[Ed. note: In late 2005, a report in TJ provided an update on the scientific appraisal of some of the bones discussed in this article. See John H. Whitmore, ‘Unfossilized’ Alaskan dinosaur bones? TJ 19(3):66.]
While 90% of the letters/emails we receive at Answers in Genesis are positive, we sometimes get a negative comment or two. The email below—from “M.W.”—was so interesting (but full of wrong ideas) that we have reproduced it below, with editorial comment [labeled “AiG”] interspersed.
MW: “Ken Hamm talks a lot about dinosaurs on this website, but he doesn’t understand that dinosaur bones that we find are not made of bone.”
AiG: Actually, Ken Ham and others in AiG understand that most bones that we find in the fossil record are permineralized (that is probably a better term than “petrified,” because very seldom is all the original material totally replaced). Rather, the spaces are infiltrated with mineral solution, and the parts of the original tissue remaining are incorporated into the mineral.
We also understand that permineralization is not a necessary function of age: it depends on the right mineral solutions, the right concentrations, etc. percolating through the area. If this critic were familiar with our Creation magazine, he would have seen examples of rapid permineralization (e.g., a bowler hat), and similar things happening in short timespans. He would also have become aware that not all dinosaur bones are permineralized (“fossilized”). Our magazine also featured an article on a nonfossilized portion of a dinosaur bone claimed to be many millions of years old, which still showed red blood cells visible (the researchers were at the University of Montana) and tests for hemoglobin were positive, including serological tests on rodents. See this article, Dinosaur Soft Parts.
MW: “Bone decomposes into dust after only a few thousand years unless it becomes petrified.”
AiG: That is open to some question, depending on what you mean by “a few” (not a very precise term). A lot depends on the conditions, (e.g., dryness of the air, sterile conditions, freezing temperatures, etc.) Egyptian mummies, Inca mummies, even some unfossilized dinosaur bones in Alaska challenge his assumptions. But—we are very happy to agree with him that it is very unlikely that, regardless of conditions, any bone could last for millions of years without fossilization/permineralization—so the Montana bone, even without the blood cells, is indicative that the dinosaur bone in question could not be millions of years old.
MW: “The dinosaur bones that we find are made of rock, because they are petrified (peter?) and it takes millions of years to petrify bone because every molecule of bone (calcium phosphate) has to be replaced by rock (silicon dioxide) molecules one at a time.”
AiG: Again, this reflects some misunderstandings, some of which are trivial. One has already been mentioned earlier. Another is the types of minerals. Bone is much more than “calcium phosphate”—the mineral component in humans is hydroxyapatite, and this is reinforced by protein fibres, such as collagen. Also, the minerals involved are not necessarily silicon dioxide—calcite is not silicon dioxide, for instance. I should also point out that his credibility is diminished by referring to calcium phosphate and silicon dioxide “molecules.” Calcium phosphate (really hydroxyapatite) is an ionic solid, while silicon dioxide is a covalent network solid, so neither of them consist of discrete molecules.
MW: “All the human bones we find from the Biblical period are made of bone, but the bones we find of our ape-like ancestors are made of rock and are millions of years old.”
AiG: Not all of the alleged apemen are permineralized, and not all human fossils are nonpermineralized. Note, however, that human fossils today are almost all from the post-Flood period. Permineralization is much more likely in the conditions pertaining in the Noahic Deluge and its aftermath.
MW: “Petrified wood is also millions of years old.”
AiG: This is a baseless assumption. As indicated, given the right conditions, petrifaction is well known to occur in observable time periods. For example, hot water rich in dissolved minerals like silica, as found in some springs at Yellowstone, has petrified a block of wood in only a year. And there’s even a company that manufactures an artificial wood-ceramic composite that is very similar to petrified wood—‘Instant’ Petrified Wood.
MW: “You can’t do carbon dating on dinosaur bones because there is no carbon left in them.”
