T-Rex Soft Tissue and Young Earth Creationists

Anyone who’s followed the Young Earth Creationist movement and paleontology lately should know about the 2005 discovery of T-Rex blood vessels by Mary Schweitzer et al.  Young Earth Creationists have jumped on the find (here for example).  Creationists claim that the proteins preserved were far too fragile to have survived for “millions of years” and therefore must be only a few thousand years old.  However, this claim is flawed.
First off, there is the possibility that the Schweitzer soft tissue is the result of replacement (see here for more information on that possibility) of the material by other biological entities (ie bacteria). Other possibilities include that the proteins in question actually are preserved dinosaur remains (recent findings suggest this is a strong possibility).  It is worth noting here that we are looking at proteins, and not full strands of DNA.  Proteins are much more durable than actual DNA strands. Recently, work has been done which suggests that fossils may commonly preserve soft material when trapped in hard sandstone (which blocks oxygen deterioration).

The actual process of extracting the soft material from the bones can lead to a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the find.  The bone that Schweitzer worked with was soaked in acid for analytical purposes (this is a standard practice when working with rocks or fossils).  After being soaked in acid, the remaining “soft material” appeared pliable (see picture on pharyngula here).  However, being soft and pliable after being soaked in acid does not mean that the entire bone appears to be very young.  In fact, the bone looks just like any fossil.  The bone is on display at Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies, so I’ve been lucky enough to see it up close.  Here are some pictures of it:

T-Rex femur

bone that soft tissue was extracted from

close up of site of extraction

location in bone where soft tissue was extracted from

As you can see, the bone itself does not look like something that just died; in appearance, it is extremely similar to most T-Rex bones one could find.  While the presence of blood vessels and cells being preserved in this bone is a surprise, it is not detrimental to the scientific interpretation of the age of this fossil.  Sure, it’s weird from a paleontology perspective, but unlike “Creation Science”, which forces everything to fit within its preconceived Biblical framework, paleontologists adjusted their position.  They asked the tough questions, and came up with plausible explanations for the existence of this material.  Yet Creationists are quick to jump on the find as proof of a young Earth.  Judging from the fact that the geologic evidence in general supports a very old Earth, and some hypotheses about the preservation of proteins and such have been tested (and shown promise), the Creationists appear to not have as strong a case as one would initially think.  But for Young Earth Creationists, the mantra stays the same:

Don't stop believin'



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2 Comments on “T-Rex Soft Tissue and Young Earth Creationists”

  1. Uri Says:

    “Scientist’s Dino Findings Making Waves” (CBS 60 Minutes, November 15, 2009) The transcript provides this information:

    Schweitzer put some fragments of the bone in acid to dissolve away the outermost layer of mineral. But the acid worked too fast, and all the mineral dissolved away. Being a fossil, there should have been nothing left. But there was. It was elastic, like living tissue.

    She showed us video she took under the microscope. It looked like the soft tissue she would have expected to find if it had been modern bone. This was impossible. This bone was 68 million years old.

    Asked what she thought at the time, Schweitzer said she didn’t want to tell anyone for fear of being ridiculed… And yet in sample after sample, they were there – things that looked suspiciously like flexible, transparent blood vessels. She finally mustered the courage to tell Horner.

    “She said she dissolved the bone away and there were blood vessels. And, you know, I was like shocked,” Horner remembered. “How could that be?”

    The things Schweitzer was finding inside dinosaur bones – blood vessels, and even what seemed to be intact cells – pose a radical challenge to the existing rules of science: that organic material can’t possibly survive even one million years, let alone 68 million.

    But as Schweitzer showed [Lesley] Stahl, she has been able to replicate her findings. She dissolved away pieces of an even older dinosaur – a well-preserved 80-million-year-old duckbill – in acid, and again, as she showed Stahl, found what appear to be blood vessels.

  2. ostrov Says:

    Thank you,
    very interesting article

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