We want to share with you this article by Phillip Eichman about a class in paleontology, the study of the history of life on Earth based on fossils.
Back in the 70s, I was majoring in biology at Wright State University and needed some elective hours to graduate, so I signed up for a course in invertebrate paleontology. I had already taken a year of geology, and this was an upper-level course. However, what I learned in paleontology class when I was a young Christian made the course worthwhile.
I had been interested in rocks since I was a small child. So I began collecting them and found my first fossil before starting school. By the time I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my closet was stuffed with boxes of rocks and fossils, and I had practically worn out my Golden Guide book of Rocks and Minerals.
As a young Christian, I was a little concerned that this course in paleontology might somehow cause me to question my religious faith. But, as it turned out, this was one of my all-time favorite courses.
In the class, we went phylum by phylum, looking at the hard parts, noticing the main characteristics of the group, and learning how to identify the fossils. It was easy to see that the various groups developed, or evolved, over time, but they were still part of that major group. For example, the gastropods were still gastropods, and the brachiopods were still brachiopods. The same was true for the cephalopods, corals, trilobites, and others. There was no confusion caused by a huge number of “intermediate forms” that you hear about so often in the popular media.
This lack of intermediate forms is not consistent with the “amoeba to man” theory of evolution. It is, however, consistent with the biblical account of God creating various “kinds” of living things with the ability to change over time, or evolve, within those groups.
As has been pointed out many times in the Does God Exist? program, science and the Bible are not enemies if we understand both in the proper way. Instead of causing harm to my faith, what I learned in paleontology class and my study of fossils only strengthened my belief in God as the Creator.
An old joke which showed up periodically during my college graduate work said, “Be sure your data conforms to your conclusions.” Because grants and scholarships depended on having success in your scientific research, it was tempting to cherry-pick data to support whatever you were claiming about your topic. That problem is still with us, and it has shown its head in reports of Greenland stromatolites.
Stromatolites are fossil deposits made by algae. (The picture shows a stromatolite fossil.) We see them not only in some shallow marine environments today, but we also find them in some of the oldest rocks on Earth. The Gunflint Chert along Lake Superior in Ontario contains some of the earliest stromatolites, but the rocks in Greenland are even older. Because many theories of the development of life on Earth depend upon finding marine life forms in Earth’s oldest rocks, there have been several premature news reports of Greenland stromatolites.
Abigail Allwood is recognized as an expert on stromatolites and has studied the oldest known stromatolites in Australia. She went to Greenland to examine the Greenland stromatolites. She concludes that they are not fossils, but only rocks that have experienced a great deal of tectonic activity. Ms. Allwood collected rocks just a few feet from the claimed stromatolites and found significant evidence of diastrophism, a type of plate tectonics which deforms Earth’s crust. She found no evidence of real fossils.
Naturally, the authors of the original paper on the Greenland stromatolites disagree with Allwood, but that is the way science works. Scientific testing answers the questions of authenticity and eventually reveals the truth. Unfortunately, false religious theories are frequently untestable and stay in existence for a very long time.
Paleontologists who study the earliest fossils of life on Earth refer to an event they call the “Cambrian Explosion.” The fossils from that event are unique because they have advanced body plans and no previous ancestors. A vast range of marine species that lived in an ancient sea suddenly appeared in the fossil record. A new discovery of fossils from the Cambrian Explosion is known as the Quingiang biota. Scientists are calling it one of the most significant fossil discoveries in the last 100 years.
Scientists made the find near the Danshui River in the Hubei province of China. It appears to be an ancient mudslide that buried a vast range of fossils. The site contains at least 20,000 individual specimens. At last report, 4,351 fossils have been examined, and they represent 101 different species. Fifty-three of those are new to science meaning that fossils of those species have not been found before. Because they were buried so quickly, not just shells, but even some soft parts have been preserved including muscles, guts, etc.
During my senior year in high school amateur fossil collector Francis Tully discovered the fossil of an extraordinary animal in the Mazon Creek collecting area near Chicago. It was so odd that the state of Illinois made it the state’s official fossil. The scientific name of this extinct animal is Tullimonstrum gregarium, but it is colloquially known as the Tully monster.
