JulAug 2011 CoverThere is probably no area where we see more questions, more misconceptions, more erroneous teaching, or more interest on the part of children than the existence of the dinosaurs. Children are fascinated with dinosaurs, and adults seem to be bewildered by them. Periodically we have had articles about dinosaurs in this publication, and every time we do we get a pile of letters from people which demonstrate they are still confused about what we know about these interesting creatures and how they fit into the history of this planet. Certainly neither we nor anyone else knows all there is to know about dinosaurs, but there are some facts that are clear. It is important to understand that dinosaurs are not a threat to a literal reading of the Bible nor are they a part of any claimed conflict between science and faith. In this article I would like to explore some of the common questions and misconceptions that exist about dinosaurs, and hopefully help parents, grandparents, teachers, and young people have a better understanding of what the facts are and what the Bible actually says about the “terrible lizards” of the past.

DINOSAURS DID EXIST. One method that has been taken by some religious people has been to deny that dinosaurs ever existed. There have been those who have claimed that dinosaurs were the inventions of devious scientists who had an agenda and manufactured fossils to back their agenda. Others have claimed that God created the earth already full grown complete with dinosaur fossils in the rocks to appear to be something they were not.

Your author has been on many fossil digs in which dinosaurs have been found. I have seen the bones, the skin sections, and the eggs of dinosaurs in many different places. Today you can buy fossilized dinosaur eggs in a number of places, and with the right tools you can cut open the egg and see the baby dinosaur inside. Honest, seeking people have been involved in many of these finds. Evidence is found in so many places that it is ludicrous to maintain that all of this is some devious scheme to mislead innocent people.

To suggest that God faked the dinosaurs is a proposal that violates the nature of God. James 1:13 tells us that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” God does not fake history nor does He mislead us in any way. Some will quote 2 Thessalonians 2:11 which says “… God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” The context of this passage concerns the coming of Christ. Verses 9 and 10 tell us that the method that will be used is that Satan will have “… all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. … because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Verse 12 tells us that those who are the target of this powerful delusion “… have delighted in wickedness.” It is nonsense to apply this to people who are studying what God has allowed us to read in the rocks to improve the availability of resources to our fellow man.

THE TAXONOMIC CLASS OF DINOSAURS IS NOT A BIBLICAL ISSUE. The Bible consistently uses four groupings of animals in its listing of animal types. First Corinthians 15:39 tells us that they are (1) the flesh of fish, (2) the flesh of birds, (3) the flesh of beasts, and (4) the flesh of man. In Genesis 1 the same taxonomy is used. Verses 20 – 21 tell about the flesh of fish and birds. Verses 24 and 25 tell about the flesh of beasts. Verses 26 – 27 give us the flesh of man. In the flood account the same groups are used in Genesis 7:13 –15 with the exception of fish, which would not be victims in a flood.

Modern biologists are having quite a struggle with the biological classification of dinosaurs. There is growing evidence that they may have been related to the modern birds, with warm blooded metabolism and feather evidence being found at least in some specimens. The word “dinosaur” literally means “terrible lizard” and a lizard would be in the fish category with a cold blooded metabolism and scales. It may be that some dinosaurs were ancestors of the birds and others were more fish-like in their body function. Whatever is found in the next 50 years, it will not be a biblical issue.

DINOSAURS HAD A PURPOSE. God has a purpose in everything He does, and the Bible tells us that nothing is done in vain (Isaiah 55:11). Dinosaurs had a purpose for existing, but many false impressions exist about what that purpose might have been. Some have suggested that dinosaurs were the strong delusion mentioned earlier. Some have suggested that oil is “smashed dinosaurs.” Oil is produced by microscopic organisms called diatoms. As these creatures live out their lives they accumulate a drop of crude oil in their skeletal structure. When they die they settle to the floor of the ocean and are buried. Pressure squeezes out the oil drop and the skeletal material becomes diatomaceous earth. This may not be the only way oil is produced, but it is certainly a major way. Squashing dinosaurs like an orange to squeeze out oil is not a way to make oil.

Dinosaurs have been called the “gardeners of the Mesozoic” by some writers. Studies of the ecology of the age of the dinosaurs show that the earth at that time was much warmer than today and seems to have had a higher oxygen content. The plants of that day were not like the plants of today. They grew rapidly, did not have growth rings like the temperate climate plants that we know, and were massive in size. The plant-eating dinosaurs processed those plants, pruning them and placing them in anaerobic (oxygen free) conditions. This produced the massive amounts of coal seen in the earth. Like any ecosystem, there had to be balance and animals that prevented the plant-eating dinosaurs from overgrazing the plants were necessary — the predators. There also had to be animals that would clean up the dead, and animals like Tyrannosaurus rex were the vultures of that time. We are learning more and more about how the system functioned, but it is becoming obvious that this was the period when God prepared the resources that He knew man would need.

God could have zapped oil, gas, and coal into existence, but if He had done it that way, how would we have found these vital resources? We have learned how to read the record in the rocks, and this reading enables us to look for and find oil in unlikely places such as the north slopes of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico.

