Since its inception, one of the Creation Museum’s most provocative exhibits has been one that places dinosaurs and man side by side. Likewise, the Noah’s Ark attraction, The Ark Encounter, depicts a scene from the pre-Flood world in which dinosaurs are fighting men and women in an roman-like arena. While these scenes are anachronistic to most people at least almost everyone agrees that dinosaurs really did exist at some time in earth’s history.*
However, the Creation Museum also has an exhibit where you can learn all about how flying and fire-breathing dragons were not only real but also interacted with man in the recent past. To support and defend that exhibit, Ken Ham wrote “Were Dinosaurs Dragons?” In it he states what has 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. It makes sense: just as flood legends have a basis in a real event, dragon legends also have a basis in reality—that people saw animals they called “dragons.” Furthermore, God’s Word clearly teaches that all the land animals (which included what we call dinosaurs), along with Adam and Eve, were made on the sixth day of creation. Dinosaurs and humans lived together.”
Ken Ham skirts the question of whether all dragons diversity should be equated with dinosaurs or if some dragons could have been something wholly different. What about dragons with no legs, wings and legs or the many that are said to breath fire? Note the billboards they posted include an animal breathing fire and a snake-like dragon with no legs.
Around the same time 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 such as dragons (Dinosaurs, Dragons and Ken Ham: The Literal Reality of Mythological Creatures). I responded to several comments to that article but one in particular I wish to explore further. The question I received was about how I might respond to 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 have no doubt that many of those reports were written as sincere fact-based 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 minds will fill in the gaps. For example, a crocodile is a fearsome creature and few in ancient times would get close enough to really study a living one 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, may have seen something he thought was a dragon. 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. We know this is the case because he recorded many other observations in addition to dragons which no one believes are true (even creationists). 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.
Let me illustrate with some examples 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. Interestingly, there are more eye-witness report or artistic evidence (paintings and drawings) of winged and fire-breathing dragons around the world than there is of dinosaurs.
Maybe this is partly why Ken Ham believes these dragons are as 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 the fact that dinosaurs existed in the past is not reliant on eye-witness reports but is found in 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. That got me wondering if there were other examples of things that people believe in that also lack physical evidence.
How about UFOs? Are they real? I personally 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 am sure 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? There is no doubt that sometimes this is the case. 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 UFOs. 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 four feet from the perpetrator as he pulled out his gun and pointed it at the teller. I looked at him nearly straight in the face. Yet, a few hours later when I worked with a police sketch artist I provided very inaccurate 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 event that really happened to me but I have no doubt that image 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 knowing they must exist. It is the mind filling in the evidence and “seeing” what is not there.
Of course Ken Ham would say that he derives his initial belief that dragons exist 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 can confidently say Ken Ham is not an infallible interpreter of Scripture. The weakness of the physical case of the existence of dragons should at least be a clue, even if it isn’t proof, to Ham and others that he needs to ask himself if he has interpreted the Scriptures inappropriately.
* There are some apparent age advocates and other lay creationists that will argue that dinosaurs never really existed but rather their bones were created as part of the creation. I’ve been told by many people that they grew up with parents who told them that dinosaurs didn’t really exist. That denial doesn’t seem to be based on any particular evidence but rather seems to be a reaction of those who seek to alleviate the perceived tension of the evidence of an ancient earth and a literal reading of Genesis.
This article is an updated version of one originally written in 2013.