David Attenborough’s Dawn of the Mammals
(Episode 2 of his Rise of Animals)
Published: 2 March 2014 (GMT+10)
In this Episode 2 of the TV series, Rise of Animals,1 Sir David Attenborough begins by telling viewers: “I am going to track the rise of a whole new branch of vertebrate life … a group that also contains us. This is the story of the mammals.” So we will begin with a few hints to readers on what to look for in this (and for that matter—in all of Sir David’s) evolutionary stories.
How to tell an evolutionary story
In order to show the alleged progress of evolution over millions of years, Attenborough’s tactic is to show fossils of animals with alleged different ‘beneficial’ characteristics in a descending order of alleged ‘long’ ages. These are not the various fossils’ real ages, but are the ages that evolutionists have allotted to the various strata in which the fossils have been found. And how is the age of any particular stratum determined ultimately? Answer: By the fossil(s) which it contains. This is circular reasoning, and such ‘illogic’ would have no validity as ‘evidence’ or be tolerated in any other scientific discipline. It is unique to the theory of evolution. Make no mistake: radiometric dating does not break this circle—there are many examples of radiometric ‘dates’ being trumped by the fossil ‘dates’, as shown in How dating methods work.
In fact, Attenborough gives no firm evidence in support of any evolutionary date he claims for any of the fossils. But this doesn’t stop him arranging them in descending date-of-finding order throughout this program, and on which his evolutionary storyline depends.
Readers will be aware that one way in which magicians achieve their effects is to divert their audience’s attention away from what they are actually doing. Attenborough uses this tactic also, only he diverts viewers’ attention away from what he is not doing. What he is not doing is providing evidence for the deductions he makes from the fossils he shows us. He further resorts to ‘spin’ when he describes any good feature that he deduces from the fossils as ‘an evolutionary advance’ or as ‘progress’.
Viewers are shown a tiny 2-cm long (i.e. thimble-size) fossil of the head of an animal called Hadrocodium, found in Yunnan, China. Attenborough identifies it as being the head of a mammal rather than that of a reptile because it has a tooth that “has the shape of a little insect-eating mammal’s tooth”. We accept that mammal teeth are different from reptile teeth, however we are told (without other evidence): “The Hadrocodium fossil dates to 198 million years ago.”
And Attenborough makes the extraordinary claims: “this is one of the earliest mammal fossils we know of. And to that extent, it’s the ancestor of all mammals alive today, including ourselves.” And: “This astonishing journey was built on a series of key evolutionary advances that began in very early forms like Hadrocodium.”
Only the skull of Hadrocodium exists, but Attenborough assures us: “We can work out from modern mammals what the rest of its skeleton was like.” Viewers then see a computer generated image of a tiny skeleton exploring Attenborough’s fingers. But then, evolutionists ‘worked out’ the post-cranial skeleton of Pakicetus to fit their belief that it was a transitional form in their story that land mammals evolved into whales, but they were totally wrong—see Not at all like a whale.
Warm blood and hairy bodies
Attenborough moves on to discuss how the first mammals “found a niche for themselves … at night, when the reptiles are not active.” He appears to have overlooked the fact that snakes hunt mostly at night;2 many of them can sense the infrared radiation from warm bodies. Also, one of the prey of brown snakes is gecko lizards, another reptile that is active at night.3 Alligators primarily hunt at dusk or during the night,4 and crocodiles are usually caught in traps they enter at night.5
Nevertheless, we are told: “The mammals, very early in their history … became warm-blooded, and they achieved this by driving their metabolism at a much higher rate.” This required more food, and we are told: “So, in order to keep their fuel bills down … they coated their bodies with fur [insulation].” And then: “With warm blood and a coating of hair, Hadrocodium was free to hunt for insects in the cool of the night.”
Well now, despite the reptile discrepancies, that’s an intriguing story, but how did reptiles increase their metabolism rate in order to turn into mammals? And how did reptiles acquire the genetic information necessary to produce fur? And how did those reptiles that were still part-reptiles and part-mammals get enough to eat before they were warm-blooded enough and hairy enough to be able to hunt at night?
