Fossils are evidence of life, not extinction

I know of three paleontologists who have openly criticized living-pterosaur investigations. So how do I answer the Mesozoic objection? Let’s examine specific comments from specific paleontologists.

Darren Naish criticized the idea of extant pterosaurs in a late-2007 online post. He believes that there are “no indications from the fossil record that pterosaurs survived beyond the end of the Cretaceous . . .” He also proclaims that “the fossil record convincingly demonstrates that pterosaurs became extinct . . .” What he fails to include in his long post, however, is an explanation for how any fossils can demonstrate the extinction of even one species, let alone all species of a general type.

Mr. Naish seems to have failed to apply simple clear reasoning. Fossils tell us nothing about true extinction, notwithstanding one  worldwide catastrophe that killed many individual creatures; near-extinction is a world apart from true extinction. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between extinction and near-extinction is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

But Naish is not the only paleontologist to miss this critical point. Glen Kuban also appears dedicated to ridiculing living-pterosaur investigators or at least actively fighting against any hope that pterosaurs still live; he also appears to believe that fossils are evidence for the extinction of all species of pterosaurs. But his long web page bears a striking resemblance to the one written by Naish: Both paleontologists concentrate on old questionable accounts, avoiding the critical eyewitness sightings that most heavily support the concept of modern extant pterosaurs.

See “Extinction or Near-Extinction, What Distinction?”

See also Live Pterosaurs

7 Replies to “Fossils are evidence of life, not extinction”

  1. I do not understand your application of logic or critical thought. If a group of organisms are absent from the fossil record for tens of millions of years, and if there is no evidence indicating their survival across or beyond that time, they should be assumed to be extinct. This conclusion is logical and entirely scientific: we are supposed to make conclusions based on the data we have. No evidence indicates or even suggests the survival of pterosaurs beyond the end of the Cretaceous. The alleged eyewitness accounts (all of which are dubious or should be outright rejected) are a joke and there is no good reason to think that they really describe living pterosaurs.

    I put it to you and your colleagues that you have been misled by your desire to believe something: you _want_ pterosaurs and other ancient animals to be alive, and you therefore dismiss or ignore evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, you uncritically accept an extremely poor body of suspect eyewitness evidence.

  2. Reply to Darren Naish’s July 9, 2010, comment:

    For those needing an introduction to who we are, Darren Naish is a vertebrate palaeontologist; his specialty includes the study of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other complex organisms known from fossils. My specialty includes interviewing eyewitnesses of flying creatures whose descriptions suggest living pterosaurs.

    Dr. Naish’s education and research background need no promotion from me, but my own qualifications for this discussion may need explaining. I began investigating sighting reports as a forensic videographer; I interviewed witnesses while videotaping them for settlement documentaries and day-in-the-life productions (for trial attorneys). My work required me to make critical observations of witnesses to judge credibility, for any legal video that I produced needed to be capable of being shown in court. From a number of life experiences, I developed an ability to judge witness credibility.

    I have written only one scientific paper that was published in a peer-reviewed journal, but I have written two books on eyewitness sightings of living pterosaurs. The hundreds of web pages that I have written on this subject do not, of course, count as evidence that I am on the right track; but the years of writing have caused me to think about the many issues and ramifications of modern living pterosaurs. Whatever readers choose to believe about my judgement and conclusions, from late-2003 to the present there is probably no other person on earth who has spent more time writing and thinking about this.

    Before listing our differences, please consider how Dr. Naish and I probably agree. We both have great respect for the scientific potential of fossils: Much knowledge can be gained from their study. I believe that we both are delighted that many species of pterosaurs have left fossils. Nevertheless, I believe that the great variety of those fossils makes a point that he has not yet considered.

    I do not believe in the General Theory of Evolution, that is, the axiom of unlimited common ancestry. But for those who do believe in it, the great variety of pterosaur fossils makes one thing obvious: There would need to have been a vast number of forms of pterosaurs that have lived in the past: For every type of pterosaur fossil found, there must have been many types that left no fossil yet discovered. So what does the absence of fossils of those innumerable species tell us? According to standard models of evolution, we must conclude that fossilization was not a common happening. We cannot draw any firm conclusion, like the non-existence of a species, by simply pointing to a lack of fossils of that species. That is the general case, without specific time frame.

    Before leaving the general concept of the lack of fossils for a species, let’s look at this from another prespective. According to some paleontoligists, including Dr. Naish, the lack of pterosaur fossils in strata dated more recently than Mesozoic show us that pterosaurs became extinct long ago. But by that reasoning we must also conclude that there were not intermediate species of pterosaurs, differing those that left fossils. In other words, that line of reasoning disproves all forms of evolution for pterosuars. Why? None of those supposed pterosaurs left any fossils. We cannot conclude a lack of pterosaur fossils means extinction without leaving open the conclusion that there were never any pre-pterosaur ancestors of pterosaurs, for they left no fossils. A general lack of fossils cannot be both meaningful and meaningless.

    Now let’s look at specifics: Another disproof of the “lack of fossils” case. As I understand it, standard procedure in paleontology includes dating strata by the kinds of fossils found therein. So what if one species of pterosaur survived until four thousand years ago? If one of the last pterosaurs of that species became fossilized, and that fossil was discovered today, how would that stratum be dated? Would it not be dated at millions of years old? That is standard procedure for dating, is it not? In other words, the ancient extinction of all species of pterosaurs is an assumption. It is not based on objective dating of pterosaur fossils.

    Scientific progress thrives on the examination of details. Dr. Naish has mentioned not even one eyewitness report, among those I have recorded in my books and scientific paper. What about the sightings of Duane Hodgkinson, Brian Hennessy, and Gideon Koro? What about the analysis of the video footage recorded by Paul Nation late in 2006? The video was analyzed by Cliff Paiva, a missile defense physicist. If there is really a problem with a report that I have included in one of my books, I would appreciate somebody pointing it out; I would like to make corrections for the next editions of the books.

    As to my being mislead by a desire to believe pterosaurs are alive, I answer briefly: The life or extinction of pterosaurs has no major impact on my core beliefs or philosophy; I believe in modern living pterosaurs because of two things: Human experience with those creatures and the lack of any scientific evidence for universal extinction of all species of pterosaurs.

    Jonathan Whitcomb

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