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Pack Rat Middens Give Unique View On Evolution And Climate Change In Past Million Years
Science Daily ^ | 10/31/03 | Cal Berkeley

Posted on 11/01/2003 4:14:04 AM PST by I Am Not A Mod

Berkeley - For at least a million years, owls throughout the West have been snapping up sagebrush voles and reducing them to gray pellets of fur, bones and teeth littering the foot of the roost.

Thanks to pack rats, however, these voles have not been forgotten.

In one Colorado cave, a pack rat collection of teeth and bones has yielded a layered slice of vole history between 600,000 and a million years ago, providing an unprecedented picture of how a species changes and evolves, and how its evolution is affected by climate change.

"Everything in the cave has been nicely preserved at a controlled temperature and humidity, like putting the stuff in a refrigerator for 750,000 years," said Tony Barnosky, a University of California, Berkeley, paleobiologist.

He and his former graduate student Chris J. Bell, now associate professor of geological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, detail their study of fossil sagebrush voles, a rat-like rodent of the arid West, in a paper published online Oct. 21 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"This is the first study where we've actually taken a living species and looked back almost a million years at the population level to see how it changes through time," said Barnosky, an associate professor of integrative biology and associate curator at UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology.

"We've got a snapshot very early in the history of the species, around 750,000 years ago in the middle Pleistocene, in which we can trace details of what happens in time, plus a snapshot at 10,000 years and a modern snapshot." Together, these snapshots show very gradual change in the sagebrush vole, Lemmiscus curtatus, as the climate goes through one of many periodic cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the original vole population coexisting and probably interbreeding with its evolving cousins.

However, a major climate alteration about 800,000 years ago dramatically shifted the population balance toward the evolving vole and away from the original vole population.

The original vole population still took about 800,000 years to die out, because it lived as recently as 9,500 years ago. Sediments of that age in a Nevada cave still contain the animals' fossilized teeth. In the last 10,000 years, however, the original vole has disappeared entirely, leaving the new variant that continues to evolve away from the original.

"There is debate about the role of climate change and the glacial/interglacial transitions in driving speciation, that is, the evolution of a new species," Barnosky said. "Our study suggests that species adapt to handle routine climate change, and only something out of the ordinary initiates significant evolutionary change. It takes a long time for a species to change, and even the major climatic change 800,000 years ago wasn't dramatic enough to cause the origin of a new species.

"At least for small mammals, there may not have been much speciation in response to climate change in the Pleistocene."

Though the million-year-old voles and today's sagebrush voles are distinctly different based on the shape of their teeth, they probably would be considered the same species, Barnosky and Bell concluded. They acknowledge, however, that other biologists might view the two voles coexisting some 800,000 years ago as two separate species, one of which went extinct.

"The species concept is an especially challenging problem for paleontologists, who work with only bones and teeth," Bell said. "Here we are working with fossilized remains of a species that in the modern biota only has one species, and have shown that, through time, the morphological patterns within that species have changed.

"But we think we're looking at change within a species, not necessarily a speciation event."

"This study shows that, while we can draw a firm boundary around a species we see today in the landscape, we can't draw a firm boundary around species through time - the definition gets fuzzy," Barnosky added. "In our study, we see species change at the population level, but not change from one species into another."

In light of the slow pace of speciation and today's rapid climate change, these findings hold a sobering lesson, Barnosky said.

"It's likely that speciation takes place over a longer time interval than extinction," Barnosky said. "So, climate changes like the global warming we are seeing today are probably happening too fast to cause anything but extinction."

The major climate shift that propelled the emerging vole population into the dominant spot 800,000 years ago was the sudden switch from a 41,000-year glacial cycle to a 100,000-year glacial cycle. This shift, caused presumably by interactions among the long-period precessions of Earth's orbital and spin axes and cyclic changes in the shape of Earth's orbit, initiated an abnormally hot and dry period evident in the cave sediments.

Barnosky has been excavating and analyzing fossils from Porcupine Cave in Colorado since 1985, when he was at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Originally discovered in Park County in the 1860s by miners excavating a promising vein of silver, the cave had been known since then primarily to cavers and entered only through the miners' adit. That was until oil geologist Don Rasmussen and his son Larry stumbled in in 1981 and noticed the rich bone deposits in the cave.

Since then, the cave's history has been reconstructed from the sediments and the bones, which are in collections at the Carnegie Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and the University of Kansas Natural History Museum. The cave, located at 9,500 feet, evidently was open intermittently over a 400,000-year period starting slightly less than a million years ago, in the middle Pleistocene, an era known for its ice ages. During this period, wood rats, colloquially known as pack rats, scavenged nearby owl pellets and scat from coyotes and other mammalian carnivores to decorate their elaborate nests.

