June 1, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

When Is a Fossil Not a Fossil? Oldest "Fossil" Debunked

Certain trace fossils said to be 3.45 billion years old are probably not fossils at all, a reassessment finds.  Are others affected?

In an open-access paper in PNAS, two Norwegian scientists have debunked Earth’s oldest fossil.  This is a bigger debunking than one instance, their title hints: “Reassessing the biogenicity of Earth’s oldest trace fossil with implications for biosignatures in the search for early life.”  The implications may even reach Mars:

It has been argued that Archean subseafloor pillow lava sequences provide an environment in which to seek evidence for the earliest traces of life. Candidate titanite biosignatures of microbial activity have been reported in ∼3.45-Ga metavolcanic glass from the Barberton greenstone belt of South Africa. In this paper we present new in situ U–Pb age data, metamorphic constraints, and morphological observations on these titanite microtextures. Our data challenges a biological origin for these oldest purported trace fossils, with implications for the ecological niches where life may have first emerged. We therefore suggest alternative biosignatures and approaches should be considered in the search for subsurface life on early Earth and in extraterrestrial mafic–ultramafic rocks, for example, in martian basalts.

One reason for the reassessment is the ages don’t match.  Another is that the “titanium microtextures” assumed to be trace fossils could have been formed geologically by metamorphism.  “We therefore question the syngenicity and biogenicity of these purported trace fossils,” they say.  “It is argued herein that the titanite microtextures are more likely abiotic porphyroblasts of thermal contact metamorphic origin that record late-stage retrograde cooling in the pillow lava country rock.”  Country rock; isn’t that a fossil from Nashville?

Top  down or bottom up?  Another fossil upset was posted on PhysOrg.  Bob Yirka writes, “Fossil discovery in Alps challenges theory that all deep sea animals evolved from shallow water ancestors.”  Au contraire; they evolved in the deep sea and came up for air.  That’s the new story.  So much for “most of modern science” —

For most of modern science, ocean scientists have believed that the open ocean is a near desert, with few living creatures in it. Because of that, the consensus has been that most of the animals that do live in the deep sea today, likely evolved in shallow waters and then migrated there over millions of years.

Too many fossils in the alps show too much diversity, Yirka says.  But did he ever consider that maybe they didn’t evolve in the first place?  Did he consider whether deep sea creatures found in the Alps might have been deposited by a catastrophic Flood?  After all, he admits there’s a lot we don’t know:

The findings by the team add more credence to the more recent view that areas of the deep sea actually have some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. But, they caution, such conclusions should not imply that the deep sea may be better able to withstand changes wrought by us humans, because no one really knows if that is true or not.

But man-caused global warming is a fact, of course.  In his coverage of this upset for Live Science, the ever-optimistic evolutionist Charles Q. Choi finds cause for rejoicing: “These now shed light on the surprising history of deep-sea life.”  He also smiles as the researchers had “quite fun” in their difficult work.  Like Yirka, Choi also tosses in a little human guilt at the end.  The researchers wanted to stress that, even though these fossils got along for 180 million Darwin years (presumably through multiple eons of warming and cooling climate), and even though the deep environment might have offered them protection, humans today are putting ocean creatures at risk. “However, we should not assume the deep sea is robust against any man-made disturbance,” one of them said.  That would be a “dangerous misinterpretation of our results.”

When you have “millions of years, billions of years” in your explanatory toolkit, you can commit any scientific sin with impunity.  That’s why the Darwin Party’s web of belief is so impermeable to falsification.  Given so much time, stuff happens.  The Stuff Happens Law is very flexible.  Life can “appear” in shallow waters, or it can “emerge” in deep waters.  Some Darwin shamans can divine life in hot lava rock, and other shamans can say that conclusion should be reassessed.  Evolution can tolerate opposite outcomes, and disagreements within the paradigm.  The only intolerable things are design, a young earth, and global warming skepticism.

What did we really learn from these articles?  “For most of modern science,” certain beliefs have been wrong, even when held by the consensus.


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