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Hunting for giant wheat sharks in Kansas

Avid paleontology fans — and I know there are thousands of you reading this column right now — may have taken note of the discovery recently of what scientists are calling a fossilized jawbone fragment from a giant, prehistoric, clam-eating shark known as Ptychodus mortoni. The handful of you out there who aren’t avid paleontology fans might have missed this little news tidbit, but it’s something that I believe merits further discussion.

The discovery, made public in the journal Cretaceous Research, which I’m sure you all have subscriptions to, didn’t exactly send shock waves through the scientific community. Numerous museums already have P. mortoni teeth and incomplete skeletal remains in their collections, quashing the notoriety that would have surrounded the find had it been an unrecorded species.

In fact, the only new information gleaned from the jawbone fragment was that P. mortoni was much larger than previously believed, reaching more than 30 feet in length, according to scientists, who dated the fossil at 88.7 million years old.

What was noteworthy about the jawbone fragment, however, was where it was found: Kansas, the one state in the union where such a find is most likely to meet with skepticism.

In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to change the state’s standardized science tests to remove any mention of “biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the Universe,” meaning that evolutionary theory would effectively no longer be taught in public schools.

In 2004, the same board took another swipe at evolution by drafting new “science standards that require critical analysis of evolution — including scientific evidence refuting the theory.”

Moderates finally regained control of the board in 2006 and drafted a new curriculum with no references to intelligent design as part of science, but there are still plenty of evolution deniers in seats of power in Topeka, and you can rest assured they’re keeping the fight alive.

It is for those people, those folks who draw horns and a Van Dyke beard on pictures of Charles Darwin, that I offer this Young Earth Creationism refutation of the scientific “facts” surrounding the discovery of the P. mortoni jawbone fragment.

First of all, 88.7 million years old? Duh. God only made the planet about 10,000 years ago. I could start with “Adam begat Cain” and explain it all to you, but it involves a lot of begating and a bunch of odd names. Just trust me; it works out.

Secondly, a shark? Really? Have you been to Kansas? There aren’t many oceans in Kansas big enough to host a 30-foot fish. Maybe it was a landshark, and it ate wheat and buffalo and Pawnee Indians. And how can you tell it’s a shark from a little bone fragment anyway? It could just be from the jawbone of a really big cow.

Third, it supposedly ate clams? OK, again, it’s Kansas, not Boston. And though those are equally mediocre rock bands, if someone sent me clam chowder from Kansas instead of Boston, I don’t know if I’d eat it. It wouldn’t make sense. It’d be like sending me Salt Lake City gefilte fish.

Lastly, the guy who found the so-called “jawbone fragment” is named Dr. Kenshu Shimada. He works for DePaul University in Chicago, but he’s probably not even American. They bombed Pearl Harbor back in ’41 and gave the world Pokemon. I don’t think they’d have a problem lying to us about dinosaur fish.

To the people in Kansas or anywhere else that would like to see creationism taught in science classes, let me say this: It takes a tremendous amount of faith to sincerely believe that God created the Earth in seven days a few thousand years ago. And while that level of faith is admirable, the rest of us don’t share it and aren’t comfortable with it as a basis for scientific discussion in our public schools. It’s nothing personal against you.

It also takes a little faith to believe wholeheartedly in science, though. We understand this. A lot of us acknowledge that even if a giant ball of gas exploded to create the universe, something — call it God, or whatever — still had to ignite the ball and set evolution on its course.

The difference is that at least evolutionary theory provides us with credible evidence backed by things like biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy. You know, the things kids learn about — or should, anyway — in science class.

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Todd Hartley

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02 2010

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