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Squirming at the Squishosaur

A refutation of a progressive creationist response to our articles on the finding of soft dinosaur tissue

by

16 May 2005

It had to happen, I suppose. The lashback from ‘progressive creationists’ about our excited announcements on the soft tissue found in a dinosaur fossil (Still soft and stretchy: Dinosaur soft tissue find—a stunning rebuttal of “millions of years” and “Ostrich-osaurus” discovery?: Shedding more light on the new startling find of soft tissue in a T. rex bone).

The ministry Reasons To Believe (RTB), propagating the views of ‘progressive creationist’ astronomer Hugh Ross, is totally committed to the millions of years philosophy. This despite the fact that, sadly, this has to involve abandonment of any consistent, time-honoured, and intellectually honest approach to hermeneutics (as is overwhelmingly clear from my colleague Dr Sarfati’s classic book Refuting Compromise). In fact, it turns the words of the Lord Jesus on humanity’s time of appearance upside down, and puts millions of years of bloodshed, suffering of nephesh (soulish) creatures, extinction, thorns and cancer before Adam (the Curse before the Fall), and much, much more that is equally tragic (see The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe: Hugh Ross’s blunders on plant death in the Bible).

So, they could scarcely ‘let it slide’ when our web articles, picked up by tens of thousands and circulated widely, said things like:

‘This discovery gives immensely powerful support to the proposition that dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old at all, but were mostly fossilized under catastrophic conditions a few thousand years ago at most’

The first ‘counter’ was a radio broadcast featuring Hugh Ross and associate Dr Fazale (Fuz) Rana. That referred to some ‘detective work’ done by one of their apologists, a Greg Moore, who has now published two articles on this sort of topic on the RTB website, the latest being the one rebutted here. (The previous one was attacking our announcements on the 1997 discovery, by the same researcher, of red blood cells.) This article cites the RTB broadcast five times. Even more importantly, the original article, ‘Dinosaur Blood?’, by this same author acknowledges that its ‘background’ is an article by one Gary Hurd, an antitheistic social scientist, posted on an unsavoury atheist site; Moore’s follow-up here largely follows Hurd as well. This is unfortunately not the first time that Ross or his minions have cited disreputable Christ-haters to attack biblical creationists—see here.

In view of the importance of the issue, the entire article1 has been reproduced here under the ‘fair use’ provisions (so no-one could think that we had misrepresented or selectively quoted it). I respond to it in interspersed ‘email style’. As will I trust be clear, apart from some hairsplitting about definitions, and despite clever use of prejudicial language and similar rhetorical maneuvers, no evidence has been presented that would generate any discomfort in our standing behind the conclusions of the articles. In fact, if anything, our conclusions are reinforced by the transparent desperation in some of the tactics employed.

Dinosaur Blood Revisited

by Greg Moore

On March 25, 2005, Science magazine reported the discovery of soft tissue in the leg bone of a Tyrannosaurus rex.[ref] The study was conducted by a team of paleontologists led by Dr. Mary Schweitzer, the scientist who found blood cell remnants in another T. rex bone in 1997. According to the paper, the soft tissue contains morphological objects that appear to be blood vessels, blood cells and bone cells.

This study has generated much excitement in the young-earth community. Young-earth creationists claim the discovery of dinosaur soft tissue is a stunning rebuttal to the old earth paradigm. For example, in an article titled, “Still Soft and Stretchy,”[ref.]Carl Wieland [of Creation Ministries International] states:

It is inconceivable such things could be preserved for (in this case) ‘70 million years’… This discovery gives immensely powerful support to the proposition that dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old at all, but were mostly fossilized under catastrophic conditions a few thousand years ago at most.

They also claim this discovery vindicates their long standing contention that what Schweitzer found in 1997 was actual dinosaur blood.[ref]

CW: This choice of wording is subtly but significantly prejudicial, to the point of being misleading. An uninformed reader might think I had written about blood still dripping onto the floor, yet that was nothing like what I said. My article, to which he refers, was about the 1997 discovery, under the microscope, of red blood cells in a segment of unfossilized dinosaur bone. The article did state that the vessels were visible under the microscope, and that there was immunological evidence for the presence of the protein hemoglobin. In the RTB broadcast mentioned in the introduction, Ross ally Fuz Rana strongly implied that it was merely survival of the porphyrin (heme) ring, which is more stable than the globin chains made up of specific amino acid sequences. However, this refutation of a critic shows that in order to get an immune reaction to hemoglobin, one would need substantially more than a porphyrin ring and 3 or 4 amino acids. 

This hemoglobin was associated with what I referred to as ‘the still-recognizable shapes of red blood cells’. And that is exactly the case. Cameron Tsujita, a paleontologist at the University of Western Ontario in London, discussing claims that these are blood cells, says that he ‘can’t really think of what else they could be.’2

Interestingly, in the RTB radio interview mentioned earlier, Fuz Rana employed similar tactics by saying that ‘the young earth community is making the claim that what was found was an unfossilized T. rex femur that contained blood in it’. That sets up the listener nicely, so that anything other than flowing, gushing blood out of a totally fresh dino bone could easily be perceived as a creationist ‘distortion’.

