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Saturday, March 14, 2015

God and Dinosaurs

Over the last several weeks, I have had the privilege and pleasure of participating in another online offering through Coursera. The class, Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology (University of Alberta), has been very interesting and informative. For me, the course has greatly enhanced my understanding of these magnificent creatures and the world of which they were a part. Moreover, it has reaffirmed my commitment to both God and the scientific notion of how life evolved on this earth. For me, the course has provided further evidence of just how wrong and misguided the so-called "Young Earth Creationists" (YEC) really are, and how they have served to damage the reputation of the book (The Bible) and the religion (Christianity) which they profess to defend with their silly notions.

At his Answers in Genesis website, Ken Ham has written: "According to evolutionists, the dinosaurs 'ruled the Earth' for 140 million years, dying out about 65 million years ago. However, scientists do not dig up anything labeled with those ages. They only uncover dead dinosaurs (i.e., their bones), and their bones do not have labels attached telling how old they are. The idea of millions of years of evolution is just the evolutionists’ story about the past." He went on to write: "Other scientists, called creation scientists, have a different idea about when dinosaurs lived. They believe they can solve any of the supposed dinosaur mysteries and show how the evidence fits wonderfully with their ideas about the past, beliefs that come from the Bible." https://answersingenesis.org/dinosaurs/dinosaurs-and-the-bible/

Wrong on both counts Mr. Ham! The notion of millions of years of evolution is supported by a great deal of scientific evidence. Likewise, the notion of a young earth is based on a certain way of reading or interpreting Scripture - There is no single passage in the Bible that refers to the earth as being about 6,000 years old, and there is no collection of passages that overtly suggests such a thing either! To arrive at a young earth interpretation of Scripture one has to employ dubious reasoning and mathematical calculations and ignore a whole host of verses that don't support the thesis.

Mr. Ham and his associates also attempt to place dinosaurs in the Bible. Many of these folks point to the terms dragon, behemoth and leviathan in the KJV as proof that dinosaurs are mentioned in Scripture; and that they existed simultaneously with man. This is a good example of what I was talking about when I said that the YEC had to employ dubious reasoning to arrive at their conclusions. The Hebrew word "tanniyn or tanniym" that is rendered "dragon" in the KJV suggests "a marine or land monster, sea-serpent or jackal" and is also translated as sea-monster, serpent and whale (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). The Greek word is "drakon" and it suggests "a fabulous kind of serpent" (same source). The Hebrew word behemoth/behemowth is used one time in Scripture and implies a water-ox, hippopotamus or Nile-horse (Strong's). Finally, the Hebrew leviathan/livyathan suggests "a wreathed animal, serpent, crocodile or some other large sea-monster" (same source). The truth is that we simply do not know what animals these words reference. From the context and the way they are used, it is quite possible that they refer to a wide range of animals (but notice that most of them seem to be aquatic in nature). Hence, it requires a great deal of conjecture and imagination to arrive at the conclusion that the places where these terms appear in Scripture are references to dinosaurs - something that these same folks would not tolerate in scientists!

Scientists, on the other hand, have the fossil record to point to in support of their conclusions about dinosaurs: footprints, eggshells, coprolites, skin/feather impressions and bones. They can tell a great deal about dinosaurs based on studying the skulls, vertebrae, limb girdles, limb bones, and where the muscle scars appear on the bones of these creatures. Because of the fossil record, scientists know for a certainty that at least some dinosaurs had feathers! Moreover, the very process of how some of the remains of these animals became fossilized supports scientific conclusions about when these creatures roamed the earth.

To become fossilized an animal carcass has to be buried. This requires the deposit of sediments (usually in conjunction with some aquatic environment), and the compression of those sediments into rock (mudstone, shale, sandstone, coal and limestone). This takes time - long stretches of time. We know beyond any shadow of doubt that these things do not form in hundreds or thousands of years. Moreover, the layering of these sediments suggests a long chronology - a succession of deposits over a very long period of time. Finally, it is not unreasonable to assume that something that appears in a lower layer of sedimentary rock is older than something that appears in a layer nearer to the surface. Anyone who has ever been to the Badlands or Grand Canyon has seen direct evidence of this passage of time - and the evidence does suggest the passage of eons.

The fact that some species of dinosaurs are found in certain layers, but not in others also tells us that not all of the many different species of dinosaurs co-existed at the same time. There are also many layers (both older and newer) where we haven't found any dinosaur bones. This tells us that there was a time in the history of the earth when dinosaurs did not exist, and that there was a point in the past when they became extinct. Hence, scientist are on firm ground when they talk about the "Age of the Dinosaurs." Moreover, such a concept is not foreign to our own experience. We could, for instance, speak of the "Age of the Passenger Pigeon" or the "Age of the Tasmanian Tiger."

How do the YEC explain the complete disappearance of such a diverse group of animals? Where have all of the icthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, stegosaurs, iguanodonts, tyrannosaurs, ankylosaurs and ceratopsians gone? Did the flood wipe them all out? I thought that Noah was told to take representatives from every kind of land animal into the ark with him and his family.

In short, Young Earth Creationism doesn't stand up under scrutiny - it doesn't mesh with the scientific evidence. It also doesn't fit with the scriptural evidence. For this Christian, I continue to marvel at a Creator who set in motion such a complex and systematic (evolution is not random) process that has produced such diverse and wonderful creatures! What do you think?


  1. Well written! Thanks. Roy and Mark

  2. Gavin Rumney pointed out on his blog (http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/03/yecs-and-tohu-bohu.html) that the WCOG rejected the YEC view of the first chapter of Genesis. Instead, they claimed that the proper interpretation of Genesis 1:2 was "And the earth became formless and void." They taught that the original earth was destroyed because of Satan's rebellion, and that millions or billions of years could have elapsed between verse one and two. As Gavin points out in his post, such a belief is just as wrong-headed and unsupported by the evidence (both scriptural and scientific) as the other one. Looking back, it's hard to believe that I was ever gullible enough to swallow that view either. The truth is that it is impossible to reconcile a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis with the scientific evidence. These days, when I read this passage of Scripture, I view it as an emphatic statement that God is the first cause (the source) of everything else; but that it doesn't supply any reliable information about the mechanics of how that was accomplished.