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Dinosaur Denialism

by Donald Prothero, Dec 14 2011

I have written frequently in these blogposts about the numerous forms of denial of science and reality that are out there, from global warming denialism, to AIDS denialism, anti-vaxxers, and creationism. They all have a lot in common, from their insular exclusionary attitude that refuses to accept evidence that doesn’t fit their world view, to the various strategies they use to reduce cognitive dissonance and fight against reality, all borrowed from the Holocaust deniers. These include: quoting out of context (“quote-mining”) to dishonestly suggest that the quoted person agrees with them, cherry-picking data to show the exact opposite of what the data really show, making phony lists of “experts” who agree with them, picking on the small differences within the scientific community as evidence that the “science is not settled”, picking on one small factoid (usually misinterpreted and out of context) as evidence that the whole of science is false, and so on. Usually, these obvious strategies to deny an overwhelming body of evidence are so transparently self-delusional that we can laugh at them.

But then I ran into something that staggered even my sense of how low these people can go. We are all familiar with how creationists use ad hoc explanations and special pleading to rescue the absurdities of their world view, from trying to cram all of the animals into Noah’s ark and dismissing the huge numbers problem through their non-biological concept of “created kinds”, to doing all sorts of violence to the geologic record to justify the Noah’s flood story, to even insisting that men have one less rib than do women (the last one is easy to check, but they don’t). As I have discussed in several previous posts, the more extreme Biblical literalists also believe in a flat earth and reject the heliocentric solar system. But I was flabbergasted to read of a whole group of extreme creationists who deny that dinosaurs existed! Usually, the creationists not only come to terms with the evidence of dinosaurs, but many have even tried to co-opt their popularity with kids under 10 by making them a prominent part of their propaganda (as does Ken Ham of the “Answers in Genesis” ministry and the “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky). With something as widely accepted and exciting and popular as dinosaurs, which anyone can see for themselves in their local museum, how could any person in the 21st century argue they are not real?

Yet that is exactly the position of this bizarre creationist subcult, which would be unknown and invisible to most of us were it not for their web presence (and their web design is not as garishly bad as most crackpot websites). You can scan their website linked above and see just far off the deep end of batshit crazy they have plunged.  A representative quote for how these paranoid people argue that paleontologists are creating fraudulent dinosaur fossils is as follows:

What would be the motivation for such a deceptive endeavor? Obvious motivations include trying to prove evolution, trying to disprove or cast doubt on the Christian Bible and the existence of the Christian God, and trying to disprove the “young-earth theory”. Yes, there are major political and religious ramifications.

The dinosaur concept could imply that if God exists, he may have tinkered with his idea of dinosaurs for awhile, then perhaps discarded or became tired of this creation and then went on to create man. The presented dinosaur historical timeline could suggest an imperfect God who came up with the idea of man as an afterthought, thus demoting the biblical idea that God created man in His own image. Dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

Highly rewarding financial and economic benefits to museums, educational and research organizations, university departments of paleontology, discoverers and owners of dinosaur bones, and the book, television, movie and media industries may cause sufficient motivation for ridiculing of open questioning and for suppression of honest investigation. [That's a real laugher! Most paleontologists are poorly paid and cannot even get a job in paleontology!]

So, based on the premise that dinosaurs are a fiction designed to disprove creationism and drive us away from God, the writers of this website go into extremely bizarre thinking about dinosaurs and paleontology. There is a long section, using quotes out of context from the Berkeley evolution website, that claims that scientists dreamed up the whole thing as a big scam to undermine religion. Never mind the fact that all the early dinosaur discoveries were made by religious people such as Gideon Mantell, Rev. William Buckland, Mary Anning, and Richard Owen, and many later paleontologists (like Edward D. Cope) were also quite religious. This writer knows how to clip little bits of simplistic web histories out of context, but doesn’t know enough history to know the difference.

The next section on the website is another long, bizarre example of quote mining, where the author  clearly knows nothing whatsoever about fossils and  how they are found. The author jumps from one paranoid speculation to another, all in an attempt to suggest that dinosaur bones are forgeries planted in the outcrop by crooked paleontologists, and there is no way they could have gotten there without fraud. The list of mistakes and lies and misconceptions about fossils and geology is so long that I don’t have space to even begin listing them all. Because fossil skeletons are incomplete in the field, it is common practice to mold replicas to complete the skeleton for display. But the author of this website then jumps to the absurd conclusion that all the bones in every dinosaur skeleton on display are faked!

