Did dragons ever exist? Or is that idea too ridiculous for “real” science?
Old-earthers usually laugh in response to young-earth creationists’ argument that dinosaurs lived alongside man. Add in the claim that dragons are mankind’s distorted recollections of dinosaurs, and the laughs only get louder. But a recent Popular Science article, written from an evolutionary point of view, implicitly acknowledges that most dragon biology is “real world”—albeit, not found together in a single creature. But “most classic dragon characteristics do exist in other species,” writes Bjorn Carey.
For example, dragon-style wings were found on pterosaurs, according to American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Jack Conrad: “Quetzalcoatlus had a 30-foot wingspan. That would do the trick.” And a large wingspan would be required, since dragons are purported to have a thick “armor” of skin—perhaps like an alligator’s, Conrad suggests. Alligator skin includes bony plates, making it tough enough to repel musket balls, Carey notes. Additionally, fire-breathing isn’t found in nature today, but Carey points out that “there are some beetles that can shoot caustic chemicals from their abdomen that can burn people’s skin, so it’s not totally out of the question that some animal at some point in time could make a flammable liquid.”
Carey does not mention the creationist explanation for dragon legends, but this is no surprise. Starting with Scripture, we see that land animals—including dinosaurs—were created on the same day of Creation Week as man. Beyond that, the fossil record, which for the most part records the organisms living at the time of the Flood, includes dinosaur fossils. Therefore young-earth creationists deduce that humans lived on the earth during dinosaur days.
But what of dragons? Some versions of the Bible include numerous mentions of “dragons” (although other versions use different words), and most cultures have legends of dragon encounters. What’s more, these stories of dragons portray them as creatures quite like dinosaurs—even though the modern idea of the “dinosaur” did not appear until the nineteenth century. Evolutionists would have us believe it’s all an uncanny coincidence, but for creationists, the logic fits quite nicely: dragons were dinosaurs (and/or other dinosaur-like reptiles). Nevertheless, some aspects of dragon tales have likely become distorted with time. For example, dragons are sometimes pictured as having four limbs and two wings, which does not fit with any historical evidence for ancient reptiles. “It seems that six appendages are very unlikely in vertebrates,” Conrad said.
Cats and crocodiles may appear about as different as two vertebrates can possibly be. But a fossil found in Tanzania has traits of both.
Pakasuchus kapilimai is classified as a crocodile, but if it lived today it probably wouldn’t frighten anyone: its entire head would fit in the palm of your hand. Fossils of the creature were discovered in Tanzania and are described in the journal Nature.
“At first glance, this croc is trying very hard to be a mammal,” joked Patrick O’Connor, the Ohio University anatomist who led the research team. “If you only looked at the teeth, you wouldn’t think this was a crocodile. You would wonder what kind of strange mammal or mammal-like reptile it is.”
That’s because Pakasuchus’s teeth look not like a modern crocodile’s, but instead like a cat’s—more mammalian than reptilian. Specifically, the creature had teeth with shearing edges, a feature previously thought to exist only in mammals. For this and other reasons, the team believes the crocodile would have chewed and swallowed just like a mammal.
According to O’Connor’s team, that fact, along with the animal’s “extremely flexible” backbone, shows that crocodiles were more diverse millions of years ago than they are today. For creationists, the fossils serve to remind that genetic information decreases over time—both in populations and in particular species. Although the diversity of genes expressed may increase (as is the case with dogs; see item #4, below), we often observe the opposite, which is why the fossil record houses many fascinating creatures different from those living today.
“[O]ne of the fastest evolutionary responses ever recorded in wild populations,” claims a press release about recent research. But is it really “evolution”?
The claim concerns stickleback fish, that have been used as evidence of evolution before (in May and September 2008 and February 2009). This time, scientists began by bringing both freshwater and marine sticklebacks into the lab and testing how well each type could withstand cold water temperatures.
The results did not surprise the scientists: sticklebacks living in freshwater can endure water temperatures of 2.5˚C (4.5˚F) colder than sticklebacks that live in a marine environment. “This made sense from an evolutionary perspective because their ancestors were able to adapt to freshwater lakes, which typically reach colder temperatures than the ocean,” explained University of British Columbia zoologist Rowan Barrett. Of course, because Barrett is referring to the process of adaptation by natural selection, this makes sense from a creationist perspective as well. But that’s not the fast evolutionary response at the center of the research; in fact, evolutionists believe freshwater and marine sticklebacks diverged 10,000 years ago.
