It doesn’t matter whether you’re five years old or a highly acclaimed scientist—dinosaur fever can grip us all.
Maybe it’s because we enjoy fantasising about a time in which giant biological killing machines roamed the earth. Imagine the adrenalin rush of coming across a living, breathing, snorting Tyrannosaurus Rex eyeing you with a hungry glint in its eye!
Another reason we’re fascinated with dinosaurs is because they are gone—totally gone, at least the towering carnivorous kind.1 How could these powerful killing machines have suddenly and completely disappeared? What if the fate of the dinosaurs were to befall us, too?
The evolutionary account
The scientific account that the media gives all its airtime to goes like this . . .
According to a number of university research studies, the original dinosaurs were small, two-footed animals, with large grasping hands, that enjoyed a buffet of plant and animal food. Evolutionary studies suggest they emerged some 247 million years ago in Scotland.2 They then continued to evolve, and from those Triassic ancestors finally emerged as the spiky Stegosaurus, the 40-metre long Argentinosaurus and, of course, the infamous scavenger Tyrannosaurus Rex, to name a few high-profile examples.
About 65 million years ago according to the account, a massive meteorite flew into our lane in the solar system and the resulting astronomical accident killed all of the dinosaurs.
The evolutionary account seems rather feasible. In fact, there are a number of similarities between the biblical record of Earth’s history and current scientific accounts—both involve a global catastrophe. Why wouldn’t we believe that the deep time dates put forward in this account are historically accurate?
The reason is that scientific methods use assumptions to date dinosaur fossils and events. They may be reasonable assumptions, but they are still just that—and assumptions about history can be incorrect, even false. Scientists realise this, and that’s why they don’t settle for just one single dating method.
To increase the likelihood that their calculations based on these assumptions are right, they use different ways of calculating the dates and then compare the different results. The only problem is that these dating methods might not be sufficiently independent of each other.3 They may be closely connected and systematically affected by a common cause or a process that scientists are either unaware of, or are not able to include in their models. For example, Lord Kelvin was unaware of the process of radioactive decay, so obviously he did not include it in his geological calculations. This is why he incorrectly concluded that our planet Earth is about 20 million years old.
In our case, the process that scientists are not able to include in their dating models is God’s supernatural and miraculous power to create things like planets, rocks, stars and animals instantaneously. What this means is that it is genuinely possible that many lines of scientific evidence can give similar, yet historically incorrect results.
The Bible points us towards a different historical account. Consider the following biblical evidence:
- God’s inspired Word describes how God supernaturally created people and animals on the same day—the sixth day of the Creation Week.
- The Bible states that, just five days earlier, when God first created the earth as I believe, the earth was empty and inhospitable for life.4
- If we trace the ages of people in the genealogy of Abraham back through to Adam (Genesis 11:10-26), the Bible points to a fairly recent Creation Week—in the order of about 6000-10,000 years ago.
- There are no explicit biblical statements or evidence that the Creation Week occurred a significantly long time ago, ie more than about 10,000 years.
Because God inspired the Bible, and since there is significant biblical evidence that Genesis 1 is a literal account of history, we can trust that this one divinely revealed testimony is providing us with the true historical account.5 What this means is that there were no dinosaurs in existence 65 million years ago or earlier, and people were around at the same time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
The evangelical proposal
So what really happened to the dinosaurs? A common idea that is taught by evangelical creationists is that God created the dinosaurs during the Creation Week. Because it is assumed that God created them, He obviously would have wanted to save some of them during the Flood, so He would have arranged for some of them to be on Noah’s Ark. But how would you fit pairs of huge dinosaurs onto the Ark? Well, God could have directed Noah to bring either some dinosaur eggs or some juvenile dinosaurs onboard.6 Imagine having a baby dinosaur as a pet!
Of course, this would have meant that some of the Flood survivors that walked off the Ark were dinosaurs. Evangelical creationists point out that the descriptions of the animals called the Behemoth and the Leviathan in the book of Job sound a lot like dinosaurs.7 Also, we find medieval stories from places like England and Germany about people like Saint George fighting with ferocious, fire-breathing dragons. There are brass etchings in the Carlisle Cathedral in England that look surprisingly similar to Sauropod dinosaurs and carvings in the stone walls of the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia that look like a Stegosaurus. Could these be stories and artwork created by people who lived with dinosaurs?8 The prospect is quite intriguing and thrilling.