From there, this crazy site goes into the old shopworn (and long debunked) creationist attacks on radiometric dating and geology, using the classic tactic of quoting out of context to show the opposite of what the text really intended. Then the author savages other crazy creationists, including those who use the great size of dinosaurs to justify an expanding earth with stronger gravity today than in the past, and others who quote the passages about the “Behemoth” in the Book of Job as evidence that the Bible talks about dinosaurs.

Then the site jumps into other crackpot ideas, like Tom Gold’s abiogenic origin of petroleum (long ago falsified), and presents a list of 19th century naturalists who talked about dinosaurs because they allegedly made up their discoveries in order to promote evolution! Once again, this doofus is so ignorant of history that he has no idea that half that list consisted of devout individuals who were “creationists” and most of them worked on dinosaurs in a religious context. Not only that, but they were not trying to “prove evolution”—their work was done decades before Darwin’s book came out in 1859. Give this guy an “F” in history….

Finally, he trots out the laughable idea that paleontologists concocted this whole forgery to get rich, but clearly he knows nothing about real paleontology. Most of my colleagues have turned down more lucrative careers in law or medicine or business to work on fossils at a mere fraction of the salary that they could be getting elsewhere. Nor do professional paleontologists get rich from selling their fossils, either—only the commercial collectors who are not professionally trained or doing research. but simply in it for the money do so.

So how can anyone become so delusional and get so many things wrong that are easy to check? As we discussed in my Nov. 16 post, many creationist communities are highly insular and not only avoid secular media, but only hear and read what their church leaders tell them to. If you read only creationist crap for a long time, and surf websites looking for things that you can quote out of context, you too can become the kind of crackpot who can manage to get every fact in the article 100% wrong! As long as your faith in Biblical literalism is more important than checking the facts out for yourself, you can twist anything to suit this delusional world view.

So read this website if you dare. You need a strong stomach for lies and self-deception, and hopefully you will not be shocked by the low view of humanity that emerges from reading it….

Recommended Reading

56 Responses to “Dinosaur Denialism”

  1. Wilson says:

    “[...] to even insisting that men have one less rib than do women”. I never understood *why* they would claim that. If you were to surgically remove a rib (or any other bone, for that matter) from a person now, that person’s children would be born with all their bones in place. Why would Adam’s descendants be born with one missing rib? (and why only the male descendants?)

    It looks like a ridiculous affirmation that is trying to answer to a question that doesn’t even exist. It makes my brain hurt just trying to understand what leads someone to think that way.

    • Janet Camp says:

      My 83-year-old mother firmly believes that men have one less rib than women, because, “the bible says so”. No amount of reason (or laughter) will sway her. It’s a good example of the psychological phenomena described recently where people refuse to change their views even when presented with direct evidence. Sorry, I can’t cite the book or author off the top of my head.

      My mother also says that she is ready to go “when the Lord calls her”, yet she takes her pills regularly and scowls when I suggest that she is thwarting the Lord.

      • tmac57 says:

        Years ago I worked with a guy who also believed the ‘one less rib’ myth,and he was otherwise quiet smart and levelheaded,so this really confounded me.This was before the internet,so I asked him, if I could produce a textbook of anatomy that showed him wrong,would that change his mind?
        He said “no”,because the Bible told him that it was true,and that’s all the proof that he needed.

      • Wrong says:

        If only it were ethical to flay the flesh from his bones until he could count the ribs… But seriously, if you can feel your ribcage, it’s pretty obvious that they’re all there, what amazes me is that these people delude themselves otherwise.

      • Wesley Goodford says:

        I just tried to count my ribs and all I can say is it’s damn hard. I strongly suspect the first rib is hidden below the collarbone; I can’t find it. Counting the other ribs is non-trivial because of shifting muscles and skin and as you get lower you find yourself asking the question ‘does this still count as a rib?’ and cursing your arm for protesting so much. And at what I first thought of as the last rib(?) I feel a hint of cartilage going to possibly another rib obscured by a thick dorsal muscle.
        I’m slender and not particularly muscular and I tried really hard, but I can only say that I have no idea how many ribs I have. I guess I could look up how many I’m supposed to have in Gray’s Anatomy, but as I understand it there is considerable individual variation.

