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Scientist dismissed after soft tissue found on dinosaur fossil

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A microscope scientist working for California State University has been fired following the discovery that a Triceratops horn still contained soft tissue complete with bone cells “that look alive”, according to a report in CBS Los Angeles . The scientist, whose analysis of the Triceratops horn was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, is also an evangelical creationist, and claimed that the finding supports the view that Earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs roamed the planet around 4,000 years ago. While the university claims the scientist, Mark Armitage, was fired for allowing his religion to interfere with his work, Armitage is suing the University for wrongful dismissal on the basis of violation to freedom of speech and academic freedom. 

Mark Armitage, a published scientist of over 30 years, was working at the Hell Creek Formation excavation site in Montanaa when he discovered one of the largest Triceratops horns ever unearthed at the site. According to conventional perspectives, the Triceratops is a genus of herbivorous dinosaur that first appeared in the late Cretaceous period, about 68 million years ago in what is now North America, and became extinct around 66 million years ago.

Example of a Triceratops horn

Example of a Triceratops horn. Photo source .

Armitage studied the fossil in the California State University lab using a high-powered miscroscope and was stunned to find soft tissue complete with bone cells.  According to Armitage, the preservation of such cells is a scientific impossibility if the dinosaur really walked the Earth over 66 million years ago. On this basis, he felt it was not unreasonable to open discussion with colleagues and students about the implications of such a finding being that the creationist perspective is correct and that dinosaurs existed much later than mainstream science maintains. The results of Armitage’s analysis of the soft tissue was eventually published in July 2013 in the journal Acta Histochemica . Nevertheless, Armitage was fired from the University of California, which he is now fighting in court.

“Terminating an employee because of their religious views is completely inappropriate and illegal,” said Attorney Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute. “But doing so in an attempt to silence scientific speech at a public university is even more alarming. This should be a wakeup call and warning to the entire world of academia.”

While numerous examples of suppression of ‘academic freedom’ can be cited in which scientists have been discriminated against for presenting views that conflict with mainstream perspectives, Armitage made the ‘unscientific’ mistake of assuming that the dinosaur must be only several thousand years old simply because the process in which the cells were preserved was not understood by him.

In fact, the finding of the soft tissue is not the first of its kind.  Several ground-breaking discoveries in the last decade have revealed preserved soft tissue on dinosaur remains, such as the recent finding of 68-milion-year-old soft tissue from the bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex. However, Mary Schweitzer, a molecular paleontologist at North Carolina State University, who headed up the research on the T. rex remains, explained that the soft tissue was able to be preserved by iron in the dinosaur’s body, which preserved the tissue before it could decay.

The legal case surrounding Armitage’s dismissal opens up many important questions about academic freedom, whether science and religion can ever truly coexist in harmony, and what knowledge may be unravelled by the discovery of preserved cells in the remains of dinosaurs.

Featured image: A Triceratops. Source: BigStockPhoto

By April Holloway

Comments

I haven't read through all the comments, but yours are some of the best I've seen on responses to controversial scientific discoveries. I wish more scientists, atheist and religious alike, could (or would!) think with your balanced perspective.

As a (Christian) scientist, I personally think this guy's article should not have even passed review if it blatantly did not address the previous findings of soft tissues in the T-rex. That's just plain dishonesty in research, and a Christian especially has no excuse for that. But perhaps I am too quick to judge here: I've not yet read the article, but plan to.

Tsurugi's picture

Thank you for saying so. I generally agree with the points you have been making regarding historical impedances to advancement, and the all-too-often horrific punishments suffered by those who in some way threatened the status quo(or perhaps just pissed off the people with status).

On a side note, I have always wondered at the curious "pagan" connections to the practice of "burning at the stake". Sacrificial offerings to the "old gods" was often performed using fire, and the "stake" brings to mind the wooden ritual poles of the Grove of the Goddess or Gofannon's Grove. That such ancient connections to polytheistic beliefs should exist in an execution favored by ostensibly monotheistic Christian leaders is strange, and in my opinion hints that there is more here than at first meets the eye.

That aside, I would urge you and anyone else that happens to read these comments to keep in mind the often dual nature of religious institutions throughout history--the spiritual beliefs and practices upon which they were founded usually have humble beginnings, but eventually they merge with government. It is then that most of their atrocities begin, and they all have the same sort of rotten flavor: authoritarian, despotic governance propped up by an increasingly twisted version of the original spritual practices.
Some people construe this to mean that such spiritual beliefs are a tool of control created by those who would rule, and as such they eschew any spiritualism as the sign of a weak mind, easily controlled by others. But in modern times we have plenty of examples of authoritarian governments which are entirely atheistic, yet commit much of the same horrific, despotic acts of violence on their populaces as did the European "christian" monarchies of the dark ages.
At the same time, we have plenty of examples of religious and spiritual practices which have not become embroiled and intertwined with government, and as such, have not set anyone on fire, or pulled out peoples' entrails on a public stage, and so forth.

The point I am attempting to make is that there have always been, throughout history, people who sought control over others, and these people use whatever tools are at hand to do so, twisting and reshaping said tools to fit their needs at the time. Religion, or an organized following of a spiritual practice, fell prey to this often, and we should certainly learn the lesson of history and be wary of similar uses in the future....but as we have modern examples of despotic barbarism that took place without any religious belief at all being involved, it is clear that such things cannot be blamed on religion or spiritualism.

The depredations of mankind against itself cannot be blamed on the tools of mankind, only on man himself.

By the way, I should note that I do not follow any particular religion.

I like you response. that was really good.

Tsurugi's picture

Yeah, I disagree. I would say that, while it is certain that in terms of holding back progression, the church certainly played a part, it should also be noted that a religious-based view was the norm up until very recently, at least up until Origin of the Species. All scientific progress up to that point was carried out by men with a religious background. And men with religious backgrounds continue to pursue science to this day, making meaningful contributions, as did the one in this article. Your concept of a religious minded culture being in a permanent Dark Age is an unfortunate but typical portrayal spurred by lack of perspective and knowledge of history, it seems to me.

That said, I thought the guy made a huge blunder in his illogical leap from soft tissue discovery to "therefore 6k creationism". It was stupid in many ways, not the least of which is the apparent assumption of many 6k creationists that if they can just disprove evolution, they will have thus proved 6k creationism by default. What's worse, and more damaging in a scientific sense, is that this assumption has become implicit in the discourse, to the point where any questioning of the validity of evolution is assumed to be an attempt to prove 6k creationism, and is treated as such.

Insecurity is what i felt for the 30 years i was a bible believing born again fundamentalist christian. Pastor and verse by verse bible teacher. I am just trying to get people to think. Now try addressing some of the observations i made. Do ypu disagree?

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