New Fossils, Old Stories
You can sing any words to the same tune, if you don’t know any other tunes and don’t care how well the syllables rhyme or fit.
Several patterns have emerged in evolutionary stories about fossils over the years: (1) things appear earlier than thought; (2) things appear fresher than thought (some even unfossilized); (3) things evolve faster or slower than thought; (4) Darwin takes credit no matter what. Let’s see if these patterns hold up with current fossil news.
Tiny Bird Fossil Solves Big Mystery About Life After Dinosaurs (Live Science): “A teeny-tiny fossilized bird skeleton is helping researchers understand the explosive rate at which birds diversified after the dinosaur age, new research shows.” It seems a teeny-tiny bit audacious to claim this is evidence for evolution. Mindy Weisberger, senior writer for Live Science, asserts that the mere existence of a modern bird so soon after whatever killed the dinosaurs “suggests that birds rapidly evolved in the 3 million to 4 million years after the dinosaurs died — much faster than previously thought, they said.” Funny; evolutionary reporters never specify who thought that. The article mentions how slowly birds evolved while dinosaurs were around, some 55 million Darwin Years. Then, “Without dinosaurs and the other extinct animals in the way, bird diversity suddenly skyrocketed,” the article goes on. So much for the molecular clock or Darwin’s gradualism.
Fossilized Tropical Forest Found — in Arctic Norway (Live Science): The lead photo looks like a polystrate tree in upright position. “A tropical forest densely packed with 12-foot-tall trees with flared trunks and curved branches of needle leaves,” Weisberger writes about a fossil forest of lycopods found in Norway inside the Arctic Circle. They grew near the Equator during the Devonian period, she says. UK paleontologists “found that the fossil forest was actually 20 million years older than previously estimated.” How did upright trees get buried? They didn’t go into that. “In the cliffs there are many layers of fossil trees, one on top of the other,” one of the discoverers mentioned. The climate change story doesn’t seem plausible; would a gradual drop in CO2 leave tree stumps standing upright in the ground to be buried gradually? Wouldn’t they rot long before that? What one believes often dictates what questions one asks.
Pteranodon osteohistology! Or, bizarrely bacon-esque pteranodon bones (PhysOrg): In this article from PLoS Blogs, Taormina Lepore waxes fictional about the land before time, when pterosaurs ruled: “Like demon reptile bats, they ruled the air while birds were just getting their start on the evolutionary stage, and long before bats were a twinkle in Earth’s eye.” Evidence, please? We get a recounting of the history of pteranodon fossils. Laura Wilson, a paleontologist is introduced. Can she bring home the bacon? “Strangely enough, when Pteranodon long bones such as this femur below are sliced in cross-section, they look a lot like bacon – according to Wilson, who is a bacon fan! I pretty much agree with her, it does look enticing.” (See humor as a propaganda tactic.) Pardon us for asking, but we thought the issue was how old these bones are and how they evolved into master flyers that ruled the air. The little detour into whether the bones belonged to adults or juveniles is interesting, but we just wanted to know. Is there evidence for evolution here? Silence.
Bird embryos uncover homology and evolution of the dinosaur ankle (Nature Communications): Maybe there’s some evolutionary substance here. If so, it looks like Brownian motion: “The ASC [ascending process of the anklebone] originated in early dinosaurs along changes to upright posture and locomotion, revealing an intriguing combination of functional innovation and reversion in its evolution.” The authors say that the traits “represent evolutionary variations in the development of a homologous character,” after assuming the ankle bones are homologous to begin with. After weaving their favorite scenario, they admit, “However, the mechanisms that pattern the ankle region are poorly understood, and much work remains to assess if molecular patterning is amphibian-like in the ankle of birds.” They also cannot rule out convergence—the idea that birds and early tetrapods arrived at the meager similarities independently. The whole paper seems tentative rather than conclusive. Science Daily, nonetheless, made this into a trophy for Darwin, calling it an “evolutionary transformation in birds” albeit an “unexpected” one. Why unexpected? Because it’s a surprising case of evolutionary reversal. “Evolutionary reversions have always generated much discussion among scientists, because ancient traits can occasionally re-appear in a highly transformed context,” we are told. Behold the wonder:
The reappearance of this long-lost developmental pattern in highly evolved organisms like birds and chameleons could be compared to finding primitive clockwork gears inside your latest smartphone. These intriguing discoveries are bound to renew discussion about the interplay between the evolution of new functions and the resurrection of old developmental patterns.
Transitional species of duckbilled dinosaurs illuminate relationship between evolution and growth (Science Daily): Finally, a transitional form! This story will certainly please Darwin. It alleges a straight path between duckbilled dinosaurs that did not overlap in time. Alas, the differences in two species from Montana vary only slightly in the shapes and sizes of horns and crests on their heads. Such variation has confused some other paleontologists about species identification when they realized specimens represented different life stages of the same species. These paleontologists are aware of that, but claim that the shape of the crest followed evolutionary time as well as individual lifetime. “Changing of timing or rate of development is called heterochrony, a process which is being increasingly recognized as a major driving force in evolution,” the scientists explain. This, however, is not the kind of evolution Darwin envisaged. No new organ or function appears. Let us not be intimidated by the term, either. Heterochrony (emphasis on the roc) simply means “various times.” Substituting that into the sentence makes the argument sound less scholarly. How can “various times” really be “a major driving force in evolution”?
Ornithomimus dinosaur with preserved tail feathers and skin tightens linkages between dinosaurs and birds (PhysOrg). A paper in Cretaceous Research reports a “feathered” case of Ornithomimus (“ostrich mimic”) from Alberta. “The discovery is shedding light on the convergent evolution of these dinosaurs with ostriches and emus relating to thermoregulation and is also tightening the linkages between dinosaurs and modern birds,” PhysOrg claims. But are these really feathers? For that, we defer to CMI where Tas Walker wrote up a detailed analysis of this fossil and the circumstances of its burial and preservation.
Unique feeding mechanism among marine reptiles from the age of dinosaurs (Science Daily): A marine reptile called an elasmosaur appears to have been a filter feeder. It had “a unique mode of feeding,” the article says. “The massive lower jaws bear a comb-like structure formed by many slender teeth that project sideways. Similarly, the teeth in the upper jaws extend downward and sideways.” The animal probably engulfed a mouthful of prey then squeezed the water out the combs. How did this evolve? “Baleen whales independently evolved a very similar method of feeding many millions of years after the extinction of the last elasmosaurs,” the article says. Another convenient “convergent evolution” excuse—two poof spoofs instead of one.
Someone might think we are picking and choosing stories to embarrass evolutionists. We are not. This is standard fare in the science literature. We get especially excited when we see “transitional form” like the one above, but are usually disappointed below the hyped-up headlines.
Notice how one’s worldview influences the questions. We are very interested to know how the lycopod fossil forest was buried, with layer upon layer of stumps across a wide area, some in upright positions. Evolutionists with their Darwin-colored glasses only ask how they evolved. They see what they want to see, and are blind to the implications of remarkable data right in front of their eyes.