Smell, hearing, and touch
Moving on, Attenborough tells us that by using a micro CT scanner on the cavity of Hadrocodium’s skull that once held the brain, Professor Zhe-Xi Luo, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Chicago, “is able to identify an area that is clearly much larger than its equivalent in a reptile.” And Dr Luo goes on to say that from the very large olfactory bulbs: “This mammal must have had very refined sensory detection of all kinds of smell”. Good.
Attenborough then tells us the scans have also revealed: “a radical advance in a second sense … hearing”, and “a spectacular advance in a third key sense … touch”. He explains the latter as being analogous to the use of hairs by modern mammals such as rats. However, we would say that all of God’s creatures received at their creation the very best senses of smell, hearing, and touch, in the measure that God supplied to each of the various kinds. But Attenborough’s ‘spin’ words of ‘radical advance’ and ‘spectacular advance’ may influence some unwary viewers into thinking they have seen evidence for an evolutionary progression—without any evidence having been presented.
Further, in relation to the hearing of Hadrocodium, Dr Luo says: “The surface on the inside of [this fossil’s] jaw is perfectly flat. In the primitive, pre-mammalian forms, there are big grooves.” Attenborough then takes over and tells viewers: “Grooves like these indicate the presence of two key bones that are attached to the jaw of a reptile … a third bone … transmits soundwaves in its ear. In a mammal there has been a truly amazing evolutionary development. [Did you spot the ‘spin’?] The two jawbones have shifted to form, with the third, the middle ear. … It’s the system we have inherited inside our ears.” Dr Luo: “So, here, in Hadrocodium, we get the earliest indication that the three ear bones so important for our hearing have already originated with this fossil.” This is evidenced in the TV program by a computer generated image of the three bones migrating.
While Attenborough is in explanatory mode, perhaps he would tell us how this tiny creature acquired the genetic information necessary to cause the bones in its ancestor’s jaw to migrate to the side of its head and link up with a third one there, likewise the genetic information necessary for its brain to have a high sense of smell, and also the genetic information necessary to wire up its hairs with the nerve receptors at their base that sends a message to the brain whenever they are touched—as Attenborough explains happens with modern rats.
Actually Hadrocodium’s mammal-like middle ears and large brain cavity were a surprise to evolutionists like Dr Luo, because they had believed that such ‘advanced’ mammalian characters had not evolved until 45 million years later.6
Egg-laying mammals “200 million years ago”
Attenborough says ‘Nourishing the young’ is the “next crucial step in our evolutionary story”, and he says we can look for clues in the bodies of two highly unusual creatures that live in Australia, namely the platypus and the echidna. These are the only two mammals that produce their young by laying eggs. Attenborough uses this unique characteristic supposedly to show these “two survivors of a group of mammals called the ‘monotremes’7 split from all other mammals around 200 million years ago”. He says: “The early mammals must have laid eggs in the same way, and they inherited this trait from their reptile ancestors.” However, he offers no evidence in support of either of these two claims.
Instead, he switches viewers’ attention away from this lack of evidence for these two assertions, and on to the fact that baby reptiles emerge from their eggs “sufficiently well developed to go looking for their own food”, whereas platypus and echidna young hatch in a “far less-developed state” and then need milk. “This … oozes from the bellies of female platypus and echidna rather like sweat, and provides their young with everything they need to grow.”
So far so good, except that he goes on to call this a “hugely significant step”. He says: “Reptiles have at least three genes that together manufacture their large yolk.” Then, Dr Henrik Kaessmann, of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, “found only one egg yolk gene in the platypus genome that really was functional and was producing the egg yolk protein”. This is called “a dramatic change taking place in the early mammals.”
It is no such thing, and has no evolutionary significance, as Attenborough is claiming. The fact that platypus eggs have less complicated yolk means the platypus needs fewer genes to produce it. Additional genes are not needed because this characteristic is functional, not evolutionary. However, this loss of yolk complexity would be fatal without the additional complexity of lactation to nourish the young. By the same token, there would be no advantage in lactation if the yolk were as complex as that of reptiles.