Estimates are that the small bones and teeth from the pellets and scat are a good representation of the small animal populations from about a 10-mile radius around the cave. Excavations have revealed the bones of at least 127 separate species, including birds, reptiles and 73 distinct mammals.

One of the cave's most abundant mammals was the sagebrush vole, a 3- to 4-inch rodent, excluding tail, that lived on seeds and plant material and served as a major food source for raptors and small carnivores. Because the voles were so prevalent and well represented throughout the cave sediments, especially at a site called the "pit," Barnosky and Bell hit upon them as a perfect animal to follow through time for a glimpse of evolution at work. The 400,000-year period was particularly interesting because it spanned two transitions between a glacial period, characterized by a cool, wet climate, and a drier interglacial period. The first transition was toward the end of the time characterized by 41,000-year glacial cycles, while the second was early in the series of 100,000-year cycles that persist today.

"There is a lot of controversy about how new species form," Barnosky said. "How long does it take? Is speciation something that happens when one population is isolated from other populations? Do you need a big selection event, such as climate change?

"We can address these questions because we have a really good fossil sample that lets us detail species through time and compare them with modern species."

While other scientists have studied late Pleistocene mammals, they've most commonly gone back only about 11,000 years to the beginning of the so-called Holocene, a period in which it is hard to distinguish the effects of climate change from the effects of humans, who were then roaming North America. Also, such studies sample only a small part of the typical 1.5-million-year life span of a mammalian species.

The new study from the middle Pleistocene looks for the first time at climatic effects on small mammals in the absence of humans and over a million-year time span.

Since teeth were most abundant and are often diagnostic of vole species, Barnosky and Bell extracted teeth from 10 recognizable layers of cave sediment, comparing fossils of 154 first lower molars and 57 third upper molars with 363 specimens taken from modern vole populations. The combined study of fossil collections with the modern material housed in UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, where Barnosky is a member of the research faculty, allowed a detailed understanding of how the populations vary through both time and space.

The chewing surface of the first lower molars is divided into various triangular extensions off the main tooth ridge, and distant ancestors of this vole had teeth with three of these triangles. The million-year-old voles from the cave came from populations with four triangles, five triangles, and an intermediate blend, probably indicating interbreeding between the two other types. Because fossils of the sagebrush vole are not found before the species appears full blown in Porcupine Cave, Barnosky thinks that the sagebrush vole had only recently evolved.

Later sediment layers showed varying proportions of four-and five-triangle teeth, with the balance tipping toward five triangles only after the major climate event 800,00 years ago. This is seen in the cave's uppermost sediments, including the top 600,000-year-old layer, in which six-triangle molars appear for the first time.

The more triangles, the greater the enameled cutting edge, which presumably would be an advantage during more arid conditions, Barnosky said. With more dust in the air and an increase in plants adapted for arid conditions, which contain more hard silica, it makes sense that evolution would select for voles with teeth that had more cutting surface that would not wear out as quickly.

Barnosky and Bell compared these older teeth with more recent vole teeth found in sediments from Snake Creek Burial Cave in Nevada, which has been dated at between 9,500 and 15,000 years ago. In this cave, both four- and five-triangle teeth were represented among the fossils, though five triangles predominated.

Today, no living sagebrush voles have teeth with four triangles. They have teeth with five, six and sometimes seven triangles, showing continued evolution toward more cutting surface. Since different species of voles differ in the number of molar triangles by about two or three, the sagebrush vole today is probably the same species as that of 800,000 years ago, though it clearly is evolving into a species more adapted to hot and dry conditions, Barnosky said.

"The pattern of increasing number of triangles is repeating itself across geographic space," Bell said. "We see it in Porcupine Cave, we see it in Cathedral Cave in Nevada, we see it in the Kennewick road cut locality in Washington. Across geographic space and at different times, we see the same trend in increasing complexity in Lemmiscus populations."

Barnosky has edited a book, to be published next year by the University of California Press, about what Porcupine Cave tells us about biodiversity and climate change.

The work was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: climatechange; evolution
Threads on related topics have been going better recently. Let's keep it that way.
1 posted on 11/01/2003 4:14:06 AM PST by I Am Not A Mod
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To: I Am Not A Mod
"I Am Not A Mod" either but this article demonstrates how "evolution" as taught in classrooms from single cell to apes to "man" is not the case.

