Bullying AiG

on March 28, 2009

National Post: “Darwin on the Half-Shell” Answers in Genesis has once again been bullied on the news media playground.

Colby Cosh, writing in Canada’s National Post, finally got around to using fossils described several months back in the journal Nature as ammo against Answers in Genesis. The fossils, dubbed Odontochelys, were discovered in southwestern China; researchers published a short description last fall.

The fossils “raise more questions than they answer.”

Regular News to Note readers may remember our full response to the find last December. In that item, we quoted ScienceNOW reporter Erik Stokstad, who commented that the fossils “raise more questions than they answer.” We continued:

Several media headlines, such as the BBC’s, suggest the find answers how the turtle got its shell; for instance, the BBC News article claims the find “shows that the turtle’s breast plate developed earlier than the rest of its shell.” But the ScienceNOW report makes it clear that, actually, the fossil has prompted several different interpretations by evolutionists. For example, the Chicago Field Museum’s Olivier Rieppel, one of the scientists describing the fossils, believes Odontochelys is the most primitive of turtles. But University of Toronto–Mississauga scientists Robert Reisz and Jason Head suggest that perhaps Odontochelys did, in fact, descend from land-based turtles, but lost the bones in its armor along the way, much like modern soft-shelled turtles. And Yale’s Walter Joyce wonders if Odontochelys is just an “oddity,” while study coauthor Chun Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences calls Odontochelys “an ideal missing link for turtle evolution.”
So with all the various ideas on turtle evolution batted about in the news over the past three months, it seems we could suggest almost any story for turtle origins. Ours is that God created turtles—likely at least two distinct kinds, during Creation Week. Since then, turtle populations have lost genetic information through natural selection and mutations, so the turtles preserved by the Flood—and those we find today—are more diverse than the original created turtles, and may well be missing some features.

So even evolutionists wildly disagreed over where Odontochelys fits in grand scheme of turtle history, with some of them suggesting Odontochelys was a descendent, not an ancestor, of fully armored land-based turtles. Certainly, of all fossils to use to attack creationists, Odontochelys isn’t one of them!

Back to Colby Cosh and his recent broadside against Answers in Genesis: in his column from last week, he states:

Creationists have long noted, correctly, that the fossil record was curiously silent on details concerning turtle evolution. Although turtles are very old, and strongly distinct from other reptiles, there have been no transitional forms to indicate how they first developed their unique shells.

Cosh went a step further, referencing Answers in Genesis and linking to Paula Weston’s article Turtles in Creation 21(1), published back in 1999. Cosh quotes Weston, who had quoted another creationist who explained, “[A]n incomplete [turtle] shell would give little protection. Any tiny advantage would be far outweighed by the serious disadvantages of a cumbersome hindrance in getting away from predators.” She concluded (as Cosh quoted), “[T]urtles should be instantly recognizable as turtles, with the shell and other unique features fully formed from the start, and no series of ‘pre-turtle ancestors’ should be found.”

Nowhere does he show any awareness of evolutionists’ criticism and disagreement over Odontochelys.

For Cosh, then, Odontochelys clearly refutes Weston’s claim. He declares that Odontochelys “confirm[s] that the first turtles, who were probably aquatic, developed the hard plastron on their underbellies first to protect them from below” and that “[t]his discovery . . . goes to show why working biologists exhibit such exasperation when Darwinian evolution is challenged.”

Before the end, Cosh tosses out other canards, such as implying that evidence of natural selection and the success of Mendelian genetics supports evolution. Nowhere does he show any awareness of evolutionists’ criticism and disagreement over Odontochelys. It seems Cosh bought the “official” tale of Odontochelys hook, line, and sinker—perhaps wrongly assuming the artist’s interpretation was an objective representation of the actual fossils (1, 2).

At the risk of sounding redundant, we must emphasize again that creationist models easily explain Odontochelys:

  1. Assuming the shell-less interpretation of the fossils is correct (and Odontochelys isn’t a mere “oddity,” as Yale’s Walter Joyce suggests), Odontochelys was probably a descendant of earlier, fully shelled turtles (as Reisz and Head argue). That means Odontochelys has lost genetic information, the opposite of what molecules-to-man evolution requires.
  2. An alternative creationist explanation is that God did, in fact, create a unique type of marine reptile with a bony plastron (belly armor) only. That interpretation is no more projected onto the fossils themselves than is the idea that they represent evolution.

So once again, we see that a presupposed interpretive framework is the key to understanding the actual fossils.


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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.