Dinosaurs play an important role in forming the public—and children’s in particular—perception of the age of the Earth. I was reminded of this when I had the opportunity to attend two talks about dinosaurs both targeted at kids. The first was a presentation by Jack Horner of Jurassic Park fame but more importantly a researcher who has discovered and named many species of dinosaurs from the western US. The second was by Bryan Osborne a speaker for Answers in Genesis (AiG) the most prominent proponent of Literal Six-Day Young-Earth Creationism (LSDYEC—a shout out to Dr. William Evans for the longer but more accurate acronym). The latter talk was part of an AiG conference which I attended including multiple sessions for school-age kids.
Previously I wrote about the contrasting the style and substance of the talks of Mr. Horner and Mr. Osborne. (See: Comparing Dinosaur Talks for Kids: Jack Horner vs Bryan Osborne). Here I wish to focus on Osborn’s—and by extension Ken Ham’s (see footnote)—response to the question of when dinosaurs lived. Not surprisingly, Osborne spent a large portion of his presentation for kids telling them that dinosaurs lived alongside humans no more than a few thousand years ago.
Dinosaur Origins: Millions of years or thousands of years ago?
When did Dinosaurs live and how did they die? The answers provided to these questions provide a more striking contrast between conventional theories of the Earth’s history and the young earth creationist’s hypothesis of origins?
The consensus of modern scientific studies is that dinosaurs lived continuously on Earth for over 150 million years before going extinct about 66 million years ago. In stark contrast to this message literal six-day YECs insist that all types of Dinosaurs were created a little more than 6000 years ago on the same day—literally—that man was created. Therefore, dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with man from their moment of their creation, were preserved on Noah’s ark during the global flood, and then “faded” into extinction several hundred years after that flood or about 4000 years ago.
Could these two views of Earth’s history be more different?
YECs know that dinosaurs have long been one of the most vivid and powerful evidences of an ancient Earth. They know the question “where did all the dinosaurs go?” will be asked every time they talk about a young earth and the origins of life. In response, they don’t wait for the question but rather build entire presentations around the theme of dinosaurs. They promote dinosaurs as ambassadors of a young earth, telling their audience that dinosaurs attest to a young earth and support their interpretation of Genesis.
Here are some examples: Mr. Osborne stated in the outset of his talk “At Answers in Genesis we love dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs.” Ken Ham’s tweeted the same week (11/16/15): “Dinosaur fossils aren’t detrimental to the biblical creation position. They are actually a creationist’s best friend http://ow.ly/UD0iz.” The linked article by Dr. Snelling of Answering in Genesis states the following regarding when dinosaurs lived:
Sadly, most Christians don’t even know the truth about dinosaurs. Each year Liberty University, for example, surveys its online students before they take the creation course “The History of Life.” Although many of these students grew up in conservative churches and affirm that the Bible is infallible and Adam was real, when asked if “dinosaurs and man lived at the same time,” fewer than half strongly agree at the beginning of the course (but that number rises to 85% by the end of the term!).
An increase from 50 to 85% does sound impressive. Just what data and arguments are the students in this class presented with that cause them to come around to the belief that dinosaurs and man lived at the same time? I don’t know exactly what Liberty University teaches their students but I do know they are using resources from Answers in Genesis. The lines-of-thought presented in those materials are well-illustrated by Osborne’s presentation. In that talk Osborne provided three lines of evidence that he and all YECs use to support their claim that dinosaurs lived with humans:
- Genesis 1: Starting with the assumption that the 6 days of creation represent literal solar-days only 6000 years ago they believe that humans and dinosaurs must have been created no more than 12 hours apart from one another. Day six of the creation account in Genesis 1 does not refer directly to dinosaurs but the inference from historical evidence (ie. bones) is that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth. It is further assumed that references to Adam naming all of the animals would have necessitated that he had contact with dinosaurs and provided names to at least 50 different kinds.
- Job 40 and 41: They point to the book of Job as providing a direct description of dinosaurs (Job 40) and fire-breathing dragons (Job 41). They believe the behemoth that God speaks of must describe a dinosaur similar to a plant-eating brontosaurus.
