Dinosaurs are almost certainly extinct
It is time to let go of the idea of ‘living dinosaurs’
Published: 22 February 2018 (GMT+10)
The thought that dinosaurs might be living in some long-forgotten corner of the world has fanned the flames of curiosity for a long time. Many of our supporters believe it is true, and we have done much to support the possibility over the years. However, it is time for a critical reassessment.
Since biblical creationists are already held to a double standard, we should seek to find the best arguments. At the same time, we must be free to allow older, outdated arguments to wither on the vine, when we find them. Science changes, but the Bible does not. Thus, we deny that the Bible is a scientific textbook, since textbooks always contain mistakes and always become outdated! But when the Bible does touch on scientific aspects, it is always accurate, because the One who inspired it knows all the science that there is to know. Our Arguments we think creationists should not use page and this response to a critic serve as a clear record that we want to use the best arguments. We are also willing to contradict what we may have said in the past when an argument becomes untenable. We believe that ‘Living Dinosaurs’ has become one of those arguments.
This is an emotional argument for many people. Human nature makes us look for the ‘magic bullet’ or ‘knockout punch’ evidence. For many, this seems to be wrapped up in their faith that the Bible is true. But we have said many times that we should not put our faith in science. The propositions of Scripture, and what can be logically deduced from them, should be held strongly, but models that creationists have developed to elucidate them should be held loosely. Remember that the Lord Jesus Himself reminded us that some will not believe even if one was to rise from the dead (Luke 16:31), and we have multiple eyewitness testimony that this event occurred. We already have tons of evidence to refute the evolutionary view of dinosaurs and to support the correct biblical view that dinosaurs did not die out millions of years ago such as:
- Dinosaur soft tissue
- Dinosaur DNA
- Carbon-14 in every dinosaur sample that has been tested (see Radiocarbon in dino bones: International conference result censored, and the documentation in Dire Dragons)
We can deduce from the Bible that the earth is not millions of years old (science agrees, by the way), that God created many different ‘kinds’ of living organisms, and that two of every (unclean) kind were on Noah’s Ark. Scripture does not speak directly about dinosaurs, nor should we assume it is a comprehensive book on animal taxonomy, but we have enough evidence to conclude that dinosaurs certainly existed. If we are to fit them into biblical history, they would have been on the Ark, because they were air-breathing land animals, and therefore they would have been alive at least early in the post-Flood era. We note that many land animals have gone extinct. The promise God made to preserve animals on the Ark was a general promise, not a specific claim that every species, or indeed every kind, would remain on the earth indefinitely. Indeed, extinction is just another reminder of the Fall and how the earth is subject to continuing decay.
And the Bible has depictions of some fascinating creatures such as the behemoth in Job 40:15–18, which seems to fit the description of a sauropod dinosaur, such as Dreadnoughtus. No living creature has a tail that could be compared to the cedar, the largest tree in the middle-east.
The evidence is strong that they lived in the post-Flood era, and there is nothing that categorically tells us they must be extinct, so the idea that they might still be alive is tantalizing.
This brings us to a discussion about cryptozoology. This is, literally, the ‘study of hidden animals’. It is an attempt to prove that creatures widely regarded as extinct or imaginary are actually alive but merely hidden. Such creatures are called ‘cryptids’. CMI has printed multiple articles on this subject over the years, based on information then available, and we do not regret having written them. While we have never claimed that dinosaurs are still alive today, we have always remained open to the possibility of finding one. Why wouldn’t we be?
However, we have now had decades to verify the claims. To date, not a single one has been confirmed. Keep in mind that this is not for a lack of looking. And as time goes by, it is increasingly unlikely that we will ever find one. What about the argument, “One can only say they don’t exist today if we could explore every inch of the earth at the same time.” This is actually nonsensical, because we could apply it to anything that we want—even non-existent or imaginary things like fairies that people believed in over 100 years ago (based upon alleged eyewitness testimonies).