The platypus and the echidna did not “split from all other mammals around 200 million years ago”, but were created fully functional by God on Day 6 of Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago.
Live birth: marsupials and placental mammals “160 million years ago”
Attenborough claims these appeared “around 160 million years ago”, but does not elaborate the reasons for this date. Marsupials are animals that give birth to live young at an early stage of development and then carry them in a pouch where they drink their mother’s milk from one or more teats. Viewers are shown a health check being done on a modern baby wallaby by Dr David Taggart of the University of Adelaide, and then we are told that the way marsupials cared for their young “had one obvious drawback. Outside their mother’s body, the newborn young were vulnerable to accident and exposed to disease.”
To set the record straight: There are today about 99 species of American marsupials, and 235 species of Australian marsupials, the best known of which are kangaroos and wallabies. The fact that these flourish so vigorously in the Australian wild totally belies the claim that the way they (or their ancestors) cared for their young has any obvious drawbacks.
Mammals with a placenta
What Attenborough calls “an even more radical solution” [to the alleged problem of the risk of accident and disease associated with the live birth of marsupials] was “a remarkable organ that evolved to make it possible to feed a developing baby before birth. The placenta.” And this he describes with surely the ultimate oxymoron: “this miracle of evolutionary engineering”.
Attenborough’s earliest fossil example of a placental mammal is one called Juramaia, which means ‘Jurassic mother’, because, he tells us: “It’s Jurassic—160 million years old.” This age would be a surprise to many people, because for well over a century after Darwin, the evolution story posited that placental mammals did not appear until after the demise of the dinosaurs. As such, it shows the unending flexibility of the evolutionary scenario—whatever is ‘true’ today may be ‘untrue’ tomorrow, but that doesn’t proscribe the propagandized ‘fact of evolution’.
Viewers are shown the placenta of an elephant and told how it supplies all the nutrients to the baby, takes all the waste material away, and operates as a life-saving barrier which protects the baby against the maternal immune system. (Actually, there are other design features that protect any placental mammal’s baby against the mother’s immune system, which would otherwise treat the baby as a foreign body. This incidentally refutes the abortion-lover’s argument that a woman has the right to do what she likes with her own body; her human baby clearly has a genetically different body.8) However, it also means that the placenta needs to be 100% operative or else the baby will be subject to the deadly combination of a shortage of nutrients, the non-removal of some of its own waste products, and all imperfections in its mother’s immune system. So how did any baby animals survive while the placenta was gradually developing by evolutionary increments? Surely natural selection would remove any ‘unfit’ placental systems along the evolutionary pathway; babies can’t be only a little bit dead!
To set the record straight: Placental mammals are neither superior to nor inferior to marsupials because they nourish their young within their bodies rather than outside their bodies. And reptiles are neither superior to nor inferior to mammals because they give birth to more fully developed young than mammals do. God created placental mammals (all having perfectly operating placentas) with the body plan they have, He created marsupials with the body plan they have, and He created reptiles with the body plan they have. One set of these creatures has not changed into another, and there has been no ‘progress’ or ‘evolutionary advance’ from any one to any other. Everything works perfectly for its purpose, and has always done so. This is because they are all the miraculous creations of the Master Designer. Not the products of evolution, and least of all the result of any ‘miracle of evolutionary engineering’.
Furthermore, God created the first land reptiles, the first marsupials, and the first land placental mammals, all on Day 6 of Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago. Not 200 million years ago in the case of the platypus and the echidna, and not 160 million years ago in the case of marsupials, and placentals like Juramaia.
Demise of the dinosaurs
Attenborough tells viewers: “We’re still not exactly sure why the dinosaurs disappeared, but certainly, 65 million years ago, they disappear from the fossil record.”
