Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dinosaur Denialism by Donald Prothero

Dinosaur Denialism:

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….

1 comment:

  1. Denial of the existence of Dino's fits in pretty well with the notion that the Evolutionary continuum is a reality. The two fairy stories fit perfectly together.