He then says: ‘Well, actually, this is not the case. It’s an incompletely fossilized femur, which is very different from an unfossilized femur.’ In fact, my article actually quoted Schweitzer as saying that ‘some parts deep inside the long bone of the leg had not completely fossilized.’ So anyone reading the word ‘unfossilized’ in the next sentence would have been fully aware of how I was using the term. The organic material in that section of bone had not been replaced by minerals.

Natural History magazine concurred

‘Fossils form gradually, as minerals from soil, rocks, and water replace the chemical constituents of long-dead bodies. The result is a rock-solid copy—except when it isn’t, as Horner, Mary H. Schweitzer, and two other paleontologists were startled to find.

‘Under Schweitzer’s supervision, the fossilized femur was given a soaking to remove the minerals. Astonishingly, the investigators saw translucent blood vessels waving in the acid [sic—see later] bath. Soft tissue, still flexible, had been preserved in the thick bone. And some of the vessels retained cell-like structures, complete with what looked very much like cell nuclei.’

I can only conclude that all this handwaving and smokeblowing by Moore is meant to distract from the main point, namely the astonishing discoveries in question (especially the recent one).

GM: In the same article, Wieland states:

Not only have more blood cells been found, but also soft, fibrous tissue, and complete blood vessels. The fact that this really is unfossilized soft tissue from a dinosaur is in this instance so obvious to the naked eye that any skepticism directed at the previous discovery is completely “history.”

Unfortunately, these claims are based on several distortions about this discovery.

CW: Let’s see.

GM: Misconception 1

Young-earth accounts of the discovery indicate that the T. rex bone contained fresh, pliable tissue. In other words, when the bone was cracked open, the researchers found soft tissue. This is certainly the impression one gets from Wieland’s article.

CW: Not surprisingly, I deny that the article would give a normally discerning reader such an impression, especially when I said on the twelfth line of the main text that Schweitzer ‘used chemicals to dissolve the bony matrix, revealing the soft tissues still present.’ But ‘impressions’ are fuzzy subjective things, slippery to pin down, and so perhaps tactically more suitable to relieve long-age embarrassment about what I have given the tongue-in-cheek label ‘Squishosaurus’. Especially when there is no actual error to refute.

GM: Under one photo of the bone tissue he [CW] states:

The arrow points to a tissue fragment that is still elastic [emphasis added].

CW: Note that this emphasis is Moore’s, not mine.

GM citing CW: It beggars belief that elastic tissue like this could have lasted for 65 million years.

CW: I would reaffirm this statement. Many long-agers have openly expressed their astonishment. E.g. Derek Briggs, a paleontologist at Yale University said it was a ‘totally novel discovery,’ while Dr Tsujita said such preservation is ‘improbable but obviously not impossible.’ Note that this is a veiled admission that he was surprised by such tissue preservation over alleged millions of years, but since preserved tissue has been found, to a long-ager, it’s obviously proof that it can be preserved over such eons!3

GM: Under a second photo he [CW] states:

Another instance of “fresh appearance” which similarly makes it hard to believe in the “millions of years.”

And elsewhere in the article he states:

One description of a portion of the tissue was that it is “flexible and resilient and when stretched returns to its original shape.”

However,

CW: Notice the ‘clever’ positioning of that word ‘However’—priming the reader’s ‘glasses’ to see what follows as contradicting what I said. Which it really doesn’t.

GM: the paper states when researchers cracked open the bone, they noticed the hollow interior had not been filled with minerals so they took samples from the core of the bone.

CW: Presumably Moore and RTB’s editors hope that the people reading this will not bother to check my article, where I said ‘the bone was still largely hollow and not filled up with minerals as is usual’. So if I said it, how can Moore’s saying the same thing be the magic ‘however’ to rebut my statements?

GM: Schweitzer then soaked the samples in a solution of dilute acid [sic] for seven days to dissolve away the mineral component of the bone.

CW: As quoted earlier, this is what my article stated, up front and early in the piece. Except that I said it was ‘chemicals’, not ‘dilute acid’; according to this detailed supplement to the original report :

‘the tissues were demineralized (0.5M EDTA, pH 8.0) for 7 days, changing buffer daily.’

So the demineralization seems to have been in a slightly alkaline solution, not acid. But the main demineralizer was the very effective chelating agent EDTA. Fuz Rana in the earlier broadcast stated it was ‘weak vinegar’, so he appears not to have read the details of the process, either. Many internet sites seem to have also been ‘fuzzy’ about this issue of what was used, so I won’t be too hard on this mistake.

GM: It was after this process that she observed that the tissue exhibited “great elasticity and resilience upon manipulation.”[ref.]

CW: Just to clarify things for readers, note that bone—any bone, even the freshest of bone—has a ‘matrix’ of hard mineral (see also Bridges and bones, girders and groans). To get to be able to ‘stretch’ and ‘squish’ the soft tissues inside, such as the blood vessels running within a fresh bone, you have to dissolve this mineral matrix. It is a common school experiment to soak a chicken bone in vinegar, turning it eventually into a soft, sagging mass—the non-mineral component of the bone. Note that Schweitzer’s team, in their eagerness to compare this dino’s soft tissues with its alleged evolutionary relative the ostrich, did essentially the same thing with fresh ostrich bone, to expose/extract the soft tissue to compare. So any suggestion that Schweitzer’s use of a chelating agent (EDTA) to dissolve the bone matrix changes the issue is absurd.