      • LovleAnjel says:

        The vast majority of people have 24 ribs (12 pairs). Around 0.2 – 0.5% of the population has extra ribs. I wouldn’t consider that to be considerable individual variation.

      • Wesley Goodford says:

        I would, if it were something as significant as a whole extra rib… remember that I said that in the context of the argument that disputing the number of ribs you have is silly because they’re easy to count. If one in 400 people come up with the wrong answer then that is in context significant.
        And it still doesn’t change the fact that ribs are damn hard to count, especially if you live in an area where floating ribs aren’t traditionally considered real ribs. I’m pretty sure at least one of my floating ribs doesn’t actually float, and the shape of the cartilage has always been different on the left side than on the right.
        In the end the fact remains that there are probably at least two pairs of ribs that I cannot feel and that I constantly lose count due to unpredictably shifting skin and muscles.
        I’m willing to accept that I probably have 12 pairs of ribs, but not because I can count them, which was the original argument.

      • Greisha says:

        The book title is “Mistakes were made (but not by me)”

      • Karolus says:

        Would that book be : Mistakes were made, but not by me ?

      • Jeremy says:

        I think it’s all rather interesting, but nowhere does the Bible say that men are all ‘missing a rib’.

      • Carl says:

        It says men have one less rib than women. In modern interpretation that translates to : men are missing a rib. Or perhaps its has more to it than surface value. None the less its ludicrous that people are able to delude themselves like that when reasoning clearly disproves it.

      • In Genesis (one version of the story) Yahweh takes a rib from Adam to make Eve. That’s the origin of the myth…

  2. Jerrold Alpern says:

    I am an Education Volunteer on the 4th floor at AMNH. About three months ago, I had to deal with this exact question. I was going around the Saurischian Hall (T. rex & Apatosaurus) with an 8th grade class and a girl suddenly said in a loud voice “I don’t believe in dinosaurs!”.

    I asked her what she meant by that and the following dialogue ensued:
    “I don’t know. I just don’t believe in dinosaurs.”

    “Suppose I were driving you in a car and just ahead there was a stop sign at a busy intersection but I was not slowing down. What would you say?”

    “Don’t you see the stop sign?”

    “Suppose I then said, ‘I don’t believe in stop signs.’ ?”

    “What do you mean, you don’t believe in stop signs?”

    “I don’t know. I just don’t believe in them.”

    She was silent. So I took her over to an actual Apatosaurus fossil arm bone that is mounted in front of the skeleton for everyone to touch and admire (which most people do). I said this is a real fossil dinosaur bone, about 140 million years old. The Museum scientists have said it is real and that old. Scientific techniques have confirmed its age and reality. You can read the story of its discovery elsewhere in the hall. You can feel that it is not plaster or plastic or resin. Do you not believe the scientists or me or your own senses?

    She didn’t say anything further, but her teacher took her and began to show her other stuff in the hall. I don’t pretend that her mind was changed but maybe some of the other students present began to think a little more.

  3. LovleAnjel says:

    That’s a new twist. I had heard the argument that dinosaurs didn’t exist, but that God or Satan created their bones to test people’s faith. Also heard some arguments along the lines of the trees in Eden having rings & Adam & Eve having bellybuttons.

    Most of public thinks paleontologists make a lot, because dinosaurs are so popular (Sue sold for $8 million, so we must all be rich, right?). The locals who bring in their fossil finds refuse to believe that I don’t know the market price of whatever it is. They seem confused when I am uninterested in spending ridiculous amounts on a fossil which totally lacks context.

    • Janet Camp says:

      I am an Anthropologist (by education, not practice) and I get the same thing with “arrowheads” and the like, that people have found. When I did my archaeology fieldwork, this was very common at any site I was working on. We always politely told the people who approached us that we were scientists, not treasure hunters and that we were seeking only information, not collectibles.

      Once again, the glaring lack of any understanding of basic science and why it is even done is very disturbing.

      • LovleAnjel says:

        I always worry someone’s going to pull up with a shotgun. You get permission to work on private land, but still.

