The following article appeared in the Winter 1994 issue of
_The Skeptical Inquirer_ (Vol. 18, #2), pp. 187-191, and is
copyrighted by them, with all rights reserved and all that.
Saint George and the Baryonyx
_Dinosaurs by Design_. By Duane T. Gish. Illustrated by Earl
and Bonita Snellenberger. Creation-Life Publishers, Master
Books, El Cajon, Calif., 1992. 88 pp. Hardcover, $14.95.
DANIEL J. PHELPS
Both children and adults are fascinated by dinosaurs (the
phenomenal success of this year's blockbuster Jurassic Park
is just the latest example), and for many young people
popular accounts of dinosaurs are their first encounter with
science. Indeed, an informal poll of paleontologists and
geologists will reveal that many were attracted to their
field because of an early interest in dinosaurs. Apparently
young-earth creationists are now exploiting this interest in
order to promote their pseudoscientific beliefs. The recent
publication of _Dinosaurs by Design_, by Duane Gish, is a
Advertised as being a "creation science" book aimed at
junior to senior high-school students, the book appears to
be written with an even younger audience in mind. It is
attractively produced and filled with high-quality color
illustrations. The reproductions of dinosaur paintings are
above average for juvenile literature. While most accurately
depict the dinosaurs themselves, the addition of people,
buildings, the Ark, and modern animals to the illustrations
help promote fundamentalist beliefs.
The sheer number of errors, halftruths, and outright
deceptions in the book make it difficult to review in a
limited space. Among the more egregious errors are
statements claiming that all mutations are bad, that
transitional forms do not exist, and that fossilization was
a product of Noah's Flood. The claim that "all dinosaurs not
on Noah's Ark were drowned in the Flood" (p. 8) sets the
tone for the rest of the book. To Gish's credit, no mention
is made of the fraudulent Paluxy Mantracks.
Fortunately, there is only a short section on geologic
time; it ridicules and misrepresents the views of legitimate
geologists, accusing them of "circular reasoning." Nowhere
in the book is there mention of the terms Mesozoic,
Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous. A post-Noah's Flood
catastrophe is invoked as being responsible for the
formation of the Grand Canyon. Moreover, the reader is
misled into believing that this concept is widely accepted
by geologists. This section concludes by quoting Institute
for Creation Research geologist Steve Austin as saying, "It
is reasonable to think that fossils and rocks could have
formed rapidly only thousands of years ago" (p. 15).
A significant amount of _Dinosaurs by Design_ is devoted
to making strange cryptozoological claims. Apparently, Duane
Gish wishes to convince us that dinosaurs and other Mesozoic
reptiles lived until recent times and that some are still
with us. He uses an example of nineteenth-century tabloid
journalism to support one of these claims. Gish cites an
April 26, 1890, issue of the _Tombstone Epitaph_ that gives
a dubious account of two cowboys killing a bizarre creature
that Gish claims may have been the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus.
This particular pterosaur is known to have lacked teeth
(Wellnhofer 1991: 140-145). Because the _Tombstone Epitaph_
account says the creature had an 8-foot-long alligatorlike
head with a mouth full of teeth, two separate illustrations
of Quetzacoatlus show a pterosaur with sharp teeth.
Gish also dredges up several sea-serpent and lake-monster
tales to make his case. Thus the Loch Ness Monster becomes
the Cretaceous plesiosaur Elasmosaurus. Additionally, it is
suggested that the Mokele Mbembe of the Congo River is a
dinosaur. (For a good acount of this living dinosaur legend,
see Jacobs 1993). In all seriousness, when referring to one
sea-monster account, Gish says, "It seems you never have a
camera when you need it!" (p. 87).
