Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Every Kid Likes Dinosaurs, Part three.

This will be the final part of this anomalistic trek, and probably the least newsworthy [I rather liked part two, which was the reason for this whole effusion]. Today, though, we should terminate this with a few framing remarks on the topic and the general controversy.

The first thing that ought to be mentioned is the "feasibility argument" for continued existence of dinosaurs. Regusters was trying to make a geographically-focussed case for such a thing with his carbon-dating of the Niger fossil bone. There is a bigger picture [literally] into which such an argument would fit. That's Continental Drift.

In the Continental Drift hypothesis, all the current landmasses were joined together in an unstable jigsaw named Gondawanaland. This happy state lasted for even a geologically-long time offering plenty of habitat stability to encourage beasts to maximize their genetic potentials in environments to which they became exceptionally well adapted. Some of that maxing-out produced the dinosaurs.

When the Gondawanaland supercontinent decided to rip apart, all that "easy life" of stable habitat began to be more and more severely disrupted. This, and its consequences, is what led to the Death-of-the-Dinosaurs, not some "Death Star collision", which at most provided a punctuation mark on terribly distressed species. It was evolving environmental change, not sudden catastrophe, which put these monsters down.

But, it could be imagined that one big area of the supercontinent did not get the brunt of those changes, at least as hard.... Africa. Africa, as seen illustrated in the simple map above, sits there in the middle of the fracturing supercontinent and rather waddles about in place, while its siblings go sailing off across oceans to crash into one another, meet subduction zones, produce mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes, and all manner of nastiness. "Somebody" sitting there at home in Africa, in their happy little tropical environment, might wonder [relatively speaking] what all the hullaballoo was about. Environments even here in Central Africa would still be slowly and dramatically changed, but not perhaps as drastically as elsewhere.

This is the larger scale into which a feasibility argument might nest.

A second point would be that it is not at all obvious that just because you were big and reptilian that around 65 million years ago you had to go. We have some pretty impressive big reptilians who say: "Not so fast, my friend!" [Well, maybe skip the "friend" part]. The continued survival of the crocodilians remains a mystery to the theorists today. Turtles, too, puzzle these guys. There is no ready answer to this which rises above the level of academic BS. I'll contribute to the pile with my view that a). every species was at different stages of being able to adapt to the slow-death-march caused by the supercontinent break-up, and b). these animals lay a lot of eggs and do so regularly [NOT your usual very slow populators], and this gave the succeeding generations greater chances for survival both by positive genetic variations and greater numbers to accidentally find successful food niches, etc.

Were some of the greater than 500 genera of dinosaurs [these are just the ones known] living more like the crocodilians as to frequency of egg-production and maternal egg-guarding, etc, so as to mimic what the crocs and gators did?? Well, why not? The point is that the idea is not a crazy one.

A couple of years ago, one team of fossil scientists reported that they had a find which when dated showed a date well after the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. To their eyes, the Great Stop Sign had not stopped these particular dinosaurs. This was at a US dig in New Mexico [San Juan Basin shown above] and seems to indicate that these hadrosaurs beat the widowmaker by at least 500,000 years. This does not at all surprise me, as our fossil record is so incomplete and our fossil studiers so resolute in wanting to fit things into the textbook cant, that exceptions to the boundary line must exist all over the planet. So, why not Africa? And why not for longer?
Of course you must have the solid evidence... but this is a feasibility study, and the purpose of a feasibility study is to tell the sniggering jackanapes to shut up and get out of the way of people who want to do something.

The skeptical argument that nothing so large could continued to go undetected is baloney, particularly if applied to this swamp area right up to modern times. The picture above is from a regular [non-mokele mbembe] herpetology expedition to those swamps in, I think, 1999. I've also read of similar conditions in another even more recently. Look at what the porters are putting up with! And these sorts of conditions persist across an area at least the acreage of Florida! Yeh, sure, we'll pop over there and solve this thing.

Some people like to use as part of their feasibility argument the legends of Dragons which occur in surprisingly different cultures going way back in time. The argument, obviously, is that they refer to dinosaurs. That's a tough one for me. Dragon legends interest me almost as much as the Little People tales, and in my opinion are more complicated and harder to get clear as to what we're even talking about.

The "dragons" COULD be experiences with remnant dinosaur populations, I suppose, but it doesn't feel at all correct. The dragon legends are too ubiquitous to be real meat-&-juices encounters all over the place, yet completely evade science in all those same areas. Dragon tales could grow from merely seeing the exposed bones of dinosaurs as some suggest, but fossils intact enough to show the true conformation of the beast are really rare without full-fledged digs, so I really doubt it. We know that many early such fossils were just attributed to Giants of some kind.