The point is that the stretchy, pliable stuff that was in the shape of blood vessels, etc. was regarded by Schweitzer, and by all other reasonable people who have read the paper concerned, as remarkably preserved soft tissue, i.e. it has not been replaced by minerals. As quoted in my article, she said that ‘preservation of this extent, where you still have this flexibility and transparency, has never been seen in a dinosaur before’.

GM: It is also noteworthy that Wieland’s descriptions of the two photos (when [sic] are from the study) are strikingly different than Schweitzer’s.

CW: Notice that emotive use of ‘strikingly’. But why should it be noteworthy or surprising that a long-age-believer, especially one who saw how Creation magazine made good use of her 1997 red-cell discovery, should choose her words as cagily as she possibly can? Schweitzer has publicly expressed her disappointment about creationist mileage from her finds. But as becomes clear further down, even her carefully chosen words do not attempt to run away from reality.

GM: She refers to the material in one photo as a “demineralized fragment” and the material in the other photo as “demineralized bone.”[ref]

CW: A moment’s careful thought should suffice to realize that Schweitzer’s descriptions are in no way inconsistent with those in our article. If a chicken bone is demineralized, and all one has left is the soft tissue, then that is what one has, soft tissue, whether or not one refers to it as ‘demineralized bone’.  Schweitzer’s descriptions are correct, as are mine.

GM: Thus, unlike Wieland, Schweitzer is careful to point out that the tissue in the photos had been processed and was not the original bone material.

CW: But, as already mentioned, I did point this out; in fact if the words quoted from Schweitzer above are meant to be a ‘careful’ pointing out, then mine are much more careful and extensive.

It was so glaringly obvious in my article, in fact, that Moore cannot be expected to leave himself too wide open by ignoring it altogether. Having thus ‘scored points’ illegitimately, he now feels obliged to grudgingly mention it after all. He therefore says

GM: Wieland does mention that the bone material was treated later in the article.

CW: Later? It was, as stated, in the twelfth line down from the beginning of the main text. Good try, Greg.

GM: He briefly states:

CW: Briefly? Moore could not even resist implying that I should have used more space in this already-brief web news report. This whole section by Moore is trying to downplay the fact which he is forced to admit, namely that I did make it plain and clear to the reader.

GM citing CW: Dr. Schweitzer used chemicals to dissolve the bony matrix, revealing the soft tissue still present.

GM: However, the clear implication of this statement is that the material from the T. rex bone contained soft tissue but the researchers did not see it until the bony matrix was removed. This is not true.

CW: Not true? That’s a powerful statement. (Not-so-subtle meaning: these dreaded young-earth creationists are lying to you—that is certainly the impression of some who have emailed us after reading this Moore/RTB article). Let’s see if he’s right. Remember that the correct use of the term ‘soft tissue’ is any tissue (body structure substance) other than bone. For example, in a secular article on salamander fossils we read: ‘There are whole bodies, impressions of soft tissue preserved, and stomach contents.’4 The soft tissue does not necessarily have to be preserved in a soft form to be referred to as such. But, let’s go with Moore’s description above of the ‘clear implication’ of my statement and see if it is ‘not true’. Question: Did the bones contain actual soft tissue (e.g. blood vessels that had not been replaced by mineral?) Answer: Yes. Could the researchers see the soft tissue until the bony matrix was removed? Answer: No.  So much for that.

GM: The soft tissue was a result of the demineralization and hydration process.

CW: Huh? How can demineralization produce soft tissue that was not already there? If I dissolve a fresh ostrich bone and am left with the stretchy soft tissue, that tissue was in the bone all along. It won’t appear ‘soft’ when the bone is broken open, of course, because it is being supported from all sides by the bony matrix. If Moore should excuse his comment by saying that he merely meant that the tissue’s softness was the result of the soaking, then he is really pushing the envelope of reasonableness. Because the whole (and the obvious) point was that substantial swathes of tissue made up of fragile protein molecules have survived in this dinosaur bone not just in some amorphous form, but in recognizable structures, even transparent ones, and recognizably containing red blood cells, for example.

Whether they would lose some of their ‘stretchiness’ should they be dried out again is in any case beside the point. If the original material of the soft tissue had not been preserved, then it would also not be capable of ‘rehydrating’ to any extent. If dry soft tissue that was unfossilized had been found in a dinosaur leg bone, and this only stretched when softened a bit in water, it would have been just as sensational. Because it is hardly likely that a section of dino soft tissue that had been preserved by being replaced with minerals (i.e. petrified) would become flexible just from hydrating, i.e. soaking up water!

However, all that seems to be academic, anyway, because to clinch the point, Schweitzer’s article says that the soft tissues were subjected to several cycles of dehydration/rehydration—without losing their elasticity! So they appear to have been elastic (soft and stretchy, not hard and brittle) in both the dry and wet state. Of course, Moore did not quote that part of the article. 

GM: Misconception 2

Young earth creationists maintain that the researchers discovered actual blood vessels and cells in the T. rex tissue. Again, this is certainly the impression one gets from Wieland’s article. He states:

Not only have more blood cells been found, but also … complete blood vessels.

CW: A more-than-reasonable conclusion, as will be seen.