On page 86 appears a picture of an unusual decomposing
animal hauled aboard the Japanese fishing boat Zuiyo Maru in
1977 off the coast of New Zealand. A crewman photographed
and took tissue samples of this putrid carcass before it was
thrown overboard. Ever the mystery monger, Gish quotes
Japanese scientists who believed this to be a plesiosaur,
but Gish never mentions that the tissue samples showed this
creature was really a shark (Cohen 1982: 174). Moreover,
similar mistaken identifications have been made many times
and, in each case, the mysterious creature turned out to be
the filterfeeding basking shark (Cetorhinus). Rotting
basking sharks tend to lose their jaws and gill structures,
their dorsal fin, and part of their tail fin after a short
time. The long "neck" and "tail" are the result of decompo-
sition or scavenging of the flesh adhering to the vertebrae
(Gould 1968: 208). The resulting carcass looks somewhat
plesiosaur-like. These circumstances occur so often that basking
sharks have been nicknamed "pseudoplesiosaurs" (Cohen
1982: 174-176; Anon. 1977: 225; Heuvelmans 1968: 134-135).
In one of the most absurd parts of the book, medieval
dragon legends are said to be referring to dinosaurs. My jaw
dropped when I encountered the illustration of Saint George
slaying the dinosaur Baryonyx (p. 81). Firebreathing dragons
are accounted for by claiming, with no supporting evidence,
that the unusual crest on the dinosaur Parasaurolophus
contained combustible liquids. Paleontologists hypothesize
that the crest on this dinosaur functioned as an acoustic
resonator and as a display structure (Weishampel 1981).
Additionally, Gish claims that the Old Testament's Book of
Job describes dinosaurs when discussing Leviathan and
Amazingly, the section describing individual dinosaur
genera contains much legitimate information, but references
to Noah's Flood and other creationist beliefs are mixed in.
The following examples are typical:
Claim: The discovery of 30 Iguanodon skeletons in a
Belgian coal mine are explained as resulting from the "great
Flood of Noah" (p. 25).
Reality: Norman (1987) studied this fossil discovery and
found that "there was no catastrophic event which led to the
accumulation of fossils. The mine records indicate at least
four separate depositional layers. This is supported by
taphonomic evidence revealed in the reconstruction of the
excavation site" (p. 72).
Claim: An armored dinosaur was found buried in ice in
Antarctica (p. 36).
Reality: This fossil was found in sedimentary rocks known
as the Santa Marta Formation (Weishampel 1990: 139). This
fossil was not found in ice.
Claim: Duckbill dinosaurs with skin preserved were
"buried so quickly that their flesh did not have time to
decay before they were completely buried in mud" (p. 39).
Reality: These fossils are known as "hadrosaur mummies"
to paleontologists. The best specimens have a contorted
appearance with the neck bent back and patches of skin over
much of the torso. The skin impressions cling tightly to
parts of the skeleton and tendons as if dried by the sun.
Indeed, the carcasses underwent considerable decay and
desiccation before burial (Lull and Wright 1942: 110-117,
plates 7, 8, and 9; Bakker 1986: 146-159).
Claim: The "Great Flood of Noah" is the best explanation
for a mass burial of allosaurs found in Utah (p. 48).
Reality: Molnar and Farlow (1990: 211-212) briefly
reviewed the taphonomy (postmortem history) of the
Allosaurus fragilis specimens found in Cleveland-Lloyd
Quarry in the Jurassic Morrison Formation of central Utah.
They found that although a detailed account of the formation
of the fossil beds had not been formulated, certain facts
cannot be ignored. They said: "The orientation of the
elements when uncovered suggests that they were scattered
and became oriented before burial. This is consistent with
the occurrence of breakage and loss of delicate structures,
which suggests that scavenging took place. . . . Such
invertebrates and plants as have been found indicate
deposition in a shallow, quiet, freshwater body" (p. 212).
Evolution comes under direct attack in sections
dealing with transitional forms and the origin of birds. The
section titled "Evolutionary Fairy Tales" relies almost
entirely upon ridicule and misinformation to make its case.
