Sunday, 5 April 2015

How Young Earth Creationists Distorted Mary Schweitzer's "Dinosaur Soft Tissue" Discovery

It's been over ten years since palaeontologist Mary Schweitzer's discovery that under certain conditions, soft tissue could be preserved in fossilised dinosaur. [1] Given that the last non-avian dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago, this amazing discovery means that soft tissue preservation over tens of millions of years, under the right circumstances, is possible. 

Unsurprisingly, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and her findings were challenged by other scientists [2] who asserted that the soft tissue was more likely to be bacterial biofilms rather than preserved dinosaur tissue. However, that claim itself was challenged by other authors who stated that "biomolecular studies on soft-tissue extracts from fossil vertebrates have shown that the proposed alternative interpretation of primary soft-tissue as microbial biofilms is unlikely, biofilms may play a critical role in the preservation process." [3] Adding further weight to Schweitzer's original discovery was the fact that bone monoclonal antibodies bound to the dinosaur material. [4] Finally, Schweitzer advanced a mechanism for the preservation of soft tissue structures over millions of years of time in which iron and oxygen chemistry "contributes to preservation in deep time, perhaps by both free-radical-mediated fixation and anti-microbial activity". [5]

However, nowhere in reputable mainstream scientific discussion of the the question of dinosaur soft tissue preservation will you find any genuine scientists claiming that the existence of soft tissue proves that these fossils were buried thousands of years old, and therefore the Earth is young. The only people advancing this claim are the pseudoscientists from the YEC organisations such as CMI, whose fact-free tirades have lamentably been uncritically accepted by poorly informed YEC laypeople in our community who seem to prefer conspiracy theories and pseudoscience to scientific truth.

What is particularly damning is that the YECs in our community are effectively calling Schweitzer a liar by claiming that her discovery somehow proves a young Earth, given that Schweitzer has gone out of her way to refute these claims:
"One thing that does bother me, though, is that young earth creationists take my research and use it for their own message, and I think they are misleading people about it. Pastors and evangelists, who are in a position of leadership, are doubly responsible for checking facts and getting things right, but they have misquoted me and misrepresented the data. They’re looking at this research in terms of a false dichotomy [science versus faith] and that doesn’t do anybody any favours." (Emphasis mine) [6]
It is hard to get any more emphatic than that. Any YEC who continues to peddle the refuted  'dinosaur soft tissue proves a young Earth' claim given an awareness of the facts is quite simply guilty of deliberately peddling lies in order to service YEC, a wretched human dogma which perverts both Bible and science.

Certainly, the YEC conspiracy theorists need to recognise that they are peddling misinformation, and need to stop uncritically swallowing YEC lies, cease seeing the world through the feverish lens of a permanent conspiracy theory, and have the humility to acknowledge that those who are best placed to inform us on natural history are not YEC propagandists, but mainstream scientists such as Schweitzer.

Multiple B. canadensis red blood cells surrounded by a white, fibrous matrix.
Credit: Image courtesy of Mary H. Schweitzer

For those wanting a detailed explanation of where the YECs distort the data, the following are highly recommended:

Hurd G.S. "Dino-blood and the Young Earth"
Hurd G.S. "Dino Blood Redux"
Hurd G.S. "Ancient Molecules and Modern Myths"


1. Schweitzer, M.H.  "Biomolecule Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (1993) 13: 56A.

2. Kaye, T. G., Gaugler, G.,Sawlowicz, Z.  "Dinosaurian Soft Tissues Interpreted as Bacterial Biofilms". PLoS ONE (2008) 3 (7): e2808. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002808

3.  Peterson, J. E., Lenczewski, M.E., Reed, P. S., "Influence of Microbial Biofilms on the Preservation of Primary Soft Tissue in Fossil and Extant Archosaurs". PLoS ONE (2010) 5 (10): 13A. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013334.

4. Schweitzer M. H., Zheng W., Cleland T. P., Bern M., "Molecular analyses of dinosaur osteocytes support the presence of endogenous molecules". Bone (2012) 52: 414–23

5. Schweitzer, M. H., et al  "A role for iron and oxygen chemistry in preserving soft tissues, cells and molecules from deep time". Proc. R. Soc. B. (2014) 281: 20132741. 

6. Ruppel E "Not So Dry Bones: An interview with Mary Schweitzer" BioLogos Blog Jul 21 2014