      • Max says:

        How would one tell the difference between a cheap fossil and an expensive one?

      • Sean says:

        Cheap fossil: It’s already out of the ground.

        Expensive fossil: It’s still in the ground.

        ^_^

      • Wrong says:

        Quality of preservation. The more complete and identifiable a fossil, the more it will be worth, for instance, a complete and undamaged dinosaur fossil (No such has ever been found as far as I’m aware) would be worth far more than a worn down claw or chunks of teeth.

      • Sorry, Wrong, but there are actually quite a few dino skeletons that have been found complete and articulated, including the famous Ghost Ranch Coelophysis; the specimens from Liaoning and Jehol, China; the baby camarasaur from Dinosaur Nat. Monument; the amazing skeletons found i the Red Deer badlands of Alberta; and a number of Mongolian specimens of Protoceratops, Oviraptor, etc. They are the exception to the rule, but they are not unknown…

  4. tmac57 says:

    If someone could just hack into the emails of ‘Big Dino’,then we could see just how deep the conspiracy goes.

  5. Janet Camp says:

    LOL!

    That comment was rejected for being “too short”, so I’ll elaborate by saying that not only did your comment make me laugh out loud, but it was brilliant as well!

  6. Other Paul says:

    This is why we need a ‘like’ button. And a ‘lol’ button. And a ‘meh’ button. And a ‘rofl’ button. And a …

  7. Phea says:

    “You can scan their website linked above and see just far off the deep end of batshit crazy they have plunged.”

    I did, and to add to my dismay checked out a couple of their links. I remember thinking how wonderful the Information Age, (all information, available to all people, all the time), would be when it arrived. I failed to consider the massive amount of pure horseshit that would be passed off as legitimate information though.

  8. I am always disappointed that Creationists and Intelligent Designers of all colors do not fight among themselves. Their beliefs are so contrary to each other yet they make no effort to resolve their differences. Can someone tell me why?

    • jose says:

      Because at the end of the day, all of them are for religion and against science. That’s their ultimate -and shared- goal.

    • Draken says:

      Oh, I do think they loathe each other at times. I’m pretty certain Ken Ham has nothing with the latest ID incarnation, which theoretically could imply evolution over “millions of years”, and he hardly ever even mentions Kent Hovind, who otherwise seems to live in the same parallel universe spare a few bars. And all the fundies thrash the more moderate (or accomodationist) theologian faction.

      As a tentative reason, I could try a counter question: do the inmates of an asylum ever discuss their delusions with each other? Or alternatively, do the perpetrators of different money scams ever discuss the merits of, say, a Ponzi scheme over an advance fee fraud?

    • Wrong says:

      Because they don’t encounter each other. If you got them into discourse about their beliefs, you’d have them, but since we’re the ones seeking them out and challenging their ideas, it’s most often that they fight the apostate rather than someone who believes otherwise. It’s always confused me though, how (especially in this day and age) religious people can put on the blinders to other religion, or attack it, without considering their own, key example being fundamentalist islam. I very much doubt many christians are willing to accept that the fundamentalist muslim came to believe, and believes with the same feverence that they do, but in something just slightly different.

      • Beelzebud says:

        I know what you mean there. I have many christian friends, and all of them love to make fun of scientology. They get extremely annoyed when I say “Hey, give scientology 2000 years, and see how funny it is.”

  9. oldebabe says:

    It is just stupifying to me to hear about some of the stuff that some people believe. Is it a lack of education? intelligence? location? religion? all of the above? (BTW, I don’t think it’s `ageing’, i.e. I’m 81, and also have critical-thinking contemporaries.) It’s just a mystery to me that some people can’t seem to (or won’t) understand or see anything but what they’ve decided, or change their view, no matter how impossible or contrary to even plain common sense, let alone current scientific thinking and facts.

    Thanks for so obviously not being one of those folk.

