What I Learned in Paleontology Class

What I Learned in Paleontology Class - Trilobite Fossils
Trilobite Fossils

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.

— Phillip Eichman © 2021

Greenland Stromatolites and Faux Fossils

 Greenland Stromatolites are Faux Fossils but this one is real.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.

In science and faith, we should follow the evidence wherever it leads. It appears that in the case of the Greenland stromatolites, we have faux fossils and not the real thing.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Discover Magazine, June 2019, page 10.

Quingiang Biota and the Cambrian Explosion

Quingiang Biota and the Cambrian Explosion

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.

This find gives further support to the Cambrian Explosion model that says marine life suddenly appeared on planet Earth. This conflicts with the Darwinian concept that life evolved over a long time with one form gradually changing into another. The biblical narrative tells us “God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life” (Genesis 1:20). That is what the Quingiang biota shows.
— John N. Clayton ©2019

Data from The Week, April 12, 2019, page 21 and wikipedia.org.

Tully Monster

Tully Monster
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.

At the same time, there is much we can understand about what has led to the Earth we enjoy. That is because much of Earth’s history has been preserved in the rocks. A booklet available on our doesgodexist.org website is “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word.” We encourage you to read that free online booklet for more information on this topic.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Scientific American, May 2016, page 14, and Wikipedia.

Ancient Science of Moving Huge Rocks

Ancient Science of Moving Huge Rocks
One of the long-term arguments among those who study ancient history is how people thousands of years ago moved huge stones from place to place and set them up as idols or monuments. As examples, they point to the huge rocks in the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge in England, and Rapa Nui or Easter Island. On that island, ancient people moved or set up nearly 1000 human statues made of rocks weighing up to 784 metric tons. The quest is for the ancient science of moving huge rocks.

Those who promote ancient alien visitation to the Earth argue that these huge rocks provide proof that aliens have been here and have done some fantastic high tech things. Some suggest that those aliens also created us for some great event in the distant future. Sometimes those tabloid writers even misrepresent the Bible to “prove” their false theories.

Science News magazine (July 7, 2018, page 15) published an interesting report by archaeologists. Fifteen people were able to move rocks weighing 12 metric tons 45 meters down a dirt road. Then with a ramp, they lifted they lifted the stones 8 meters to the tops of human statues where they placed them as hats crowning the figures. Other archaeologists have given similar explanations involving a small number of workers.

Those who assume that ancient humans lacked intelligence and had no knowledge of science grossly underestimate the abilities of our ancestors. The Egyptian creations can easily be explained by simple engineering principles and the labor pool that was available to them. There is no need to suppose that huge populations were needed or that some outside force such as ancient astronauts were players in constructing those ancient monuments. The ancient science of moving huge rocks should not be a mystery.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Dinosaur Train and Reality

Dinosaur Train and Reality
I have been blessed over the past year with a two-year-old who calls me “Booh” which is Thai for “Grandpa.” It has been a wonderful experience for me in several ways. One of the things I have learned as he has grown older and watches children’s television is how much bad good and bad information children are exposed to in their preschool years. My adopted grandson’s favorite television program is a PBS Kids series called Dinosaur Train.

The program opens with a small pair of creatures that look like pterodactyls standing by a nest containing four eggs. The eggs hatch and the first three hatchlings look like their parents, complete with the ability to fly. The fourth egg hatches a few seconds later with a baby who looks nothing like the parents and who says, “What am I doing in a flying reptile nest?” The mother dinosaur picks up the baby, and the whole family flies to a train station called the Dinosaur Train.

On the train, a conductor takes the family on a trip to different geologic time periods–Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Paleozoic, Triassic, etc. There the family meets dinosaurs from the various time periods who explain what they eat and how they find their food. The train has a cattle car with large dinosaurs in it, and the family goes to a coach containing smaller dinosaurs.

Occasionally a scientist identified as a paleontologist presents a mini-lecture. The lecture may be on the meaning of words, the current evolutionary beliefs about the animals, or the geological processes that shaped the history of the Earth. His presentations are generally accurate, and he attempts to give the viewers a vocabulary that would be the envy of most college freshmen. Sound effects are very entertaining, and the program stays away from blood and gore and tends to focus on herbivores.

There are lots of concerns that parents may have about the current geologic and evolutionary beliefs that are presented as facts. I am concerned about the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs. The train is a mid-twentieth century coal-burning steam engine and the train station is from the same time period. The conductor is a dinosaur wearing an outfit that looks like a circus barker. He not only calls the “All aboard,” but he gives Powerpoint-style explanations. The dinosaurs all speak perfect English and behave as humans. Everyone is friendly, T-Rex speaks kindly with everyone, and groups of dinosaurs sing Broadway-style tunes. Dinosaur Train is quite frankly very entertaining.

The problem I have is that the dinosaurs are essentially humans, engaging in human contests, doing human things, and having human relationships. Mom and dad have human roles and enjoy human activities like picnics and visits to different climates and places of recreational value. It is no wonder that those who tell children that humans and dinosaurs lived together find a ready audience of young people. I have hunter friends who dislike the story of Bambi because it vilifies hunters and fails to present children with the importance of balance in nature and the role that carnivores like ourselves serve. The same difficulty is present when people don’t understand the role that dinosaurs had in preparing the Earth for humans by supporting the ecology that produced the resources we need to survive on this planet.

Dinosaur Train is interesting and creative, but parents need to take time to give more accurate and realistic teaching to their toddlers as they get old enough to understand. There is no problem in explaining the role of dinosaurs if we understand how God designed and planned for humans from before time began.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Pterosaur Egg Jackpot Found

Pterosaur
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.

The flying reptiles didn’t have the limitations of restricted mobility that other animals had, so they are of special interest to many paleontologists. Using computerized tomography (CT) scanning, they can see the embryos in three dimensions. Science can tell us much about the history of creation, and the pterosaur is just one part of that picture. We remind ourselves again that can know there is a God by the amazing things He has made.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018
Reference: Science News, December 23, 2017, page 6.

Dinosaur Mummy Found

Nodosaurus Dinosaur
Scientists have difficulty finding information about dinosaurs. Much of what we know about them has come from indirect information. I spent a great deal of time studying coprolite, which is petrified dinosaur droppings. By analyzing the solid wastes left by a dinosaur, we can tell what the animal ate. Sometimes we find plant materials–leaves, stems, seeds, etc. Sometimes it’s animal remains–teeth, bone fragments, and complete bones. It is extraordinarily rare to find a complete skeleton of a dinosaur, but now we have something even better.

Until recently we had never found an animal with skin in place and internal organs visible. In 2011 miners working in northern Alberta came across an amazing find that has given scientists their first complete mummy of a dinosaur. This dinosaur was a plant-eating nodosaurus, which means “knobbed lizard.” This animal is complete with its armor, spiky skin, and internal organs. Paleontologists have spent some 7,000 hours carefully extracting the creature. Caleb Brown, who is a researcher on the project, said, “We don’t just have a skeleton, we have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

Dinosaurs were the agents that prepared Earth for humans. Without that preparation, we would not be able to have our crops, our domesticated animals, and our advanced civilization. Dinos were key agents in preparing an ecosystem suitable for us. They lived in an environment very unlike what we have on Earth today. Having a find like this will greatly enhance our understanding of Earth’s history.

It is clear that God used natural processes to prepare the planet for us, and the dinosaurs played an important part in that process. Scientists will continue to study this dinosaur, and in the process, we will learn more about God’s wisdom in design.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: The Week. June 2, 2017, page 23,and National Geographic.