The city sidewalks that were just replaced in our little town were fresh concrete laid between wooden rails when a Canada goose walked across the fragile surface with its big flat feet. The tracks it left may or may not stay for long, but they look much like the fossilized tracks of dinosaurs found in granular rocks formed of sediment.
The fossil record at large in this world keeps growing by the year. Both private collectors, academics and museum researchers compete to find and claim the best fossils. The former do it for profit. The latter do it for knowledge. The net result is that human beings now know much more than we did one hundred years ago about the origins and development of life here on earth. Much, much more.
As my wife and I recently hiked into the mountains of North Carolina, our boots left deep impressions in the silty, sandy mud of the hiking trail. If by some act of nature a landslide covers those tracks and then suddenly solidifies through a heat wave, our tracks might be preserved as imprints that differ in constitution from the overburden. And if over millions of years that brittle overburden washed or wore away, the layer in which our footprints were laid might be exposed.
That’s just one of many ways a fossilized footprint or the bones and skin of a living thing might be preserved for millennia. When dinosaur fossils were first found the discoveries were cited as evidence of the existence of mythical creatures such as dragons or evidence of biblical creatures described only as “Leviathan” in scripture.
Such fantastical or general descriptions do little to enlighten the true nature and source of such fossils. But as scientists gathered fossils over the last two centuries, grand patterns began to emerge. These were undeniable clues of all that has gone on in the past. Clear relationships and lines of evolutionary succession were traceable from one geological era to the next. The fossil record reads like a Strava report on the rush of growth and absolute disappearance of thousands of types and species of living things.
Now we know that 99% of all the living things that once existed on the earth are now extinct. That still leaves millions of species in existence, but many of these are now threatened by the dominance and wastefulness of the human race as it consumes resources the way a Tyrannosaurus gloms up meat from the bone of its prey.
In recent years the human fascination with dinosaurs has taken on a menacing flair thanks to the movie series known as Jurassic Park. Of the many dinosaurs depicted in these movies, one of the central figures of terror and tenacity has been the “character” known as velociraptor.
According to Hollywood paleoscience, those critters can run as fast as a horse, jump small buildings in a single bound, and distract a Tyrannosaurus rex if there are enough of them around to accomplish the task.
They also bit, with rows of fearsome teeth jutting from their grinning mouths. In fact, it is likely most human runners could set personal records over any distance with a velociraptor in pursuit.
Or maybe not. There is no more depressing scene in all the Jurassic series than the moment when a band of people is trying to escape a pod of ‘raptors chasing them through tall weeds. We see the human folk rushing through the grass followed by dark lines of ‘raptors slicing through the grass in close pursuit. Then the people start to disappear. It all makes the velociraptor menace seem real.
Feathers and all
But lately, science has begun to revise the projected appearance and supposed performance of creatures we call velociraptors. In a July 2015 article in Scientific American, writer Stephen Brusatte chronicles well-documented evidence that dinosaurs in the velociraptor family were actually covered in feathers, not scales.
These quotes and images from Scientific American explain:
“I study dinosaurs for a living and it didn’t bother me to see Velociraptors being used as hunting dogs for the sake of good cinema. What I didn’t like, however, was that the Velociraptors were depicted as big, drab-coloured, scaly brutes.
That’s because the real Velociraptor was a lapdog-sized predator covered in feathers. Palaeontologists have known this for a while. If you look at the arm bones of Velociraptor you can see a row of bumps, identical in size and shape to the quill knobs of living birds: the anchor points for big wing feathers.”
“But we have a better idea now, thanks to the discovery of a spectacular new dinosaur from northeastern China that I studied with my colleague, Junchang Lü of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
Our new dinosaur, Zhenyuanlong, is one of the closest cousins of Velociraptor. Its gorgeous chocolate-coloured skeleton was found by a farmer in 125-million-year-old rocks that were laid down in a quiet lake buried by volcanic ash. It’s just the right environment for preserving the soft bits that usually decay before a fossil is formed.
Zhenyuanlong is covered in feathers. Simple hairy filaments coat much of the body, larger veined feathers stick out from the tail, and big quill-pen-feathers line the arms, layered over each other to form a wing. This is a dinosaur that looks just like a bird. If you could see it alive you would probably make no distinction between it and, say, a turkey or a vulture.”
Whether scaly or feathered, that critter shown in the illustration above could probably still find a way to hunt down a human being and eat them. That makes the contention by creationists that dinosaurs of this type lived among humans quite absurd. Still, that doesn’t keep the creationist community from leapfrogging right over clear geological and paleontological evidence to propose that the Bible trumps all other forms of knowledge. They still whine that the “earth is young” and claim that humans shared the ark with hundreds of species of dinosaurs. It’s bullshit. But it sells.