I think that the origin of dragon legends in true dinosaur encounters is a false lead and is a road to confusion. People like to hearken back to writers like Pliny {above} for support for such as this, but nope. I am a privileged person so as to own a personal copy of the early english translation of Pliny[1634] and am happy to take any excuse to haul it down from the shelves and read it. He does say that he is commenting upon "dragons" in the text. They exist in India and in Africa in places like Ethiopia. BUT, he is obviously, completely obviously, talking about really big serpents of the boa constrictor/python type. Now if anyone wants to make an argument that he's describing cryptozoologically-huge snakes, OK by me. Dragons, no. And Dinosaurs, no.

This is not to say that I'm opposed to someone showing me some legend somewhere which sounds like existent dinosaurs, but generically recruiting dragons for this doesn't work for me.

Something else which doesn't work for me is Creation "Science".

Long-term readers of this blog know that I am a Catholic and hold a great deal of stock in spiritual matters of almost all sorts. [The whole blog is, in its different ways, founded upon the belief that our weary old world needs a strong infusion of at least open-mindedness to mystery, if not precisely open-mindedness to the paranormal and the spiritual]. I have no fundamental prejudice against the claims of Creationists. It's just that almost all of them are bunk. In this shockingly abrupt conclusion, I am in the comfortable company of almost all of the theologians of my church, and absolutely all of the Catholic scientists, of which I class myself as one.

But I AM a scientific type of mentality and I believe in subjecting claims to some tough but open-minded scrutiny. The ultra-right wing of christian beliefs that goes for a 4004BC origin of the world, or any such minimalist date, fails every rational scrutiny. So do the several "deductions" which are forced upon any who would try to defend this. These deductions include things like: humans and dinosaurs totally co-existed ubiquitously; and Noah took the dinosaurs on the Ark. Because these folks attempt to believe this, they have welcomed the news that mokele mbembe still exists in the Congo.

I really wish that if they insist on some of these desired conclusions, that they'd come up with some better scenarios. Time after time people will throw the dinosaurs at Noah in a challenge to Ark capacity. The apologists toss this aside with the most mindless disregard, despite seeming somewhat intelligent in some of their other arguments.

C'mon, guys!! The Ark was big but not THAT big! [I'm giving them a biblical-sized Ark here just for conversation sake]. Do you really think that we could get all the animals on an oil tanker let alone the Ark?

There were some pretty big dinosaurs out there. And they couldn't come just one at a time; there had to be at least two of each if not seven pairs [I think].

Some of these monsters were well over a hundred feet long. And though many were smaller, there were at a minimum 500 genera of them.

And this is just dinosaurs that we're talking about --- think of all the other essentially land-living or semi-aquatic species that Noah would have to be cramming in there.

The only way out for the Creation "Scientists" on this one would be to ask God to do something about it. Saying that they were ALL destroyed in the Flood [which also didn't universally happen; I'm just barely open to a localized upper Mesopotamian area flood ], just won't do as literal interpretation of that phrase in Genesis says Noah took examples of ALL the creatures. God would have to do something far more creative: like condensing everybody down to miniature size once they crossed the entryway portal. That action however didn't make it into the story, so it's not popular.

The relevance for our mokele mbembe story is that now the Creationists have begun tramping towards the Likuoala River in search of dinosaurs.

I'm not sure how many of these "scientific expeditions" have been sent [more than one for sure] but they have come back claiming success. It's everyone's choice, as usual, to decide about their claims. It's my feeling that these guys are going to have to really get the true goods if they are to add anything to our understanding of this at all. They have a bigger barrier to overcome because their own prejudices are so much more blatant.

Here's a drawing of a mokele mbembe allegedly seen by one expedition member. He called it an Apatosaurus. Pretty shocking as Apatosaurus is one of the big ones. Seventy feet long... amazing that everyone else missed it. No tracks of the monster either?

And the above photo [?] is labelled charging dinosaur [!!!]. Actually, I've partly lied. The whole title included the words "Photographic proof at last!"

The level of stupidity in that goes past embarrassment and far into pathos. Lord God save us from your more hysterical supporters!!

With that I leave you to your own problems getting visas for the Republic of the Congo, and wish you Godspeed until next topic [whatever weird thing that turns out to be.]


  1. Hi, Mike,

    I have some bulging files about various forms of (ostensible) anomalous reptiles, including sea, lake, and river serpents, along with giant snakes and sky serpents. A lot, though far from all, is from the notoriously unreliable 19th-C. American press. Some of the stories, however, seem genuinely puzzling. Very little of it gives the impression that these are surviving dinosaurs. The impression one gets is that they're just yet more experience anomalies, stops along the vast landscape of liminality.

  2. In almost all of this, I'm with you as you know. Because this one area [and I don't really see any other land-based geographical candidates] has this peculiar geological lengthy history, my mind says : "if anywhere, here". That's why Regusters interested me. But "where's the beef?", in the end. His whole expedition turned around what his wife may or may not have seen as far as Mokele mbembe is concerned. Someday that place will be thoroughly scoured, like "Challenger's Lost World" in Roraima has become, and we'll know about this. I make no bets, as the information is lacking to do so responsibly. As to Nessy et al, yep, "experience" folkloric anomaly encounters all the way --- too good to deny, but too non-physical/biological to get into the science texts.

