The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dinosaurs - Atheism's Gateway Drug

Dinosaurs are perhaps the most dangerous and implacable enemy that Theists have ever faced.  Which is ironic given the fact that (non-avian) Dinosaurs have been extinct for almost 60,000,000 years.

I love Dinosaurs - I find them to be one of the most incredible groups of organisms to ever walk this planet.  Their size, their ferocious appearance and their incredible collective longevity literally dwarfs our own.  But while I love Dinosaurs today, as a child, I loved Dinosaurs.  I was obsessed with Dinosaurs.  I drew Dinosaurs.  I made models of Dinosaurs.  I read about them constantly.  I could tell you how long a Diplodocus was from snout to tail.  I could tell you how much an Ankylosaur weighed.  I could even tell you which time period most of them lived in.

So it was unsurprising that my first ever conflict with the Church arose out of my love of Dinosaurs.  During Sunday School, the teacher walked up to the blackboard and drew a circle on it, then scribbled in some hasty continents.  "How old is the Earth?"  He asked.  Even at the age of six I was something of a know it all.  "Four Billion Years Old," was my immediate reply.

"No.  The Earth is 6000 years old."

This answer was puzzling to me.  Mainly because it was completely wrong and I knew it.  It was the first time in my life that I had been really conscious of an adult's ignorance.  Was it really possible that he didn't know about Dinosaurs?  Impossible.  Everyone knows about Dinosaurs.  I knew I had to educate this poor man who didn't know about the Dinosaurs.  "No.  Dinosaurs lived hundreds of millions of years ago and the Earth is billions of years older than that."

"No.  Those are just lies spread by Evolutionists.  The world is 6000 years old."

At this point I was well and truly confused.  This old man really didn't seem to know about Dinosaurs.  How could this be?  How was such a thing possible?  Clearly he needed to be educated about the awesomeness of Dinosaurs.  "No.  Dinosaurs lived hundreds of millions of years ago.  We have fossils of their bones.  It takes millions of years for a bone to fossilize so we know how old they are.  We even find fossils of swimming dinosaurs like Icthyosaurs in the mountains which shows how much the Earth has changed."

"No.  Those bones are in the mountains because of the Flood.  And bones do not take millions of years to fossilize.  The world is 6000 years old."

"No.  The world is billions of years old.  I can show you."

And so began an increasingly heated and fruitless discussion between an old Young Earth Creationist and a six year old kid.  The discussion eventually devolved from education to him yelling at me to be quiet and stop being disruptive.  But I couldn't stop.  It was the first time in my life that I had ever encountered an adult who maintained a position that I knew was completely factually wrong.  It was the first time in my life that book knowledge had ever been openly attacked.  Whenever I had a question about something, my parents pointed me to the Encyclopedia.  They told me to look it up.  They told me to read about it.  This man was clearly confused - he was arguing with books?  What kind of an idiot argues with the Encyclopedia?

The argument only ended when my parents were summoned.  When the situation was explained, my parents, to their eternal credit, sided with me and told the Sunday School teacher that he was not to teach me that the world was 6000 years old when it clearly wasn't.

Dinosaurs are dangerous.  They are dangerous because it is impossible to doubt their existence - their remains are literally everywhere.  They are dangerous because their remains are so old and so ancient that they give the lie to our incredibly narcissistic and self-important vision of the Universe - the idea that we are somehow central, somehow privileged, somehow indispensable.  Their reign of hundreds of millions of years makes our 5000 years of civilization look like nothing more than a footnote in the history of the planet.  Their existence offers concrete physical proof of our smallness as a species in both space and time.

Dinosaurs are dangerous because they are awesome!  And because their existence challenges the most fundamental underpinnings of theology.  More importantly, Dinosaurs vividly illustrate the fact that life existed long before we did.

And most importantly, when presented with a contradiction between the Bible and Dinosaurs, I chose Dinosaurs.  I chose Dinosaurs because of the evidence.  Because when presented with a choice between theology and empirical evidence, I chose evidence.  Dinosaurs were my gateway drug to Atheism.  And while I was still six or seven years away from reaching the conclusion that God either didn't care about us or didn't exist, the Dinosaurs had shared an important secret with me - that the Bible can be wrong.


  1. Dinosaurs were my gateway drug too. I wanted to be a Paleontologist when I was a kid but eventually found my interest in cetaceans. (Hence my screen name.)

  2. I freaking LOVE dinosaurs! How can theists deny their former existence? It makes zero sense to me.

  3. Very clever piece. However, those Creationist types could launch a campaign to make dinosaurs non-cool. Example, Did you know all dinosaurs wore parachute pants?

    Dude, I think I'm going to use that parachute pant joke the next time I do stand up.

  4. OK, I've spun the joke another way. Creationists are trying to make dinosaurs non-awesome by telling kids they were all queer.

  5. Lol! Them Dinasirs're queer as folk!

    But I don't think anyone can succeed at making Dinosaurs not cool. Case in point. Jesus holding the baby velociraptor. What makes the picture cool? Hint, it isn't Jesus.