GM: In fairness, the researchers do state in the paper that they believe the T. rex tissue contains blood vessels and cells. However, a close reading of the paper reveals that this is a hopeful speculation, not a statement of fact.

CW: As will be seen, ‘hopeful speculation’ puts a substantial spin on the paper. The researchers’ stated belief (not speculative, wild guess) is a very confident and reasonable conclusion from the observed facts. These facts, inter alia, are: Soft, stretchy, transparent branching structures were found inside the bone of a long-dead animal after the bone was demineralized (by a substance that dissolves fresh bone matrix too). These intricate structures appear identical to those in a recently-dead animal bone. Inside them are further structures which have all of the appearances of red blood cells, including the nucleus in the centre of each one.5 The contents of these hollow branching tubes that have these red-cell-appearing structures inside them can still be ‘squeezed out’. The onus of proof is on those who would claim that they are not what they overwhelmingly appear to be.

By the way, the RTB broadcast glossed over something that is not even mentioned here in Moore’s article, namely that the researchers also found astonishingly clear 3-D structures in the shape of osteoclasts—these are very characteristic-looking cells found in bone—that were once again identical to those in living creatures.

Even the title of Schweitzer et al.’s paper in Science affirms the conviction of its evolutionist authors: it is not called, e.g., ‘Unusual Structures Which Sort of Remind us of Blood Vessels and Cells’. It is in fact called ‘Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex’—the title alone seems virtually sufficient to ‘blow away’ Moore’s article!

GM: The paper states that complete demineralization of the T. rex material released vessels from the bone matrix that floated to the surface of the flask. Many of these vessels contained round microstructures that resembled blood cells and inside these they observed smaller objects that resemble nuclei. The researchers then subjected ostrich bones to the same process and the resulting vessels and contents were virtually identical to the T. rex specimen.[ref.]

CW: The italics emphasizing the word ‘resembled’ (to try to downplay the issue) are in fact undone by Moore’s own words, where he points out that the ostrich vessels and their contained red blood cells were for all practical purposes identical.

GM: However, since no molecular studies have yet been done with the tissue, it is uncertain if it contains original organic material or if the material was replaced by mineralization or some other chemical process.[ref.]

CW: The only way it can not contain any ‘original organic material’ is if it has been, as Moore states, ‘replaced by mineralization’. But no magical mineralization process is known or conceivable which would result in soft, flexible tubes with all the appearance of the original blood vessels and showing red blood cells inside. I invite the reader at this stage to revisit the illustrations (below).

M. H. Schweitzer

T-Rex soft tissue

Remember, too, that proteins have been detected in dinosaur bone before, in specimens not even showing any soft tissue preservation like this one does. So I am hardly sticking my neck out by making the claim that there is no way that this soft stretchy tissue contains none of the original protein materials, i.e. there is no way that it has, instead, been replaced ‘brick by brick’ by some inorganic mineral. Remember, too, that even the original 1997 red-blood-cell find gave immunological evidence of one such protein, namely hemoglobin that is found in living red cells.

GM: Therefore, it is very possible that the objects are not intact blood vessels and cells but blood vessel and cell remnants-the degradation products of blood vessels and cells that have undergone chemical transformation.[ref.]

CW: Atheist sites attacked our original announcement of the 1997 discovery by saying that we called them ‘red cells’ when in fact they were ‘the remains of red cells’. But if I were to find a human finger in a block of cement, by definition it is the ‘remains’ of a finger, even when fresh, ten seconds after the concrete is poured. As time goes on, it will become more and more degraded, but it is still the ‘remains’ of a finger at all times. Say I find one such finger that is partially degraded after a few weeks, but still soft. Is it reasonable or not to describe the discovery as ‘a human finger in cement that is still soft’? Of course it’s reasonable! It would be nothing but the most excruciating, deliberate and devious hairsplitting for someone to attack the claim by saying, ‘ah, ah, ah—naughty—how dare he say he found a finger in cement. He should have said it was the remains of a human finger! Obviously, you can’t trust this guy.’

GM: In fact, Schweitzer admits as much in the closing paragraph of the paper:

Whether preservation is strictly morphological and the result of some kind of unknown geochemical replacement process or whether it extends to the subcellular and molecular levels is uncertain.[ref.]

In an accompanying article in the same of Science, “Tyrannosaurus rex Soft Tissue Raises Tantalizing Prospects,”[ref.] Erik Stokstad makes this same point:

Experts, and the team itself, say they won’t be convinced that the original material has survived unaltered until further test results come in.

CW: Again, even to have lasted 4,000 years, one would expect some degree of alteration. But this is really beside the point; the astonishing nature of the preservation is already overwhelmingly clear, and totally unexpected by long-age thinkers.

GM: Stokstad also notes in his article that there are known instances where reworked material can have the appearance and resilience of the T. rex “tissues.” Therefore, until more research is conducted, it is premature and misleading to claim the structures in the tissue are blood vessels and cells.

CW: I am happy to here quote entirely what Stokstad said, namely:

‘Nucleated protozoan cells have been found in 225-million-year-old amber, but geochemical tests revealed that the nuclei had been replaced with resin compounds. Even the resilience of the vessels may be deceptive. Flexible fossils of colonial marine organisms called graptolites have been recovered from 440-million-year-old rocks, but the original material—likely collagen—had not survived.’

