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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Even Leaf Fossils Contain Original Remains After Sitting for Supposedly 50 Million Years!

Posted by jlwile on April 16, 2014

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old.  Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material.  (click for credit)

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old. Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material. (click for credit)

One of the many recent scientific discoveries that is best understood in a young-earth creationist framework is the preservation of original tissue in fossils thought to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, and here, for example). So far, all of the examples of such tissue come from animals, but recently, a study was published in the journal Metallomics that indicates at least some plant fossils also have remarkably well-preserved original remains in them!

The research team, which includes palaeontologists, physicists, and geochemists, used the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and the UK’s Diamond Light Source to examine fossil leaves which are believed to be 50 million years old. These two facilities use fast-moving electrons to produce radiation that is very intense and very high energy. This radiation can be used to study various aspects of an object that are not possible to study using visible light. In particular, the research team used the radiation from the facilities to examine the distribution of chemicals found in the leaf fossils.

Why did they want to do this? Well, essentially the same team of scientists used a series of tests (including ones conducted at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource) on a reptile fossil that was also supposed to be 50 million years old. They found the chemicals you would expect to find in reptile tissue, and they found them in exactly the places you would expect to find them in living reptiles.1 As a result, they concluded that there was a remarkable level of chemical preservation in a reptile fossil that is supposed to be 50 million years old. They wanted to see if the same thing existed in plant fossils.

They found that it did!

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Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate

Posted by jlwile on February 5, 2014

Bill Nye (left) and Ken Ham (right) during the debate.

Bill Nye (left) and Ken Ham (right) during the debate.

The much-anticipated debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham happened last night. I had some pretty high hopes for the debate, and some of them were realized. However, most of them were not. If you happened to miss the debate, it is still available as a video, so please feel free to watch it. As I understand it, the video will only be there for a limited time, however, so if you want to watch it, you should probably do so soon.

Let me start by telling you the things I liked about the debate. First, it went off without a technical glitch. With so many people watching it via live streaming, there were all sorts of problems that could have happened. However, I was able to watch clear video with crisp audio the entire time. It was great to think that so many people could enjoy the debate in that format. I also love the fact that it is still available as a video so even more people can watch it!

Second, both debaters were cordial, and they concentrated on making their cases. Neither one of them resorted to name-calling, which is all too common in such situations. Nye repeatedly said that Ham’s views were “extraordinary,” and he also repeatedly referred to science as it happens “outside” the Creation Museum. However, at no time did he turn his attacks towards his opponent. That was very good.

Third, both debaters brought up some good points. You will see what I mean later on in this post.

Fourth, there were two chances for the debaters to rebut one another, and then there were (pre-written) questions from the audience. As a result, there were opportunities for the debaters to interact with one another. This is where I come to my main problem with the debate. While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another. That’s unfortunate, because a real discussion between the two debaters would have been more illuminating than what happened in the debate. Nevertheless, there were some good (and bad) moments for both sides in the debate, so let me use this post to point out what I thought each debater did well and what I thought each debater did poorly.

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Will This Bring Back the Moon Dust Argument?

Posted by jlwile on January 22, 2014

This NASA photo shows the thin layer of dust on the moon.  (public domain image)

This NASA photo shows the thin layer of dust on the moon. (public domain image)

Answers in Genesis keeps a list of creationist arguments that should never be used. It is a good list, and I am glad that Answers in Genesis maintains it. It would be nice if an evolutionary source did the same thing. I don’t know how many times I have to refute nonsense like vestigial tails, lanugo hair, vestigial hair, the vestigial appendix, junk DNA, and all manner of evolutionary arguments that are simply not consistent with the data we currently know.

In any event, the first item on the list of creationist arguments that should never be used is the Moon Dust Argument. In brief, the argument used an estimate of how quickly dust accumulates on the moon to calculate how much dust the astronauts should have found when they landed there. It claims that if the moon were really billions of years old, there should be more than 100 feet of dust on its surface. Astronauts found only a thin layer of dust when they landed, so the moon is not billions of years old.

The problem with that argument rests on the estimate for how quickly dust accumulates on the moon. It was based on how quickly dust accumulates on earth. Obviously, the earth is quite different from the moon, so it’s not clear how good such an estimate is. In addition, other estimates have been made using other methods, and those estimates mostly disagree with one another. Since there seemed to be no good way of estimating how quickly dust accumulates on the moon, responsible creationists stopped using the argument, and that’s how it ended up on the Answers in Genesis list of arguments that should never be used.

Well, some interesting experiments have been done to provide a more direct measurement of dust accumulation on the moon, and the results are surprising, at least to those who are committed to an old earth.

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An Explanation that is Not Exactly Iron-Clad

Posted by jlwile on December 2, 2013

Tyrannosaurs like this one were thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago, but soft tissue has been found in one Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. Soft tissue has also been found in several other fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old. (click for credit)

In 2005, Dr. Mary Schweitzer shocked the scientific world by reporting soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is supposed to be 68 million years old.1 While many scientists who are more interested in their preconceptions than they are in the data tried to dismiss her findings, several other examples of soft tissue in fossils that are thought to be millions of years old have been found (see here, here, here, here, and here). In the end, it has become nearly impossible for a thoughtful scientist to conclude anything other than the fact that there is soft tissue present in some fossils which are thought to be millions of years old.