No matter how many years described a "vole" is still a "vole" and the only thing about the "vole" that is described in "evolving" is their teeth.

2 posted on 11/01/2003 4:25:13 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: I Am Not A Mod
"I Am Not A Mod" either but this article demonstrates how "evolution" as taught in classrooms from single cell to apes to "man" is not the case.

No matter how many years described a "vole" is still a "vole" and the only thing about the "vole" that is described in "evolving" is their teeth.

3 posted on 11/01/2003 4:26:53 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: Just mythoughts

4 posted on 11/01/2003 4:43:36 AM PST by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... designeduniverse.com --- * architecture * !)
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To: Just mythoughts
Think the word adaptation would take the sting out of the evolution word?
5 posted on 11/01/2003 4:44:32 AM PST by MEG33
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To: MEG33
I think everyone is missing the real point of this study, which is buried in the middle of the article:

"It's likely that speciation takes place over a longer time interval than extinction," Barnosky said. "So, climate changes like the global warming we are seeing today are probably happening too fast to cause anything but extinction."

There you have it. Global warming is a fact, and it is going to cause massive extinction. (And of course it's all George Bush's fault.)

6 posted on 11/01/2003 4:49:12 AM PST by Miss Marple
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To: Miss Marple; gore3000
" I'll believe in evolution when my desire alone for a whole lot of money is enough to be matched by an anonymous spontaneus billion dollar deposit in my checking account "

paraphase quote of gore3000 !

Isn't that liberalism ... money trees - magic ---- wishfull reality - thinking ?
7 posted on 11/01/2003 5:03:26 AM PST by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... designeduniverse.com --- * architecture * !)
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To: Miss Marple
Global warming is a natural fact.That any thing we could have done or might do to slow it is unlikely and certainly not proven.
8 posted on 11/01/2003 5:15:33 AM PST by MEG33
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To: I Am Not A Mod
"In light of the slow pace of speciation and today's rapid climate change, these findings hold a sobering lesson, Barnosky said."

One can't have a science article, it seems, without the "obligatory" propaganda about global warming.

9 posted on 11/01/2003 6:03:06 AM PST by Wonder Warthog (The Hog of Steel)
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To: <1/1,000,000th%; BMCDA; CobaltBlue; Condorman; Dimensio; Doctor Stochastic; general_re; ...
Fuzzy speciation - just as science predicts - ping.
10 posted on 11/01/2003 6:25:52 AM PST by balrog666 (Humor is a universal language.)
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To: I Am Not A Mod
Because fossils of the sagebrush vole are not found before the species appears full blown in Porcupine Cave, Barnosky thinks that the sagebrush vole had only recently evolved.

So we've a sudden appereance of a type followed by such tiny amounts of change that it is impossible for the scientits to tell whether modern voles are a new species, or just a subtype of the voles of 1 million years ago.

This rate of change is woefully inadequate to explain the fossil record. There have probably been over one million new FAMILIES of creatures appear since the first wave of animals arrived in the Cambrian Explosion. That is one new FAMILY every 435 years. This article is another example of my contention that evolution, to the extent it happens, does not happen fast enough or cause change enough to explain the fossil record.

11 posted on 11/01/2003 6:27:58 AM PST by Ahban
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To: balrog666
Thanks for the heads up!
12 posted on 11/01/2003 7:11:57 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: I Am Not A Mod
In the last 10,000 years, however, the original vole has disappeared entirely...

Please note that this species, as well as 99.9% of other extinct species, disappeared without any influence of the National Rifle Association, urbanization, pollution, etc.

It is natural for species to die out and our attempts to prolong this process through environmental impact reports and other such nonsense only serves to breed a larger and more well-funded set of bureaucrats (evolution in action) who impose increasingly onerous regulation on the rest of the population.

13 posted on 11/01/2003 7:29:06 AM PST by CurlyDave
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To: I Am Not A Mod
Together, these snapshots show very gradual change in the sagebrush vole, Lemmiscus curtatus, as the climate goes through one of many periodic cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the original vole population coexisting and probably interbreeding with its evolving cousins.

However, a major climate alteration about 800,000 years ago dramatically shifted the population balance toward the evolving vole and away from the original vole population.

The original vole population still took about 800,000 years to die out, because it lived as recently as 9,500 years ago. Sediments of that age in a Nevada cave still contain the animals' fossilized teeth. In the last 10,000 years, however, the original vole has disappeared entirely, leaving the new variant that continues to evolve away from the original.

