Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Great Dinosaur Home School Problem

I am holding in my hands a home school science resource called The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible. It is quite something. It is clear that the author, Paul Taylor did not consult even one book on palaeontology. There are no citations in the back of the book and the list of acknowledgements are to people that have no training in palaeontology—Henry Morris, Gary Parker and Lowell Wallen to name a few. It is not clear what Mr. Taylor's credentials are, since his biography only says he "did extensive research" with his late father, Stanley Taylor on dinosaurs and the Bible.

Stanley Taylor was responsible for the original Paluxy River film Footprints in Stone, for Films for Christ Ministries. The Paluxy site was eventually debunked and even John Morris stated that the tracks shouldn't be used as evidence for recent creationism. Amazingly, there are still creationists that endorse that particular argument. Anyhoo, back to the book.

Its principle endorsement is by Henry Morris. That is a bit of a giveaway as to the content of the book. He begins with a description of dinosaurs and then compares it to scripture:
The Bible's best description of a dinosaur-like animal is in Job chapter 40.
He then quotes from Job 40 the passage about the behemoth:
15 "Look at the behemoth,"
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.

16 What strength he has in his loins,
what power in the muscles of his belly!

17 His tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are close-knit.

18 His bones are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like rods of iron.

He follows this with:
The book of Job is very old, probably written around 2,000 years before Jesus was born. Here God describes a great king of the land animals like some of the biggest dinosaurs, the Diplodocus and Apatosaurus.
Later, he writes:
After all the behemoth died out, many people forgot about them. Dinosaurs were extinct and the fossil skeletons that are in museums today did not begin to be put together until about 150 years ago. Today, some people have mistakenly guessed that the behemoth mentioned in the Bible might be an elephant or a hippopotamus. but those animals certainly do not have tails like the thick, tall trunks of cedar trees.
Okay. Lets parse this.

  • How would you forget about an animal that was 75 feet long?
  • Or an animal that was 45 feet long and ate people for lunch??
  • if the flood was around 2300-3000 B.C., why are there no written records of these animals and their interactions with humans.
  • Who was it, exactly, that forgot about them? If they died in the flood, that would have been Noah and his sons, who would certainly have passed on stories about them.
  • If they did die in the flood, how does Job know about them? According to Buffetaut et al: The sauropod teeth from Lebanon are a significant addition to the very scanty dinosaur record from the Levant, which hitherto consisted mainly of very poorly preserved and not easily identifiable specimens1. It is not likely that Job would have simply encountered the remains of one wandering the landscape.
  • The NIV study notes from the chapter suggest that "tail" in this case may have meant "trunk" and that these animals were, in fact, hippos or elephants. Given what we know of the fossil record in the area, why is this not certainly as reasonable an interpretation of the passage?
  • If this animal fed on grass like an ox, that would mean it is a ruminant. Two problems: sauropods lacked molar teeth and could not chew vegetation and they were not ruminants.
All of this suggests that these animals in Job were not dinosaurs but animals that the people knew about and that lived, if not locally, nearby.

He then writes about the aftermath of the flood:
Such a great event would surely have left evidence to be found today. For instance, one would expect to find billions of dead creatures buried by water in mud and sand (now hardened to rock). And that is exactly what scientists do find around the world.

Thousands of dinosaur bones can be found where they were washed together by violent flood waters and buried under mud, sand and rock. Many of the animals were torn apart and their bones broken and jumbled-up. The muds and sands hardened like concrete to form the great layers of fossil rocks we find today.

Quick flood burial would be the only way that so many dinosaurs and other things could have become fossilized in the way scientists have found them. animals and plants will fossilize only if they are buried quickly and deeply—before predators, decay and weather destroy them.
More problems:

  • It is indeed true that we find animals in the fossil record—but they are perfectly sorted into species by layer. How would a flood do this?
  • Why do the large sauropods exist three quarters of the way up the column when they should have sunk to the bottom because of their size?
  • Dirt that is more than two thousand years old is still dirt—which can be dug up and examined, as is done in archaeological investigations. How would the dirt of the flood have hardened into rock in less than a year—especially with all of that water present?
  • Many animal fossils show evidence of having been torn apart by predators and chewed up and gnawed upon, exactly what Mr. Taylor says didn't happen. This could not have happened in a world-wide, one year flood.
He ends the book in the following fashion:
Did any dinosaurs ever become terrible and ferocious? The answer to this question remains a mystery. At this point, there is no proof that any of the dinosaurs were as mean and dangerous as shown in picture books. It will take many more discoveries before anyone can say for certain how dinosaurs behaved in the the world before the flood or after. However, it is likely that more people killed dinosaurs than dinosaurs killed people. Bible-Believing Christians can be sure of one thing. When dinosaurs were originally created, they were peaceful and harmless just like all the other animals.
Does this look like a cute, cuddly animal?



This is a very poorly thought-out book and as such, is an incredible disservice to school children who are trying to learn about these majestic animals that lived so long ago. If you want to teach your children about dinosaurs, avoid it.

1Cited article:
Buffetaut,E., Azar, D., Nel, A., Ziadé, K. and Acra, A. (2008)
First nonavian dinosaur from Lebanon: a brachiosaurid sauropod from the Lower Cretaceous of the Jezzine District. Naturwissenschaften. 93(9): 440-443.

8 comments:

  1. "The NIV study notes from the chapter suggest that "tail" in this case may have meant "trunk" and that these animals were, in fact, hippos or elephants. Given what we know of the fossil record in the area, why is this not certainly as reasonable an interpretation of the passage?"

    I've heard it said from several sources that this might be a euphemism for the creature's penis, showing a sign of virility. You can google Behemoth and penis and you can find some information. Hmm, might want to add "Bible" to that search to help prevent some unwanted links:)

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  2. The NIV study notes from the chapter suggest that "tail" in this case may have meant "trunk" and that these animals were, in fact, hippos or elephants. Given what we know of the fossil record in the area, why is this not certainly as reasonable an interpretation of the passage?

    I think that's just the NIV folks trying to make the text more scientifically credible. Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz (the last of which I don't think is mentioned in the Bible) were mythological animals of the land, sea and air respectively. See wikipedia for details.

    I think we can file Behemoth along with a flat earth and solid firmament. That is, it's a concept that had meaning to the ancient Hebrews, but that we no longer accept as a scientifically accurate description of a physical entity.

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  3. AMW, that is something that, oddly, hadn't occurred to me. I am conditioned to thinking that the information that is contained later in the Bible is literal.

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  4. Pete, how does one reply?

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  5. I am conditioned to thinking that the information that is contained later in the Bible is literal.

    Ah, well, just so you're not caught off guard later: when the Psalmist talks about Yahweh killing Leviathan and feeding its carcass to the beasts of the desert, that probably didn't really happen either.

    Pete, how does one reply?

    By posting the results of your Google search, of course!

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  6. Oh, all right. 96 700 hits for the terms "behemoth and penis." Happy? One actually comes from the TalkOrigins archive.

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  7. AMW, in truth that one doesn't bother me as much because it is a psalm that is poetic in nature. As Conrad Hyers notes, we need to interpret poetry in a different way than narrative.

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  8. I used that book with my older two in our home school. It didn't make much of an impression on me, and in fact, probably helped me REALLY question the validity of YECism.

    By the time my third child came up to that level, I ditched it. Won't be using it for my fourth either.

    When other mums recommend it at our home school meetings, I just bite my tongue and/or say that I have used it and leave it at that.

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