David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive
As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation re-ran David Attenborough’s program on the Natural History Museum on Sunday 13 August, we re-run our response.
First published: 16 March 2014 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 15 August 2017 (GMT+10)
In this TV program,1 Sir David Attenborough introduces viewers to a number of animals in the London Natural History Museum, and ‘brings them to life’ with truly spectacular computer-generated animations. He does not enumerate any evolutionary progression for any of them, but continues his evolutionary indoctrination of viewers by alluding to ‘millions of years’ several times, which is the sine qua non for this atheistic worldview. We shall comment on those aspects of the program which affect the creation-evolution issue.
His first exhibit is a fossil of Archaeopteryx, discovered in Germany in 1861.2 He tells viewers: “It had … a bony tail. Its head had bony jaws packed with teeth, like a reptile’s, and its arms had three elongated fingers, each ending with a claw.” It had feathers, and he calls it “the most scientifically important and valuable specimen in the whole of the museum. … This creature was half-reptile, half-bird. It was the first proof that in prehistory there were intermediate forms that link the big, very different groups of animals that we know today.”
In fact, Archaeopteryx is a unique animal that exhibits a mosaic of
“Archaeopteryx had fully-formed flying feathers (including asymmetric vanes and ventral, reinforcing furrows as in modern flying birds), the classical elliptical wings of modern woodland birds, and a large wishbone for attachment of muscles responsible for the down stroke of the wings.4 Its brain was essentially that of a flying bird, with a large cerebellum and visual cortex. The fact that it had teeth is irrelevant to its alleged transitional status—a number of extinct birds had teeth, while many reptiles do not. Furthermore, like other birds, both its maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) moved. In most vertebrates, including reptiles, only the mandible moves.5 Finally, Archaeopteryx skeletons had pneumatized vertebrae and pelvis. This indicates the presence of both a cervical and abdominal air sac, i.e., at least two of the five sacs present in modern birds. This in turn indicates that the unique avian lung design was already present in what most evolutionists claim is the earliest bird.”6
And in 2012, a team of Brown University researchers reported that “Archaeopteryx’s feather structure is identical to that of modern birds.”7
Incidentally, Archaeopteryx fossils exhibit the ‘dead dinosaur position’ with the neck and tail thrown backwards. There are two modern explanations for this. In the last few years, scientists have realized that this posture was actually opisthotonus, the result of severe muscle spasms caused by malfunctioning of the central nervous system, especially with oxygen deprivation.8
Another explanation is that buoyancy under water enabled a strong spinal ligament to overcome the weight of the tail and head, and draw them both backwards. Both explanations are consistent with their having been drowned or buried alive by the Genesis Flood.
Attenborough provides no evidence for his claim that Archaeopteryx lived some 150 million years ago. However, the above-mentioned factors are evidence consistent with Genesis, namely that it began life, along with all other birds, on Day 5 of Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago.
This is a major contradiction to the prevailing theory that birds came from dinosaurs, which the Bible states were created on Day 6 along with other land creatures and man. Readers may be surprised to learn that there are leading evolutionists who disagree with the dino-to-bird dogma. E.g., paleo-ornithologist Alan Feduccia, Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina and a world authority on fossil birds, wrote: “Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleobabble’ is going to change that.”9
- Evolution of feathers: a major problem for Darwinism
- Bird evolution flies out the window
- Death throes
- Water and death throes
- Feathered dinos:no feathers after all
Professor Richard Owen
Attenborough introduces us to Prof. Richard Owen (1804–92), and tells us he not only acquired the Archaeopteryx fossil on display, but also built this Museum. Attenborough graciously adds: “Although he disagreed with Darwin’s view of evolution, he was one of the greatest scientists of his time, and he had a particular flair for interpreting fossils.” After some new and unknown fossils had been found in Sussex, they were brought to the Museum, and we are told: “Professor Owen examined them and he decided that they should belong to a completely new kind of animal he called a ‘dinosaur’—‘terrible lizard’.”
Owen was also an adviser to governments, he reported on environmental health issues, and was awarded more than 100 honours, including a knighthood. He was a famous lecturer, and also tutored Queen Victoria’s children in science. He is probably best known today for coining the word Dinosauria, as related above.
A snake named Gigantophis
After being shown several megafauna fossils, we are introduced to a giant snake, and its name, Gigantophis, means just that. Attenborough asserted that this 10-metre-long snake “ lived 40 million years ago, and had become extinct long before human beings appeared on Earth.” Its prey was not dinosaurs because: “Dinosaurs are even older than Gigantophis, and disappeared some 25 million years before it evolved.” Instead we see it attacking “a prehistoric elephant that was unlucky enough to wander the planet at exactly the same time as Gigantophis, about 40 million years ago.”
Attenborough offers no evidence in support of his twice-repeated age of 40 million years for Gigantophis. Instead, viewers are diverted by the computer-generated spectacle of the giant constrictor snake attacking the ‘prehistoric’ baby elephant. The term ‘prehistoric’ refers to the span of time before recorded history. This label serves to indoctrinate the public in an evolutionary, anti-biblical worldview, by promoting the idea that many types of creatures lived and died over vast ages before mankind came on the scene.
