Pharyngula is a fascinating blog on evolution and paleontology—lots of original content, authoritative, well-written, and, most uncommonly for a weblog, extremely well and richly illustrated. In today’s post, PZ Myers tells a fascinating story about the Kansas geological formation known as the Niobraran Chalk. It’s one of the world’s richest sources for a wide range of fossils, ranging from minute single-celled organisms to huge marine dinosaurs. Niobrara was a particularly productive hunting ground for the great paleontologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the fossils excavated from the 600—foot—thick formation have contributed significantly to our understanding of the age of the Earth and the history of life here. Myers points out the irony implicit in the state’s recent kangaroo court “trial” of scientific evolutionary theory.
I’ve only briefly visited modern Kansas, but the Kansas of my imagination is a fiercely exotic ocean, a warm and savage sea richer than any place still extant. Try mentioning the magic word “Niobrara” to a paleontologist, or any enthusiast familiar with Mesozoic reptilesâ€¦their eyes will light up as it conjures visions of the world of 85 million years ago, a world well documented in the incredible fossil beds of Kansas. It’s a powerful, evocative word that links us to a wealth of evidence and a complex, fascinating history.
Reading about the ridiculous anti-evolution trial going on there was rather depressing. It isn’t just that the creationist arguments are so poor, but that they are making them in Kansas, where beneath their very feet are the relics of an ancient world that show them to be wrong. Don’t schoolchildren there take pride in the paleontological wealth of their home? Do the people bury their imaginations and avoid thinking about the history that surrounds them?
Let us hope that the current trial has the same effect that the Scopes monkey trial had, and that it exposes the idiocy of the willfully ignorant proponents of that great oxymoron, “scientific creationism”.
You know, when I was a kid, I was so looking forward to the twenty-first century….