Friday, February 14, 2014

PwG: The Ark & Dinosaurs

This is the first in a series of examinations of the problems with (a literal interpretation of) Genesis.

So I'm starting big: Noah's ark & the flood. This post will address some of the implications of Noah's ark, the flood, and dinosaurs.

First, a little background. Genesis 7 tells us that Noah loaded multiples of every animal on the ark:
2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

3 Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
Now, with there being, at a low estimate, some 8.7 million or so species known today, a literal reading -- that Noah crammed every species into the ark -- is patently absurd. Even young earth creationists see the folly of such literal reading. So YEC have pared it down to "kinds":
The concept of kind is important for understanding how Noah fit all the animals on the ark. If kind is at the level of family/order, there would have been plenty of room on the ark to take two of every kind and seven of some. For example, even though many different dinosaurs have been identified, creation scientists think there are only about 50 “kinds” of dinosaurs. Even though breeding studies are impossible with dinosaurs, by studying fossils one can ascertain that there was likely one Ceratopsian kind with variation in that kind and so on. (emphasis added)
(Yes, you read that right. No, it's not an anomaly either. Young earth creationists posit that, aside from "regular" animals, Noah had dinosaurs on the ark. Yes, dinosaurs. Now please pick your jaw up from the floor and carry on reading.)

YECs believe this settles the difficulty of loading the ark. While I will grant that the numbers they toss around -- "16,000 animals (the maximum number of animals on the Ark, if the most liberal approach to counting animals is applied)" -- are less absurd than 8.7 million times some figure between two and seven, it is a far stretch from reasonable or supportable. It is also something that is completely invented: the Bible makes no mention of supersets, or speciation occurring after the flood. If we're reading Genesis literally, there is absolutely no reason (beyond "gosh, claiming that makes us look really stupid...") to inject animal families, speciation, etc., into the text. Creationism in this regard is not a literal reading of the flood story; creationists have added to the story that which was never mentioned, and changed the meaning of "every" to become something else entirely, something that seems, in context, less absurd than "every" animal.

At any rate, while there seems to be a little divergence among young earth creationists over whether the ark was comfortable or not, the consensus is that it was all very doable. The logistical difficulties are mitigated in several ways. First, we must know that, "Without getting into all the math, the 16,000-plus animals would have occupied much less than half the space in the Ark (even allowing them some moving-around space)." In case you're wondering, yes, that includes dinosaurs, because

In Genesis 6:19–20, the Bible says that two of every sort of land vertebrate (seven of the “clean” animals) were brought by God to the Ark. Therefore, dinosaurs (land vertebrates) were represented on the Ark.
And YECs have anticipated the "how the heck did dinosaurs fit on the ark?!" objection. AiG tells that "not all dinosaurs were huge like the brachiosaurus, and even those dinosaurs on the Ark were probably 'teenagers' or young adults."

(I can't help but wonder how large a "teenage" brachiosaurus would have been, and how kindly its parents would have taken to a few humans herding it into a wooden prison.) As for food, God had that difficulty all sorted out, too.
Dinosaurs could have eaten basically the same foods as the other animals. The large sauropods could have eaten compressed hay, other dried plant material, seeds and grains, and the like. Carnivorous dinosaurs—if any were meat-eaters before the Flood—could have eaten dried meat, reconstituted dried meat, or slaughtered animals. Giant tortoises would have been ideal to use as food in this regard. They were large and needed little food to be maintained themselves. There are also exotic sources of meat, such as fish that wrap themselves in dry cocoons.
While there is zero evidence that Noah and his family would have had the technology or know-how to prepare food in such a manner for 16,00 animals (not even the Bible mentions reconstituted meat and fish in cocoons), the fact that something "would have been ideal" is often presented in these creationist articles as if that is explanation enough. Quite frankly, it's not. It would be "ideal" if leprechauns gave the animals magic biscuits that nourished them to the fullest and produced no waste materials, but "ideal" isn't "evidence that it happened". And evidence, of course, is never forthcoming.