This science writer doesn't seem to have a very good idea of how evolution works. The two populations of voles will evolve at roughly the same rate; it's not true that one population will evolve while the other remains the same. At any given moment, the two populations will be (approximately) genetically equidistant from their last common ancestor.

What they mean is that one population specialized in such a way that their teeth became mophologically different from the parent stock, while the other population's teeth looked about the same as those of the parent stock.

14 posted on 11/01/2003 7:45:17 AM PST by Physicist
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To: Just mythoughts
No matter how many years described a "vole" is still a "vole" and the only thing about the "vole" that is described in "evolving" is their teeth.

This does not disprove evolution. Evolution does not predict that species will necessarily disappear over thsouands of years.
15 posted on 11/01/2003 10:46:26 AM PST by Dimensio (The only thing you feel when you take a human life is recoil. -- Frank Jones (as "Earl"))
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To: Ahban
So we've a sudden appereance of a type ...

Ten layers got studied. The oldest layer has some variation already. Are you assuming the oldest layer studied is a "sudden appearance?" Why?

I see no "sudden appearance" in this article.

This study seems to have been modeled on Gingerich's survey of Pelycodus, which also showed gradual change accumulating steadily.


16 posted on 11/01/2003 11:10:35 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: VadeRetro
The words "sudden appearance" are not in the article, but this is....

"Because fossils of the sagebrush vole are not found before the species appears full blown in Porcupine Cave, Barnosky thinks that the sagebrush vole had only recently evolved. "

....that is the same thing, in so many words.

The timescale for divergence in your graph is also too great for those mechanisms to explain the great diversity in the fossil record, unless those mechanisms also operate much, much, much faster than in these two examples. Its what, 1.6 million years total, with 90% of the divergence showing up in the last half million? That is still a long time for such a small difference.

On an issue unrelated to our disagreement, I noticed something odd about your diagram. I find it intersting that the data breaks toward the right, until one branch snaps back to the left, with another branch veering even more sharply right. I wonder if that pattern is consistent in other examples?

That would be consistent with the idea of a changing environment pushing a species from one niche into another. Say a species is fit for its niche. It is not "pulled" in any direction sofar as morphological change goes. As they exploit the new niche (along with the old one) for generations they are "pulled" in two directions, trending towards fitness in the new niche.

Eventually, the "pulling" of fitness for two niches results in a split, with one group quicly returning to its orginal starting point, and going back to its old niche (if it still exists). The other group, better adapted now to the new niche than the old, accelerates over into its new niche, now that it is no longer being dragged back to the mean by the "pulling" effect of exploiting two niches.
17 posted on 11/01/2003 12:03:09 PM PST by Ahban
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To: Ahban
"Because fossils of the sagebrush vole are not found before the species appears full blown in Porcupine Cave, Barnosky thinks that the sagebrush vole had only recently evolved. "

My sloppiness; I didn't register that. I should mention that while Barnosky says the sagebrush vole was pretty new at its appearance in the cave (presumably because there are no older fossils known elsewhere either), this is because prior divergence happened at some distance from the cave at some site not excavated or maybe not even preserved by fossilization. (Some places have deposition, some places have erosion.)

Eventually, the "pulling" of fitness for two niches results in a split, with one group quicly returning to its orginal starting point, and going back to its old niche (if it still exists).

Sounds like you are discovering the sympatric model of speciation. That's thought to happen in some cases, although it's perhaps not the most important model. (The model most often described on these threads is the allopatric one with geographic separation between sub-populations.)

Modes of Speciation.

18 posted on 11/01/2003 12:17:14 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: Dimensio
"Evolution" does not prove anything it is a theory.

Now it is written that "man in the flesh" will someday be extinct. So stay tuned and "time" not evolution will reveal what will happen.
19 posted on 11/03/2003 5:45:21 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: MEG33
"adaptation" versus "evolution" no sting in either word if they are defined in what they mean.

The "stretch" that some use to make each word cover what one believes has lost its elasticity. A "theory" is not scientific data, rather what some use to explain the data, their own interpretation.

Fact this "earth" is more than "six thousand" years old.
20 posted on 11/03/2003 6:00:41 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: Just mythoughts
"Evolution" does not prove anything it is a theory.

"Gravity" also does not prove anything, and it is also a theory.
21 posted on 11/03/2003 11:23:47 AM PST by Dimensio (The only thing you feel when you take a human life is recoil. -- Frank "Earl" Jones)
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To: Dimensio
Mercury and apple juice are liquids !
22 posted on 11/03/2003 11:28:40 AM PST by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... designeduniverse.com --- * architecture * !)
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To: Dimensio
fC ...

