The Dinosaur Dilemma:
And Lessons from Galileo
By Dr. Ron Woodworth
For years Christians have either ignored the mounting evidence for Dinosaur fossils—because of its “association” with evolution, or else they have gradually embraced the fact of many of the fossil findings with one of two caveats:
- Dinosaur existence must fit the Young Earth model in order to be true to the literal interpretation of the 144 hour creation model of Genesis chapter 1.1
- Dinosaur existence fits the Old Earth model, but requires that one reads the Genesis 1 creation account as six (6) day-ages consisting from millions to billions of years for each “creation day.”2
In other words, the answer to the dinosaur dilemma all depends upon how you read or more precisely “interpret” the Bible—specifically Genesis chapter 1.
This reminds me of the time Galileo was confronted by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy (early 17th century) with the accusation of heresy—all because he dared to suggest, as Copernicus had done before him, that the earth revolved around the sun (heliocentricism) rather than the sun revolving around the earth (geocentricism).3 In his own defense, Galileo, a devout Catholic up until that time, responded that perhaps the dilemma being faced was more a matter of biblical interpretation than a contradiction between science and religion.4 The result was that Galileo was condemned for heresy and required to recant of his heliocentric ideas. Additionally, all of his writings were banned and he was subject to house arrest for the remainder of his life. Happily, Galileo was finally pardoned by the Vatican in 1992.5 Suffice it to say, scientific inquiry has proven that Galileo and Copernicus were right and the “Bible authorities” were wrong.
Galileo’s plight can, and should, teach us valuable lessons when science and theology seem to collide, namely,
- Biblical Limitations. The primary focus of the Bible is one of redemptive history not scientific speculation. In other words, the Bible is a God-inspired book about the history of God’s redemptive acts. Those actions relate, in the Old Testament, to the outworking of the covenant the LORD made with Abraham and his descendents—the Israelites of old. The New Testament records the history of God’s redemptive acts regarding the fulfillment of OT prophecies and the establishment of a New Covenant (relational arrangement) with humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What this means is that the Bible, though the foundation of all wisdom and knowledge6, is primarily a text about God’s redemptive acts and not a book about astrophysics, mechanical engineering, or botany. Therefore, we must beware of …
- Christian Prejudice. Christians should never fear knowledge arising from another place other than the Bible because, as Christian philosopher Arthur F. Holmes reasoned in his 1977 book with the same name: All Truth is God’s Truth.7 This is God’s world with much for all of us to learn and enjoy—both believer and unbeliever. And though the truth of redemption is by far the most important knowledge one can gain in the universe, it is not the only revelation that God provides.
Consider the fact that Christian theologians regularly make the distinction between general and special revelation. General revelation is the visible creation, accessible to all humanity,8 whereas special revelation is the truth about the personal redemption that is in the LORD Jesus Christ and accessible only to those whose hearts have been graced with repentance and faith.9 Consider further the statement by Jesus indicating that God the Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends His rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore, Jesus implores us to both pray for and actively love our enemies.10 In other words, if God can be kind to unrighteous and evil people so should we be.
For too long Christians have been arrogant against unbelievers, dubbing them so spiritually blind and ignorant that they are completely incapable of contributing anything of value to the lives of others—let alone that of their spiritually enlightened Christian colleagues. I don’t know about you, but God has often graced me with kindness from those who do not yet believe as I do. Can we just accept the fact that God can use an unbeliever to accomplish something good in life—without always disqualifying them by our rigid theology?11 God forgive us our smugness toward the lost. This leads us to a greater appreciation of…
- God’s Wisdom.
“But the wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18)
Notice the term “reasonable.” The Greek word here implies being submissive in attitude and ready to yield to reason as warranted. The idea is that if someone can make a reasonable case for something, even though it might originally be resisted, a truly wise person will both listen and then comply as dictated to by the faculty of reason. This is so relevant to the discussion here because too often we define faith as the opposite of reason—hence the term “blind faith”. In fact, one of the great debates of the Renaissance and Enlightenment was the issue of revelation and reason. Is revelation always superior to reason or is reason always superior to revelation. What should a believer do when reason contradicts revelation or vice verse?
Elsewhere I have written12 than that though a Christian should not place man’s reason over and above God’s revelation, neither should we insist on a revelation in spite of reason. Rather, there should be a reasonableness to revelation that can be gently and respectfully explained to others (1 Pet.3:15). This is the task of apologetics, or the art-science of giving a rational/reasonable defense of one’s faith. And just because someone doesn’t accept the justification of our faith, does not mean than it is not reasonable. Indeed, the informed believer should do everything in their power to be as reasonably persuasive13 as possible.