Now, for someone who truly believes in an ancient earth, it’s very hard to explain how soft tissue can remain in a fossil that has been in the ground for millions of years. Even for a young-earth creationist like myself, it is still a difficult thing to understand. Soft tissue tends to decay in a matter of days or weeks. From a chemical point of view, it is hard to understand how it can stay soft for even a few years, much less hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years. Fortunately, Dr. Schweitzer has continued her studies on soft tissue in dinosaur fossils, and she has found at least one chemical mechanism by which soft tissue can be preserved for significantly longer than anyone expected.2

She and her colleagues began by examining soft tissue from her T. rex fossil as well as a Brachylophosaurus canadensis fossil. While the T. rex fossil is supposed to be about 68 million years old, the B. canadensis is supposed to be about 76 million years old. Nevertheless, under a transmission electron microscope, both are seen to harbor soft vessels that are probably blood vessels. Interestingly enough, however, the vessels have tiny particles of iron embedded in them.

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“Oil” in Weeks, Not Millions of Years

Posted by jlwile on October 2, 2013

This is a magnified image of a fungus from the same genus as the one discussed in the article.
(Public domain image)

In 2008, plant pathologist Dr. Gary A. Strobel and his colleagues published a paper about an odd fungus (Gliocladium roseum) they found in a Patagonian rainforest. It is endophytic, which means it lives within a plant and takes nutrients from the plant, but it is not a parasite. Other endophytic fungi have been shown to produce all sorts of benefits to plants, including giving them much-needed chemicals and allowing them to communicate with one another, so this fungus probably gives some benefit to the plants in which it grows. However, that wasn’t the focus of Dr. Strobel’s paper. Instead, he and his colleagues noted that this fungus actually produced a wide variety of chemicals, including those found in diesel fuel! As the authors stated:1

The hydrocarbon profile of G. roseum contains a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel and so the volatiles of this fungus have been dubbed ‘myco-diesel’.

The prefix “myco” means “fungus,” so the authors basically were calling some of the chemicals that G. roseum produces “fungus diesel.”

Well, it seems that Dr. Strobel and his colleagues have been busy trying to coax G. roseum to make more “fungus diesel,” and they have produced some rather dramatic results. They built a tabletop device they call “The Paleobiosphere”2, which is supposed to mimic the conditions under which oil might form. It consists of two layers of shale, a type of rock that often contains oil. Sandwiched in between those two layers is a mixture of the fungus as well as leaves from maple, aspen, and sycamore trees. The container is flooded with water periodically, and in a mere three weeks, the shale layers contain a rich mixture of chemicals that is very similar to the oil found in the shales of Montana!

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The Great Debate, Take 2

Posted by jlwile on September 26, 2013

The skulls of some primates. Based on genetics, most evolutionists believe the chimpanzee is our closest living relative, but physical characteristics indicate the orangutan is. (click for credit)

Last night I once again debated Dr. Robert A. Martin, a vertebrate paleontologist who is professor emeritus at Murray State University. The previous debate was on the broad subject of creation versus evolution. This time, the organizers of the event wanted us to narrow our discussion, so we chose to talk about dinosaurs and people. Before I discuss the debate, I want to thank Dr. Martin for participating in it. I personally think the best way to understand an issue is to hear from multiple sides, so I think debates can be extremely helpful to those interested in controversial topics. However, it is difficult to get evolutionists to participate in debates about the creation/evolution controversy. I thank Dr. Martin for being committed to education strongly enough to be an exception to that general rule!

Since Dr. Martin had the weaker position scientifically, I allowed him to choose whether to present his case first or second. He chose to go second, so I was up first. The initial activities (songs, introductions, and remarks from the organizers) made it clear that for some reason, the audience this year was overwhelmingly creationist. The previous year, creationists were in the majority, but there were many evolutionists present. That didn’t seem to be the case this year, so I started by thanking Dr. Martin for being willing to act as a lion in a den of Daniels.

In making my case, I concentrated on the evidence that indicates dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old. I stressed the soft tissue that is being found in fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). I also discussed the fact that several dinosaur bones from different locations around the world all have enough carbon-14 in them to indicate that their maximum age is less than 40,000 years old. I also discussed how living organisms like the coelacanth, Wollemi pine, and tuatara falsify the geological-column thinking that leads most scientists to conclude that humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time.