Not so! Over the last two decades dinosaur bones have been found that contain blood elements, proteins, DNA, and cells that show the much-touted 65-million-year-age for dinosaurs cannot be correct. This is because these blood components could not possibly have lasted for that long. For example,
- in 1993, blood cells were first found in dinosaur bone;9,10
- in 1997, hemoglobin, as well as recognizable blood cells were found;11,12,13
- in 2003, evidence of the protein osteocalcin;14
- in 2005, flexible ligaments and blood vessels;15,16,17
- in 2007, collagen in T. rex bones;18,19
- in 2009, the fragile proteins elastin and laminin, and further confirmation of collagen;20,21
- in 2012, bone cells, the proteins actin, and DNA;22,23 and
- in 2012, radiocarbon was reported.24,25
The fossils at Messel Pit
The scene shifts to a UNESCO World Heritage fossil site known as Messel Pit, in Germany. It truly is “one of the most remarkable fossil excavation sites in the world” with creatures “preserved in extraordinary detail”, and the TV program shows fossils of reptiles, birds, and mammals including a rodent, a horse, and a bat so well preserved that its skin is still intact, as well as an echo-locating ear. The Free Dictionary notes that there are 45 mammal species, 43 bird species, 31 reptile species, over 10,000 fossil fishes of 8 species, and thousands of aquatic and terrestrial insects. There are also nine ‘mating turtle’ fossils—evidence for very fast burial.26
Evolutionists have a huge problem accounting for such a finely preserved array, especially when they date them to 47 million years ago—necessary to maintain the evolutionary story that they evolved after the demise of the dinosaurs. Attenborough repeats the evolutionary postulation that the area was once a lake in a flooded volcanic crater, through which “it is thought that lethal carbon dioxide gas released from its depths periodically bubbled to the surface, killing the creatures that drank at its shore or flew over its waters. Their bodies drifted down to the bottom to be entombed in the muddy sediment.” However, this hypothesis does not accommodate the fact that there is a shortage of water-dependent animals such as amphibians and mosquitoes.
The sudden release of dissolved CO2 is called a limnic eruption, and it is so rare that it has been observed only twice. But while this might conceivably explain sudden death, Attenborough’s slow-and-gradual burial scenario doesn’t explain such a diverse range of such beautifully preserved fossillized creatures, including the mating ones. Rather, it is more likely that the same event not only killed the creatures but also buried them quickly. The best attested event capable of doing this is the worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis 6–8 and affirmed by Jesus (Luke 17:26–27), that occurred about 4,500 years ago.
Viewers are told that due to “ten million years of gradual global warming … the land became covered in forests”.27 Somehow, (we are not told where the genetic information for any of this came from), new animals emerged with opposable thumbs that could climb trees and eat the fleshy fruit of trees, which “47 million years ago … had only recently been developed by plants.”
Attenborough tells us that the first mammals had good night vision but were colour blind. Then, with a monkey sitting next to him on his right, he says: “The common ancestor of this monkey, and of me … quickly evolved the ability to see colour, and therefore to know which was ripe and which was unripe fruit.” [The TV picture shows red and green berries on a tree.]
Next, we are favoured with an experiment, no less. Attenborough offers the monkey a choice between a large red food item in his right hand and a small green food item in his left hand. Not surprisingly, she takes the one nearest to her. A real scientific experiment would have equalized factors such as distance, size of items, etc. or to prove his point, have had the red item in the hand farthest away.
A discussion of megafauna follows. These were giant mammals, of which the most well-known still-extant example is the elephant. Attenborough attributes the extinction of most of these species to the onset of the Ice Age, which he dates as being “from around 2.5 million years ago”. Some evolutionists have postulated multiple ice ages, but actually they have difficulty in accounting for any ice age.