  10. DeLong says:

    Well, to be moderately fair to these people, I am a denier of the first order! I deny that any diety exists, either currently or in the past. I also deny the their religious texts (of ANY religion) has any historical or scientific truth. I also deny, without proof to the contrary, the existence of any mythical religious figure, including that “savior” for which too much ado about nothing is done near the end of December, when everyone should be celebrating the contributions of Sir Isaac Newton to science and mathmatics. I do not “believe” in dinosaurs, but I ACCEPT the facts that support the existence of dinosaurs and I ACCEPT the facts that support evolution. Until a religious person can produce the same physical evidence that exists for dinosaurs and evolution, I cannot in good consience accept anything they say about dieties and associated claimes.

    • Wrong says:

      Well, then you’re not really denying the claim of deities, are you? You’re taking the default agnostic/Null Hypothesis stance, something shouldn’t be accepted until significant evidence and cause is given. That’s not denial, that’s rational.

      I love the bit at the end about putting religion to the same standards as evolution: If “Academic Freedom” (Read: Pretending Creation is a valid hypothesis) was given to the creationists, they still would have the inferior theory.

      • Wesley Goodford says:

        I think denial can be rational. The term has gotten a bad rep thanks to words and phrases like ‘denialism’ and ‘in denial’ but in the end we all deny lots of things, often on good grounds.
        Leaving aside the matter whether atheism is the null hypothesis (not because I disagree, but because it’s unnecessary for my post) an atheist might argue that a lot of things in his world don’t seem to square with the existence of the divine. This is denying (the theistic standpoint, id est the existance of one or more gods) but if our hypothetical atheist can argue his case, perfectly rational.

      • Wesley Goodford says:

        s/existance/existence/

    • Old Rockin' Dave says:

      Actually, the Hebrew Bible has quite a bit of historical truth in it. Some of it is quite specific – I refer you to the book “Rivers in the Desert” by the archaeologist Nelson Gluck.Some of the people in those books definitely existed. We have no evidence for the existence of Moses, but it’s pretty clear that the Exodus story was written by someone with some knowledge of Egypt, and it’s possible that Moses was at least based on someone real. Some of it is more general. In the stories leading up to the era of the kings, and in David’s conflict with Saul, you can see the beginnings of the great transformations in how human societies lived and developed.
      None of this is to say anything about the existence or nonexistence of God or miracles, but there certainly is some history there if you know where to look.

      • Fairbanks says:

        [We have no evidence for the existence of Moses, but it’s pretty clear that the Exodus story was written by someone with some knowledge of Egypt, and it’s possible that Moses was at least based on someone real. ]
        Well, for that matter, Tom and Jerry are based on actual living creatures (Cat and Mouse) but I’m fairly sure the actual characters never existed. Same with Harry Potter or any other mythical/made up character you choose to tell a story about.

  11. David Switch says:

    I don’t even consider anyone that digs in the group a scientist. Try a real job :-)

  12. Kenn says:

    • Smug creationists will dismiss dinosaur deniers as extremists and cast themselves as objective realists who reject absurdities.

    • The human mind is amazing in its capacity to concoct alternative nonsense.

    • While such articles are amusing and a bit mind boggling, I wonder if there’s any value in debating with willful nut cases. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t raise his IQ.

    • The Apostle Paul notoriously said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” He wasn’t making a suggestion. He was making an observation. Faith literally take precedence over the obvious.

    Add “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart [100% faith]; and lean not unto thine own understanding [0% intellect]“.

    • God bless Google spell checker.

    • Wrong says:

      The value in debating the nuts is that slightly more rational types who are learning about them, or have doubts will come to realise that the teaching are nonsense.

    • Tom says:

      I was thinking the same thing as your third bullet point. You will never eliminate the nuts. Some people are always going to believe some really weird stuff. Prothero obviously get completely incensed by creationists. I guess this is not surprising given his field.

      But, I sometimes wonder if it is worth getting so worked up about such fringe beliefs. Dinosaur deniers are probably never going to hurt anyone. As long as they aren’t changing textbooks, is it really worth even bothering to talk with them? Edwards often writes on here about mediums and psychics. I usually don’t even bother reading this stuff because it seems so pointless to try to convince the true-believers that it is all bullshit.

      It seems like the roots of “skepticism” were in the fight against con-artists posing as magicians. Isn’t it time to move on? Reading about these topics seems akin to ogling the circus freaks.

      Aren’t the anti-vaxxers a better fight at this point?

      (and yes, I do realize that we aren’t necessarily “wasting resources” by reading and writing about this stuff…it just seems like a waste of time, though. Also, apologies for a rather disjointed post!)