Mantra - ideology freeks !

vg ...

Perhaps you get confused. Most people past the age of twelve are pretty capable of handling a diversity of opinions and information without confusion. Not so with True Believers who use mental compartmentalization in order to avoid mixing disparate facts that might lead them to doubt their faith. The mental effort (largely subconscious) required to maintain the compartments ... often leads to --- an impaired intelligence. Mixing, after all, is what intelligence is all about.

66 posted on 11/03/2003 8:04 AM PST by Vercingetorix

23 posted on 11/03/2003 11:34:29 AM PST by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... designeduniverse.com --- * architecture * !)
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To: I Am Not A Mod
Thanks to pack rats, however, these voles have not been forgotten.

Stylistic complaint: why "however?"

24 posted on 11/03/2003 11:37:40 AM PST by r9etb
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To: I Am Not A Mod
In one Colorado cave, a pack rat collection of teeth and bones has yielded a layered slice of vole history between 600,000 and a million years ago, providing an unprecedented picture of how a species changes and evolves, and how its evolution is affected by climate change.

I have some problems with the scenario that the packrats kept returning to this cave, which was only "periodically open" during that period.

25 posted on 11/03/2003 11:58:27 AM PST by r9etb
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To: f.Christian
Mercury and apple juice are liquids !

There is an amusing yet decidedly snide comment to be made here, but I'm not going to be the one to make it.
26 posted on 11/03/2003 12:06:42 PM PST by Dimensio (The only thing you feel when you take a human life is recoil. -- Frank "Earl" Jones)
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To: Dimensio
Gravity and evolution are theories !
27 posted on 11/03/2003 12:09:26 PM PST by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... designeduniverse.com --- * architecture * !)
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To: Dimensio

" I'll believe in evolution when my desire alone for a whole lot of money is enough to be matched by an anonymous spontaneus billion dollar deposit in my checking account "

paraphase quote of gore3000 !

Isn't that liberalism ... money trees - magic ---- wishfull reality - thinking ?
28 posted on 11/03/2003 12:13:09 PM PST by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... designeduniverse.com --- * architecture * !)
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To: I Am Not A Mod
Sorry, I thought they said Rat Pack.


29 posted on 11/03/2003 12:20:10 PM PST by js1138
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To: Dimensio
"Gravity" is a theory, ok moving on.
30 posted on 11/03/2003 12:20:18 PM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: Just mythoughts
"Gravity" is a theory, ok moving on.

Let me know when you move on to evolution, I'll get back with you.
31 posted on 11/03/2003 12:25:11 PM PST by Dimensio (The only thing you feel when you take a human life is recoil. -- Frank "Earl" Jones)
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To: Dimensio
It's a time warp you live in and your mind will come to my mind minus your evolution. There are no paths to evolution in my mind our Heavenly Father saw to that He got to me before the "maybe", "probably" "possibly" could be, might be crowd did.
32 posted on 11/03/2003 1:09:01 PM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: Just mythoughts
It's a time warp you live in

So it's just a jump to the left? (And then a step to the ri-ii-ii-iight.)

your mind will come to my mind minus your evolution.

Come clean here. English isn't your first language, is it?

There are no paths to evolution in my mind our Heavenly Father saw to that He got to me before the "maybe", "probably" "possibly" could be, might be crowd did.

This is more meaningless gibberish, thinly disguised as an attempt at conversation because it has some semblance of sentence structure (which is a bit more than at least one poster around here) that makes it look like you don't accept evolution because the "Heavenly Father" has installed some kind of mental inhibitor. It's clear that despite your obvious ignorance you are not here to learn and you're not here to share information, so I'm through with you.

Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
Just mythoughts
You're dead to us.

33 posted on 11/03/2003 2:11:01 PM PST by Dimensio (The only thing you feel when you take a human life is recoil. -- Frank "Earl" Jones)
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To: Dimensio
There you go again, so full of yourself, peering down in your high evolutionary state of mind.

Do you really think one whose mind comes from pond scum can possibly insult me? Guess so, that is all you have accomplished in your "tower of babel" of words.

I do understand why you would think that my English is horrible. That is what happens when one tries to describe the fairy tale presented by the evolution crowd. Horrible English!
34 posted on 11/03/2003 6:27:13 PM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: Just mythoughts

35 posted on 11/04/2003 10:14:39 AM PST by f.Christian (( Alpha - Omega Design - Architecture ... ALL THINGS NEW --- Science3000 ! ))
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To: f.Christian
Thanks.
36 posted on 11/04/2003 10:26:34 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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