    1. Mike,
      I should have made clear I was responding specifically to your comments about dragon traditions as they continued into modern times and Western (specifically American) locations. I think we both are of the view that zoological cryptids, possibly a few of extraordinary character and dimensions, also may be out there somewhere, albeit in proper ecological locations not easily accessible to us endlessly destructive humans. I'm interested in, but have no strong opinion concerning, mokele mbembe et al.

      As always, I enjoy your observations, wry and smart, on these vexing -- worse, endlessly intriguing -- matters

  3. I know what you were saying, Jerry; I was just responding to the "great cloud of readership" out there :-). You and I are pretty close mind/soul mates when it comes to how we see these things.

    I'd still like to have you visit The Zoo sometime, or maybe we could meet halfway at Rodeghier's. Raid the CUFOS files one last time?? Or come to Michigan and get your hands besmirched by the dust of Ivan. I'll show you some samples of the "fishing lines from the sky" that he kept. How's THAT for incentive??

  4. Hello Professor,

    Appreciate your observations.

    Just to mention that I once was a satisfied theistic evolutionist until I happened across a volume _Human Destiny_ by Pierre Lecomte du Nouÿ, a world-class scientist, who said that unguided materialistic evolution was statistically impossible. That shocked me into reconsidering OOL questions, and compared to the tall stories of Big Science (BS), special creation arguments are not that appalling, to me anyway. In any case, Scripture, especially Genesis 1, is hard-pressed to support long ages. According to Genesis a pair of all animal kinds was preserved in the ark, with the exception of levitically "clean" animals that would be seven in number. As far as ark size and animals goes, the usual creationist explanation is that juveniles boarded the ark, not mature adults, so the largest animals would have been much smaller-sized at boarding. Any dino's around today? Don't know, but by way of comparison, the coelacanth was thought to have evolved into roughly its current form approximately "400 million years ago" and gone extinct, but in 1947 Europeans discovered that it could no longer be used as an "index" fossil. So who knows... Sedimentary rocks are found on Mt. Everest (without saying when they were deposited), and enough water is on the globe to cover it to a depth of more than a mile if all the land was smoothed out. I don't find all creationist arguments or tactics persuasive, but I also remember being taught as a child that life first appeared on earth 1.2 billion years ago. In only a few decades that number has gone to 3.7 billion years ago, and that ain't parallax error of the slide rule cursor...

  5. I honor all opinions civilly presented, but reserve the right to critically review and reject the assertions made within them. This I usually do quietly in the privacy of my own mind, unless I believe that such opinions inflict damage of some kind on individuals or human progress or elements of the Creation. As long as "Creation Science" does not attempt to muscle itself into the K-12 science classrooms [at least until it actually has responsible scientific study to support its placement along side the work of textbook science already there], I believe that it does no harm. To clarify my position on this, I do not believe that most anomalist phenomenon studies belong in the science classroom either, as the vast majority of them are either not well done, nothing has really been done scientifically at all, or the study done cannot stand the test of reasonable critique. There ARE a few exceptions to this.

    "Creation Science" may claim to have "studied" certain isolated items of nature "scientifically", [ex. sedimentary rocks on high mountain peaks], but almost always immediately errs by doing two things:

    1). claiming that such a "discovery" {long known in fact} points strongly to their theory that the whole world was underwater, when such a near-micro-fact has no such power; and
    2). claiming that conventional explanations for that fact are unreasonable if not ridiculous.

    Conventional textbook science has a nearly uncountable number of studies almost all of which tightly support each other when it comes to the sciences of geology, atomic structure, atmospheric science, and radioactivity. These "mountains" of researches create a formidable bulk of information indicating the great age of the planet, and the variable ages of certain structures upon the surface. To believe that such research and coalescence of theory can be overturned casually is an intellectual fantasy. Something about "creation science" could conceivably reach the status of such deeply supported scientific constructs, but the adherents of these ideas have a very long way to go to claim admittance into science classrooms. This great gap is filled by honest people with Faith. That's great by me.... but it is not science.

    Creation Science has essentially nothing to stand on except Faith when it comes to Geology and Radioactive physical dating. If one wants to attack "evolution", one should give up on strict literal interpretation of alleged geologically-related biblical quotes and stick to trying to dent the natural selection element of biological evolution. My belief is that is also a loser, but at least there can be hope there. My own view as a Catholic scientist is that God created the Universe with the laws within to evolve complex organic life, and when the mature "vessel" arrived installed the true-consciousness-bearing soul. I admit that at that stage I stop talking scientifically and begin speaking in faith. It doesn't mean that I believe it less.

    1. wow what great research