Since its inception, one of the Creation Museum’s most provocative exhibits has been one that places dinosaurs and man side by side. While this is anachronistic to most people at least everyone agrees that dinosaurs really lived at some time in earth’s history.* This year the Creation Museum added a new exhibit where you can learn all about how fire-breathing and flying dragons were not only real but also interacted with man in the recent past. Ken Ham also recently penned, “Were Dinosaurs Dragons?” defending the dragon exhibit at the Creation Museum against its many critics. A few years ago Bodie Hodge from Answers in Genesis laid the groundwork for the current exhibit in an article entitled “Dragon Stories – the truth behind the tales.” In it he states what seems to have become the AIG party line argument for the existence of dragons:
“Globally, there are many ancient descriptions and images of dragons. Interestingly, many of these descriptions and images are similar to drawings and depictions of how scientists believe dinosaurs would have looked.”
A few weeks ago I criticized Dr. Purdom at Answers in Genesis for her dismissal of Adrienne Mayor’s thesis about how encounters with preserved bones in the Middle East region were likely the physical sources of the drawings and stories of what we often consider mythical creatures (Dinosaurs, Dragons and Ken Ham: The Literal Reality of Mythological Creatures). I responded to a question regarding that post that I thought would be worth exploring a bit further. It was about eye-witness accounts of dragons throughout history and Marco Polo in particular. Below I repeat and expand on my response to this inquiry.
Regarding eye-witness reports of dragons: I don’t really doubt that many of those reports were written as sincere factual reports. However, that does not necessitate that the reports were describing actual dragons as Ken Ham believes. The human eye and brain are both sieves of reality for us. If we have heard stories that we believe are true and then see something that fits some parts of that story our mind will fill in the gaps. A crocodile is a fearsome creature that no one in ancient times would get close enough to really study in detail so most everything known would be hearsay bits of evidence that got compiled overtime into a general concept of what a crocodile or a komodo dragon or any of several real animals. Someone like Marco Polo, who records having seen a dragon, likely did see one himself. But if he had heard any stories (very likely) about such creatures then his mind would fill in the gaps of his likely short encounter with a crocodile, or several other creatures in southeast Asia, with images that were mixture of what he actually saw with what he expected to see. Writing down his encounter we have no need to believe he embellished the account. Rather he simply recorded the facts as he remembered them because his memories were facts to him. However those facts may not match with the reality of the event. It really isn’t hard for any of us to believe “facts” about things we don’t understand well. This phenomena of memory is well studied and documented.
(Addendum: see reader comment below regarding my example above and below. Their point is well taken that really the crocodile would be know well enough not to have ever been mistaken for a dragon. I agree that we don’t need to conjure up the just-so story I’m about to recount to see that dragons are mythical creatures and not simply a case of mistaken identities. Possibly the komodo dragon might be a more apt example than the crocodile that I used in this post)
Let me try an example of how real events can become intertwined with fiction. What about fire-breathing dragons which the Creation Museum claim existed not long ago? Swamps have swamp gas which is known to flare naturally occasionally. All it would take is for one flare to happen at the same time that a crocodile is emerging from a swamp in an attack for a person just barely escaping with their lives to truly believe that the crocodile breathed fire. Once one credible person has witnessed this and told 20 friends, every time those friends see or hear of a swamp flare they will associate it with a crocodile even if they didn’t actually see the flare coming from a crocodiles nostrils themselves. They will go on and tell 20 more friends and so on. No one made this story up. It isn’t a fairy tale. Every person who told the story believed it was true and many even believe they have witnessed an actual dragon. But all of this doesn’t make fire-breathing dragons real. Like the telephone game, even when each person believes they are passing on factual information they still don’t transmit the information word for word and thus the interpretation causes changes in the message over time even though each person along the chain believes the message to be true.