Stokstad is being commendably cautious, but for those familiar with graptolite morphology, the difference is profound and would not have caused a stir on our website (nor indeed did it raise much of a fuss at the time); it is nothing like the same issue or appearance of ‘identifiable soft tissue’ as this. And the resin example is neither surprising, nor relevant to this find—amber is thought to be hardened resin, so why would the nuclei not be replaced by resin? The most exquisite details of organisms, including microscopic, have routinely been found preserved in amber, yet this preservation per se was never ‘splashed’ by us as an argument against the millions of years. More significantly, the Stokstad quote shows a misleading aspect of this part of the Moore/RTB article (dutifully taken from their favorite atheistic source, Hurd). It claims that Stokstad says ‘that there are known instances where reworked material can have the appearance and resilience of the T. rex “tissues.”’ The unwitting reader might think that Stokstad was claiming that structures looking like the flexible blood vessels in the T. rex had been found in other fossils, when he said no such thing.  Nothing in a fossil remotely resembling these dinosaur blood vessels in both appearance and resilience has ever been found, and Stokstad’s article does not say otherwise.

GM: Misconception 3

Young-earth creations [sic] claim the discovery of unfossilized bone with soft tissue and biomolecules proves dinosaurs did not live millions of years ago. For example, Wieland states in his article:

It is inconceivable that such things should be preserved for (in this case) “70 million years.”

And,

This discovery gives immensely powerful support to the proposition that dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old at all, but were mostly fossilized under catastrophic conditions a few thousand years ago at most.

This message is echoed many other young-earth creationists. For example, in another Answers in Genesisarticle, David Menton states:

It certainly taxes one’s imagination to believe that soft tissues and cells could remain so relatively fresh in appearance for the tens of millions of years…[ref.]

CW: Notice that neither my words nor those of my anatomist colleague Dr Menton claim that this (or indeed anything) can prove a young earth, but that it is powerfully, overwhelmingly consistent with it. Certainly it ‘taxes one’s imagination’ less to believe that such structures have survived a few thousand years, as opposed to >65 million. Even the most rabid long-ager would surely have to agree with that simple proposition.

GM: There are really two parts to this claim. The first is that dinosaur bone should be completely fossilized if it is millions of years old. The second is that soft tissue and biomolecules are fragile and can’t possibly survive for millions of years. It is important to address both of these issues.

As Schweitzer states in the paper:

The fossil record is capable of exceptional preservation, including feathers, hair, color or color patterns, embryonic soft tissues, muscle tissue and/or internal organs, and cellular structure.[ref.]

CW: Exactly. But most such instances (which all speak of rapid processes, incidentally) do not involve the tissue itself, or any remnant of it which is still flexible or even capable of hydration. For example, the preservation of feathers is often merely their imprint. ‘Cellular structure’ can be preserved within a rock-hard, completely mineralized specimen (which structure would therefore disappear if those minerals were dissolved, by the way). That is not what we are talking about here. 

GM: Normally, during fossilization, hard materials are replaced with minerals and soft tissue is destroyed by bacteria that enter the bone.

CW: It is not universally agreed that this is always the result of bacterial action. In some instances, the soft tissue (even cellular) shape is preserved, as noted a few lines above in Schweitzer’s quote, while the tissue itself is replaced by minerals and/or at least the interstitial spaces filled. This does not necessarily require bacterial action.

GM: However, under certain circumstances, the inner part of the bone can be preserved. This can occur in instances where the remains are rapidly buried and entombed in protective sediments. It can occur when the outer bone is sealed, preventing penetration and decomposition. It can also occur when the remains are located in an environment that fosters preservation-places that are dry, cold and oxygen free, or where the sediment contains certain chemicals.[refs.]

CW: Moore really misses the point. Obviously, there is no dispute with the fact that different degrees of preservation can occur depending on different environments, burial, etc. Look at the many fossils buried in the Flood; many are extremely mineralized, some less so, and some much less so, as in the case in point. The strongly mineralized ones do not present an argument for a young age or an old age. They could have been mineralized 600 million years ago, or a century ago (the process of mineralization, e.g. artificial petrified wood, can occur very rapidly given the right chemical environment). Once they are in effect ‘turned to stone’, they can last more or less indefinitely. But ones that are not well mineralized are not going to be anywhere near as protected from the forces of decay.

As Dr Aw Swee Eng (former professor of biochemistry, Singapore University) confirmed to me personally, complex biomolecules such as proteins are thermodynamically destined to fall apart eventually (from the random motion of molecules) even were they to be protected from all outside influences such as air, moisture, bacteria, etc. This is why it is so astonishing to think of a non-minerally-protected soft tissue structure lasting for millions of years.

GM: In the case of the T. rex tissue, Schweitzer explains that it is the likely result of several of these factors:

CW: Before reading her explanations, it is important to note that she is totally philosophically committed to the millions-of-years age of the specimen; to her, it is a ‘given’. So from that perspective, it is understandable for her to look for ways to ‘explain’ the evidence in front of her eyes. As she indicates, there must be ‘yet undetermined’ things which have made it happen, despite all expectations to the contrary. Read on …

GM quoting Schweitzer: The unusual preservation of the originally organic matrix may be due in part to the dense mineralization of dinosaur bone, because a certain portion of the organic matrix with extant bone is intracrystalline and therefore extremely resistant to degradation. These factors, combined with yet undetermined geochemical and environmental factors, presumably also contribute to the preservation of soft-tissue vessels.[ref.]