In addition, unlike the oceans, which are more difficult to explore due to the extreme depths and lack of light, we have explored essentially the entire surface of the earth. From time to time we have found weird and wonderful creatures and species that we did not even know existed, but these have generally been small creatures, and they usually belong to an already-known taxon, such as the okapi (a member of the family Giraffidae, named in 1901) and the saola (a muntjac ‘discovered’ by a son of Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s, it was finally found alive in Vietnam in 1992). In the case of dinosaurs, we know what to look for. We have their fossils (meaning they are dead), and we have pretty much explored the whole planet.
But the areas that are least explored (e.g. the Congo and West Papua) are the places where dinosaurs are supposedly living today, so we are left in a difficult situation. Good people are reporting on living dinosaurs in areas that are so remote that it is not easy to validate the claims. Yet, even though these reports go back decades, there are never secondary sightings, ergo, none have been validated. That is a critically important point. It is not like no humans live in these places. Loggers, explorers, drug runners, poachers, and subsistence farmers regularly traipse the back woods areas of the world. It is nearly impossible to find places not impacted by humans, thus observed by humans. In the 1800s, people went to the western US looking for living dinosaurs. They were not there. There were other sightings over the years and multiple expeditions to remote areas looking for dinosaurs. They were never found.
Due to the tension between the verbal reports and the absence of hard evidence, we hesitate to simply throw everything out. But our position is no longer “wait and see”. Instead, it is time to say that living dinosaurs no longer exist unless there is proven evidence to the contrary, otherwise claims that dinosaurs must still exist will be used by the evolutionists as yet another club with which to beat creationists.
This does not mean we reject the idea that dinosaurs previously lived with man, only that they are extremely unlikely to be living today, and there are strong creationist scientific reasons for saying so. Reporting responsibly and cautiously on alleged eyewitness accounts is not unreasonable, so long as we don’t exaggerate or overdo it. For instance, if someone heard about Mokele-Mbembe (a sauropod-like creature reported to be living in the Congo basin of Africa) and wanted to check out how strong the evidence was, or how weak, it would not be irresponsible if our website, meant to be a definitive source of biblical creationist ideas, had articles on it, based upon the trustworthiness of the report.
Many of our friends are also cryptozoology buffs. We do not wish to contradict them in public, and we wish them good success in their search. However, we have reached the point where it is no longer credible to simply assume dinosaurs exist and only need to be found. Moreover, valuable Christian resources are being devoted unnecessarily to what appear to be fruitless endeavors, rather than supporting ministries or efforts we believe are more demonstrable in bearing fruit (that is, helping to bring people to Christ, our #1 priority). All the evidence indicates dinosaurs are not still here. Of course, we would love it if they were, just as we would love it if someone was to discover Noah’s Ark. So, we take no pleasure in having to pour cold water on such claims, and our purpose is not to ‘debunk’ for the sake of it.
We are already fighting on a major front with our opposition to mainstream scientific belief on evolution. It is therefore important to maintain integrity in our creationist arguments, and not be sensationalists, even if this means loss of opportunity for ministry exposure or even loss of financial support from well-meaning Christians who get excited about such claims. We are suggesting that we need to use wisdom and discernment here, allowing old ideas to be retired and focusing on the best current ideas to promote biblical creation, with the ultimate aim of promoting the Gospel and being used by God to lead others to Christ.
Does it even matter?
We must ask, however, why this is so important for biblical creationism? If a living dinosaur species were found, evolutionists would still not change their minds. They would just incorporate it into their pre-existing worldview. We know this because many ‘living fossils’ have been discovered (such as the wollemi pine and the coelacanth), and there are many fossils out of their assumed evolutionary place. They even said finding the wollemi pine was like “Finding a living dinosaur!” But putting aside some of the easily-forgotten sensationalist headlines, the general reaction is, “Huh. Isn’t that interesting? One of them managed to stay alive all this time.” We can confidently say that living dinosaurs would not be the death-knell of evolution. Therefore, why spend such valuable resources in looking for them?
