How Do Creationists Explain Dinosaurs?

Creationists, Fundamentalists, and the Fossil Evidence for Dinosaurs

Saddled Bronto
Amber MacPherson/ Flickr CC

One of the most unrewarding things a scientist (or science writer) can attempt to do is rebut the arguments of creationists and fundamentalists. This isn't because it's difficult to demolish the creationist point of view, scientifically speaking, but because meeting anti-evolutionists on their own terms can make it seem to naive readers as if there are two logical sides to the argument (which, of course, there aren't).

Still, the attempts by creationists to fit dinosaurs into their biblical world view is a worthy topic of discussion. Here are some of the main arguments fundamentalists use in support of their position, and the contrasting views from the science camp.

Creationists: Dinosaurs Are Thousands, not Millions, of Years Old

The creationist argument: In order to square the existence of dinosaurs with the Book of Genesis--which, according to the most fundamentalist interpretation, posits a world that came into being a little over four thousand years ago--creationists insist that dinosaurs were created ex nihilo, by god, along with all the other animals. In this view, evolution is just an elaborate "story" used by scientists to buttress their false claims of an ancient earth--and some creationists even insist that the fossil evidence for dinosaurs was planted by the Great Deceiver himself, Satan.

The scientific rebuttal: On the side of science are such established techniques as radioactive carbon dating and sedimentary analysis, which conclusively prove that the fossils of dinosaurs were laid down in geological sediments anywhere from 65 million to 230 million years ago.

Not to belabor the point, but astronomers and geologists have also demonstrated beyond any doubt that the earth wasn't created out of nothing, but gradually coalesced from a cloud of debris orbiting the sun about four and a half billion years ago.

Creationists: All the Dinosaurs Could Have Fit on Noah's Ark

The creationist argument: According to biblical fundamentalists, all of the animals that ever existed must have lived some time over the past few thousand years.

Therefore, all those animals must have been led, two by two, onto Noah's Ark--even full-grown mating pairs of Brachiosaurus, Pteranodon, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. That must have been one pretty big boat, even if some creationists dance around the issue by insisting that Noah collected baby dinosaurs, or even their eggs.

The scientific rebuttal: Skeptics point out that, by the bible's own word, Noah's Ark measured only about 450 feet long and 75 feet wide. Even with tiny eggs or hatchlings representing the hundreds of dinosaur genera discovered so far (and we won't even get into giraffes, elephants, mosquitoes and Woolly Mammoths), it's clear that Noah's Ark is a myth. (This isn't to throw out the baby with the bathwater, though: there may have been a huge, natural flood in the Middle East during biblical times that inspired the Noah legend.)

Creationists: Dinosaurs Were Wiped Out by the Flood

The creationist argument: As you might have surmised from the above argument, creationists maintain that any of the dinosaurs that didn't make it onto Noah's ark--along with all the other stranded animal species on earth--were rendered extinct by the biblical Flood, and not by the K/T asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago.

This ties in nicely (if not very logically) with the claims of some fundamentalists that the distribution of dinosaur fossils is somehow related to a specific dinosaur's location at the time of the Flood.

The scientific rebuttal: Today, pretty much all scientists agree that a comet or meteorite impact 65 million years ago, on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, was the main cause of the dinosaurs' demise--perhaps combined with disease and volcanic activity. (We even have clear geological traces at the presumed impact site.) As for the distribution of dinosaur fossils, the simplest explanation is the most scientific one: we discover fossils in geologic sediments that were laid down, gradually, over the course of millions of years, during the time at which the animals lived.

Creationists: Dinosaurs Still Walk Among Us

The creationist argument: Oddly--and, once again, a bit illogically--many creationists would like nothing better than for scientists to discover a living, breathing dinosaur in some remote corner of, say, Guatemala.

In their opinion, this would completely invalidate evolutionary theory, and instantly line up popular opinion with a Bible-centered world view. It would also cast a cloud of doubt on the reliability and accuracy of the scientific method, not a small consideration for a community that's constantly at war with modern empiricism.

The scientific rebuttal: This one is easy. Any reputable scientist will point out that the discovery of a living, breathing Spinosaurus would alter absolutely nothing about evolutionary theory--which has always allowed for the long-term survival of isolated populations (witness the discovery of the Coelacanth, once thought to be long extinct, in the 1930's). In fact, biologists would be thrilled to find a living dinosaur lurking in a rain jungle somewhere, since they could analyze its DNA and conclusively prove its evolutionary kinship with modern birds.

Creationists: Dinosaurs Are Mentioned in the Bible

The creationist argument: Whenever the word "dragon" is used in the Old Testament, what it really means is "dinosaur," some creationists say--and they point out that other ancient texts, from other regions of the ancient world, also mention these fearsome, scaly creatures. This is not-quite-logically adduced as evidence that a) dinosaurs aren't nearly as old as paleontologists claim, and b) dinosaurs and humans must have lived at the same time.

The scientific rebuttal: The science camp doesn't have much to say about what the author(s) of the bible meant when they referenced dragons--that's a question for philologists, not evolutionary biologists. However, the fossil evidence is incontestable that modern humans appeared on the scene tens of millions of years after the dinosaurs--and besides, we have yet to find any cave paintings of a Stegosaurus! (As for the true relationship between dragons and dinosaurs, which is deeply rooted in myth, you can learn more by reading this article.)