Re: [asa] How paleontology works

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Mon Sep 11 2006 - 14:31:00 EDT

It is true that little paleontology proceeds by deciding that a particular
transitional taxon ought to be found in a given area and looking for it,
because very little of paleontology consists of searching for transitional
forms. Contrary to the antievolutionary portrayals of evolution as a vast
left-wing conspiracy, there's acutally relatively little support for work on
evolution or paleontology. Most paleontology consists of someone going out
and looking at whatever fossils are handy, or to a place where fossils of
the groups he's interested in are known/likely to occur, or to a place that
is of geological interest for other reasons and the fossils are thought to
potentially help with the other goal.

For example, the best-preserved Triassic crocodile (s.l.) in the world,
which might be considered a transitional form in that it has both
similarities to modern crocodiles in certain anatomical details but in
overall form is a standard early archosaur-a small, long-legged,
fast-running terrestrial predator quite unlike the later aquatic-specialized
crocs, was found because an undergrad was doing his senior thesis on caliche
(a mineral deposit) in a brick quarry, found some articulated bones, and
brought them back to the [invertebrate] paleontologist at the university.
Those bones were of a rauisuchian, but with it was the almost complete
crocodile (it lacks a shoulder that probably is in the rauisuchian).

Transitional forms in oysters were found by people doing general studies on
Triassic bivalves. However, the watch for them was prepared by the fact
that morphological and molecular studies had provided strong clues as to
what to look for, and the known fossil record of oysters and related
organisms pointed to the Triassic as a key time interval. Once
well-preserved specimens were found, it was already known that they deserved
a close look. These represent transitions between pearl oysters and true

Transitional forms are common in those invertebrate groups with good fossil
records. At the species level, the original Eldredge and Gould paper on
punctuated equilibrium has good examples. Higher level examples include the
monoplacophoran to bivalve transition, the monoplacophoran to cephalopod
transition, and the onychophoran-arthropod transition (or better, the series
of intermediates that span the split, rather than implying that one evolved
from the other).

A classic example of a dishonest young earth argument is the moon dust
claim. Science Held Hostage documents the details. Basically, a YEC
claimed, based on a newspaper photo of an astronaut footprint, that the dust
layer on the moon was too thin for the moon to have been gathering dust for
4 billion years. The fact that the dust layer was measured by the
astronauts and found to be deep and the fact that one doesn't sink to solid
rock when stepping on loose dust were not taken into consideration. The
dishonesty in this lies not so much with the claim that the layer is thin,
which was made in ignorance, but in the misrepresentation of this as a
well-researched claim. More recently, AIG has put this on a list of
arguments not to use. However, there are two problems. One is that
AIG-affiliated individuals, not to mention unaffiliated individuals,
continued to use the argument. (It's unclear how significant the continued
presence of the argument on the ICR website is, given clear signs that they
don't update it very well, e.g. continuing to list Kurt Wise as affiliated
long after he left.) More clearly dishonest as opposed to careless,
although they cite Science Held Hostage, AIG claims that the moon dust
argument was abandoned after YECs considered new evidence, when it was in
fact old evidence put forward by old earthers.

Although there's some poor quality, anti-religious stuff on Talk.Origins, it
also has a very good collection of corrections to young-earth claims.

It may perhaps be useful to bring out some of the examples where young
earthers identify the lunatic fringe young earthers as unreliable.
Talk.Origins has archived AIG and others raising doubts about Carl Baugh;
Baumgardner has dismissed some of the ark-finding claims; and mainstream
young earthers don't think highly of geocentrist young earthers.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Sep 11 14:31:32 2006

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Sep 11 2006 - 14:31:32 EDT