April 17, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Do These Fossils Show Evolution?

Before taking an evolutionist’s word for it that a fossil organism evolved, we should look at the evidence.

To Darwinians, evolution is so intuitive and confirmed, they don’t even need to question it. This means that they have lost their ability to think critically about evidence. Those outside the obligatory Darwin-worshiping cult, however, maintain their ability to separate empirical evidence of fossils from the quasi-religious evolutionary stories told about them.

Decade of fossil collecting gives new perspective on Triassic period, emergence of dinosaurs (Phys.org). This article starts with two articles of moyboy Darwinian storytelling about the unobserved past. Perceptive readers can skip over the orthodoxy and get to the actual fossils.

A project spanning countries, years and institutions has attempted to reconstruct what the southern end of this world looked like during this period, known as the Triassic (252 to 199 million years ago). Led by paleontologists and geologists at the University of Washington, the team has uncovered new fossils in Zambia and Tanzania, examined previously collected fossils and analyzed specimens in museums around the world in an attempt to understand life in the Triassic across different geographic areas.

Collecting and sorting fossils is sound scientific practice, but does a global Darwinian story jump out of individual fossils in southern Africa? No one doubts that extinct animals really existed, like the gorgonopsian (“a distant mammal relative”), the procolophonid (“a lizard-like reptile”) and Teleocrater, “an early dinosaur relative that walked on four crocodile-like legs.” The names and descriptions were assigned by humans, of course, not spoken by the animals (“Hi! I’m a gogonopsian, a distant mammal relative!”). We can whisk past the details of the fossil hunters’ camping and hiking experiences. But then we find the article traipsing away, never delivering any actual evidence that any of these originated by blind processes of mutation and selection. They appear in the fossil record as fully formed and complex animals. Then they disappeared. That’s extinction, not evolution.

Photo by David Coppedge.

Fossil study sheds light on ancient butterfly wing colors (Science Daily). One of the Darwin priests in this article utters and mutters the Darwin doxology, “Insects have evolved an amazing range of photonic structures that can produce iridescence, metallic colours, and other flashy effects that are important for behaviour and ecological functions.” Let’s ignore that and look at the evidence. What we find is that the alleged oldest “ancestor” of butterflies and moths already had the complex structural color that characterizes these beautifully-designed insects that fly around us today. Moreover, the original material, alleged to be 180 million Darwin Years old, was still intact! This was contrary to their expectations:

“However, in this study we’ve looked millions of years back in time to early origins of such colours in nature, to understand how and when the evolution of colours in these insects took place.

The study was co-authored by palaeontologists Drs Maria McNamara and Luke McDonald from UCC, in Ireland. Dr McNamara added: “Remarkably, these fossils are among the oldest known representatives of butterflies and moths.

“We didn’t expect to find wing scales preserved, let alone microscopic structures that produce colour. This tells us that colour was an important driving force in shaping the evolution of wings even in the earliest ancestors of butterflies and moths.”

If color were a driving force of evolution, there would be no blackbirds or black panthers, because they would be less fit. We know, though, that living things exhibit a literal rainbow of colorful hues in addition to the entire grayscale spectrum. If evolution explains them all, it explains none of them. The open-access paper in Science Advances admits that the fossil “scale arrangement, plus preserved herringbone ornamentation on the cover scale surface, is almost identical to those of some extant Micropterigidae.” This is after 100 to 200 million Darwin Years. So where’s the evolution? Phys.org‘s coverage of the story admits, “the deep evolutionary history of scales and structural colors in lepidopterans is poorly understood.” So where’s the understanding? Oh, that’s off in the futureware edition: “Future studies” will “inform models of the evolution of structural colors in lepidopterans.”

Turtle shells help decode complex links between modern, fossil species (Science Daily). This article begins by describing what a messy business it is to understand evolutionary relationships of fossils.

Imagine that Labradors and golden retrievers died out a million years ago, leaving only fossilized skeletons behind. Without the help of DNA, how could we determine that a fossil Labrador, a fossil retriever and a modern Chihuahua all belong to the same species, Canis lupus familiaris? And could we look at the wide variety of dogs today to gain clues about lost diversity in the past?

Because of the inherent difficulty of interpreting evolution from variation, Natasha Vitek of the University of Florida has invented a divination tool to call up the spirit of Darwin to interpret the fossils. She calls it “geometric morphometrics.” But can measuring geometric parts of fossils really fill in the empirical gaps?

“We can’t magically create more fossils,” said Vitek, a doctoral candidate in vertebrate paleontology. “A lot of it is trying to figure out what we can do with what we have at hand to find diversity within a species — diversity we no longer have.”

Art of new fossil sea turtle. Credit: Drew Gentry

She tried her divination tool on turtle fossils, trying to “tease out the subtle relationships between species.” Unfortunately, “turtles don’t make anything easy,” because living box turtles “display a dizzying amount of variation.” Why, think of the evolutionary stories that could be told to arrange living turtles (or imaginary fossil dogs) into an evolutionary sequence! But it could be totally wrong. Even so, the most ardent young-earth creationists allow for substantial variation within created kinds, so whatever Vitek concludes will probably not be controversial or support Darwin’s theory. There has to be a Darwin signal in the noise somewhere, she thinks. Could this be a case of pareidolia? Ever hopeful, she says, “There’s a lot of opportunity to start better documenting what the morphology we pick up in the fossil record might actually mean in terms of evolution.” If it might mean something in terms of evolution, it might also mean something totally different in non-evolutionary terms. Might doesn’t make right.

