Birch Mouse “Living Fossil” Found

This research news is from Southern Methodist University (SMU) — a private university in Dallas founded by the the Southern Methodists and now run by the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The news from SMU is interesting not only in its own right, but also because it’s exactly the sort of thing creationists will seize upon. We’ve been writing about them for so long now that we can already predict the creationists’ reactions. We’ll get to that — but first, the article at SMU’s website is Tiny teeth are new mouse species, a rare “living fossil”. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Tiny fossil teeth discovered in Inner Mongolia are a new species of birch mouse, indicating that ancestors of the small rodent are much older than previously reported, according to paleontologist Yuri Kimura, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Fossils of the new species were discovered in sediments that are 17 million years old, said Kimura, who identified the new species and named it Sicista primus to include the Latin word for “first.”

Here’s some information from Wikipedia about the Birch mouse, and here’s a web page with information about Yuri Kimura. Let’s get back to the SMU article:

Previously the oldest prehistoric ancestor of the modern-day birch mouse was one that inhabited Inner Mongolia 8 million years ago.

Adding 9 million years to the ancestry of the rodent family that includes birch mice and jumping mice distinguishes this genus, Sicista, as a “living fossil,” Kimura said. That places the genus among some of the most unique rodents on earth — those whose ancestry spans 2 to 3 times the average, she said.

This opens up at least two spin opportunities for creationists. Their websites will soon be saying: “Scientists are stupid and have been caught in another blunder. First they claimed the birch mouse’s ancestor lived 8 million years ago, now we’re told it’s 17 million years. Man-made science is worthless because it’s forever changing, but scripture never changes!”

Some creationists will also criticize SMU — a church run institution — for being hypocrites because they promote science instead of creationism. But Methodists are one of many mainstream denominations that don’t have a problem with science. As you can see at the National Center for Science Education’s list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution, there’s a most agreeable statement from The United Methodist Church about separation of church and state; and they also say this: The United Methodist Church (2008):

We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.

There’s much more in the SMU article. We’ll pluck out a couple of additional excerpts, and then you’re on your own:

Kimura identified Sicista primus from 17 tiny teeth, whose size makes them difficult to find. A single molar is about the size of half a grain of rice. … “We are very lucky to have these,” Kimura said. “Paleontologists usually look for bones, but a mouse is very tiny and its bones are very thin and fragile. The teeth, however, are preserved by enamel. Interestingly, small mammal teeth are very diverse in terms of their structure, so from that we can identify a species.”


The birch mouse is a rare case of a small mammal genus persisting from the Early Miocene without significant morphological changes,” Kimura said in reporting the findings.

An ancient species that manages to persist relatively unchanged through the millennia is another favorite of creationists, because they imagine that the theory of evolution demands change, rather than explaining it. We can hear them now: “Look — after all those millions of years, they’re still birch mice! That proves creationism.” And some will utter a modified version of the monkey question: “Why are there still birch mice?”

We can’t read about anything new without anticipating the creationists’ responses. Maybe we’ve been reporting about The Controversy too long.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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2 responses to “Birch Mouse “Living Fossil” Found

  1. Years ago, the creationists were most concerned with apes because they were the closest to us. I suppose that they’ve been squeaking so long that they’ll soon be worried about mice with a collective longevity.

  2. Cool study. After the slap-down the SMU professors gave the DI last year, I predict a particularly snarky response by Luskin or one of the other IDiots. They can’t let this pass.