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The visit of palaeontologist Dr. Marcus Ross to Edmonton on October 15 and 16, provided a wonderful opportunity for students, as well as for everybody else, to learn from the insights and experiences of a recent graduate in the field of dinosaurs and marine reptiles. Trained entirely in secular institutions, Dr. Ross nevertheless was able to resist the attractions of the evolution model. In order to encourage others, he shared his experiences studying science in secular universities. It was not all smooth sailing. He encountered some major opposition that could have completely derailed his studies. Nevertheless he refused to quit, and in the end, he graduated with a Ph.D. in the appropriate field from a well recognized institution.

Altogether the lessons which Dr. Ross learned included the following. Firstly, the professors often pay little attention to the extracurricular activities of undergraduates. Thus at that time in his career, Marcus Ross belonged to a creation club and few took notice. However, professors take the actions of graduate students much more seriously. It is therefore unwise to embarrass one’s professors, especially one’s research director. To survive in this environment therefore one should observe how the academic culture operates. One should learn the language of the discipline and of academia. Use that language to communicate your position, just as the apostle Paul adapted his message for the Greeks in Athens. Don’t however compromise your message.

It is ideal for a student to maintain contacts with outside specialists who are Christian and who can provide encouragement and advice. As a student, for example, Dr. Ross attended Baraminology Study Group events and Intelligent Design conferences. Such events also broadened his experience and confidence. Thus while the academic life is stimulating for a Christian, it is not easy. In general one should do the best work you can, be respectful and don’t pick fights. Listen first and speak second. If possible, avoid people who are aggressively hostile to your position. In all these things maintain your integrity.

The end result in Dr. Ross’ case is that he emerged a specialist in palaeontology, particularly dinosaurs and marine reptiles. In his next two lecture Dr. Ross discussed palaeontology with specific reference to bird hipped and later lizard hipped dinosaurs . In that they are land dwelling, dinosaurs were created on day six, while marine reptiles like mosasaurs were created on day five. Both groups are globally distributed, probably dispersed by the flood.

The idea of the geological column, declared Dr. Ross, was developed based on real patterns of fossils lying in rocks. It was not based upon the idea of evolution. That came later. Thus the order of fossil deposits is important information. Cladistics is another modern idea that is not based on evolution. It is rather a technique for arranging organisms in logical groupings based on their characteristics. Thus cladistic diagrams do not prove evolution (though evolution is usually assumed to have made the pattern of branches). Rather they represent logical ways to represent design features of organisms in relation to other similar creatures.

In their biology, dinosaurs exhibit many interesting features. Some dinosaurs, for example, may have had feathers. Velociraptor, for example, a predator from Mongolia, exhibits bumps on the ulna bone like knobs for the attachment of feathers in birds. Such a shared feature with birds however is probably indicative of design choices rather than shared lines of descent. Also dinosaurs may well have been warm blooded. The inside structure of their bones is similar to that of mammals. And the proportions of dinosaur predators to prey in the local populations (as indicated by counts of various kinds of fossils in a deposit) are similar to the proportions of prey to predators that we see in modern mammal populations. A warm blooded creature needs lots of food to keep his metabolism going!

Lastly Dr. Ross discussed the age of rocks as estimated by various dating techniques. He demonstrated how geologists develop range charts to show in what rocks various fossils are found. This provides an indication of relative position. Old age geologists interpret the vertical separation of organisms in the rock layers as the result of much time passing. However the vertical separation can just as easily represent ecological differences resulting in some communities being trapped and buried before others.

Lastly Dr. Ross outlined the assumptions involved in obtaining “ages” from radiometric dating. The old earth model assumes a long term steady state. Thus from such techniques, conclusions about long ages are derived. With the Bible as our guide, however he said, we find things that the secular scientist would never expect. For example, creation based RATE project scientists found indications of a short passage of time when the diffusion rate of helium gas was measured in granite rocks deep in the earth.  Thus we should never be afraid of observations made from nature. We confidently expect that they will enhance our understanding of the creation.

February 2011

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