The rocks around Chicago are part of an old reef, and a well-known part of the rock formation is the world’s largest gravel pit called “Thornton Reef.” I have taken students to that quarry several times when I was teaching earth science. It is an amazing fossil collecting area.
The Tully monster was tube-shaped with eyes on a stalk sticking off of the ten-inch long body. It had a mouth which was very long and terminated in what appeared to be a single pincer style of grabber similar to a lobster. Newer finds suggest that the animal had a notochord which was essentially a primitive backbone. The shape of the notochord is similar to that seen in lampreys. Researchers at Yale University say lampreys are analogs, but there is a great deal left to learn about the mysterious lifestyle of this ancient creature.
A very unusual set of circumstances is required to preserve an animal fossil such as Tully monster. Finds like that are rare events, but since the 1950s many more Tully monster fossils have been found, all in Illinois. We have much to learn about what animals lived and how they lived in the past. Future discoveries will alter our understanding of how God prepared the Earth for humans.
Chinese scientists have discovered a block of sandstone three meters square that has more than 215 fossilized eggs. The eggs are from one species of flying reptiles known as Hamipterus tianshanensis–a pterosaur from the Cretaceous geological period. When scientists find that many eggs in one place, they can establish a great many facts about how the animals reproduced and lived. There is no question about the arrangement of the bones or how they developed.
We have suggested that dinosaurs had a very large role in the development of the resources on Earth that humans would eventually need. Knowing how these animals lived, what they ate, how they got around, and how they interacted with their environment helps us understand that role. In this case, the eggs contain at least 16 embryos for study.
This dinosaur, found in Patagonia, Argentina, is named Patagotitan mayorum. It was more than 120 feet (36.5 m) long and weighed more than 76 tons (69 tonnes). It is also one of the most complete fossils with 150 bones recovered. When it is reassembled, the skeleton will be roughly the size of a Boeing 737.
What scientists want to learn about an animal of that size is, “How could it get so big?” We recently published a post about the world’s largest snake, the titanoboa. Reptiles, unlike mammals, continue to grow during their entire lives. In this case, the question is, “What sustains such massive growth?” How much food must the animal eat? How would its vascular system work? What is its significance to the ecology of the area where it lived? What environmental temperature and oxygen levels would allow an animal of that size to live? How could a human exist in such surroundings? Some of these questions are being addressed. Some are so complex that researchers on the site say it “is really hard to imagine” the answers.
We have pointed out that the ecological system that produced the resources humans would need to exist on this planet had to be different from what we have today. Those conditions would be hostile to human survival. This fossil of the largest land animal supports that point very well.
It’s always interesting to see how the media distorts scientific material to make it more sensational. The front page of USA Today for March 2, 2017, carried a headline saying: “3.8 Billion-year-old Bacteria May Be Earth’s Oldest Fossils.” The article goes on to state as fact: “The bacteria lived near hydrothermal vents…” There are so many issues here that it would take several pages to point them all out, but the interesting thing is the actual discovery. Stromatolites are layered structures that may be produced by algae or bacteria, and some are ancient deposits, although others are still being produced today. I have seen these formations in the Gunflint Chert in Minnesota near a cabin owned by my brother. Those formations are circular and contain a mineral called hematite, an iron mineral that may have been a part of the biology of microorganisms.
This new find is an iron carbonate rosette that is circular and contains hematite. There is some evidence that it was formed near an undersea thermal vent. Since we see life around sea-vents today, it might be assumed the formation is of biological origin. There are chemical, non-biological processes that can produce similar structures. The problem with this kind of media headline is that it gives a false impression of how science works and what has actually been found. It may be that these structures were biologically formed, and they may be 3.8 billion years old. The Bible doesn’t date or describe bacteria and how God formed the ecosystem that would support humans on planet Earth. This same process may even be going on elsewhere in the universe, but it will take exhaustive research to verify or deny whether this is ancient life.