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Accelerated Radioactive Decay

Posted by jlwile on September 18, 2013

One mode of radioactive decay is alpha decay, where an unstable nucleus spits out two protons and two neutrons bound together as a helium nucleus, which is also called an alpha particle.
(public domain image)

When I first heard about the idea that radioactive decay might vary from the smooth, constant-half-life behavior that is typically observed, I was more than a little skeptical. As a nuclear chemist, I am well aware of how much energy it takes to affect nuclear processes. Since those energies are not generally attainable except with the use of a particle accelerator, a magnetic containment system, or some other high-powered device, it seemed absurd to think that variable radioactive decay was anything other than the mad wish of those who didn’t like the conclusions of radiometric dating. However, over the years, the data have convinced me otherwise. I written a couple of posts about variable radioactive decay (see here and here), and it seems clear to me that it does happen, at least under some circumstances.

Recently, I came across another study on variable radioactive decay. It is actually a follow-up to a previous study,1, and it explores the alpha decay of uranium-232. As shown in the drawing above, alpha decay is one specific type of radioactive decay in which an unstable nucleus attempts to reach stability by spitting out two protons and two neutrons. Those four particles are bound together to form the nucleus of a helium atom, which for historical reasons is also called an alpha particle. It turns out that when uranium-232 does this, the resulting nucleus still isn’t stable, so a long series of further alpha decays occur, eventually producing lead-208, which is stable.

The authors of the study I am writing about weren’t interested in the subsequent decays. They looked specifically at the alpha decay of uranium-232. Under normal circumstances, this decay has a half-life of 69 years.* This means if I start with 200 uranium-232 atoms, after 69 years, only half of them (100) will remain. The other half will have decayed away. If I wait another 69 years, only half of those (50) will remain. In another 69 years, half of those (25) will remain. In the end, this is typically how radioactive decay works: the number of radioactive atoms ends up decreasing by half over every half-life.

The results of the study seem to indicate that a tabletop device involving a laser and gold can end up decreasing the half-life of uranium-232 by as much as a factor of 435,494,880,000,000!2

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Hundreds, not Millions

Posted by jlwile on June 14, 2013

Hopewell Cape on the Bay of Fundy at low tide. (Copyright Kathleen J. Wile, all rights reserved)

If you are sick and tired of reading about the rocks at Hopewell Cape on the Bay of Fundy, I think this will be my last post about them. In my first post about my Canadian speaking trip, I showed a picture of them and briefly mentioned them. In the next post, I gave a relatively detailed account of the tides that have carved them.

In that second post, a commenter suggested that it must have taken the tides millions of years to carve the rocks into those interesting shapes. Another commenter, who is a geologist, did some digging and posted three references to geological studies of the rocks. The third one1 seemed very intriguing, so I decided to get the paper and read it for myself.

The study discussed several details regarding the rocks (which they call “stacks” and “stack-arches”), including the fact that they were most likely carved over hundreds of years, not millions.

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Another Fossil Surprise

Posted by jlwile on April 24, 2013

This Archaeopteryx fossil, known as the "Thermopolis specimen," was analyzed chemically. The results were surprising to those who think it is millions of years old (click for credit)

Archaeopteryx is an extinct bird that we know only from the fossils it left behind. There are eleven discovered fossils in existence, and the one that is generally considered the most well-preserved is called the “Thermopolis specimen.” It was found somewhere in the Solnhofen region of Germany and was part of a private collection until it was acquired by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming.1 The Solnhofen Limestone formation, where it was probably preserved, is thought to be 150 million years old.2 Because the specimen is so well-preserved, geochemist Roy Wogelius and his colleagues wanted to analyze the specimen chemically, to see if there were any chemical remnants of the actual bird still in the fossil.

How do you chemically analyze a fossil without destroying it? One way is to use the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). This instrument produces high-intensity X-rays which are used to illuminate the material being studied. The elements in the material absorb these X-rays, becoming “excited” with the extra energy. In order to “de-excite,” they release that energy with X-rays of their own. The released X-rays are different for each element, so when you analyze the X-rays being emitted by the illuminated fossil, you can determine what elements exist in the fossil, along with their concentrations.

So Roy Wogelius and his colleagues teamed up with some physicists at Stanford University to analyze this incredibly well-preserved Archaeopteryx fossil. The results were surprising, at least to those who think the fossil is 150 million years old.

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Soft Bone Tissue in a Triceratops Fossil

Posted by jlwile on March 27, 2013

A triceratops skull like the one from which the horn in the study came. (click for credit)

These are exciting times to be a creationist! Ever since Dr. Mary Schweitzer first demonstrated the existence of soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is supposed to be 65 million years old,1 soft tissue is turning up in all sorts of supposedly ancient fossils (see here, here, here, and here for more information). The latest example comes from the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, which is supposed to be about 65 million years old, so the fossil is assumed to be that old as well.

The fossil in question is a horn from a Triceratops horridus specimen. After it was collected, it broke in several places, indicating that the fossil had been fractured. Since the fossil was broken, the authors of the study decided to get rid of the “hard parts” of the fossil to see if there was anything soft inside. To do this, they soaked the horn in a weak acid for a month.

As the acid ate away at the minerals that formed the horn, the authors found strips of light brown, soft tissue remaining. Now this soft stuff could be from all manner of things, so the authors decided to do a microscopic study of the tissue, and what they found was was exactly what you would expect to see if you examined the tissue from the bone of a recently deceased animal!2

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