DINOSAURS ARE NOT MENTIONED IN SCRIPTURE. One of the problems that religious people have with dinosaurs is that they are not mentioned specifically in scripture. In fact they do not fit the animals that are listed in the Bible. First, we need to understand that there is an economy of language in the Bible. Hebrew words are limited, and God tells us only what is necessary to understand what we are and what we need to do about our relationship with God. You will not find amoeba, viruses, platypuses, echidnas, worms, euglena, penguins, and many other animals in the biblical account. Some 26 million different animals have existed in the earth’s history and only a very few are mentioned in the Bible. The animals listed in the Genesis account are the animals that man was dependent upon. In Genesis 1 verses 24 – 25 the Hebrew behemah refers to cattle, and remes (translated “creatures that move along the ground” in NIV) refers to sheep and goats — animals the Jews could eat. (See Genesis 9:1– 3 where the same groups are used for foods that man could eat.) The “fowl” of verses 20 – 21 would explain man’s chickens and ducks. The “leviathan” of Job 41 refers to an animal of the deep ocean, not a dinosaur (see Psalm 74:13 –14 and Isaiah 27:1). The “behemoth” of Job 40:15 – 24 refers to a large behemah and fits the description of a giant ground sloth perfectly. These are not dinosaurs.

The creation week deals with man and his domesticated animals. God is not trying to explain the millions of various forms of life that have existed on the earth, just those animals vital to man’s existence. There is no way the people of Moses’ day could have comprehended a dinosaur, or for that matter a platypus. Even in the twentieth century when a platypus was brought to the scientific world it was declared a hoax. It took a live specimen to convince scientific people that such an animal did exist. God’s wisdom in an economy of language is clear, and we should not expect the details that we who live in the twenty-first century would like to have.

DINOSAURS DID NOT COEXIST WITH MAN. Many creationist lectures, sermons, books, films, and museums show children riding around happily on the back of a Tyrannosaurus rex who usually appears to be smiling. There is absolutely no evidence of any kind that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time. There have been dozens of scams, fakes, and misunderstood finds which well-meaning people have promoted to justify what their church teaches. There are cave walls with pictures of strange creatures that look like dinosaurs. On those same walls are pictures of creatures with animal torsos and human heads and chests. There are pictures of mermaids throughout the world. Dragons are shown in many ancient drawings and in many ancient myths. In our modern world we see video games, movies, and modern art showing all kinds of fanciful creatures. Who can forget the strange creatures of Avatar? Man’s imagination has always dreamed up fanciful creatures.

We have seen forged footprints, faked art work, and numerous claims of modern-day, living dinosaurs that turned out to be a rotted whale or an oarfish. Some were from the imagination of a spooked human in an unfamiliar jungle who did not understand the creature he saw. The world of the dinosaurs would have been impossible for a human to survive. The temperatures, kinds of plants, composition of the atmosphere, and efficiency of the predators would have been prohibitive. The fact is that no human remains of any kind have been found in the same rocks with dinosaurs remains.

DINOSAURS ARE A PART OF THE PREHISTORY OF THE BIBLE. The main source of misunderstanding about dinosaurs and the geologic record of the history of the earth has been a failure to take the Bible literally. To take the Bible literally means to look at who wrote it, who they wrote it to, why they wrote it, and how the people who lived at the time and in the culture would have understood it. Genesis 1:1– 3 is written as a setting for the author’s primary message. Denominational teachings have been that these verses are a summary of the rest of the book, but the passage is written in historic style with a sequence of events being described. “Reshith Elohim bara shamayim erets” are the Hebrew words translated “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Elohim is the Hebrew word for God used when the Israelites wanted to express God’s power and creative capacity. Bara is a word used only in reference to God’s creative action. It is never used in reference to something man can do. Shamayim refers to everything above us — all that we see in space. Erets is used in the original language to refer to the earth — everything we see on this planet. In simple words the message is that God created everything. We are not told how God did this. We are not told how long He took to do it. God created time; therefore He has no time limitations. The ancient Hebrews would have understood that everything they saw in their sky was the subject of the creative action of verse one — the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, planets, asteroids, nebulae, meteoroids, comets. In verses 14 through 19 there is a change in what these created objects could be used for. The word bara is not used in verses 14 –19. God changed things so that there would be “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, …” (verse 14, NIV).

Simply stated, the objects are created in verse 1, their light reaches earth in verse 3, but they could not be used to mark “seasons and days and years” until verses 14 –19. This is not someone’s opinion; that is what the Bible says if we take it literally. The earth of verse 1 (erets) was not a gelatinous mass of some sort. It was a functional working planet, but without some of the characteristics man knows and depends on. There is scientific evidence that it was a very warm, wet, cloud-shrouded, swampy environment. It was perfect for the diatoms and plants that would produce the oil, gas, and coal man would need. The Bible does not tell us how all of this was produced, but the scientific evidence is that there was an ecosystem that God used to accomplish His ends in a natural way. The Bible confirms this by telling us that the earth was formless and dark, and indicates that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (verse 2, NIV). From a biblical standpoint we do not know how long this went on, or how quickly the changes took place. This is a prehistoric time and is simply a part of the process God used to prepare the earth and provide resources for man.

Once the earth and heavens are established in a way that man and his animals could survive in them, we see more specific descriptions of God’s functioning, and once again in verses 21 and 27 we see bara used to indicate God’s miraculous actions. When the creation week ends in Genesis 2:3, we see God resting from “all his work which God created (bara) and made (asah)” (KJV).

The role of the dinosaurs in the history of the earth is still being studied by science. We can believe (1) that dinosaurs never lived, (2) that they were a part of the creation week and are simply not mentioned, (3) that they existed after the creation week and are not mentioned, or (4) that they are a part of the prehistory of the earth in Genesis 1:1– 3. I would suggest the most consistent position and the one supported by the evidence is that they existed before the week, during the prehistory of Genesis 1:1– 3.

Much remains to be learned about dinosaurs, their role in the history of the earth, and the meanings and implications of the Genesis account. The future will produce greater clarity, and I am convinced it will provide greater confidence in the integrity of the biblical record. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator. Knowing we are created in the image of a God who has the power and wisdom to do what God has done to provide for His creation should motivate us to follow His will and serve Him in a way that brings honor and respect to His name.
--John N. Clayton

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