Even faith beyond reason can be explained in reasonable terms. For instance, I like to make the point that science can never prove nor disprove God’s existence. The reason is because scientific methodology14 does not have the tools necessary to construct theories about metaphysical or spiritual reality. And since God is a transcendent spiritual reality science cannot quantify his existence in terms of the physical world. It humors me now to see how Christian and atheistic scientists try to disprove each other rather than admit that science can not be a statement of faith nor can faith be scientifically actualized. But the debate will rage on anyway.
Back to the Dinosaurs
Returning from our journey of scientific discovery and divine revelation, it seems to me that paleontology has made a fairly compelling case of the fact of dinosaur existence in the distant past—for the sake of argument we’ll concede 230 million years ago to the end of the Cretaceous Period (65 million years ago)—as the result of an extinction event15 of some kind(s).
Furthermore, though I’ve read most all of the arguments for and against, I personally and theologically see no need to impose a literal 24 hour day on the interpretation of Genesis 1.16 As a matter of extension, I would see no problem in granting a Big Bang theory as the primary tool of God’s creative activity. As the humorous bumper sticker asserts “God said it and BANG it happened!”
That being said, I can find no scientific or biblical justification for the Darwinian notion of macro-evolution or the theologically liberal assertion of theistic evolution—whereby God used the mechanism of macro-evolution to effect inter-speciation. Adaptation of the species is granted, but the multiple missing fossil links17 and the Cambrian Explosion18 are too problematic to simply assert “punctuated equilibrium,”19 whereby evolution all of a sudden catches up with itself (Stephen J. Gould), as a sufficient answer to the problem(s). Hence, adaptation within originally created species is still a valid argument as is the unique creation of human kind (male and female) in the image of God20 and specifically not a derivative of chimpanzees, gorillas, or of the genus Homo.21
The Dinosaur Dilemma is an invitation to both re-examine how we read/interpret the Bible and to explain the reasonableness of our faith. A faith that is foundationally informed by divine revelation and yet open to dialogue with credible scientific evidence. A faith that values humility, wisdom, and kindness. A faith that will be a partner with any noble search for truth without violating its primary spiritual-evangelical mandate…
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14)
1) See Young Earth Creationism @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_creationism
2) See: Old Earth Creationism @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_earth_creationism
4) The verses in question were Ps. 93:1; 96:10, and Chron. 16:30, which state that “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” Additionally, Eccl. 1:5 says that “the sun rises and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises.” Though literally stating that the sun, not the earth, is in motion, Galileo took Augustine’s position that Scripture was not to be taken literally in every passage—especially in a book of poetry and songs. Rather, the writers of the OT wrote from the perspective of the terrestrial world—where the sun does appear to rise and set. In fact, it is the earth’s rotation which gives the impression of the sun in motion across the sky. Ibid.
5) See http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/71.htm
6) Col. 2:2-3 says that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
7) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Truth_is_God’s_Truth
8) Psalm 19:1 indicates that the heavens and skies declare to all the reality and glory of God.
9) In Matt. 16:17 Jesus tells Peter that he has received a personal revelation from God the Father about Jesus’ true identity—that of the Messiah and the Son of God.
10) Matt, 5:44-45
11) John Calvin’s idea of total depravity is the basis of much judgment toward unbelievers in this regard. It is true that there is none righteous in and of themselves apart from Christ. However, being saved does not automatically guarantee the rightness of one’s motive and actions any more than being lost certifies that one is beyond the grasp of what John Wesley called God’s pervenient grace—the grace that precedes and empowers one to receive Christ. I would further postulate that God’s grace can, in the same way, enable an unbeliever to contribute something of significance to the human condition—for which we as believers in Christ can and should express our humble acknowledgment and sincere appreciation.
12) See my article on “Calvinism Revisited: A Constructive Critique” @ RonWoodwoth.Org under Article Archives.
13) Acts 18:4
14) Scientific Methodology usually involves defining a problem, constructing a hypothesis, re-testing the hypothesis in a controlled environment, reporting our conclusions, and formulating any warranted theory based on our research.
15) Such as sustained volcanism, sea-level falls, asteroid collision, sustained global cooling or warming, nearby supernova burst, the continental drift, etc. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event
16) See Age of the Earth @ http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/index.shtml#young_earth_vs_old_earth
17) See “The Links are Missing” @ http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/re1/chapter3.asp
18) See The Scientific Controversy over the Cambrian Explosion @ http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?id=119
19) See The Phyletic Gradualism – Punctuated Equilibrium Debate @ http://www.wsbd.net/research/evolution/macroev.html
20) See Reasons to Believe website by Dr. Hugh Ross @ http://www.reasons.org/about/staff/ross.shtml
21) See Homo (genus) @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_%28genus%29