However, dinosaurs are not ‘prehistoric’ any more than elephants are, since they both lived after the beginning of written history, which is the Bible’s historical account in Genesis. Genesis takes us right back to the creation of time, of the earth, of the animals, and of man, during Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago. If we start with this premise—as the Lord Jesus and New Testament writers did, then there is no such thing as an era of prehistory. Before this, only the triune God existed (John 1:1; Genesis 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2).
Ichthyosaurs vs dolphins
Viewers are shown a computer-generated “ancient ichthyosaur” and are told “how remarkably similar it is to today’s dolphin. It’s got the same streamlined silhouette, the same pointed jaws, it’s air-breathing, even gives birth to live young.”10 Indeed some have been fossilized near the end of giving birth, pointing to very rapid burial. Note that like dolphins, their babies are born tail-first, ready to swim to the surface and take their first breath in the air.
Then Attenborough says: “Dolphins are mammals. Ichthyosaurs, reptiles. Very, very different groups. They are not at all closely related, and yet they both have very similar body shapes. They are a remarkable example of what’s called convergent evolution—two groups of unrelated animals that have evolved similar bodies to suit the same environment.”
So what is ‘convergent evolution’?
Answer: It is a term that evolutionists have invented to interpret similarities in animals for which they cannot concoct a mutual ancestor. The plethora of such similarities that do not fit the evolutionary story (i.e., cannot be explained by common ancestry) is a huge problem for evolutionists. So much so that they have another term for it as well. If a similarity cannot be explained by inheritance from a common ancestor, it is called a ‘homoplasy’. In the 1996 book Homoplasy,11 the term was defined thus: “… homoplasy is the appearance of ‘sameness’ that results from independent evolution (emphasis in original).”12 The problem for evolutionists is that this undercuts much of their appeal to similarity (also known as homology) as evidence for a common ancestor in the first place. A drastic example is about 200 genes for echolocation in bats and dolphins which supposedly “had independently changed in the same ways.”13
But where is the evidence for any of this? The evolutionary problem of similarities without a common ancestor is not solved by speciously arguing that evolution randomly produced similar looking outcomes in different lines in different locations. By far the more logical and consistent explanation for similarities is that all the animals simply had the same Creator, as the Book of Genesis teaches. The Creator used the same good designs in many different creatures for the very good reason that they were very good designs, and so worked very well.
Creationist geologist Michael Oard writes:
“How many environments are so alike for millions of years that they are able to evolve similar structures in ‘unrelated’ animals by unguided, random processes? Convergent evolution is another evolutionary dodge to account for tens of thousands of exceptions in their comparative anatomy ‘proof’ of evolution.”14
“Just as man-made artifacts have similarities due to design parameters, so too do creatures. Different models of cars share many ‘traits’ because they are intended to do the same thing. Each one possesses tires, an engine, steering, windshields, lights, etc. Differences show variations in purpose: an off-road truck is not the same as a family sedan. This is similar to what we see in the biological world, which can be ascribed to a great Creator.”15
Dinosaurs and the Ark
Of particular interest to us is Attenborough’s depiction of a fossilized egg of a sauropod. He describes these as “gigantic, vegetarian dinosaurs that wandered around on four legs … they are the biggest land animals that have ever existed.” So, creationists are often asked, ‘How did Noah fit them on the Ark?’
The answer to this apparent conundrum is inadvertently supplied (or rather illustrated) by Attenborough when he shows viewers computer-generated images of what this sauropod egg looked like when it was first laid, followed by a baby sauropod breaking out of it. The pristine egg is about the size and shape of a soccer ball; the baby dino that breaks out of it is less than a metre long. And we are told: “This little fellow has got quite a lot of growing to do over the next few years”—i.e. before he gets to be the size of Mum.
Regarding dinos on the Ark, we maintain that Noah didn’t need to take ‘grandfather-sized’ ones aboard; those on the Ark were probably much less massive young adults or ‘teenagers’. It was recently discovered that dinosaurs go through an adolescent growth spurt, so God could have brought to the Ark (cf. Genesis 6:20) dinosaurs of the right age to start this spurt as soon as they disembarked. For a full account of this scenario with relevant research references, see How did dinosaurs grow so big? And how did Noah fit them on the Ark? And Were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark? So thanks, Sir David, for illustrating this concept for us!
Age of the dinosaurs
Another dinosaur he presents to viewers is a type of sauropod called Diplodocus, which he affectionately refers to by its nickname, ‘Dippy’, and tells us: “Now, after 150 million years, we’ve got a pretty good idea what Dippy looked like.” And he gives us an interesting description derived from its fossils. Our contention is with the alleged age he allots to it (twice in the program).
