Re: [asa] How paleontology works

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Mon Sep 11 2006 - 13:35:01 EDT

Now it looks more like there's a solid case for what you describe.

From the one example (and from the press, who are notorious for
sensationalising things to make a good story), it could be seen as an
example of "cherry picking" the data to prove a model. You don't know how
many times people searched in places "predicted" by evolutionary theory, and
didn't find anything. The same thing (in reverse) is what YEC's are so
adept at. When questioning radioactive dating, they completely ignore the
huge evidence of the theory working, but then find a single example (e.g.
the Mount St. Helens lava flows) that doesn't fit, and say that it
overthrows the whole theory.

However, from what you say, it appears there is solid evidence. It's just I
instinctively don't trust what I read in news items. Returning to the T.
Rex Smithsonian article, for example, I think they should avoid headlines
like "Dinosaur shocker", because it just feeds YEC rhetoric ... "you see,
even scientists are shocked by this discovery! If only they weren't so
blind and admitted the earth is young etc etc".

Unfortunately, appropriate scientific caution doesn't really make
eye-catching headlines..


On 9/11/06, Rich Blinne <> wrote:
> On 9/11/06, Iain Strachan <> wrote:
> >
> > Actually, I think the example Rich gives, interesting though it is,
> > falls for the same sort of mistake that YEC's also make.
> >
> > The problem is there is no easy way to rule out coincidence - they
> > decided to look there by perfectly rational deduction, and then they got an
> > observation that fitted the prediction. But unless there is a consistent
> > trend of results like this ( e.g. consistently finding more transitional
> > forms were "predicted" compared to looking in random places), then there is
> > no proof that it wasn't coincidence. Unfortunately this kind of find then
> > gets amplified by the popular press, and gets taken as validation of the
> > theory.
> >
> This is not the only example of this. Take the discovery of Ambulocetus
> Natans in the Pakastani Himlayas. Evolutionary theory predicted finding
> transitional sea animals at the edges of the Mesozoic Tethys Sea. Finding
> whale fossils on the highest mountains in the World would be coincidence
> indeed! See here:<>
> Note here how the lesson starts:
> Students will experience the historical *discovery *of fossils which
> increasingly link whales to earlier landdwelling mammals. This experience
> reveals how scientists can make *predictions *about past events, based on
> the theory and evidence that whales evolved. Such predictions suggest the
> age and location of sediments where fossils of early whales would most
> likely be found, and even their traits. This lesson also provides
> confirmation, with multiple independent lines of evidence, that there IS a
> series of intermediate forms, showing gradual accumulation of changes,
> linking certain terrestrial mammal groups with modern whales. [emphasis in
> the original]
> Furthermore, there is no way to rule out coincidence for any science then.
> My point was not that this "proved" evolution but that paleontologists make
> testable predictions like other branches of science. Since science is
> inductive you cannot prove anything so proof is not something that ought to
> be claimed. My understanding of paleontology must be way off as I didn't
> think they just dug at random. Wait, this just came in mail.
> You may be a winner! The Paleontologist's Clearing House Sweepstakes
> may dig at your house at random. Please send in your entry now and get a
> free copy of Biblical Archeological Review.

After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon, 11 Sep 2006 18:35:01 +0100

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Sep 11 2006 - 13:35:32 EDT