The discussion of dinosaurs and the origin of birds is not
much better. Gish plays word games by claiming that
evolutionists are absurdly mistaken in saying that birds are
descended from lizard-hipped (saurischian) dinosaurs when
the other main group of dinosaurs is known as bird-hipped
(ornithischian). Although Gish has a background in biology,
he is either unable or unwilling to present the concept of
evolutionary convergence to his young readers.
The section on the origin of birds is illustrated with a
nice reconstruction of Archaeopteryx. However, in the text,
Gish mentions only the claws on the wings as reptilian
features. He neglects to mention other features, including
the sharp teeth set in a reptilian-looking jaw, the
reptilian skull, the long bony tail, and the lack of an
ossified sternum, all of which suggest that birds are
descended from small theropod dinosaurs or some archosaur
closely related to dinosaurs (Benton 1990: 212-213;
Wellnhofer 991: 180).
Fundamentalist theology is presented as science by Gish.
As may be expected, this mixing of science with
fundamentalism inspires some bizarre ideas. It is suggested
that carnivorous dinosaurs were originally vegetarian but
became carnivores after the Fall of Man. Gish says:
Did god design the teeth, jaws, and claws of
Tyrannosaurus and other meat-eating dinosaurs so
that these creatures could kill other animals and
eat their meat? Not necessarily; many of these may
have been designed originally for eating plants and
fruit, just like the teeth of the Giant Panda,
gorillas, and fruit-eating bats. No one knows for
sure just how and why animals started eating meat,
except that it was after the Fall. (p. 69)
Furthermore, an evangelical version of the Flood is given
wherein the animals are commanded to board the Ark by God,
who then puts them into a miraculous hibernation. A miracle
is invoked to answer any possible objection. To save space,
juvenile dinosaurs are taken aboard. Dinosaur extinction is
explained in terms of post-Flood climate changes, culminating
in the Ice Age. Apparently, Gish only believes in one
ice age, while geologists have evidence for several episodes
of glaciation in the Pleistocene Epoch alone.
Obviously the horrible science and strong fundamentalist
emphasis of this book make it inappropriate for any child
and all public-school libraries. I do recommend this book to
people combating creationism; it should prove to be an
effective tool in stirring scientists out of their apathy
regarding the creationist threat. Any scientists wishing to
debate Gish can use the contents of this book as a powerful
weapon to force him into defending this pseudoscientific
Anonymous. 1977. Not a monster. _New Scientist_, July 28, p.
Bakker, R. T. 1986. _The Dinosaur Heresies_. New York:
Benton, M. J 1990. _Vertebrate Paleontology_. London: Unwin
Cohen, D. 1982. _Encyclopedia of Monsters_. New York: Dodd,
Gould, R. 1968. _The Loch Ness Monster_. Secaucus: Citadel
Press (reprint of 1934 edition).
Heuvelmans, B. 1968. _In the Wake of the Sea Serpents_. New
York: Hill & Wang.
Jacobs, L. 1993. _Quest for the African Dinosaurs_. New
Lull, R. S., and N. E. Wright. 1942. "Hadrosaurian Dinosaurs
of North America." _Geological Society of America Special
Paper_, No. 40, pp.1-242.
Molnar, R. E., and J. O. Farlow. 1990. "Carnosaur
Paleobiology." In _The Dinosauria_, 210-224, ed. by
Weishampel et al. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
Norman, D. B. 1987. On the history of the discovery of
fossils at Bernissart in Belgium. _Archives of Natural
History_, 14(1): 59-79.
Weishampel, D. B. 1981. Acoustic analyses of potential
vocalization in Lambeosaurine Dinosaurs (Reptilia:
Ornithischia). _Paleobiology_, 7(2): 252-261.
--.1990. "Dinosaurian Distribution." In _The Dinosauria_,
63-139, ed. by Weishampel et al. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press.
Wellnhofer, P. 1991. _The Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Pterosaurs_. New York: Crescent Books.
Daniel J. Phelps lives in Lexington, Kentucky.