The proposal that people and dinosaurs were living together after the Flood is certainly possible and it is consistent with the biblical record that animals and people came into existence on the same Creation day. The only problem is that most of the evidence that evangelical creationists put forward is often much more like anecdotal hearsay and artists’ impressions rather than historical eyewitness accounts. In reality, the stories and artwork could have been inspired by descriptions of dinosaurs that were handed down as folk stories through the generations from Noah and his family. Or, they could have also been artistic imagination or dreams. Remember the dream that Daniel had of a terrifying beast?9
The Adventist testimony
There is a viable explanation within our Seventh-day Adventist heritage. In her inspired writings, Ellen White shares with us that there was some form of intentionally evil cross-breeding or genetic manipulation of animals going on before the Flood. She then goes on to say that these genetically manipulated animals, which God did not create, were destroyed in the Flood.10 [pullquote]
Some people may ridicule this idea that genetic manipulation was occurring before the Flood. However, the fact that genetic engineering is being successfully done now means that genetic manipulation was physically possible then as well. All that would be needed was for them to have an advanced form of intelligence and knowledge, which is exactly what Ellen White says was available at the time.11 Ellen White points to an even higher intelligence for the genetic engineering that occurred. She ultimately attributes it to Satan himself.12 She is not alone in attributing some genetic manipulation to Satan. Leading Christian philosopher Professor Alvin Plantinga writes:
The world may very well contain sin and suffering, not just on the part of human beings but perhaps also on the part of other creatures as well. Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain. (Some may snort with disdain at this suggestion; it is none the worse for that.)13
Both Ellen White and Alvin Plantinga are broadening our thinking to the possibility that there are spiritual beings who could have caused some of the genetic and anatomical changes that have occurred in animals, rather than just genetic mutations by copying errors and cosmic radiation. God Himself, in His grace and mercy, may have caused physical changes to occur in animals after sin entered the world so that they would have been able to survive in the much harsher environment after the Flood. However, the sobering reality is that a lot more suffering in nature can, and should, be attributed to the direct intervention of Satan than we often acknowledge.
There is that niggling question: why should we trust what Ellen White writes on scientific topics like intentional cross-breeding? When you dig deeper into her life story, though, you discover that Ellen White was given supernatural revelations by God.14 Also, her comments about the intentional cross-breeding that was occurring before the Flood match what the Bible says.15 This is why we should take Ellen White’s testimony seriously.
Now it’s important to note that Ellen White never specifically says that it was dinosaurs that were genetically manipulated. She does give us a wonderfully reassuring insight into why God could have allowed animals like the dinosaurs to be destroyed in the Flood. She writes:
There were a class of very large animals which perished in the flood. God knew that the strength of people would decrease, and these enormous animals could not be controlled by weak humans.16
Considering the fossil records that we have, it is most likely that she is referring to some of the largest dinosaur species. Now clearly there are large animals alive today which are much stronger than us, like tigers, hippopotami and grizzly bears, and we have figured out ways to sedate and restrain them. However, if dinosaurs were the result of some form of genetic manipulation, God may have decided to destroy all of them in the Flood. Isn’t it amazing that God was also thinking of us, 4000 years into the future, at the time when He was stocking the Ark?
It is a fact that dinosaurs lived and roamed this Earth. It is also a fact that they ultimately faced global extinction. However, we can trust that this was all part of Jesus’ bigger plan to save us from a significant amount of dinosaur panic and provide us with a less violent world to live in. Even if we are not exactly sure what happened to all of the dinosaurs, God will share with us the reasons for His decisions when we get to heaven. Come to think of it, gigantic dinosaur fossils may actually be paleontological evidence prompting us to think of the new world that Jesus has promised to create for us, where there is no more pain or suffering or death. Now that’s a world to look forward to!17
Sven Ostring is Personal Ministries, Sabbath School, Stewardship and Discipleship director for the Greater Sydney Conference.