There's also the issue of food storage: where, exactly, does one store enough food for 16,000 animals on a ship? An African elephant can eat 300 lbs of food per day. In a year, that's 109,500 pounds of food, per elephant. A lion eats 8-9 kg of food a day; that's between 6437.5 to 7242 pounds per lion. That means that Noah & co would have had to pack 16 to 18 times the weight of a large female, or 11.7 to 13 times the weight of a large male lion, per lion. African elephants range between 5,000 and 14,000 lbs; Noah's family would have had to have room for 8 times the weight of a huge elephant. On the other end of the scale, a grasshopper eats about 1/2 their own weight in a day -- meaning that even taking something as tiny as a grasshopper isn't as simple as it sounds: for every grasshopper you take, you need to take about 182.5 times its weight in food. Since grasshoppers are, Biblically speaking, clean animals, that's 1277.5 (or 2555, if the seven of the clean creatures is interpreted to mean seven of both male and female) times the weight of a grasshopper in food. You can quickly see how this will spiral out of control: it's not just a matter of cramming the sorry creatures into the ark, it's a matter of feeding them thereafter. Since they're all going to eat more than their own weight, generally many times more, Noah would have had to accommodate that (there goes the opportunity for perambulation, and then some...)

So, let's recap the "literal" reading of the flood story. Noah and his family built a giant, three-level boat, and loaded at least two of all animals (some restrictions and limitations apply; please see Kent Hovind or Ken Ham's interpretation of "literal" for details) thereon, including dinosaurs. Baby or teenage dinosaurs. This was a roomy, or not, ride, depending on who you ask. Noah stashed what can only have been a considerable amount of dried hay, giant turtles and reconstituted dried meat in the ark, for his companions' feeding. And let's leave waste management for another post, because, really, this literal interpretation stuff provides more than enough sh*t for one day...

So now we come to the question of "what happened afterwards?" Well, as for the dinosaurs (we'll save the others for another post), God's plan to save them didn't work out so well. First of all, there was climate change (no, not the kind that we can measure and demonstrate, silly! The kind that Kent Hovind extrapolates from Genesis):
Dinosaurs getting off the ark had a very difficult time. The climate had changed and things were different. Remember before the Flood they lived to be 900. After the Flood they only lived to be 400, then 200, and then 100. Now in today’s world 100 is old.
There were other factors, of course.
As the population of people began to grow after the Flood, the population of dragons began to go down. As people moved in and civilized an area, the big ferocious animals are either killed off or driven off. It happens everywhere. That is exactly what happened to dragons. People killed dragons for several reasons. They killed them for meat, because they were a menace, to be a hero, to prove their superiority, competition for land and medicinal purposes. Many ancient recipes included dragon blood, dragon bones and dragon saliva. Gilgamesh is famous for slaying a dragon.
(In YEC-ese, dragon is the old fashioned name for dinosaur). When it comes to evidence, the standard seems to be "can it be construed as supporting the creationist narrative?" If yes, then it's fact; if no, then myth. Thus we can accept dragons, but not sirens, nymphs, unicorns (those even get a mention, in the KJV!), griffins, Jotunn, dwarves, vampires, zombies, etc., etc., etc. And while “dragons” are useful to the creationist narrative, and the rest aren't, we have no more evidence of dragons than most of the others (and in some cases, less...consider all the actual burials of "vampires", for instance; surely, a burial has to trump a story, right?).

But the real kicker is that extinction is the "wrong" way to look at it altogether. As Hovind asks, "The question is not what made them go extinct, the question is: did they go extinct?" He seems to believe that they, or some of them at least, are not, in fact, extinct at all.
During the Age of Sailing Ships there were thousands of legends of people sighting sea monsters. Well, if you are in a sail boat it’s pretty quiet going through the water. Today, with a diesel engine they can probably hear you coming 50 miles away under water. Of course, you are not going to see one today. But, there are stories all over about dragons living with man.
In Hovind's worldview, dinosaurs are still out and about, hiding beneath the waves. They were happy to come out and be spotted by superstitious people (who also reported spotting mermaids and a host of other myths), but have a fear of technologically advanced folk (who might actually document and prove their existence)...even those in wind-powered sailing craft. They are also the dragons of Chinese and Babylonian myth and the dragons mentioned in the KJV. Ken Ham is slightly less committal, but he leaves the door open all the same.
Evolutionary indoctrination that man did not live at the same time as dinosaurs stops most scientists from even considering that the drawings are of dinosaurs.
It certainly would be no embarrassment to a creationist if someone discovered a dinosaur living in a jungle. However, this should embarrass evolutionists.
To be fair, he is probably right on one point -- it's a stretch to suppose that anything could embarrass the folks who run Answers in Genesis. But I digress.