To develop an ice age, where ice accumulates on the land, it is not enough to cool the entire earth. Ice requires snow, which needs clouds, which in turn need evaporation. Cool oceans evaporate less, just the opposite of the requirements needed to dump ice-forming snow on the continents. Rather, the oceans need to be warm at mid-and high-latitudes so much water evaporates. Only the land masses need to be cold, especially in the summer. Cold continents result in this water precipitating as snow rather than as rain, and also prevent the snow from thawing during summer. The ice thus accumulates quickly. These were Earth’s very conditions following the global Flood of Noah’s Day. There would have been warm oceans at the end of the Flood due to the addition of hot subterranean water to the pre-Flood ocean, and from heat energy released through volcanic activity. At the same time, large amounts of volcanic dust and aerosols from residual volcanic eruptions at the end of and after the Flood would have reflected solar radiation back into space. This would cause low temperatures over land, including the summer months. Continued post-Flood volcanism would have replenished this situation for hundreds of years following the Flood.28 Result: the Ice Age, and the conditions to which most of the megafauna were vulnerable.
Humans are introduced by Attenborough as “a newly evolved super-predator” whose appearance in each continent “coincided more or less with the disappearance of the megafauna”. Just to set the record straight: Humans are not evolved primates, and our pelvis and brain case are not “two new evolutionary features”, as Attenborough pronounces. Rather, we are unique creations, whom God has made in His own image and likeness. The first of these were Adam and Eve, whom God created on Day 6 of Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago (Genesis 1:26, James 3:9). Since then people have migrated all over the world, following the dispersal at Babel, as recorded in Genesis 11:1–9.
It is true that man is ‘a super-predator’, who kills not only animals in the wild for sport, but also his fellow human beings for profit, or revenge, or aggrandizement (both personal and national), or even for no reason at all (like the new ‘sport’ in Australia of ‘one-punch’ surprise-hitting strangers on the street, the often lethal ‘knockout game’).29 The first murder in recorded history was the killing of Abel by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:3–8). This was after the Fall of Adam and Eve, which brought sin into our human nature (Genesis chapter 3).
However, we humans have not evolved from Hadrocodium, or anything else, via a succession of beneficial body-organ changes due to mutations, as Attenborough teaches here, and similarly in his many other evolutionary-indoctrinating TV programs. We were created with an immortal soul by the One who is also our Lawgiver and our Judge. God has appointed a day when He will judge the world in righteousness. The Judge is the Lord Jesus Christ, and God tells us in His Word, the Bible, that we can be certain of this by the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31)—one of the best attested facts of history. So anyone who thinks that by just staying out of view of CCTV surveillance cameras he can go around king-hitting and killing random victims with impunity would be wise to realize … God too is watching!30
The good news is that the Creator, who is also our Lawgiver, and our Judge, is Saviour as well. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the penalty for our sin against God, and thereby established the way that God can justly forgive the sin of all who come to Him in repentance and faith, because for all who do this their sin-penalty has already been paid in full. Have you, dear reader, done this—i.e. bowed before God your Creator in repentance and faith, confessing your need of forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so entered into a right relationship with Him? If not, why not do it now!31
References and notes
- Released in the UK in September 2013, and in Australia in February 2014 on ABC1-TV. For our answers to Episode 1 of this series, see David Attenborough: From the Seas to the Skies. Return to text.
- Meyer, J., Basic Facts about Snakes, defenders.org/snakes/basic-facts, accessed 27 February 2014. Return to text.
- Snakes: Frequently asked questions, Queensland [Australia] Government, Dep’t of Environment and Heritage Protection, ehp.qld.gov.au, 24 October 2013. Return to text.
- Swinman, E. et al., Living with Alligators: A Florida Reality, University of Florida, IFAS Extension, edis.ifas.ufl.edu/, February 2014. Return to text.
- Trapping crocodiles, crocodilehunter.com.au, accessed 27 February 2014. Return to text.
- Luo Zhe-Xi et al., A New Mammaliaform from the Early Jurassic and Evolution of Mammalian Characteristics, Science 292(5521):1535–1540, 25 May 2001 | doi:10.1126/science.1058476. Return to text.
- ‘Monotreme’ means ‘single opening’ in Greek, and comes from the fact that their waste product disposal and reproductive systems all open into a single duct. Return to text.
