Indians” has been found in Texas at a level said to be 2,500 years older.  PhysOrg said this discovery is “rewriting what anthropologists know about when the first inhabitants arrived in North America.”  Michael Walters [Texas A&M] said, “This discovery challenges us to re-think the early colonization of the Americas.”

A search on PhysOrg for the phrase “previously believed” turned up 2,640 results; “once thought” produced 3,860 results.

1.  Jorg Frobisch, “Paleontology: On Dental Occlusion and Saber Teeth,” Science, 25 March 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6024 pp. 1525-1528, DOI: 10.1126/science.1204206.
2.  Cisneros, Abdala, Rubridge, Dentzien-Dias and Bueno, “Dental Occlusion in a 260-Million-Year-Old Therapsid with Saber Canines from the Permian of Brazil,” Science, 25 March 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6024 pp. 1603-1605, DOI: 10.1126/science.1200305.

Oh, but they KNOW evolution is a FACT.  Considering stories like these, on what grounds are we supposed to give the priesthood of scientists such epistemic priority that their opinions matter by default more than those of any other honest scholar in any other field of knowledge?
    After all, scientists are not the only ones interested in finding the truth about nature.  When aspects of that truth are inaccessible to empirical observation, such as the history of the world, and when their stories keep changing so drastically and so often, it would seem other honest truth seekers should have a place in the discussion.

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  • StarScream says:

    Pointing to these specific, small scale instances of on-going research and then using that as a springboard to criticize the theory of evolution is a very poorly constructed argument. 

    It is like saying that since we don’t know the exact composition of the inner core of Mercury, that that is good grounds for doubting astronomers on the heliocentric model of the solar system.  One does not follow from the other.

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