ET-rex: dinosaurs on other planets?


Flickr: Jim Linwood (Creative Commons License—Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Display from the Dinosaur Museum, Dorchester

Editor’s note: The journal paper this article was based on was later withdrawn. But we are proceeding with publishing this article because we think that some important points can be drawn out.

It’s the stuff of sci-fi movies—T rex in flying saucers and Velociraptors with laser blasters. This might sound a bit ridiculous, but Dr Ronald Breslow, Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University, gives this some consideration in an article published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.1 The goal of the article is to discuss the likely origin of homochirality in amino acids, sugars, and nucleotides on a prebiotic earth.

The premise is that life on Earth was ‘jump-started’ by seeding from meteorites containing the essential building blocks of life (a phenomenon called ‘panspermia’). From an evolutionary viewpoint, if life on earth shares the same origin as extraterrestrial life, life on the planet of origin may well have followed roughly the same evolutionary patterns as life on Earth. But of course, the planet of origin would have had different events and environmental conditions that would have shaped evolution. And according to evolutionists, the catastrophe (whatever it was) that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs was one of the major events in evolutionary history, wiping out the reigning super-lizards and allowing mammals to fill the ecological gaps.

But what if evolution had been progressing along roughly the same lines on another planet, uninterrupted by the inconvenient (from the viewpoint of the dinosaurs, anyway) disaster? Could dinosaurs have evolved into intelligent, sentient beings like humans? In fact, they would have had a ‘head start’, and may have even evolved into super-intelligent beings. Perhaps the lizard-like appearance of some fictional ‘aliens’ isn’t a coincidence after all!

Of course, there are some rather obvious objections to this idea. Even if panspermia and evolution were real, it wouldn’t mean that T Rex would evolve on another planet. Even if the first forms on two planets were identical, various pressures of the environment, other species, etc, would probably work against evolution progressing in the same direction on different planets. And the idea of superintelligent T Rex is completely ridiculous; even the author of the article admits that it is a bit farfetched: “showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did.”2 Yet some wonder why this was even being considered in a serious scientific journal. Brian Switek of the Smithsonian writes, “None of this has anything to do with dinosaurs … As much as I’m charmed by the idea of alien dinosaurs, Breslow’s conjecture makes my brain ache.”3 Ian O’Neill of DiscoveryNews writes, “why Breslow is speculating about advanced alien dinosaurs doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”4

Dinosaurs are often used as the ‘poster child’ for evolution, and belief in sentient alien life is also grounded in evolutionary thought. Put the two together and you have a flashy story that fires up people’s imaginations with fanciful ‘what if’ scenarios.’ The article is steeped in evolutionary assumptions and thinking, but even a thoughtful evolutionist would disagree with several of the premises of the article. But it highlights a problem—there is no evolutionary scenario for the origin of life that makes sense.

Interestingly, Breslow isn’t the first to posit the idea of dinosaurs with human-like intelligence. Dale Russell (former curator of vertebrate fossils at the National Museum of Canada in Ottowa) proposed what he called a ‘Dinosaurid’ back in 1982. He conjectured that if dinosaurs had not been wiped out in the ‘great extinction’ event 65 million years ago they may have evolved into intelligent beings similar in many ways to humans. A display of this imaginary creature can be seen at Dorchester Dinosaur Museum in England.

Ideas like this just show that although many people equate evolution with ‘science’, this has nothing to do with observable, repeatable, operational science of the order that gives us things like airplanes, antibiotics, and smartphones. These ideas highlight how much the concept of evolution has to do with philosophical beliefs about our universe and its origins rather than cold hard facts.

As atheist and prominent anti-creationist Michael Ruse (former professor of philosophy and zoology at the University of Guelph, Canada) has admitted:

Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality … the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.5

And when evolutionists publish over-the-top ideas like this, even their fellow evolution-believers (the more rational among them, anyway) start pointing out the absurdity of it all.

Published: 12 June 2012


  1. Breslow, R., Evidence for the likely origin of homochirality in amino acids, sugars, and nucleotides on prebiotic earth. Journal of the American Chemical Society 2012 134(16), 6887–6892. Return to text.
  2. Could ‘advanced’ dinosaurs rule other planets?, American Chemical Society, acs.org, 12 April 2012, accessed 8 May 2012. Return to text.
  3. Switek, B., Dinosaurs from space!, blogs.smithsonianmag.com, 11 April 2012, accessed 8 May 2012. Return to text.
  4. O’Neill, I. Do intelligent dinosaurs really rule alien worlds?, Discovery News, news.discovery.com, 11 April 2012, accessed 8 May 2012. Return to text.
  5. Ruse, M., How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? National Post, pp. B1, B3, B7, May 13, 2000. Return to text.

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