Young-earth creationists claim research on Tyrannosaurus rex bones supports their case for a young earth. Former Answers in Genesis leader Carl Wieland has been particularly adamant that this research, led by Mary Schweitzer in 2005, confirms young-earth creationism. According to Wieland, Schweitzer’s team found blood vessels and cells in the bone fossils. However, a closer look at Schweitzer’s papers reveals a different story.
In part 1 of my response to this discrepancy, I pointed out two misconceptions that young-earth creationists hold about the dinosaur blood issue. Today, I will outline a third.
Young-earth creationists claim the discovery of unfossilized bone with soft tissue and biomolecules proves dinosaurs lived thousands—not millions—of years ago. For example, Wieland states in his article “Still Soft and Stretchy”:
It is inconceivable that such things should be preserved for (in this case) “70 million years.”...This discovery gives immensely powerful support to the proposition that dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old at all, but were mostly fossilized under catastrophic conditions a few thousand years ago at most.1
Young-earth creationist and anatomist David Menton from Answers in Genesis echoes this response:
It certainly taxes one’s imagination to believe that soft tissues and cells could remain so relatively fresh in appearance for the tens of millions of years…2
This statement assumes two points. First, that dinosaur bone should be completely fossilized if it is millions of years old. Second, that soft tissue and biomolecules are fragile and can’t possibly survive for millions of years.
However, Schweitzer explains in her team’s paper that “the fossil record is capable of exceptional preservation, including feathers, hair, color or color patterns, embryonic soft tissues, muscle tissue and/or internal organs, and cellular structure.”3
Normally, during fossilization, hard materials are replaced with minerals and soft tissue is destroyed by bacteria that enter the bone. However, under certain circumstances, the inner part of the bone can be preserved. This can occur in instances where the remains are rapidly buried and entombed in protective sediments. It can occur where the outer bone is somehow sealed, preventing penetration and decomposition. It can also occur where the remains are located in an environment that fosters preservation—places that are dry, cold, and oxygen free, or where the sediment contains certain chemicals.4
In the case of the T. rex tissue, Schweitzer explains the preservation is the likely result of several of these factors:
The unusual preservation of the originally organic matrix may be due in part to the dense mineralization of dinosaur bone, because a certain portion of the organic matrix with extant bone is intracrystalline and therefore extremely resistant to degradation. These factors, combined with yet undetermined geochemical and environmental factors, presumably also contribute to the preservation of soft-tissue vessels.5
In speaking with Schweitzer, Christian apologist Rich Deem reports that she indicated the bones have a distinct odor characteristic of embalming fluids. Therefore, it possible the bones landed in some type of chemical “stew” that preserved the soft tissue inside the bone from decomposition.6
Regarding the issue of whether biomolecules can survive for millions of years, it is difficult to predict molecular stability because it is very dependent upon the conditions. In this case, it was an incomplete fossilization process—water did not gain access to the interior of the bone and water promotes the breakdown of biomolecules. The bone was extremely dense in terms of its mineral matrix, which would also protect the molecules and structures in the very interior of the bone.7 And, as stated previously, it seems to have been located in a rich chemical environment.
It is also important to note the molecules in question are very long, chain-like molecules called polymers. As a polymer is adsorbed to a surface, like the mineral material inside the T. rex bone, the molecules’ long-term stability increases. This increase occurs because, when a bond is broken, the bond can reform since the ends of the polymer chain can’t diffuse away from one another. Under proper conditions, this bonding can provide remarkable long-term stability.8
Blood vessels are also extremely durable. They are made up of endothelial cells that form a channel. This channel is surrounded by an elastin matrix, basement membrane, muscle fibers, and a collagen matrix, respectively. Highly resistant to breakdown, these materials must undergo extensive degradation to breakdown completely. This can explain how some of these vessels may have survived. It’s possible the vessels are not original blood vessels but rather remnants of the blood vessel materials that retain some elasticity and resiliency.9
Dr. Matthews Collins, who studies ancient biomolecules at York University in the United Kingdom, explains:
This may not be fossilization as we know it, of large macrostructures, but fossilization at a molecular level. My suspicion is this process has led to…a very tough, resistant, very lipid-rich material—a polymer that would be very difficult to break down and characterize, but which has preserved the structure.10
Though this is an exciting and surprising discovery, it’s not inexplicable. Under the right conditions, biomolecules can survive for millions of years. Therefore, this discovery does not, in any way, demand a young-earth interpretation nor does it prove dinosaurs lived thousands of years ago. Wieland may suggest that the reason similar (supposed young-earth friendly) discoveries were not made before is because researchers are blinded by their long-age paradigm. However, the truth is that only recently have scientists had the technology to conduct this type of research.
The Bible exhorts us to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). It does not say that we should only test the things that we disagree with, but everything. It is in this spirit that young-earth creationists need to examine their view of reality. Even if the structures in this T. rex tissue are determined to be actual blood vessels and cells, how does one or even a handful of such finds, overturn thousands of old-earth evidences? They don’t. Science has many good reasons to believe the earth is ancient. Thus, young-earth creationists need to examine all the evidence, not just selective evidences that can be construed to support their view.
RTB apologist Greg Moore received his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from Washington State University in 1975, and currently serves as a program manager for the City of Everett in Everett, Washington.
This article is Part 2 (of 2) of "Dinosaur Blood Revisited".
To access Part 1, please click the link below: