Are dinosaurs in the Bible? This question is fairly common. The simple answer is no: dinosaurs and humans were separated by more than 65 million years. All non-avian dinosaurs went extinct around 66 million years ago; the oldest human bones only date back to 300,000 years ago.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question remains a hotly contested. For some, it creates a rift with deeply held belief systems. Parents, notorious for giving children vague or incomplete answers, often leave children with lingering questions. Such questions cast doubt on core teachings. Many Christians ask: are dinosaurs in the bible?
Some kids move on, accepting the given answer to this question without challenging; others become obsessed with investigating prehistoric life. Certainly, I became inspired me to write about the dangers of conforming to biases and of spreading misinformation.
Part of the allure of dinosaurs remains the sheer amount of mysteries surrounding them. In a sense, knowledge of dinosaurs gives children power over their parents. They hold a degree of expertise in a subject few adults understand.
This newfound knowledge may conflict with other teachings and frame their developing worldview. Many seek a biblical explanation of dinosaurs. These people fight to sustain held beliefs despite new information.
Parents often share this misconception with children. Although parents may educate their children on faith, paleontology is important and benefits children to an astounding degree.
Dinosaurs and Religion
The notion of extinct dinosaurs conflicts with fundamentalist Christian ideology as well as that of several other major religions. Believing that dinosaurs existed millions of years ago discredits the literal interpretation of Genesis.
Arguments over geological time and carbon-dating techniques persist. Many cling to the concept of Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). YEC followers argue that our world is around 6,000 years old, not billions of years old.
This scenario necessitates that all living things shared the earth following the sixth day of creation. If The Bible is to be taken as completely literal, leaving dinosaurs out would cast doubt and prompt investigation into other sources.
Ultimately, learning about dinosaurs leads to an even greater threat to fundamentalist religious teachings: evolution.
The theory of evolution affords an alternative explanation of speciation without the need for intelligent design. Evolution is rarely evident to most people. As we look at modern animals, we tend to overlook their ancestors.
While looking at images of feathered dinosaurs, the link to birds becomes quite clear. Children can identify the shared attributes and weigh for themselves the plausibility of dinosaur evolution. This makes learning about dinosaurs a threat.
Religious Challenges for Dinosaur Origins
Religious dogma contributes to extreme suppression of thought. People have been ridiculed, imprisoned, and executed for daring to challenge the status quo. The fight to defend a belief system at all costs yields various extremist views that often conflict with reason and observable data.
Writings from the fourth century indicate that the expanding faith of Christianity suppressed the Greek understanding of fossils. These fundamentalists insisted that fossils were the work of Satan, designed to dissuade people from believing in biblical teachings. While the most extreme religious groups still perpetuate this myth, most have shifted to other means of denial in response to a more enlightened population.
Certainly, a small following exists even for the most absurd conspiracies. Increasing literacy rates have produced a level of sophistication that necessitates more grounded possibilities to illicit a reasonable doubt in science. Now, the young-earth creationism faction has gained traction in framing the dinosaur origin story.
Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design
Throughout time people have sought to explain the origin of the natural world. Different cultures drew understanding from religion and mythology as the first source of understanding. Scientific discovery gradually trickled down to the public sphere of knowledge, reaching a tipping point during a growing scientific revolution of the nineteenth century.
While Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species led many to accept that animals had evolved into the current forms through natural selection, many fundamentalist Christians resisted this conclusion.
YEC followers excitedly point to the dinosaur track-way in the Paluxy River Valley, in Texas. Here, some articulate that human tracks exist alongside dinosaurs.
Further investigation reveals that this is a misconception. What appears to be human footprints are dinosaur footprints altered by erosion. Paluxy is one of many such track-ways that have garnered attention from the YEC crowd.
This provides an example of how people look for evidence to confirm a belief rather than trusting in the expertise of scientists. In some cases, forgeries have been created to substantiate these claims. Many people seek out fossil evidence to confirm a belief and eagerly accept the claims from those unqualified to draw any conclusions.
Further, the modern YEC following tends to cherry-pick passages from the Bible to supply evidence that dinosaurs and man coexisted. Popular references are found in Job 40 and Job 41.
The Behemoth and Leviathan, through their described power, have often been taken as examples of dinosaurs that coexisted with man. While convenient, it may not tell the whole story. What do we know about Behemoth and Leviathan?
Descriptions of Behemoth and Leviathan in Job
First, we must understand the passage in context. Job, a devout man, suffered terrible losses at the hands of Satan. In this test of faith, God speaks to Job and describes these creatures.
Is Behemoth a Dinosaur?
Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron. He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him.
Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play. He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens. The shady trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about. Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth. He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.Job 40: 15-24 King James Version (KJV)
The limitations on translation make understanding passages extremely frustrating. Each translation makes assumptions that deviate from the original text. The next chapter discusses an even stranger creature: Leviathan.
Is Leviathan a Dinosaur?
Who can discover the face of his garment? Or who can come to him with his double bridle? Who can open the doors of his face? His teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.
By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.Job 41: 13-21 King James Version
What are Behemoth and Leviathan?
Many speculate that Behemoth was a hippopotamus or an elephant. Notably, the passage about the tail like a cedar tree can seem to resemble a sauropod dinosaur.
Interestingly, this has been debated as some suggest it refers to parts of the tree, which do resemble the tail of an elephant. Other interpretations have suggested that this description does not translate to tail, but rather, genitalia.
Leviathan is described as an aquatic beast that breathes fire. While some speculate that the passage references a crocodile or perhaps the forked tongue of a Komodo Dragon, this still seems exaggerated. Surely a man can kill any modern animal.
Some take these passages in context and ignore the broader literature of the time. Psalm 74:13 references God crushing the heads of Leviathan. Further, Isiah 27:1 states that God will slay Leviathan at a future time. This supports the conclusion, that rather than a species, Leviathan is an individual.
Maybe Leviathan and Behemoth serve only as metaphors for evil. Still, this only covers passages from the biblical canon. The lore for these creatures goes further than the scope of this article. More can be found on Wikipedia.
Several prominent works were written and understood by the Jewish people and early Christians.
These books were excluded for one reason or another from the official canon that remains the extent of the modern Bible. Yet, the author of Job and the contemporary readers of the text would have some familiarity with these non-canon books. One of which was The Book of Enoch.
Where are Behemoth and Leviathan Referenced?
In The Book of Enoch, both Behemoth and Leviathan are referenced. The text alludes to Behemoth as the monster of the land and Leviathan as the monster of the sea. The two are said to battle during the end of days. Ultimately, God slaughters them both.
The knowledge of the expansive mythology and familiar texts are essential to fully assessing any work. Literature courses often focus heavily on understanding cultural references in footnotes. Without this external knowledge, readers misinterpret key passages. Likewise, rough translations can lead readers astray from the author’s intent.
Reading biblical passages without context can mislead otherwise logical people into the pitfalls of psychological biases. Why do we frequently seek information to reinforce existing beliefs rather than searching for the most accurate information?
Human Psychology and Biases
Religion remains a timeless staple of human culture. Billions of people adhere to some faith that provides meaning to the human journey. Uncertainty causes anxiety in humans.
We constantly seek answers to the most profound questions. Questions about our origin, our current struggles, and the afterlife remain fundamental to guiding our behavior. Modern human psychology clings to foundational knowledge in a form of tribal thought.
In the tribe of believers, of science or religion, we find unity and acceptance from peers through our foundational knowledge. Anything challenging our structure produces feelings of anxiety and irritation. Proactively, we seek out support for our beliefs subconsciously and resist opposing information.
This article itself may seem condescending and accusatory to some readers while comforting others. Some feel threatened by this information just as others feel validated by it. This has no bearing on whether the statements made are correct.
All human brains fall victim to the same biases. Those who blindly hail science as pure and yielding all answers share much in common with the religious people whom they chastise. The two psychology concepts involved in this instance are confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.
Examples of Biases
Confirmation bias exists where individuals seek out supporting information while dismissing any information to the contrary. An example could be the avid coffee drinker that shares articles stating the positive health effects that coffee provides while dismissing any contradictory articles.
The coffee aficionado could simply discredit these articles as poorly researched dogma from groups with an agenda. Take this example and apply it to any topic and you can see why facts make no difference in arguments and how the term “alternative facts” arose.
Cognitive dissonance exists where individuals exhibit emotional connections to beliefs to the extent that contrasting statements trigger a fight-or-flight response. The debate in the United States over gun control offers an example of this.
Proponents of gun control often become angry when the data for proposed legislation do not support the conventional wisdom; likewise, the opponent of gun control scoffs at anyone questioning his or her knowledge of constitutional law.
Facing the prospect of being wrong produces strong emotions that lead people to cling to ideology and to reject new information, regardless of the source. Check out the video by the channel Cognitive Psychology for more examples of how this works:
As we can see here, misinformation can invade our lives very easily. Our natural biases make us targets. By becoming aware of our shortcomings, we can strive to become more skeptical and learn to adopt critical thinking techniques.
This does not mean that religion has no place. We can reconcile faith with science.
Can I Reconcile My Faith with Science?
Despite a rather dismissive rejection of the religious teachings of young-earth creationism, I do not intend this article to denounce anyone’s faith. I have no problem with using the Bible as a philosophical work providing a roadmap for leading a meaningful life.
The false dichotomy of accepting either religion or science creates a culture of tribalism and narrow-mindedness. Anyone pushing this line of strict adherence to any belief and intolerance of freethinking is a danger to us all.
All questions fall into two categories: empirical and normative. Empirical questions involve topics that do have answers that can be obtained through scientific study. Simply put, scientists conduct experiments using scientific methods and use observations to test varying hypotheses.
If the scientists test multiple alternatives using variables and cannot find a more likely conclusion, then the hypothesis stands to become a theory. A theory in science is a tested hypothesis that can face challenges from other studies. The limitation of science lies in the questions of what should be done.
Normative questions define things such as ethical behavior. These questions cannot be quantified and studied. Science can explain how humans exist but not why we should. Religion provides answers to normative questions that have no other explanation.
If your faith relies on feelings and experiences to guide your choices for the better, then no scientist can discredit the value of this. We cannot dismiss the Bible due to its scientific ambiguity.
Understanding the Absence of Dinosaurs in the Bible
Even the most devout believers do not believe that the written word was transcribed by God himself. Rather, believers suggest that people were inspired by God to recount events. How could any person of that time understand evolution or the complicated origins of the universe?
Accepting that the writers of ancient texts described scientific principles through a limited understanding does not discredit anyone’s faith in the philosophical messages.
Ultimately, we must acknowledge the incredible advances in scientific knowledge and trust in what we can know. For the questions that define who we should become, we turn to faith. In conclusion, while many creationists insist that there are dinosaurs in the bible, the evidence does not support this claim.
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