George Claassen

Wake up and smell the eggs!

2005-08-05 09:33

Is there anyone around on Earth who still believes the planet is only 6 000 years old?

Unfortunately yes, despite the announcement in last week's Science that the oldest dinosaur embryos were discovered in the eastern Free State's Golden Gate Highland National Park.

The embryos, wonderfully preserved, were found in seven eggs and are 190 million years old. They were discovered 30 years ago by the father of the Bernard Price Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand, James Kitching, widely regarded as one of the leading experts on Karoo fossils.

At the time, nobody could study them because of a lack of technology, scientists and equipment to dig the fragile treasure trove out of the soil.

After a joint research project by scientists of the Bernard Price Institute, the University of Toronto, and the Smithsonian Institute - an example of international scientific collaboration if ever there was one - the Massospondylus carinatus embryos were exposed in eggs of a 6cm diameter. The 15cm embryos would have grown to dinosaur adults more than 5 meters long, walking on two hind legs with a long tail.

Massospondylus carinatus was a herbivorous (plant-eating) dinosaur from the early Jurassic period (208 to 146 million years ago) and was given the name in 1845 by Sir Richard Owen, a British scientist who studied fossils of this creature in South Africa's Great Karoo.

The Jurassic period

The Jurassic period formed part of the middle period of the Mezoic era (245 to 65 million years ago).

According to the Science Desk Reference of Scientific American, the Jurassic period had similar climates worldwide which created forests of conifers and ferns; dinosaurs were abundant, birds evolved, and limestone and iron ores were deposited. The name derives from the Jura Mountains in France and Switzerland, where the rocks formed during this period were first studied.

Scientists are quietly commemorating the formulation of the Big Bang theory by Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias 40 years ago.

Since then various studies by astrophysicists have found with a fairly reliable degree of certainty that the Universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old.

Other studies have found that the Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, and that life could have started in the early and primitive oceans less than 4 billion years ago.

Analyse these scientific facts in light of an astonishing group of naïve people in the Boland towns of Stellenbosch and Somerset West, who still propagate that the Earth is literally only 6 000 years old.

Naïve people

Led by the Stellenbosch architect Pieter Pelser and his colleagues of the Study Group for Bible-directed Thinking, Martin Blignaut, Gustav Bredell, Danie Spreeth, Hennie van Rensburg, Joos van der Merwe, Jim Allan, and a part-time lecturer at Helderberg College in Somerset West, Bernard Ficker, as well as Johan Kruger who established a South African chapter of the anti-evolutionary group Answers in Genesis, these people, like their American colleagues pushing a creationist and Intelligent Design agenda in all walks of life right into the White House, cling to the idea that modern science is wrong in its dating of the Earth's age and life on it.

One wonders how they explain the Golden Gate-discovery. Or, without even leaving South Africa's borders, the discoveries by paleontologists of numerous similar examples of fossils millions or hundreds of thousands of years old at Taung, Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Klasiesriver Mouth, Blombos, as well as other sites elsewhere in Africa.

Africa may be the cradle of mankind, but the thinking of some of its inhabitants is still encapsulated in the eggshells formed around it by nearly two thousands years of superstition, as if the discoveries of Raymond Dart, Robert Broom, James Kitching, Phillip Tobias, Hilary and Janette Deacon, Ron Clark and others are meaningless and void of any truth.

Send your comments to George or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

  • George Claassen is science editor of Die Burger, Cape Town's largest circulation daily newspaper.

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