GM: In speaking with Schweitzer, Rich Deem reports that she indicated the bones have a distinct odor that is characteristic of embalming fluids.

CW: Hearsay evidence—via Deem, a notorious Rossite—of some alleged smell would seem to be a mark of desperation. Schweitzer failed to mention any detection of formaldehyde, for example, in her official paper (though aldehydes were used in the fixation process).

GM: Therefore, it possible that the bones landed in some type of chemical “stew” that preserved the soft tissue inside the bone from decomposition.[ref.]

CW: To date, there is just as much ‘evidence’ that the bones landed in an alien spacecraft which preserved the tissue.

GM: Regarding the issue of whether biomolecules can survive for millions of years, it is very difficult to predict molecular stability because it is very dependent upon the conditions.

CW: It may be difficult to predict the degree of stability, but surely there is a limit at which credulity ceases. Evolutionist Bryan Sykes, confronted with the alleged discovery of DNA in a fossil magnolia ‘millions of years old’ indicated that from the known rate at which it breaks down in the lab, ‘no DNA would remain intact much beyond 10,000 years’.6 But here it apparently was, so he said it was just as well that this chemical deduction was not known to the people who tried to extract the DNA.

One can grant that it would be hard to be dogmatic and to say that it is not possible to stretch that 10,000 years by a bit. The rate of ‘falling apart’ is not that precise. And DNA is more fragile than, say, hemoglobin or osteocalcin or collagen. But to stretch it by about four orders of magnitude (some 10,000 times)?

GM: In this case, it was an incomplete fossilization process—water did not gain access to the interior of the bone and water promotes the breakdown of biomolecules.

CW: Indeed it does. Water will rapidly hydrolyze them, as well as supporting bacterial attack. But the converse does not follow, namely that the absence of water will permit the biomolecules to remain forever intact. In fact, had water been permitted access, they would not have lasted anything like the few thousand years since their presumed burial in the Flood.

GM: The bone was extremely dense in terms of its mineral matrix, which would protect the molecules and structures in the very interior of the bone.[ref.] And, as stated previously, it seems to have located a rich chemical environment.

CW: This seems to be an assumption based on hearsay, not an observation, being used here as part of a ‘handwaving’ exercise. And note that what was first a ‘possibility’ has now become a probability in just a few paragraphs.

GM: It is also important to note that the molecules in question are very long, chain-like molecules called polymers. When a polymer is absorbed [sic—should be adsorbed] to a surface, like the mineral material inside the T. rex bone, it increases the long-term stability of the molecules. Basically, when a bond is broken it can reform because the ends of the chain can’t diffuse away from one another. Under the proper conditions, that can provide remarkable long-term stability.[ref.]

Blood vessels are also extremely durable. They are made up of endothelial cells that form a channel. This is surrounded by an elastin matrix, then basement membrane, then muscle fibers and finally a collagen matrix. These materials are very resistant to breakdown and have to undergo extensive degradation to totally breakdown. This can explain how some these [sic] vessels may have survived. They are not the original blood vessels but remnants of some of the blood vessel materials that retain some elasticity and resiliency.[ref.]

CW: Hmmm … it seems that on the one hand, we’re told that they are very resistant to breakdown, presumably an argument being used to support the fact that they’ve been preserved. Then we’re told that they are not preserved, i.e. ‘not the original blood vessels’. So why is the argument of their toughness needed at all? Because it is obvious to all that any ‘remnants’ (remember my finger in the concrete example, it is always going to be a ‘remnant’ or ‘the remains’ of a finger, with varying degrees of preservation) that ‘retain some elasticity and resiliency’ are a powerful ‘alert’ to the public at large that maybe something is not quite right with the millions of years. So Moore needs something to reassure true believers in long ages.

Incidentally, the reference for this ‘remarkable long-term stability’, as it is in four other places herein, is the Ross/Rana broadcast itself. In that broadcast, they argued that because the ostrich bone had been treated with collagenase, an enzyme that breaks down collagen, to release the vessels and cells for study, and this was not necessary for the dino bone, that this was ‘further evidence of breakdown of biomolecules’. But this reinforces our point! We believe that this was a very old tyrannosaur fossil, likely about 40 centuries or so. So it is hardly going to be a ‘fresh’ specimen of bone!

The fact is that some of the biomolecules had already degraded, as expected, and some had not. The astonishing thing was not that there had been degradation of biomolecules in that time, but that some had survived. But ‘astonishing’ becomes ‘unbelievable’ when the alleged timescale is >65 million years.

Ross said for the benefit of listeners: ‘The difference is that the ostrich bones were young, the dinosaur bones old. Therefore they used a different treatment process. That’s evidence in itself that the dinosaur bones must be old.’ It is hard to restrain oneself from excess sarcasm in contemplating this amazing conclusion—a fossil bone from an extinct creature is ‘old’, and a freshly killed ostrich bone is ‘young’. Well, well. Rana responds to Ross’s insight with ‘Exactly, so for me this is a very interesting piece of work …’. Enough said.

