The following article appeared in the Winter 1994 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer (Vol. 18

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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 prime example. 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 Behemoth. 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 nonsense. References Anonymous. 1977. Not a monster. _New Scientist_, July 28, p. 2Z5. Bakker, R. T. 1986. _The Dinosaur Heresies_. New York: William Morrow. Benton, M. J 1990. _Vertebrate Paleontology_. London: Unwin Hyman. Cohen, D. 1982. _Encyclopedia of Monsters_. New York: Dodd, Mead. 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 York: Villard. 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 California Press. 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.


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