Alternatively, some of our supporters feel that cryptozoology is an embarrassing chapter in our history, and thus should be buried as deeply as possible. We are suggesting that, instead, we should lay it aside and focus on the most powerful, up-to-date Achilles’ heels of evolutionary theory.
Testimonies are not proof
None of the crypto material can be scientifically documented since it is made up of personal testimonies. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable for a number of reasons, including those related to our fallen, human condition, and usually involves individual sightings (not sightings by groups of people). Even honest people can be prone to confirmation bias, so they ‘see’ what they are expecting to see. For instance, millions of people claim to have encounters with extraterrestrials, but we can say for certain that they did not have an encounter with a being from some distant planet.
Every case must be judged on its merits, and when we do this with dinosaur claims, sadly, the evidence comes up lacking. But most are not even first-hand testimonies. Instead, second-hand and sometimes even third-hand ones have been submitted to our community as ‘proof’. This is not scientific evidence. Even alleged first-hand evidence is tricky. There have been cases of scientists deliberately misleading people in the past, and so we need to make sure our own house is in order. One way to do this is to avoid sensationalist or unsubstantiated claims (e.g., the many archaeological ‘discoveries’ of the late Ron Wyatt, any one of which would have made for a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, but none of which could be verified due to ‘special circumstances’). Our rule of thumb should be to not accept any testimony unless backed up by solid evidence (i.e. catch one!). As stated above, we are already held to a double standard. Let us, therefore, hold high standards ourselves and not fall prey to wishful thinking.
Scientific issues and problems for large animals
Large animals need a population if the species is going to persist for centuries, but most alleged sightings are of individual animals. While it is true that some carnivores are solitary, all this means is that the population density is low. They still need a population size of tens of thousands to maintain genetic viability over time. And the individual animals, especially the large ones, do not stay put. Ask any farmer on the edge of elephant territory how hard it is to live. If they are alive, dinosaurs must reproduce. They need mates. They must travel. And they would not live forever. But there is no evidence they are actually alive.
Humans live all over the world, and satellites do a pretty good job of looking at the whole earth comprehensively in real time. The imagery has enough resolution to see large animals from space, and let us not forget what can be seen from lower-flying aircraft. We can see elephants and whales in those images. Why no large dinosaurs? Claiming they live in dense jungle and therefore cannot be seen is an example of ‘special pleading’. In fact, one of the authors of this article has seen firsthand how large animals like elephants make clearings in dense canopy. In short, it is fairly easy to see where large animals have been. They remove trees and brush and dung deposits are everywhere (they are large animals after all). They cannot help but modify their environment over time. Claiming ‘living dinosaurs’ are diminutive is another case of special pleading. It just so happens that the last remote places on earth where dinosaurs might live are also the only places where they might still be hiding. Yet all we have for evidence is verbal testimony from prior decades. This is not scientific data and so we are forced to take a step back and say that we actually have no evidence.
Dinosaurs cannot live in a sparse desert environment like the Australian outback because they need a lot of food. Giant marine reptiles cannot be out in the open oceans for the same reason. The open oceans are extreme deserts. Large animals need to live near a food source, and all such oceanic areas are currently being exploited by human fishing activities. Could they be hiding in dense jungles of Central Africa or on remote Pacific islands? Think of the crypto evidence we have been presented with thus far: it is sparse, based almost solely on verbal testimony, and follow-up expeditions have failed to substantiate any of the claims.
As mentioned earlier, science cannot prove the non-existence of anything, within reason. You can easily prove an African elephant is not sitting on your lap, but you cannot prove there is no elephant within a hundred miles of your location. Yet there comes a point where it is reasonable to conclude if an elephant is nearby. They leave evidence behind. They make noise. People would notice. In a similar way, it is reasonable to conclude that dinosaurs do not exist. The world is getting ‘smaller’ by the day and evidence for their being among us is not increasing. In fact, the opposite is true, hence this article.