  6. Hi Jeffery,
    Young Earth Creationist here, Its sad to see that you were brainwashed and led astray at a young age, but thats how they do it. From first grade on the first things they have you read is "billions of years ago this earth exploded from nothing in space", "millions of years ago dinosaurs walked this earth". What you failed to ask is "how do they know this?" It has been proven it does not take millions of years for fossils to form, they have found fish fossilized in the middle of giving birth which shows the fossil would have had to be buried and fossilized quickly. The fact that they do find fossils of aquatic life on mountains shows proof of Noahs flood. Carbon dating for fossils has been shown to be completely unreliable to date anything based on the half life of carbon 14 at around 100,000 years which is a far cry from millions of years. They most recently found a t-rex fossil with soft tissue still unfossilized which shows it did not die "millions of years ago",
    Simply put they want people to believe dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago to fit their evolutionary time line which makes dinosaurs our long lost ancestors. Do some "open minded" research you claim to be so important and check out the other side of the debate. Start with Dr.Kent Hovind and his seminars or one of his hundreds of debates with evolutionists and old earth proponents.

  7. Yec, would you please show me who has ever claimed to date a fossil with Carbon dating? Fossil dating uses many radioactive clocks, rubidium/strontium, thorium/lead, potassium/argon, argon/argon, or uranium/lead, all of which have very long half-lives, ranging from 0.7 to 48.6 billion years.

    Additionally, with the different half-life lengths, they can be used to confirm the age of a sample, each clock independently showing the same age.

    "They" most recently found a t-rex fossil with soft tissue? Oh please, please cite your source on this wondrous discovery, this is a groundbreaking paradigm shift! What strata was the fossil found in, and which archeology expedition made the discovery?

    As for good old Kent, calling him a doctor is a joke.

    In 1988 and 1991 respectively, Hovind was awarded a master's degree and doctorate in Christian Education through correspondence from the non-accredited Patriot University in Colorado Springs, Colorado (now Patriot Bible University in Del Norte, Colorado which no longer offers this program).

    As for Hovind's theory of an ice meteor causing the worldwide flood, it's full of nonsense, without a shred of evidence.

  8. @ Anonymous

    I seriously hope you are joking. Your assertions are completely unfounded and unsupported by a shred of evidence.

    The closest any scientist has ever gotten to 'soft tissue' from any dinosaur is the mummified and completely fossilized remains of an entire carcass - but the conditions necessary to achieve that level of fossilization is so rare that only a half a dozen of these dinosaur 'mummies' have ever been discovered. And NONE of the soft tissue is unfossilized.

    I think your objection to radiometric dating confuses the error factor (+/- 50,000 to 60,000 years depending on the exact method). It doesn't mean that you can't use it to discern the age of something OLDER than 50,000 years, it simply means that if you have a subject that is 3,000,000,000 years old, it's absolute age lies somewhere between 2,950,000,000 and 3,050,000,000 years old.

    Your objections fail to deal at all with the fact that radiometric dating consistently and demonstrably identifies the correct geological strata. Your objections also fail to deal at all with the fact that geology also provides a ridiculous amount of support for a 4,500,000,000 year old Earth in the following ways:

    1. Measurements of continental drift illustrate movement of centimeters / year.
    2. Consistent geological patterns showing that South America used to be connected to Africa and that the two have drifted apart.
    3. Magnetic field patterns in oceanic plate formation.
    4. Preserved and Fossilized tree rings that can be compared to ice cores to analyze atmospheric conditions can readily show large events like the KT Extiction event.
    5. There is no evidence whatsoever to demonstrate the existence of a global flood 6000 years ago or in the geological past. None.
    6. We know the speed of light and can readily discern how long light has been travelling by examining its Redshift. This indicates that the Universe is 14,454,000,000 years old +/- a hundred million years or so. If you doubt that we understand the speed of light, you should just give up on using GPS, satellite TV, fiber optics as those all require precise knowledge of the speed of light and some require correction for the time dialation of light caused by increases in velocity.

    I could go on, but don't really see the point. YEC is the most intellectually bankrupt proposition imaginable and is simply a means for keeping your God small. It's kind of pitiful, actually.

  9. or peoples interpretation of the bible could be wrong.

  10. Here are some names the author of this blog probably hasn't heard of:

    John Ray (1627 - 1705) was the first person to establish the notion of species as the basic unit of taxonomy. He was mostly interested in plants, but he studied fossils as well. He was also deeply religious.

    Carl Linnaeus (1707 - 1778) was a pioneer in zoological nomenclature, picking up on Ray's ideas and creating the hierarchy for classification we all use today; Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species, catalouging his specimens with a binomial latin description. He recognized that humans are closely related to apes and thought they should be placed in the same genus, but stopped short of doing so. Linneaus was also a religious man.

    Georges Cuvier (1769 - 1832) was a scientist whose work was extremely useful in interpreting fossils and relating them to modern animals. He came up with a system to classify animals according to their basic body plan, which was a major advencement at the time. His extensive studies of fossils gave rise to the science of palaeontology, and he recognised that particular groups of fossil organisms were associated with certain rock strata. This last finding meant that it became possible to place the strata into order by relative age of the fossils. He was also a Bible-believing christian who felt that religious truths existed independantly of scientific and rational ones.