Most dragon legends and eye-witness accounts are hundred or even thousands of years old. Even by the time paintings of dragons were put on pottery or etched on stone walls the stories that inspired the artists could have been hundreds or thousands of years old. There is no more eye-witness or artistic evidence for dinosaurs than there is for dragons. Maybe this is partly why Ken Ham believes dragons are a real as dinosaurs. Since dinosaurs are obviously real and in his mind and lived among humans then the fact there seems to be as much evidence for dragons having lived recently must mean they are real. But dinosaurs are believed to have existed not because of eye-witness reports but because of the vast number of bones, footprints, eggs and feces they left behind for us to inspect and infer their existence and characteristics. Where are the dragon skulls? Where are the dragon bones showing four legs and a set of wings attached to the same body (Pterosaurs had legs and winged arms, not arms and wings)? The physical evidence for dragons is missing unless you include skeletons of komodo dragons which look dragon-like but would not foot the bill for the type of dragons that Ken Ham envisions on earth.
Dragons are only known from human art and stories and no other evidence. That got me thinking if there were other examples that were comparable. How about UFOs. Are they real? I don’t believe we have been visited by UFOs/aliens. However, there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have reported to have been eye-witnesses of alien visitors and their spacecraft. In fact, I expect there are far more detailed accounts of UFO sightings than there are of dragon sightings. Yet, I don’t believe that extraterrestrial life forms have been visiting us all these years. Does this mean I think that all those stories are totally made up? Are these “witnesses” making the story for monetary gain or to draw attention for themselves? Yes, undoubtedly this has happened. But I also believe that many people who tell of UFO encounters are absolutely sincere and believe everything they have reported is factual. Frequently what you will find with most UFO stories is the person that saw something has typically been exposed to other stories about what a UFO is like. In response, they have taken something they have really seen but that they didn’t fully understand and their brains have interpreted what they have seen to fit those stories. When they remember the scene later, their brain fills in facts for them without them even being conscious of it and so they report things as facts that are not really facts. This is a common problem for police as they collect eye-witness accounts of accidents or crimes. I experienced this myself when I was a teenager. I witnessed an armed bank robbery. I stood no more than 4 feet from the perpetrator as he pulled out his gun. I looked at him nearly straight in the face. Yet, a few hours later when I worked with a police sketch artist I provided completely incorrect information about his clothes, attributes of his gun and facial characteristics. I didn’t do this intentionally but rather the drama of the moment caused my mind to quickly derive what I thought a bank robber should look like and obscured his real appearance from my mind. I was told that my eye-witness report was in complete odds with several others that were also in the bank. I still have an image etched into my mind of that very real scene to the window to my right in the bank, but it no doubt is highly inaccurate.
The point is that the stories of dragons and images drawn of dragon-like things are far from slam dunk evidence of their existence. Some sort of physical evidence in addition to eye-witness reports is really needed to bolster the case for their reality in the same way that physical evidence of an extraterrestrial craft is needed to corroborate eyewitness reports of flying saucers. I wish I could say that I don’t understand how Ken Ham and friends would hype this new exhibit but I feel quite confident the reason is that they expect dragons to be real because of the worldview they have constructed for themselves causes them to cognitively interpret every scrap of evidence for dragons as “proof” of their existence because they already know they exist. It is the mind filling in the evidence and seeing in many cases what is not there. Of course Ken Ham would say that he derives his initial belief in the reality of dragons from the only true eye-witness account which cannot be false in any way. That eye-witness would be the authority of scripture. I won’t quibble with the word of God but I will say that the interpretation of Scripture by Ken Ham is not an infallible process and it is not at all difficult to find fault with Ham’s exigesis. The weakness of the physical case of the existence of dragons should at least be a clue, even if it isn’t proof, to him that he needs to ask himself if he has interpreted the Scriptures inappropriately.
* There are some apparent age advocates that could say that dinosaurs never really existed but their bones were created in the geological record as part of the creation. No creation scientists that I know would say this but many lay persons who seek to alleviate the perceived tension of the evidence of an ancient earth and a literal reading of Genesis are tempted to lay that evidence of age being the result of having been created that way.