Giant marine reptiles1 are likely the root source of some of the living dinosaur claims (e.g., “Nessie”). But things like plesiosaurs were air-breathing, meaning they needed to be at the surface most of the time. We know that giant marine mammals exist, precisely because we see them surface to breathe. They may be able to dive to extreme depths, but they stay on the surface for most of their lives. While it might be true that cold-blooded reptiles need to breathe less than mammals, and some turtles can remain submerged almost indefinitely, large animals need more oxygen. Active hunters also need more. Giant marine reptiles would need to remain near the surface. They cannot be hiding at depth.
Conversely, we knew the giant squid existed because of the evidence of huge sucker-disk scars on sperm whales, who hunt them for food. They evaded detection for many years because they can live in very deep water and don’t need to breathe air, but we knew they were there. We have fishing boats anywhere in the oceans where there are fish, and human eyeballs and video cameras cover most coastlands. Similarly, Loch Ness in Scotland has lots of tour boats and many hotels on its shores. The famous Nessie photos that spawned the legend have now been revealed as a hoax. But think of the industry that grew around it!2 Plus, sensors and automatic cameras have been installed all around the area, by people hoping to ‘catch’ Nessie, but without result. If Nessie was a plesiosaur, and if the story was inspired by historical sightings from centuries ago, she is certainly not alive today. It is time to move on.
Clear and unmistakable photographs, animals in a cage, DNA … these are the evidences required by modern science. Even then, photographic and video evidence has become too easy to fake nowadays,3 so we should be skeptical of any new ‘photograph’ of a living dinosaur. But millions of people in the world today have a high-quality camera on their smart phone, and yet we have essentially no unambiguous photographs anyway, so the point is moot. At least show us some photos, not grainy images or excuses for why we don’t have good ones.
Some evidences are better than others. We are not the ‘evidence police’, but we prefer Bishop Bell’s brass behemoths and the Angkor Wat stegosaur over most other examples. Similarly, the Behemoth in Job 40, with its tail compared to the Middle-Eastern cedars, seems to be a huge, herbivorous sauropod. (We recommend Vance Nelson’s book Dire Dragons for more good examples of these).
Some evidences are of more questionable quality. For example, the Ica Stones show dinosaurs in the tail-dragging poses of outdated reconstructions, just what a forger would have copied if he were working several decades ago. It is unlikely they have been drawn from an observation of a real dinosaur, with the tail horizontal at the hip. This is one of those things we would love to be true, but since the evidence is equivocal, we should put it on the back shelf.
In a court of law, one is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. This is not true in science. Instead, we have developed a negative process, where hypotheses are always challenged, and conclusions are not (supposed to be!) drawn until the alternatives have been shown to be unworkable.
Some ‘evidence’ needs to be avoided altogether. Examples include the Paluxy tracks, which all major creationist groups agree are not evidence of human and dinosaurs living together. Also the Japanese ‘plesiosaur’, which was clearly a basking shark.
The Australian Bunyip illustration is also not what we thought. We have learned that this was not the illustration from the original 1845 newspaper article reproduced in 1991 (?), but was drawn in 1991 by a staff illustrator, Kevin McNulty, albeit drawn in a style that made it appear ‘old’—and hence the understandable confusion. The Geelong Advertiser did publish an article on the bunyip in 1845. In that article the newspaper promised that an image would be published in the next issue, but that issue happens to be missing from the archives, so we cannot validate the original. Many CMI speakers have used this example in the past, inadvertently but wrongly promoting the illustration as ‘from 1845’. Note, however, that the artist’s 1991 drawing is a reasonable representation of the detailed description published in 1845, but it is not the original 1845 drawing. If it was, it would make a strong case for the bunyip being a hadrosaur-like creature. So, it is not the strong evidence that it appeared to be. Lesson learned. We should always be prepared to correct or qualify ‘favourite’ arguments in the light of new evidence.