      • You miss the point. This blog is about discussing all sorts of woo and fringe beliefs, even if they are unlikely to have a huge political impact. I’ve blogged about the geocentrists and flat-earthers, too, but fortunately almost all of society laughs at them as absurd. It’s not a “waste of time” to be aware that these people exist, and they are illustrative of the tough battle we have out there fighting woo and making ours a more rational society. But the crazy dino-deniers I mentioned above merge into the much larger mass of YEC who DO have an enormous influence over about 40% of the population, and have seriously damaged our science literacy in this country (see an upcoming post). They ARE a problem that we must take seriously and use resources to fight every time they break the law and try to impose their sectarian views on public institutions. And many of the current GOP prez candidates and their followers are on their side to establish a theocracy, so this danger in not “a waste of time and resources”.

      • Kenn says:

        I suppose I agree . . .

        providing we distinguish between addressing nut cases and obsessing over nut cases.

      • WScott says:

        One advantage of debunking the more obvious nuts is it helps demonstrate critical thinking and how skepticism is done. Sure most people look at dino-denial and instinctively say “That’s nuts!” The trick is to show them *how* and *why* the deniers are wrong. Since the rational position (dinosaurs exist) is not controversial, they are able to follow the thought process without it threatening any of their sacred cows.
        They may not immediately make the leap on their own to using the same critical thought process on other issues that are less-obviously nuts. But you’ve planted the seed. Later, when someone else uses critical thinking to dispute something less-obviously absurd, at least they’ve seen the process work and it has some credibility with them.
        Slight tangent: I’ve always thought the skeptical movement as a whole would do better to spend more time debunking pseudoscience and obvious nonsense, as opposed to directly attacking religion. Not because I think religion should be exempt from attack, but for purely tactical reasons. Tell someone their religious beliefs are irrational, and they’re usually unable to hear you. But if you can teach them how to think rationally in general, they’re more likely to come to that conclusion on their own. That’s how it worked for me and the vast majority of the atheists I know.

  13. Dusty R says:

    Amazing. There’s even a very good museum of paleontology at BYU, whose student body (over 35,000) and faculty are about 99% Christian (LDS). Clearly, not all Christians feel the need to burry their heads in the sand like this faction you posted.

    These literalists never cease to astound.

  14. Scott says:

    Evolution was debated by scientists long before Darwin published “On the Origin…;” see especially the ideas of Buffon, Cuvier, and Lamarck. Darwin added understanding of the process: natural selection. The pattern of evolution was already speculated on by natural historians.

  15. Rich Wilson says:

    It’s interesting they are able to assume their god intentionally tries to trick people into not believing in him (via fossils)

    But not that their god intentionally tries to trick people into believing crazy and contradictory stuff about him (via various ancient documents)

  16. cafeproz says:

    It is easy to laugh at how people so gullible… and I sometimes wonder if that is not the reason why “religious-types” cannot see the light.
    Light is made of them for not understanding, but really is it understanding or is faith (in Science) that we are asking them to have?

    Science by its own admission does not seek to tell the truth, but the facts. What people seek is the truth (or whatever says it is, the loudest).

    On one hand you’ve got beliefs that makes them feel Good and that purports to be the truth. On the other hand you have Science that says here are the facts and the conclusions may change over time…

    Guess what will plumber Joe go for?

  17. Since paleontologists are faking the dinosaur fossils and putting them into the ground in many places around the world, I wish they would put some near my house so that I could find them more easily. :)

    Seriously, I’d like to take those dinosaur deniers out into the field and have them see for themselves how hard it is to find dinosaur fossils, the conditions in which the fossils are found, and the condition of the fossils themselves, and then have the deniers do some of the basic preparation of the fossils and watch the entire preparation process and subsequent study of the fossils. After all that I’d like to see the deniers claim that the fossils are faked.

  18. Owlmirror says:

    I am astonished that no-one linked to this:

    Teach the Controversy….!!

  19. shayDblue says:

    I invoke Poe’s law.

    The site is probably real(as in someone really believes that BS), but I really would like to think otherwise. I read the whole thing and I’m pretty sure I have an aneurism ready to pop any moment now.