So, as far as dinosaurs are concerned, God saved the babies in order to let them die out thereafter because of climate change and man's activities. Or most of them. Or some of them. Who knows. Regardless, it was all part of God's amazing plan. Amen.

Moving on...let's just look at how the 50 dinosaur kinds became the wide diversity of dinosaurs that we know existed (at least 300 species). This happened through a variety of means, including (wait for it...) natural selection. 
After the Flood, the animals were told to “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17). As they did this, natural selection, mutation, and other mechanisms allowed speciation within the kinds to occur. Speciation was necessary for the animals to survive in a very different post-Flood world.

There's a couple of problems with this. First, if the varied species of dinosaurs came to be only after the 100 ark-traveling-baby-dinosaurs disembarked, the argument that mass graveyards point to the flood is null and void. How can species that did not yet exist have died in the flood?
The contorted shapes of these animals preserved in the rocks, the massive numbers of them in fossil graveyards, their wide distribution, and some whole skeletons, all provide convincing evidence that they were buried rapidly, testifying to massive flooding.
Furthermore, how can hundreds of new species have been born in a time that was, as creationists seem to universally agree upon, very unkind to dinosaurs? If dinosaurs were experiencing shortened lives, climate change, habitat challenge, and all manner of threats from humanity, is it likely that such a wide range of species as we know existed would have come into being? Is it logical to suppose that an increasingly hostile environment gave rise to many times the diversity of species than were witnessed before the flood?

In the creationist narrative, when the dinosaurs left the ark, they were suddenly thrown into a “devastated” and “much more difficult world in which to survive.” But in these adverse conditions, they promptly evolved into hundreds of species, leaving the wealth of fossil evidence that we have behind...and also died out (or mostly died out), because of said harsh conditions. Those are really pretty mutually exclusive states. You can either have them emerging into a world that fosters a gigantic boom in dinosaur life, or you can have them emerging into a world where climate change and hunters will drive them to extinction. Remember, creationism limits the time of existence after the flood to a tiny window, a mere 4,000 years. The argument is that, simultaneously, dinosaur life exploded, all over the globe; and was driven out of existence, to such a point that the best “evidence” we have for dinosaurs co-existing with man is the occasional dragon legend (and, again, we're being very picky-and-choosy about what kind of legends we're going to accept as factual, and what we're going to dismiss as hogwash). And all of this happened in the course of 4,000 years. It's a preposterous stretch with other species (necessitating, as Bill Nye pointed out during his debate with Ken Ham, an average of 11 new species evolving per day), but what happens when we throw in the condition that they must evolve and die in enough time to ensure that our only evidence is spotty legend, here and there, of dragon fights and sightings? You have hundreds of species of dinosaur evolving at a rapid pace, into a hostile environment, and then mostly dying out -- far enough in the past that our sightings are, as noted, irregular, ill documented and, oddly, often connected to tales of fantasy and magic. (That's a coincidence).
 
But it gets better, as you dig deeper. See, creationists aren't claiming that it was just a matter of more hunters (there would be less, presumably, for some time after the flood -- Noah's incestuous family, no matter how quickly they got to, umm, work, would have had some difficulty repopulating the world that quickly). They're not saying it was just lifespan changes and whatnot. Creationists allege that the ice age was a direct result of the flood:


The Flood-Caused Ice Age

Two particular aspects of the Flood were instrumental in causing the Ice Age: (1) extensive volcanic activity during and after the Flood, and (2) the warm oceans following the Flood.
And though the Bible doesn't mention the ice age at all, and even though things in the past more or less didn't happen if you weren't an eyewitness or the Bible doesn't mention them, creationists can be very specific about how long the ice age lasted:
Thus, the total time for the Ice Age is a maximum of only about 700 years (500 years to accumulate, 200 years to melt).
The ice age, creationists argue, is how migrations happened:

Most believe the Ice Age was triggered by the Flood of Noah. The rising magmas, lavas, and hot waters associated with continental plate movements would have caused ocean temperatures to rise. Also, fine ash from volcanic eruptions probably lingered in the upper atmosphere in post-Flood years, which, unlike a greenhouse effect, would reduce the sunlight for cooler summers. So the mechanism for such a rare event was in place due to Genesis 6–8.
But what happens in an ice age? A lot of water is taken out of the ocean and deposited on land, so the ocean level drops. This exposes land bridges.
 Animals, including dinosaurs, made their way all over the world, aided at least in part by these ice-age-exposed land bridges. Now take a moment to consider the implications of this. The hundreds of species for which we find evidence all over the globe are somehow supposed to have crossed various land bridges during the ice age (the land bridges would be flooded afterward). So, the dinosaurs presumably evolved into all the species we know of AND migrated all over the earth in the 500-700 years following the flood – both of which factors are necessary in this scenario, since we have examples of many species across many continents: they had to come into being, and had to travel all over the world, before the ice age ended (and the creationist land bridges were closed), since those species did not exist on the ark. In other words, for the populations we find all over the earth to have got there, they would have had to be around before the 700 year ice age (which was itself brought about by the flood) ended, closing the land bridges. So, speciation would have had to occur very, very quickly, during an ice age. That's right, during an ice age. And after speciation and migration occurred, after at least part of the ice age, dinosaurs would have faced extinction.

Even when addressing the creationist ice age's alleged impact on the dinosaurs, creationists seem to miss the point:
The Ice Age may also have contributed something else to animal migrations. Generally speaking, reptiles are found in larger numbers and greater varieties in warmer climates, potentially like most dinosaurs, and would not thrive as well in the cold. It makes sense that they strayed from colder areas, died out, or their numbers were at least reduced. It also makes sense that mammals would thrive in colder climates.
Let's recap. 

1. 50 "kinds" of baby dinosaurs board the ark.
2. 50 kinds disembark.
3. The flood causes an ice age, which reaches its worst at 500 years.
4. The baby dinosaurs have grown up, and start creating baby dinosaurs of their own.
5. Hundreds of new species arise.
6. Thanks to the ice age (!!), the hundreds of new species of dinosaurs are able to get all over the world.
7. Oh my god, there's an ice age going on!! Geez, why didn't anyone tell us? (Many of the dinosaurs go extinct, because dinosaurs and ice ages aren't a good mix...unless they're in the process of speciation and migration, apparently, because that went off without a hitch)
8. The ice age ends. There are still dinosaurs alive, because they spawn dragon myths later on.

Granted, I wasn't there and didn't see it, so I'm sure creationists (who also weren't there and didn't see it, and whose book never mentions it) will tweak my timeline a little. Some pieces necessarily cannot be tweaked, however. 5 must proceed 6, and 3 has to be well underway before 6, because that speciation and migration would have had to occur before extinction in order for us to find the fossils that we find where we find them. (Say that five times fast...)

When one examines the creationist narrative, even just as it relates to dinosaurs, the conclusion is inevitable: it is impossible and contradictory. There are many ways to interpret the Genesis stories, but to take parts of them at face value and add your own interpretation elsewhere, as creationists have done, is to make them absurd, and then to heap further absurdities upon them. It is to construct a timeline of events, particularly in regard to dinosaurs, that defies all reason or logic. It is to selectively credit myths for which we have no evidence as fact, with no good reason as to why one is accepted and another discarded, beyond wishful thinking. It is to assert that science, which has good solid, evidence behind it, is wrong, on just about everything, and to offer in its stead a few men's interpretation of “a book”, as Ken Ham put it. It's not science, and I'm not convinced that it's even very good religion. It's definitely a disservice to both, because it disregards the one and makes the other absurd.

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