In a twist, Barrett’s team decided to introduce some marine sticklebacks to freshwater ponds to determine how long it would take the newly introduced population to develop increased cold tolerance. To their surprise, the new freshwater stickleback population was as tolerant of cold water as other freshwater sticklebacks after only three years. But “[o]nly rare individuals that possess[ed] the ability to tolerate rapid changes in temperature survive[d],” cautioned Barrett.
Creationists shouldn’t be surprised at how quickly natural selection worked, allowing the marine stickleback population to adapt to freshwater. This three-year example of stickleback “evolution” is a soft echo of the adaptation and speciation that would have occurred in the centuries after the Ark landed—and in the millennia since. Therefore the speed of change in this case shows that it’s quite reasonable to view today’s diversity of land animals (the creatures on the Ark, that is) as having come about since the Flood.
Furthermore, in stories like this we learn again how tricky the word “evolution” can be. Used in a general sense, it refers to any change in a population, which is certainly not the kind of change that—even with billions of years—could transform a fish into a scientist who studies fish. Also, note that some marine sticklebacks didn’t survive the colder water, which means that it’s possible that the population lost some genetic information (and certainly gained none). This is the opposite of the prediction of Darwinian, molecules-to-man evolution.
Some say dogs are man’s best friend, and that seems to be true for creationists as well.
The humble domestic dog is an ideal animal for illustrating the power of natural and artificial selection, explaining the “kinds” of organisms God created, and refuting evolution. For instance, natural and artificial selection explain why we find malamutes and other huskies in cold northern climes. And while all dogs are related, huskies have lost the genetic information for short hair, just as Chihuahuas have lost the genetic information for being large—the opposite of the gain in genetic information that molecules-to-man evolution would require. Yet it is clear how all dogs could have descended from common ancestors.
According to University of Pennsylvania animal–human interaction expert James Serpell, the domestic dog has the most variation in size, shape, and behavior of any living mammal. But dogs remain dogs, and even if one day the descendants of Chihuahuas and Great Danes are considered separate species, they will not be more “advanced” or more highly “evolved” than their predecessors.
Even dog brains are changing rapidly due to the artificial selection performed by dog breeders. University of New South Wales psychiatrist Michael Valenzuela explains, “Canines seem to be incredibly responsive to human intervention through breeding. It’s amazing that a dog’s brain can accommodate such large differences in skull shape through these kinds of changes—it’s something that hasn’t been documented in other species.”
Recent evidence suggests that dogs are more closely related to gray wolves (Canis lupus) and dingoes than to other canids, such as coyotes, foxes, jackals, or red wolves. This is in accord with research in the 1960s that showed that most dog behavior is present in wolves. In addition, the remains of dogs recovered in ancient graves more closely resemble wolves.
Although some canids may have been domesticated before the Flood, modern dogs descend from the dog-kind representatives that were on board the Ark. Based on the genetic evidence, it seems likely that wolves and other genera and species diversified first, and then certain populations of wolves underwent the process of domestication, leading to the dog. Even today, however, the viable offspring of dogs with wolves, dingoes, coyotes, or jackals remind us that the creatures all belong to the same created kind.
It’s a news story that won’t make the FASTS happy.
FASTS stands for the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, an advocacy group that just alerted the media, “Australia the clever country? One in three believe humans and dinosaurs coexisted: Science literacy falls short of expectations and the future needs of our economy.”
The Courier Mail story is at least as dismissive of creationist ideas. “Fundamentalist Christians are hijacking religious instruction classes despite education experts saying [c]reationism and attempts to convert children to Christianity have no place in state schools,” write Carly Hennessy and Kathleen Donaghey.
The anecdotal reports about what creationists have taught—in optional religious instruction classes—range from the reasonable to the ridiculous. One parent says his daughter was taught that all humans descend from Adam and Eve (which the Bible clearly teaches). But when his daughter challenged the instructor, claiming that would mean all people would be inbred, the teacher allegedly replied, “DNA wasn’t invented then.” (Read more on this topic in Cain’s Wife—Who Was She?) Similarly, one teacher supposedly claimed Noah gathered dinosaur eggs for the Ark (rather than bringing full-size dinosaurs on board, presumably to save space), which is akin to our claim that God may have sent juvenile dinosaurs into the Ark. However, the teacher was said to have also said that Adam and Eve were not eaten by dinosaurs because they were under a protective spell—which sounds perhaps like a distortion of the claim that all creatures were originally vegetarian.
For many evolutionists, it seems even a single half-hour session of religious education per week is half an hour too much, especially if students are ever taught that the Bible’s history is real. Unfortunately, for some readers, a few anecdotal accounts or even misrepresentations of questionable creationist beliefs is probably more than enough to convince them that students should only hear one side of the story.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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