GM: In explaining the discovery, Dr Matthews [sic—should be Matthew] Collins, who studies ancient biomolecules at York University in the United Kingdom, states:

This may not be fossilization as we know it, of large macrostructures, but fossilization at a molecular level. My suspicion is this process has led to … a very tough, resistant, very lipid-rich material—a polymer that would be very difficult to break down and characterize, but which has preserved the structure.[ref.]

CW: Let’s see … earlier in the article we had unknown geochemical processes postulated. Here another long-ager puts up his ‘suspicion’ that these vessels have been converted into an unknown polymer which (by definition, in his belief system) resists degradation but, amazingly, preserves both the structure and the elasticity, appearance, transparency, etc. for millions of years. When Dr Collins finds what that wonderful substance is, he should invest in the company that is first to market it.

(It reminds me of the letter to the editor of an Australian newspaper many years ago. The writer had just been given the spiel at a national park about the long ages assigned to indigenous rock art. He said something like: ‘I’ve just bought a can of the best house paint around, and I’m told if I’m lucky, it’ll last 15 years. Yet I’m shown where some Aboriginal has blown some soggy ochre onto a rock and I’m told it’s lasted 40,000 years. Where can I get a can of that stuff?’)

GM: Conclusion

This is a very exciting and surprising discovery but not an inexplicable one. Under the right conditions, biomolecules can survive for millions and millions of years.

CW: Notice incidentally how the emphasis has shifted from denying the idea that these are the actual tissues, i.e. the actual biomolecules, to now stating that they ‘can survive’. Which is it? (If they are not the original biomolecules, they have not survived!) But despite the bravado in that phrase, the survival for millions of years has been assumed, not demonstrated. The only ‘evidence’ for it is the belief that specimens containing biomolecules are millions of years old.

GM: Therefore, in no way does this discovery demand a young-earth interpretation or prove that dinosaurs didn’t live millions of years ago.

CW: As pointed out earlier, this is attacking a straw man, and misrepresents our position. We do say that we have every reason to be excited about this as strongly reinforcing what God has long revealed in His Word about the timing of Creation Week (see Biblical Chronogenealogies and In the days of Peleg).

GM: Wieland suggests that the reason that this sort of thing has not been found before is that the long-age paradigm has blinded researchers to that possibility. However, the truth of the matter is only now do we have the technology to do this type of research.

CW: Notice that ‘Wieland suggests … however the truth is … ’ (Ergo: Wieland lies. Yet this is the same ‘Reasons to Believe’ that, when exposed in various ways in our literature, plays the victim with wounded innocence, saying that one should not attack fellow Christians.) In fact, this comment about technology is an astonishingly misleading statement, and it is hard to know how Moore/RTB can defend this with a straight face as ‘the truth of the matter’. Consider: how much technology does it take to crack open a dinosaur leg bone, grab some EDTA (it’s been around for a very long time), wait some days and then take a closer look?

Schweitzer was clearly motivated by her serendipitous (and totally unexpected, thanks to the long-age belief system7) microscopic discovery of the red blood cells in dino bone to start looking for such things. When the leg bone was broken open, it was sent to her because other dinosaur researchers knew of her interest, subsequent to the red cell find, in looking for such things. Evolutionists are now saying that, because of the discovery, museums should consider looking again at their specimens with a view to breaking open some bones, as they have probably overlooked many such specimens all along. Many are looking forward to now being able to test various evolutionary theories on such specimens (i.e. now that we ‘know’ that soft tissues must be able to survive millions of years). To reinforce the point, Schweitzer has apparently found a number of other such specimens since this one. In other words, now that we know that it’s worth looking, we can easily find such specimens. So why wasn’t it done before? Because no one expected to find such things, because they would not be expected to last millions of years. How much more obvious could it be?7

GM: The Bible exhorts us to “test everything” (1 Thess 5:21). It does not say that we are to test only the things that we disagree with but everything.

CW: This is an odd statement in isolation—it is not possible to test everything. Unfortunately, RTB has a habit of wrenching passages out of context, and does so here again. In context, it is about testing purported prophetic utterances—the verse immediately preceding this is ‘Do not despise prophecies’. The passage in general concerns our Christian walk, doctrine, etc. So when some strange new teaching comes along within the church (such as the old-earth dogma which was absorbed from the secular world well before Darwin, as Dr Terry Mortenson’s book The Great Turning Point so ably documents) this should be thoroughly tested. It has been tested, and it falls dramatically short in the light of Scripture.

GM: It is in this spirit that young-earth creationists need to examine their view of reality. Even if the structures in this T. rex tissue are determined to be actual blood vessels and cells, how does one find, or a handful of such finds, overturn thousands of old-earth evidences?

CW: Here is where we see the different directions from which both sides are coming. We want to try to always start with Scripture, which is the final authority. We don’t see any number of finds as the reason to believe the Bible. Rather, we see things as either confirming or challenging the truth of the Bible. When the old-earth evidences are examined (and it is mostly bluff and bluster to talk of ‘thousands’, as if they were independent of each other) they invariably turn out to be based on axiomatic rejection of the Bible’s account of creation in the first place. This was always true of long-age beliefs—see this admission from the ‘father of uniformitarianism’ (the founding principle of long-age geology), James Hutton.