Update 4/18/18: New ancestor of modern sea turtles found in Alabama (Phys.org). A fossil sea turtle was found in Alabama, dated to 80 to 100 million Darwin Years old. What does the artist’s reconstruction look like? A sea turtle! One could look at it and say unquestioningly that it looks like one swimming around today. The scientists have to make some kind of evolutionary claim, so they say, “These findings extend the known evolutionary history for the Peritresius clade to include two anatomically distinct species from the Late Cretaceous epoch, and also reveal that Peritresius was distributed across a wider region than previously thought.” But of course. Sea turtles can swim for thousands of miles. Why would one think anything else?

Amber with entombed bird.

Unlocking preservation bias in the amber insect fossil record through experimental decay (PLoS One). Fossil animals in amber [hardened tree sap] tend to be spectacular, because they preserve lifelike fine details of the entombed creatures, sometimes with original material intact. This open-access paper warns paleontologists of “preservation bias” in amber fossils, which means that what scientists find could be a function of other factors than evolution.

Fossils entombed in amber are a unique resource for reconstructing forest ecosystems, and resolving relationships of modern taxa. Such fossils are famous for their perfect, life-like appearance. However, preservation quality is vast with many sites showing only cuticular preservation, or no fossils. The taphonomic [fossilizing] processes that control this range are largely unknown; as such, we know little about potential bias in this important record.

To their credit, these scientists performed some actual lab experiments that are testable and repeatable, the way old-fashioned scientists worked. They put unlucky flies into tree sap and watched what happened, measuring what the effects of resin type, microbiota and dehydration had on the insects. They were surprised at how quickly some of the entombed flies decayed.

Decay was assessed using phase contrast synchrotron tomography. Resin type demonstrates a significant control on decay rate. The composition of the gut microbiota was also influential, with minor changes in composition affecting decay rate. Dehydration prior to entombment, contrary to expectations, enhanced decay. Our analyses show that there is potential significant bias in the amber fossil record, especially between sites with different resin types where ecological completeness and preservational fidelity are likely affected.

And yet the amber fossil record is relied on heavily to interpret evolutionary patterns. “The importance of this fossil reserve is best illustrated in what it has revealed about the evolutionary history of insects: ,” they say. “[F]or example, it provides evidence for macroevolutionary patterns such as a mid-Cretaceous transition between two major insect evolutionary faunas, which corresponds with the gymnosperm-angiosperm shift.” In the final paragraph, the team cautions:

To conclude, the surprising variability in preservation quality of insects in amber means that to read this fossil treasure trove correctly, using it to investigate terrestrial ecosystems and insect evolution, we must understand the biases that operate in creating such fossils. Here we show that decay experiments provide a useful platform with which to investigate bias between different aspects of the amber fossil record.

Could these amber fossils preserve insects for tens of millions of years? They didn’t say specifically. Obviously they could not test millions of years. But they were surprised that the pine resin they used as a “better proxy for amber in the fossil record” caused rapid decay of the flies. This would seem to make long-age preservation highly questionable.

Tyrannosaur fossilized while gagging on poison plants (joke).  Photo by David Coppedge at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Still believe an asteroid killed the dinosaurs? Think again—new theory suggests (Phys.org). For fun, we end with a new theory for the extinction of dinosaurs (we can’t overlook dinosaurs in a piece about fossils). It’s not clear why Phys.org would publish a highly-unconventional idea coming from two psychologists, but it illustrates that fossil data do not speak for themselves. Data from the unobserved past must be interpreted through a worldview filter. Psychology professor Gordon Gallup and his former student Michael Frederick note that, according to evolutionary dating, dinosaurs appeared to be dying off long before the alleged asteroid strike that made all dinosaurs and marine reptiles (except for sea snakes, sea turtles and crocodilians) perish. Their alternative theory goes like this:

The first flowering plants, called angiosperms, appear in the fossil record well before the asteroid impact and right before the dinosaurs began to gradually disappear. Gallup and Frederick claim that as plants were evolving and developing toxic defenses, dinosaurs continued eating them despite gastrointestinal distress. Although there is uncertainty about exactly when flowering plants developed toxicity and exactly how long it took them to proliferate, Gallup and Frederick note that their appearance coincides with the gradual disappearance of dinosaurs.

So the dinosaurs died of upset stomachs. Strange; all the surviving animals that ate those plants, including delicate caterpillars and mammals, did just fine. And what about the marine reptiles? They ate fish, not angiosperms. We remind the psychologists about a rule in scientific interpretation: correlation is not causation.

Dinosaurs ended — and originated — with a bang! (Science Daily). Contradicting the psychologists, this article assumes that dinosaurs did go extinct with a bang. But the Italian scientists featured in the article say dinosaurs also appeared with a bang. In the Dolomites—famous mountains in Italy—they found a layer with no dinosaur tracks, then boom!– a lot of them in the next layer up. My, whatever happened to Darwin’s slow-and-gradual theory? The Italians correlate the footprints with a mythical “shock” episode of global warming they call the “Carnian Pluvial Episode” – “a time when climates shuttled from dry to humid and back to dry again.” Supposedly the climatic shock “cleared the way” for dinosaurs, and “also for the origins of many modern groups, including lizards, crocodiles, turtles, and mammals — key land animals today.” Maybe these Darwinians believe that clearing a piece of ground will cause skyscrapers to appear with a bang as well. And if climate change caused dinosaurs to appear suddenly, then the current global warming should cause a human T-rex to appear, if evolution were a law of nature.

How are you doing in your ability to separate evidence from worldview interpretation? Keep reading CEH to improve your skill. While you’re at it, learn to snicker at the arrogant pomposity of evolutionists who pretend to understand the world.

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