There is a strong possibility that dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible. Not by that name of course, as the aforementioned Sir Richard Owen didn’t invent the word until 1841, but by their descriptions. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word תנין, tannîn, appears some 15 times—some modern English translations translate it as ‘monster’, ‘serpent’ or ‘jackal’, while in the older King James Bible the word ‘dragon’ is used. The Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament from c. 250 BC likewise used the word for ‘dragon’ δρακων (drakon). Tannîn could refer, at least in some contexts, to large reptiles/dinosaurs.
There is also a detailed description of an animal in the book of Job which defies ready categorization as any of the animals known to be living today. Within a few hundred years of the Flood, God spoke to a man called Job, and reminded him of how great He was as Creator, by pointing to a particularly massive creature He had made:
Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. (Job 40:15–18)
One difficulty facing Bible scholars is trying to identify just what this ‘behemoth’ could be. Obviously it was alive in Job’s day, otherwise God’s instruction would not have made sense. Some Bible translators, not being sure what the beast was, simply transliterated the Hebrew בּהמוֹת, behemôth. However, the description sounds very much like one of the big land-dwelling dinosaurs.16 See Could Behemoth have been a dinosaur?
Job chapter 41 also describes a sea monster called Leviathan. This is clearly a large and powerful marine animal, with fearsome teeth, and armour-plated scales that could easily deflect spears and arrows. It appears to be extinct, but it and behemoth, along with all other animals, including the dinosaurs, we believe were created by God, not by evolution. See Was Leviathan a Parasaurolophus?
Along with the biblical evidence for dinosaurs living at the same time as man, there is scientific support from the many discoveries of dinosaur soft tissues and intact biomolecules. See Double-decade dinosaur disquiet for a summary with further reading.
We cannot prove that dinosaurs were created on the sixth day of Creation Week any more than evolutionists can prove they lived 150 million years ago and died out 65 million years ago. We both have the same evidence, but we also have opposing worldviews derived from our beliefs, which we both use to guide us in our interpretations of that evidence. And hence we and evolutionists arrive at different conclusions.
Why this matters
Our worldview is based on the Bible (Hebrews 11:3), which we believe was inspired by Almighty God who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). We therefore believe that the Bible is completely true and accurate—whether it is making statements relevant to history, theology, or science. It is thus not surprising that Genesis history which clearly affirms a young age for the earth and its inhabitants, is consistent with a great deal of scientific evidence. Also, all Christian doctrines begin in Genesis—see Genesis—the seedbed of all Christian doctrine.
One of these vital doctrines is that sin entered the human race when our first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God’s authority over them in the Garden of Eden (Genesis Chapter 3). The result of this is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The good news is that God has provided a remedy in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 4:25).
References and notes
- A Colossus Production for Sky Television, UK; it premiered in the UK on 1 January 2014, and was shown on ABC1-TV in Australia on 2 March 2014. Return to text.
- Eleven Archaeopteryx fossils have been found so far, plus a single feather fossil. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution 2, pp. 132–33, Creation Book Publishers, 2011. Return to text.
- Feduccia, A., Evidence from Claw Geometry Indicating Arboreal Habits of Archaeopteryx, Science 259(5096):790–793, 5 February 1993. Return to text.
- See Wieland, C., Bird Evolution flies out the window, Creation 16(4):16–19, June–August 1994. Return to text.
- Christiansen, P., and N. Bonde, N., Axial and Appendicular Pneumaticity in Archaeopteryx, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B. 267:2501–2505, 2000. Return to text.
- Brown University News and Events: Winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx dressed for flight, http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2012/01/archaeopteryx, 24 January 2012; Catchpoole, D., Supposed icon of evolution , Archaeopteryx, was dressed for flight in modern, probably black, feathers, 31 July 2012. Return to text.
- Marshall Faux, C. and Padian, K., The opisthotonic posture of vertebrate skeletons: post-mortem contraction or death throes? Paleobiology 33(2):201–226, 2007. Return to text.
- Feduccia, A.; cited in: V. Morell, Archaeopteryx: Early Bird Catches a Can of Worms, Science 259(5096):764–65, 5 February 1993. Return to text.
- Albeit with a couple of minor differences, which Attenborough mentions: “Dolphins beat their tails up and down … Ichthyosaurs had tails like fish, that beat from side to side. Dolphins only have two flippers, whereas ichthyosaurs had four.” Return to text.
- Sanderson, M., (Ed.), Homoplasy: The Recurrence of Similarity in Evolution, Academic Press, San Diego, 1996. Return to text.
- Wake, D., Introduction, Ref. 11, p. xvii. Return to text.
- Pennisi, E., Bats and dolphins evolved echolocation in same way, news.sciencemag.org, 4 September 2013; Sarfati, J., Echolocation evolved in the same way 3 October 2013. Return to text.
- Oard, M., 320-million-year-old amber has flowering plant chemistry, J. Creation 24(2):16, Aug. 2010, creation.com/amber-with-flowering-plant-chemistry. Return to text.
- Oard, M., Did birds evolve from dinosaurs? J. Creation 25(2):22–31, 2011. Return to text.
- This section adapted from Chapter 19 What about Dinosaurs? In The Creation Answers Book. Return to text.