The quality of any piece of evidence is important. If we cannot use something in a courtroom or in a scientific debate, why would we even bring it up? And how is this helpful to our supporters if they likewise can’t back up their claims? Why should we use doubtful arguments when there are stronger ones available? And if the arguments don’t even convince reputable creationists, why would they convince evolutionists? People are trusting us to give them good arguments, so it is critical for us be selective about the information we provide.
Dragon legends most likely derived from post-Flood interactions of humans and dinosaurs, and biblically we know that they must have been on the Ark. But one cannot discount the slight chance some of the stories may have come from pre-Flood legends, dreams, or just people’s imaginations. Coupled with the fact that no unequivocal dinosaur remains have been found in layers most biblical creationists would call ‘post Flood’, this is a real sticking point. The ‘latest’ dinosaur remains are from Mesozoic layers. While it is true that any layer with dinosaurs in it would automatically be labeled “Mesozoic”, this is not really a circular argument. An entire suite of plant and animal fossils are found together in the “dinosaur” layers, which most of us believe are Flood deposits.
Case in point, we do not find T. rex bones with mastodons, and most creationists place mastodons after the Flood. These later layers are simply absent of dinosaurs. One way around this is if we place the Flood/post-Flood boundary higher in the fossil record. This would mean that most all fossils are in Flood deposits, not from later times like the Ice Age. But we have unequivocal evidence of animal remains from more ‘recent’ times. This includes camels, horses, lions, bunnies, and bears, just not dinosaurs.
Another technicality is the fact that we do not see fossils of large creatures forming today. When an animal dies, the flesh and bones almost always break down quickly. The Flood was a great fossil-generating engine, and those conditions do not exist anywhere on earth today, except on a very limited and small scale in a select few places. However, this does not mean we have no evidence of post-Flood animals. We see animal bones all the time in archaeological settings. Spines from fish and sea urchins are abundant in modern oceanic sediments. Etc.
While we do have historical evidence for them, dinosaurs/dragons must have been incredibly rare to leave no post-Flood fossils behind. This is not impossible, and evolutionary theory requires this to be true in many cases (e.g., why are no whale fossils found with coelacanth fossils?), but the evidence against recently-living, and especially currently-living, dinosaurs is strong.
Let’s be discerning. Let’s engage our minds with the best arguments. Let’s major on the best evidences—and we have some very good ones in this very area—and put the lesser ones on the back shelf. Let us especially reject the bad evidence when found. Why use the doubtful evidence before the clear? ‘Living dinosaurs’ was a good idea from the past and was associated with the birth of the modern creation movement. However, and despite a lot of effort on the part of some, it did not pan out.
This does not mean that dinosaurs are not a great entry point for the creation/evolution debate. Quite the opposite, because the evidence we have gives us some of the strongest refutations of the grand scheme of evolution. ‘Living dinosaurs’ is not nearly as good an argument as soft tissue preservation and carbon-14 in dinosaur bones. The former remains undocumented, the latter comes straight to us from the laboratory. Which do you think is a better argument?
References and notes
- Some confuse the extinct giant aquatic reptiles (e.g. mosasaurs and plesiosaurs) with dinosaurs. They are reptiles, true, but not dinosaurs. Return to text.
- How scientists debunked the Loch Ness Monster, vox.com/2015/4/21/8459353/loch-ness-monster, 23 January 2018; ‘Best ever’ photograph of Loch Ness monster revealed as a fake, telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10355915/Best-ever-photograph-of-Loch-Ness-monster-revealed-as-a-fake.html, 23 January 2018. Return to text.
- But it was much harder to fake high-quality photography in the past, and digital video manipulation technology did not exist until recently, so we should not be skeptical of the NASA moon landings, etc. See Apollo Moon Landing Hoax and the relevant section in Arguments we think creationists should not Use. Also, beware of people who make claims about video and photographic ‘evidence’ while promoting flat earth and geocentrism. Their errors are too numerous to document here. Return to text.