Introduction"Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth" by biochemist Fazale Rana (softcover, Kindle, video) is a book that I have been anticipating for over a year now. It addresses a challenge regarding the debate within the Christian church about the age of the earth (check here for my reasons for believing internal and theological debates are important for the apologist). The questions that Dr. Rana attempts to answer is if the discoveries of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils is a good argument for a young age of the earth, the historicity of the Genesis 1 account of creation, and the truth of the Christian faith. The book is a mere four chapters with three appendices contained in 88 pages. This review will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary; I avoid going into too much detail so that you, the reader, will have the incentive to get the full work to read the details of Dr. Rana's case for yourself. But first check out this video from Dr. Rana about the book:
Dinosaur Blood and The Age of The Earth from RTB: MEDIA on Vimeo.
Book IntroductionDr. Rana introduces the book by briefly explaining its purpose. Over the last decade, controversy has arisen surrounding studies that indicate long-term preservation of soft tissue in fossilized dinosaur bone. This is the source of controversy because it challenges the reigning paradigm of the understanding of how fossilization takes place. However, some Christians believe that it also challenges another paradigm: the age of the universe. The goal in this book is to explain just how compelling the evidence is for soft tissue being present in fossils dating millions of years yet demonstrate that the challenge is not to the scientifically established age of the earth but to the current understanding of the fossilization process.
Chapter 1: Dinosaur Blood in Fossils: Who Would Believe It?
Dr. Rana begins by taking the reader through the research of Mary Schweitzer. He details (from a lay perspective) the specimens, processes, doubts, and eventual conclusions of the various studies that she conducted. He explains her concern about presenting such controversial findings and the skepticism that she has experienced along with her responses to such criticism. He also bolsters the conclusion by mentioning several other studies that Schweitzer's work has inspired that has also yielded discoveries of soft tissue in other ancient fossils. While Rana presents a compelling case, he also recognizes skepticism in the scientific community and addresses attempts to find alternative explanations for Schweitzer's results. However, he finds that none of the explanations are consistent with the evidence or are so improbable to be indistinguishable from pure speculation. He concludes that a paradigm shift needs to take place, but not where many Christians demand.
Chapter 2: Dinosaur Blood and the Case for a Young Earth
Many Christians have seized on the work of Mary Schweitzer as evidence that the earth is only about 6,000 to 10,000 years old. One such Christian is biologist Brian Thomas of the Institute for Creation Research. Dr. Rana believes that Thomas' work provides the most thoroughly researched and clearly articulated argument for soft tissue providing evidence of a young earth. Rana describes the argument presented by Thomas as having to necessary foundations: that dinosaur fossils contain authentic soft tissues and that the decay rates of biomolecules (what composes the soft tissues) is accurately understood to result too quickly to allow for preservation for millions of years. Having already established the first foundation in the first chapter, Dr. Rana provides the source and the conclusion of the research used for the second foundation required by Thomas' conclusion.
Thomas concludes that only three possible interpretations exist: that soft tissue is authentic and that an unknown natural process is at work to prevent rapid degradation; that the soft tissue is authentic and the radiometric dating techniques used to date fossils at millions of years is wrong (the fossils and, consequently, the earth are young); or that the soft tissue is not authentic and dating is a non-issue. He believes, along with other young-earth creationists (YECs) that the first and third options are not supported scientifically, so by the process of elimination, they conclude that the radiometric dating methods are incorrect and that the fossils and earth are actually only a few thousand years old.
Chapter 3: Radiometric Dating and the Age of the EarthDr. Rana, on the other hand, believes that radiometric dating is accurate. He provides an explanation of various methods and how they have been tested (using historical records of events and tree rings) and calibrated. He notes that it is important to understand the limits of each method. Many of the YEC concerns with radiometric dating methods can be resolved simply by not trusting a particular method outside its usable dating range. With over forty different methods may be used to date objects across time, many of them overlap in their ranges. The overlap has provided the ability to test consistency among the various methods, which has been done numerous times. Because the evidence is heavily weighted towards the reliability of radiometric dating, Rana accepts its reliability.
However, Brian Thomas and his team did find some carbon-14 results that seemed to be inconsistent with the reliability of such dating methods. Dr. Rana offers several explanations, consistent with the reliability of radiometric dating methods, that do account for the results reported, and he provides evidence that these are not merely wild speculations. He also explains that the values reported by Thomas are impossible to reconcile with his own model's predictions (even different predictions of altered forms of the model) by several orders of magnitude. Due to the facts that the evidence supports the reliability of radiometric dating techniques (when used properly), the various techniques produce consistent results, and such reliability is compatible with results of Thomas' own research which cannot be reconciled outside of the reliability of radiometric dating, Rana proposes that radiometric dating methods are, in fact, reliable.
Chapter 4: How Did Soft Tissue Survive In Dinosaur Fossils?Because of the reliability of radiometric dating, Dr. Rana rejects Brian Thomas' (and YECs') conclusion in favor of a natural process that prevents rapid degradation of soft tissues- a reworking of current models of this process. So exactly how is it possible, or even plausible that soft tissue survived for upwards of 500 million years? The reliability of radiometric dating and other dating methods provides indirect evidence that the model needs to be changed, but what is the direct evidence? Dr. Rana begins by explaining the structure of seven soft tissue molecules and how they combine to form extremely stable structures. He describes nine, recently discovered, non-exclusive mechanisms that scientists have found that further help to maintain the structure of these tissues for extended periods of time. None of them can single-handedly explain the preservation for millions of years, but many of them can work simultaneously to make the task quite plausible.
Despite the recent discoveries, Brian Thomas still dismisses these mechanisms by saying that all molecules are subject to thermodynamic entropy. Rana explains that in this move, Thomas is failing to make an important chemical distinction. Rana explains the difference between thermodynamically controlled and kinetically controlled chemical reactions. The reactions in question are kinetically controlled, which can hold off chemical reactions nearly indefinitely. The research will, of course, continue, and as it does more mechanisms will be discovered and the model for soft tissue preservation will become more complete.
Conclusion: Should You Believe It or Not?Dr. Rana concludes his book by summarizing the situation. The discoveries of Mary Schweitzer seem to be valid, which on the surface would indicate a young age for the fossils. YECs believe that these discoveries demand a paradigm shift in the scientific community. Despite YECs' excitement on these finds, all sound dating methods demonstrate that the fossils are, indeed, millions of years old. This indicates that the scientific paradigm with respect to soft tissue preservation needs to be revisited and developed more completely (as opposed to the paradigm regarding the age of the earth). The latest research has provided evidence that the original paradigm, in fact, was incomplete and is still quite incomplete even today. As research continues the new paradigm will shed more light on Schweitzer's research while keeping consistency with the fact that the earth is not young but old.
Reviewer's ThoughtsAs with all of Dr. Rana's previous works that I've reviewed (listed below), I highly recommend this one for anyone interested in the interaction between science and the Christian faith. While this book focuses on a single piece of evidence for one particular interpretation of the Genesis account of creation, it is important that the apologist knows the information before they go asserting this as evidence for a young earth. Not only is the evidence very much against a young age, but it is very strong for the antiquity of the earth, which is not in any violation of the Bible and does nothing but provide powerful evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview. On the other hand, continued usage of evidence to support a false view of reality, then connecting that false view to Christianity will only hurt apologetic efforts to demonstrate a reason for the hope that we have and stiffle evangelical efforts to complete the Great Commission.
Other Books By Dr. Fazale Rana
Other Books on the Age-Of-The-Earth Debate