- Williams, A., Abortion argument unravels: How the unborn child defends itself against its mother, confirming that he/she is a separate human being from the start, Creation 27(4):16–19, 2005; creation.com/abortion-argument-unravels. Return to text.
- Morell, V., Dino DNA: The hunt and the hype, Science 261(5118):160–162, 1993. Return to text.
- Dinosaur bone blood cells found, Creation 16(1):9, 1993; creation.com/t-rex-blood. Return to text.
- Schweitzer, M., and 8 others, Heme compounds in dinosaur trabecular bone, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 94:6291–6296, 1997. Return to text.
- M. Schweitzer, M. and Staedter, I., The Real Jurassic Park, Earth, June 1997, pp. 55–57. Return to text.
- See also: Wieland, C., Sensational dinosaur blood report! Creation 19(4):42–43, 1997; creation.com/dino-blood. Return to text.
- Specifically, bones of an Iguanodon ‘dating’ to 120 million years of age contained enough of the protein osteocalcin to produce an immune reaction. Embery, G., and 5 others, Identification of proteinaceous material in the bone of the dinosaur Iguanodon, Connective Tissue Research 44 Suppl 1:41–46, 2003. Return to text.
- Schweitzer, M. and 3 others, Soft-tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex, Science 307(5717):1952–1955, 2005. Return to text.
- Stokstad, E., Tyrannosaurus rex soft tissue raises tantalizing prospects, Science 307(5717):1852, 2005. Return to text.
- See also: Wieland, C., Dinosaur soft-tissue find—a stunning rebuttal of ‘millions of years’, creation.com/stretchy, 25 March 2005. Return to text.
- Schweitzer, M. and 6 others, Analyses of soft tissue from Tyrannosaurus rex suggest the presence of protein, Science 316(5822):277–280, 2007. Return to text.
- See also: Doyle, S., Squishosaur scepticism squashed—Tests confirm proteins found in T. rex bones, creation.com/collagen, 20 April 2007. Return to text.
- Schweitzer, M. and 15 others, Biomolecular characterization and protein sequences of the Campanian hadrosaur B. canadensis, Science 324(5927):626–631, 2009. Return to text.
- Also see: Wieland, C., Dinosaur soft tissue and protein—even more confirmation! creation.com/schweit2, 6 May 2009. Return to text.
- Key extract from the paper’s summary: “These data are the first to support preservation of multiple proteins [viz. actin, tubulin, PHEX, histone H4] and to present multiple lines of evidence for material consistent with DNA in dinosaurs.” Schweitzer, M. and 3 others, Molecular analyses of dinosaur osteocytes support the presence of endogenous molecules, Bone 52(1):414–423, 2013. Return to text.
- See also: Sarfati, J., DNA and bone cells found in dinosaur bone, J. Creation 27(1):10–12, 2013; creation.com/dino-dna, 11 December 2012. Return to text.
- Press release “Dinosaur bones’ Carbon-14 dated to less than 40,000 years—Censored international conference report” and additional information, newgeology.us/presentation48.html, accessed 27 December 2012. Return to text.
- See also: Wieland, C., Radiocarbon in dino bones—International conference result censored, creation.com/c14-dinos, 22 January 2013. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D. Turtles fossilized while mating.
- Remarkably, Attenborough, normally a global warming alarmist, didn’t blame this historical global warming on man’s over-consumption of fossil fuels. Compare Grigg, R., The ‘Great Global Warming Swindle’ Debate, creation.com/warming-swindle, 1 August 2007. Return to text.
- For further discussion, see Chapter 16: What about the Ice Ages? The Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Publishers, Fourth edition 2012, Return to text.
- See Charges to be upgraded following death of alleged one-punch assault victim, The Daily Telegraph, Australia, Feb. 12, 2014. Return to text.
- Statham D., Is God watching? Creation 35(2):54–55, 2013. Return to text.
- Note God’s word in Isaiah 45:23, “By Myself I have sworn; from My mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” Cf. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9–11. Return to text.