    William Buckland (1784 - 1856) discovered and named Megalosaurus in 1824. This was the first formal description of a fossil dinosaur ever written. Buckland was also a Canon of Christ Church (the only university in the world which is also a cathedral).

    William Conybeare (1787 - 1857) was probably the brightest member of his circle in the London Geological Society. He is best known for having the descirbed Icthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus. Like Buckland, he was also an ordained Anglican minister.

    Gideon Mantell (1790 - 1852) was an obstetrician and paleontologist who discovered and named the second and third dinosaurs known to science: Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus. Along with Buckland, his analysis and findings were the most important in assigning the name "Dinosauria" in 1842. He was also a christian.

    Mary Anning (1799 - 1847) was the great unsung hero of paleontology in the early 19th century. Growing up on the shores of Lyme Regis, she was a self-taught fossil hunter who discovered the earliest complete Ichthyosaurus skeleton at 12 years of age. She was also a Christian, first a member of a congregational church, later a convert to the Anglican faith.

    Sir Richard Owen (1804 - 1892) first coined the word "dinosaur" in 1842. Even then he recognized the anatomical similarities between dinosaurs and birds, and many of his ideas formed the basis for much of our understanding of dinosaur classification to follow. He was a christian. He was also a bit of a prick too, but that's beside the point.

    Reverend William Fox (1813 - 1881) was a an English clergyman and fossil hunter who worked in the Isle of Wight. He collected more than 500 fossil specimens in his lifetime and brought them to fellow paleontologists, including the first specimens of Hypsilophodon and Polacanthus (both of which are named for him).

    Edward Drinker Cope (1840 -1897) was one of the greatest of all American fossil hunters, second to his bitter rival Othniel C. Marsh. Cope published more than 1,200 papers and naming at least 1,000 species in his lifetime. That record still hasn't been broken, and the findings of his expeditions are still being poured over. He was also religious, having been raised by parents who were Quakers.

  11. Now for some living paleontologists who are also christians, shall we?

    Robert T. Bakker (1945 - ) is probably most influential and charismatic paleontologist of recent times, having helped almost single-handedly to promote the theory of warm-bloodedness in dinosaurs. His ideas about dinosaurs helped initiate the ongoing dinosaur renaissance that is currently being enjoyed around the world. He is also a Pentecostal preacher and a strong proponent of theistic evolution.

    Peter Dodson (1947? - ) is a paleontologist who has done extensive field work in Canada, has named the dinosaur Avaceratops (after his wife). He is one of the leading experts on Ceratopsian dinosaurs, has written a wonderful and authorative survey of them in The Horned Dinosaurs. He is currently president of the Philadelphia Center for Religion and Science, and is evidentially a theistic evolutionist.

    Mary Schwietzer (1955? - ) is a molecular paleontologist whose unorthodox approaches have allowed for our first glimpse of blood cells and soft tissue of Tyrannosaurus bones, and has recently shown molecular similarities between Tyrannosaur remains and those of chickens, thus bolstering the dinosaur-bird connection. In an interview she described herself as "a complete and total christian."

    This is list was by no means complete. Christians have contributed at least as much to our past and current knowledge of evolutionary biology and paleontology as non-christians, ESPECIALLY when it comes to dinosaurs. And as you can see, not just the people who first discovered, identified, and defined the Dinosauria, but the people who continue to do so.

    As for me, my interest in dinosaurs hasn’t waned in the slightest. I enjoy learning about them more as an adult than I ever did as a kid. Of course, I was never taught the ridiculous Ussherian chronology that young earth creationists use. Perhaps not coincidentally, my faith in Christianity has only grown since my younger days. Especially with the more I learn about history, philosophy, and science.

  12. Just a note about the comments suggesting that soft tissue from dinosaurs has been analyzed; it has.

    Turns out that some fossils have been found where the some of the tissue remains proteinaceous. This material contains collagen that can be sequenced (protein sequencing; DNA-sequencing's more difficult stepbrother.) Turns out that the collagen from these bones is related to the common chicken (well, to birds, generally.) I couldn't find the earliest article on the topic but did find this.

    Anyway, discussions like this always depress me. I find it difficult to imagine that a full majority of my countrymen have allowed themselves to be completely hoqwashed into believing in magic when the evidence of reality is, quite literally, all around them. Sad.

  13. Just because something is fossilized does not mean that is millions or even thousands of years old. When the conditions and materials are right, a bone can become filled with minerals fairly quickly! Researchers have found that chicken bones and wood can be replaced with minerals in just 5-10 YEARS!-Alfred S.Romer Writing in Natural History October 1959 Vol.68 pg.457.
    I hope one day you will return to the God that created you for one purpose. A relationship with HIM. Isnt that what we all seek? We were made for relationships with our parents, siblings, boyfriend/girlfriend, wife/husband,friends,etc.... RIGHT? Please research more and dont EVER stop asking questions!!!♥