And quite comically, creationists randomly copy depictions of dinosaurs generated through real science in order to look credible in the eyes of people who want to think of creationism as true. But the manner in which they use these copies to lie to people stretches credulity to its maximum.
Creationists subtract the real science and can’t bear to acknowledge the bothersome wavy path of evolutionary science. They claim instead that science defies the presence of God and go to great lengths inventing faux science such as “intelligent design theory” to inject God back into the process. But that’s putting toothpaste back into an anachronistic tube.
It’s all bunk. Some people just want their worldview delivered in simple, straight and narrow fashion. They would rather it be confined to simple facts whether it is true or not. So lie to them, the creationist logic goes. They prefer it that way.
But there are interesting questions that await nevertheless. Now that the scientific consensus on many dinosaurs has been altered based on clear fossil evidence that species such as velociraptors had feathers, will creationists also modify their presentations in public displays such as the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where basic renditions of dinosaurs are shown in cases and cavorting with human beings?
And if they do change the look of those dinosaurs, how to explain the reason why to an audience so accustomed to circular logic that it can’t square with the truth? Millions of people, as many as 40% of all Americans as show in poll after poll, claim a biblically literal, creationist worldview.
Yet the virtual reality of creationism is clear: it classically steals from real science to show depictions of dinosaurs such as T.Rex and others romping around with human beings who look like us. The only thing missing are Closed Caption titles to explain what people are seeing.
The actual research behind the depiction of those dinosaurs is based on forensic and comparative science that helped thinking people piece together the appearance of creatures that evolved millions of years apart.
But the aching and most popular question of all might be. Will creationists now revisit velociraptors to get wise with the times?
More likely not
The methods of creationism and their denial of reality resemble all those who persistently lie to make themselves seem credible to their intended audiences.
It’s common even in the world of running and endurance events. People lie about their personal records all the time.
But the real facts don’t lie. If someone walks up to you and says, “I ran a four-minute mile,” you reasonably expect that they mean they ran a mile that took them four-minutes to complete.
But people like to play loose with the facts because it suits their purposes in creating an air of credibility. Such was the case when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan claimed to have run a marathon “in under three hours.” Real runners checked the facts and found them sorely lacking. Ryan had not run a time anywhere near three hours. In fact, his best was likely just over four hours. Thus Paul Ryan is a liar. He creates his own truth and then attempts to sell it to advance his personal and political value. Do you know anyone else like that? I’m sure you do. Politics is full of them.
Rounding soundly down
But let’s get real when it comes to what Paul Ryan said about his marathon time because that’s not making a statement that’s a few minutes off his actual time. Rounding down his marathon time by an hour is a lot of rounding down.
So one might ask, whether we are talking about science or politics or personal records in running, why do such facts matter?
Well, it always matters whether we are being honest with ourselves and others. When creationists dismiss science as “made up” and then turn around and try to teach their version of reality in public schools, with zero scientifically examined facts to back it their claims that the earth is just 6000 years old, or that evolution hasn’t happened despite the massive consensus worldwide that it has, they are lying to impose their close-minded worldview on the public.
And when men such as Paul Ryan show a willingness to make up “facts” with such disrespect or comprehension of reality, it makes us wonder whether there are other issues that our politicians are lying about. Then it gets to the point where people can’t tell the difference between truth or lies, or invent their own set of “facts” (which is what creationists do) and suddenly every single speck of reason is up for grabs.
Feathering the truth
The truth of feathers on velociraptors and other dinosaurs has turned out to be a profound change in how we view not only ancient species of dinosaurs, but the species that remain with us today. That does not mean the creationists were right all along about human beings co-existing with dinosaurs such as T. Rex or velociraptors.
What it does mean is that our understanding of dinosaur evolution and the persistence of advantageous features such as feathers over eons provides an emphatic and undeniable link between the present and the past. No amount of biblical obfuscation can strip the feathers from those well-preserved fossils.
And what scientists are now realizing is that the birds with which we do co-exist are direct descendants of feathered dinosaurs to the point that we can consider them real dinosaurs living among us. That is not feathering the truth.
When liars rule
But when those who do feather the truth gain power…as men such as Paul Ryan often do, because they lie and people want to believe them, there is great risk in letting remarks pass that are intended to make them look smarter or greater than they really are.
That inability to face and accept the truth is the biggest problem the world faces today. It is the biggest problem the world has always faced, and it will always be the biggest problem the world has to face in the future.
Having a future
Which is to say, we must face the truth if we expect to have a future. That’s why it is so important to revisit our notions and beliefs about velociraptors and every other field of human interest, science and religion. The things we learn by questioning our perception and considering new evidence are so profound they can turn the world on its head sometimes.
We can’t know whether our footprints will ever become fossilized evidence of our existence. Only time will tell that. But the more important evidence of our existence will be the sustainability of knowledge, belief and action that we hand on to future generations.
Because without that honesty, we might as well be extinct too..