GM: The answer is they don’t. Science has many good reasons to believe the earth is ancient from many different fields.

CW: ‘Science’ believes nothing—people do. Science is a methodology, a wonderful tool that has been very helpful to humanity, but one whose limitations and operation are often not well understood by a lot of anticreationists. Scientists are fallible human beings, whose interpretations of the evidence are strongly constrained by the paradigms of their culture and time. The history of the scientific enterprise is littered with the rejection of ideas (phlogiston, miasma theory of disease, etc.) that were based on the same logic, i.e. ‘most scientists believe …’ or ‘most of the evidence points to …’—there is huge resistance to ideas that challenge the dominant paradigm. As if scientific truth is arrived at by weighing up the number of arguments anyway.

GM: Thus, young-earth creationists need to examine all the evidence, not just selective evidences that can be construed to support their view.

CW: Sigh—another misrepresentation. Are Moore’s readers really being asked to believe that we don’t examine the evidence that opposes our viewpoint, as if we close our eyes to it? There are probably thousands of pages of this very website devoted to examining and dealing with/refuting such evidences, not to mention a book refuting Ross, which refutation could not have been accomplished without examining his claims! We do so because, like Paul, we seek to ‘demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’ (2 Cor. 10:5).

In any case, the implication of Moore’s comments here is that evidence ‘speaks for itself’, a naïve 1950s view of the philosophy of science. I.e. if only one can put all the ‘evidence’ (i.e. the ‘facts’) on the table, the ‘truth will out’. But this ignores the following:

  1. Evidence is always capable of being interpreted in differing ways. A clear demonstration of that is found in the case of this particular find; there is remarkable similarity in the way in which long-agers are ‘squirming at the squish’, putting on a brave face by claiming that, well, it shows that the stuff can last millions of years after all, must be some unknown mechanism, etc. It crucially depends on one’s axioms or starting points. For example, we would love to get hold of an actual sample of this (or similar) dino soft tissue, because we think it highly likely that carbon dating would show a ‘radiocarbon age’ of thousands of years, not the ‘infinite age’ that the Moore/RTB long-age scenario would have to predict. But even when such a result came in (as it has for many other specimens supposedly millions of years old), someone committed to long ages could come up with some ‘unknown’ mechanism (as we saw in this article) to try to ‘explain it away’. That is exactly what has happened with the young radiocarbon dates in coal and even in a number of diamonds, for instance.

    When YECs do that for something we can’t yet explain, it is seen as evasive. Evidently there is one rule for us and another for our opponents. But in reality, it simply demonstrates the way (historical) science operates. The weight one gives to various evidences, i.e. which ones are given credence over others, is always going to be a function of one’s starting axioms or beliefs—spoken or unspoken, conscious or subliminal. If only RTB would realize that the key is to start with biblical axioms, not with secular ones that are, at their core, antibiblical.

  2. More significantly, the Bible itself teaches that both nature and our minds are fallen, and therefore there will be a tendency for fallen man to reason in ways that reject biblically revealed realities (Romans 1:18–32). Whenever we elevate the reasoning of fallen mankind, with its axioms starting outside the Bible, above that of the Word of God itself (consider Ross’s claim that ‘nature’ is a 67th book of the Bible), problems are inevitable. It is no wonder that once one compromises at one crucial point, one ends up in an increasing quagmire, having to pile towers of distortions upon distortions of the meaning of the biblical text in order to try to extricate oneself from the inevitable contradictions.

When I was an atheist at university in the early 1970s, smug in my long-age/evolutionary beliefs, it was a creationist (YEC) book that God used to draw me to Him. The thing that most powerfully affected me was that here, for the first time, were intelligent Christians writing on origins who were dealing honestly and unashamedly with what the Bible taught, accepting it, and not pretending it was saying something other than what it so clearly does. It was soon very clear that the reason for my unbelief was not the ‘scientific evidence’ at all, but something deeper.

There is ample evidence to support the straightforward view of Genesis history, as believed by the Lord Jesus and the apostles, to make it clear that biblical faith is not some blind ‘leap in the dark’. I.e. there is ‘reason for the hope’ (1 Peter 3:15). This squishy dinosaur find is just one more confirmation.

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Further Reading

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References and notes

  1. Moore’s reference list was omitted to avoid confusion with my own reference numbering, but a superscripted ‘[ref]’ is shown wherever a Moore reference originally appeared in the text. Return to text.
  2. Sid Perkins, Old Softy: Tyrannosaurus fossil yields flexible tissue, Science News167(13):195, 26 March 2005. Return to text.
  3. Sid Perkins, Old Softy: Tyrannosaurus fossil yields flexible tissue, Science News167(13):195, 26 March 2005. Return to text.
  4. Amos, J., Earliest salamanders discovered, BBC News, 31 March 2003. Return to text.
  5. Remember this is not human tissue; our red blood cells lose their nucleus. Return to text.
  6. Bryan Sykes, Nature, Vol. 352, 1 August 1991, p. 381. Return to text.
  7. This is affirmed by the quote attributed to her in Science261:260, 9 July 1994: ‘It was exactly like looking at a slice of modern bone.  But, of course, I couldn’t believe it.  I said to the lab technician: “The bones, after all, are 65 million years old.  How could blood cells survive that long?”’ Return to text.

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