- Eye-witness reports: They point to extra-biblical historical evidence of pictures drawn of ancient beasts that look like dinosaurs. Dragon-legends are also held up as evidence of the existence of fire-breathing dragons living on Earth after Noah’s flood.
The above constitutes the entire body of “proof” that dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with humans.
The first evidence results from a long list of assumptions about how the Bible should be read. Without a commitment to these assumptions there would be no reason to feel compelled interpret the geological evidence of dinosaurs into a time frame that included humans.
The second evidence provided by YECs is the only one that claims to be direct Biblical eye-witness testimony of dinosaurs living contemporaneously with humans. However, this is a distinctly modern interpretation of this verse and is not accepted by most biblical scholars past or present. I would direct you to this article for a more plausible and Biblically-consistent interpretation.
The third evidence comes from extra-biblical references to flying dragons and great beasts in ancient lore and painted or carved depictions of dinosaur-like animals.
Osborne presented all three of these evidences to the kids in his audience. With respect to his audience, I felt his most effective slides were those which showed presumed dinosaurs drawn by people who had witnessed dinosaurs presumably after the Noahic Flood. To the untrained eye, which definitely included the kids in the audience and their parents, this seemed to be powerful testimony of dinosaurs living with humans.
But just how convincing is this evidence? Not convincing at all if you spend any time looking more closely.
Let me provide just one example. Below is a picture I took of one of the slides that Osborne showed in his talk. Notice the text and the image. After talking about how people have reported seeing dinosaurs, which we are told were called dragons before the term dinosaur was coined, Osborne showed this slide and asked all the kids what they thought those long-necked creatures could be and of course all the kids yelled out in unison: dinosaurs!
Are these really depictions of dinosaurs? To suggest they are seems very naïve since a closer inspection reveals that they have little in common with everything we know about dinosaurs. Yet, this image has been used in thousands of YEC talks and innumerable articles. I just wrote about this very same image being used in an Institute for Creation Research (ICR) meme a few months ago (Can you spot the dinosaurs in this image?).
Notice the text highlights “long-necked” dragon. Osborne didn’t show a close-up image and he drew the inference that the simplest explanation for the images was that Egyptians knew about dinosaurs. Below is a closer view of that image. Does Osborne really believe that this is one of the best examples of evidence that humans lived with dinosaurs?
Let’s see, feet of a cat, tail of a cat, hip structure of a cat/mammal, jaw of a cat, eyes of a cat, nose of a cat, ears of a cat. A long-necked dragon? I think not. Sure, it has a long neck but that is the only characteristic that is similar to a dinosaur. Egyptian art is full of fanciful and chimeric creatures. The exaggeration of characteristic, such as the neck, of an animal is not uncommon. To believe this image represents dinosaurs is to ignore most of the data and the most obvious interpretation of that data and choose to elevate one piece of data, a very general one at that, over all the rest? This is like taking one unclear verse from the Bible and then raising ones interpretation of that to trump all the other clearer texts. This is just bad hermeneutics and bad observational science.
He showed several additional images all of which are equally as dubious to those that know more about the details of those images. I think it is likely that Osborne is probably completely unaware of the facts or “observational evidence” with respect to these presumed dinosaur images because he has never investigated them himself. Clearly he simply trusts others at AiG to provide the images and text for most of his talks. Unfortunately his faith is misplaced with respect to this image and many others.
The kids left this talk with a clear imagine in their minds of Egyptians with pet dinosaurs. To them this was probably the most convincing evidence that dinosaurs lived not long ago. Ironically, while the AiG speakers start with the Biblical evidence, they frequently end up using extra-biblical images as their most popular evidence of their perspective. With so much emphasis put on the “evidence” from these pictures as “proving” the truth of the Bible, what will happen if any of these kids look at that evidence more closely in the future?
1. Brian Osborne is a paid speaker for Answers in Genesis. Most of his talks are scripted talks provided by other AiG employees but most importantly reflect the positions of Ken Ham and his primary science adviser, Dr. Andrew Snelling. I have heard Ken Ham give nearly the identical talk to kids right down to each and every joke.