AiG: That of course is the assumption of many—but many more would also add that they should not have any C-14 in them, which is more to the point. I have personally seen, from the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, specimens of archeocyatha, supposedly hundreds of millions of years old, which are widely acknowledged as having calcite centres (see above—i.e., not silicon dioxide) and surrounded by a ring of black, which is written up in the rock-collectors’ books as being the original organically derived carbon. And the unfossilized dinosaur bones mentioned earlier clearly still have original carbon in them.
Of course, no evolutionist would even try to carbon-date such bones because of the pre-existing belief that, being millions of years old, there is no carbon-14 left in them. Equally, no long-ager would try to carbon-date wood found in a rock from a layer they claim is 250 million years old, or wood singed by a Tertiary basalt flow, etc., etc. In both of the examples mentioned, AiG has done the carbon-dating, and in each case, the carbon date was “thousands of years,” not millions of years. See, for example, Dating in Conflict or Radioactive ‘Dating’ in Conflict! for examples of radiocarbon found in material supposedly millions of years old. So much for that belief.
In fact, there are reports from a smaller US creationist organization of obtaining carbon dates from dinosaur bones. These have been criticised as having been from contamination. Unfortunately, the organization was not able to afford the more sophisticated techniques (which we used in the above examples) which eliminate all possibility of such modern-day contamination. AiG is planning to carbon-date some unfossilized bones in the next year or two.
MW: “But human bones from the Biblical period are still full of bone and bone cells which are made of carbon.”
AiG: It is important to note two things:
He probably places the “biblical period” at Abraham and beyond. But the biblical period goes back much further than that, unless you assume in the absence of proof that the Bible is mistaken in its history which goes right back to the beginning of all things. Bones from say the time of Sodom and Gomorrah were generally not subjected to being immersed in the sopping wet, mineral-rich sediments deposited by the global Genesis Flood. But in view of some of his other misunderstandings (see below re: the bristlecone pine confusion, e.g.), we would question the blanket assertion that none of the bones from that period (i.e., hundreds of years after the Flood) are not at least partly mineralized.
There are bones from the peri-Babel time, and from the time of the Ice Age, which is the inevitable aftermath of the Genesis Flood (see The Answers Book) which are found in caves (note that nomadic peoples often used caves as burial plots, see Genesis re: Abraham’s practice in this regard). As a consequence, they are often substantially mineralized. Of course, the writer’s presuppositions would not allow him to assign these to the biblical period, because by definition they are regarded by the long-age reasoning popular today as being many times older.
MW: “To say that the Earth is only 6,004 years old is silly, because there are bristlecone pine trees in Nevada that are 9,000 years old, all you have to do is cut one down and count the rings.”
AiG: He is mistaken in two ways. First, he assumes that each tree can only produce one ring per year, when sometimes more than one is produced. However, we would think it was difficult to try to use this to explain a 50% discrepancy, and in fact we don’t do this.
His major mistake is a confusion of two separate things—there is no living bristlecone pine with a 9,000-year sequence. The 9,000-year alleged chronology to which he refers exists, has to do with bristlecone pines, but he has confused it, because it refers to using the so-called overlapping technique (i.e., it is a combination of living and dead/fossil bristlecone pine.) This rests on the assumption that one can overlap similar-looking sequences reliably. It is calibrated by C-14 dating, with all the assumptions inherent in that, and is only as reliable as C-14, therefore. Furthermore, it has been shown that the overlap technique is far from error-free.
So we repeat—there is no living tree with 9,000 rings or anywhere near that. In fact, there is none with 6,000 years because (whether bristlecones or sequoias) the rings on the oldest living trees show that they are all in the 4,000 year bracket—which is in fact an evidence for the reality of the biblical Flood, some 4,500 years ago.
In conclusion, I think it would be important for M.W. (and others who want to write such “challenges”) to first acquaint himself with the extensive AiG literature on this vast subject of how the Bible really does connect to the real world. In fact, he would have done well to search our website before writing such a challenge, because as shown, many of the questions are already answered.
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