What do scientists really know about early man and the creatures in his habitat? Some clues can be found by following science news in a historical fashion: that is, to look for reversals of previously-held opinions, surprises in fossils, and other evidences that scientists are not really making progress in their theories, despite the common perception of scientists as the sages of our age. Here are some recent articles involving fossils related to ice ages. Evolutionists believe there were many ice ages, covering billions of years. Some creationists believe there was only one fluctuating ice age that was relatively brief (centuries, not millions of years).
- Cartoon anticipates science, or vice versa: Many news sources had fun with the idea that Scrat, the unlucky sabre-toothed squirrel of the “Ice Age” animated features, has come to life in a fossil found in Patagonia (see New Scientist, Live Science, BBC News, PhysOrg and Nature Nov 3, pp. 51-52). Alleged to be 100 million years old (Cretaceous), little mouse-sized Cronopius surprised scientists with its long canines and narrow muzzle. This is only the second Cretaceous mammal known from South America. They don’t know what the sabre teeth were used for. As for the cartoon connection, the following quote makes it clear that the paleontologists did not expect such a bizarre creature: “I remember when I saw the movie I thought, ‘why have they done this ridiculous animal – there is no such thing?’” said discoverer Guillermo Rougier [U of Louisville] in the BBC article. “And then we find something that kind of looks like it. But it just goes to show – we know so little about the actual diversity of mammals that even some very wild guesses might come through; they might actually be present in the fossil record.” Christian de Muizon in Nature concurred; “Little is known about mammalian evolution in South America during the age of the dinosaurs,” he said, lamenting that “our knowledge is terribly incomplete.” Inconsistent, too: “This pattern of mammalian evolution in South America apparently differs from that of the northern continents,” he said. In the PhysOrg article, Rougier added, “these new fossils give us information on how transient and ever-evolving our world is.” Whether “terribly incomplete” information constitutes “knowledge” is a separate question.
- Mammoth slay or sleigh: A debate going on for decades is how the wooly mammoths and other ice-age fauna went extinct. Did early humans kill them all, or did they succumb to environmental changes? In Nature News, Ewen Callaway on Nov. 2 indicated that “Fossils, climate records and DNA reveal unpredictability of ice-age die-offs.” Humans are apparently off the hook for causing the extinctions (at least for now). According to Callaway, a “huge analysis of fossils, climate records and DNA” leads to the conclusion that different species died from different causes. Predictability is usually considered a value in science, but “The team found no way to predict the future extinction of a species, based on either an animal’s genetic diversity or the size of its range.”
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