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Creation 44(4):16–17, October 2022

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The original Jurassic Park

The world’s first full-size dinosaur expo

by Kevin Lamoure

CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic | Ian Wright | Wikimediaoriginal-jurassic-park

The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London’s Hyde Park was a landmark event to celebrate culture and achievement. The famous building in which it was housed was a unique construction of steel and glass known as the ‘Crystal Palace’. In 1852 it was relocated (dismantled and reconstructed) to a permanent home in Sydenham, another part of London. The area was later known as Crystal Palace Park.

Brought to life—sort of

Around this time, two famous names were tasked with populating a portion of Crystal Palace Park with life-size models of the latest science in natural history and geology. Despite the very small number of fossils and species then known, this meant dinosaurs. The pair was celebrated English comparative anatomist Sir Richard Owen (1804–1892) and accomplished early English paleoartist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807–1894).

Before the work had been completed, a dinner was famously held on New Year’s Eve in 1853 to publicize the project. In a clever move that would guarantee public interest, the dinner was served inside the belly of one of the unfinished dinosaur models destined for the park!

Welcome to Crystal Palace Park

Constructed of brick, cement, stone, iron, and tile, the ‘live’ dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park were unveiled to the public in 1854. The quadrupedal predator, Megalosaurus, the rhinoceros-horned Iguanodon, and the spike-backed Hylaeosaurus thrilled their Victorian guests and were very popular. Though very incorrectly reconstructed by modern understanding, the dinosaurs were back!

Dinosaur reconstructions are globally common today. Importantly, though, these life-size models gave the public a first-ever look at what it might be like to come across an actual dinosaur. With items such as miniature models of these full-size dinosaurs also being produced, they were a popular culture phenomenon.

A compromised message

Unfortunately, though he was opposed to Darwinism, Owen’s views on origins were biblically compromised. Writing of the Park’s models of extinct species, he said they were an attempt

“to reproduce and present to human gaze and contemplation the forms of animal life that have successively flourished during former geological phases of time, and have passed away long ages prior to the creation of man … ”1

In line with this belief, life-size models of many other animals were displayed alongside the dinosaurs so as to demonstrate the different supposed ‘ages’ of natural history. On this point, Owen wrote:

“The object of the Islands in the Geological Lake is to demonstrate the order of succession, or superposition, of these layers or strata, and to exhibit, restored in form and bulk, as when they lived, the most remarkable and characteristic of the extinct animals and plants of each stratum.”1

Nevertheless, though Darwin’s book had not yet been published, Owen intended the life-size dinosaur models to be monuments against the evolutionary worldviews then gathering pace, as writer Zoë Lescaze describes:

“The animals Hawkins created were weapons in an ideological war. A principal general in that war was Richard Owen. The brilliant English anatomist had coined the term ‘dinosaur’ in 1841, and now he needed to control public perception of the terrible lizards. Owen was a staunch opponent of evolutionary theory, and the Crystal Palace sculptures were vital components of his crusade. If he was to counter the emerging claims that species became more sophisticated over time, then dinosaurs must appear more advanced than modern reptiles.”2

From ideology to evidence

The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park were, admittedly, conveniently produced to send a message against an evolutionary worldview. This ideological approach to their design was aided by a scarcity of fossil evidence.

There has now been over a century and a half of fossil discoveries and study since the Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs were unveiled. Modern research into dinosaurs is now driven by a different ideology to that of Owen’s. With rare exceptions, public and private presentations of dinosaurs are all couched within a naturalistic, evolutionary worldview. So, does modern knowledge of dinosaurs no longer send a message against an evolutionary worldview? Does it instead support it, as we are constantly told? Definitely not.

For example, today, dinosaurs still have no definitive evolutionary ‘ancestors’3 or ‘descendants’,4 a significant problem for evolutionists that has never gone away.

Also, within the hundreds of dinosaur species5 and countless dinosaur fossils that would have astounded Owen and Hawkins, there is now evidence of extremes in:

  • Morphology (form) (e.g., Spinosaurus aegyptiacus)6
  • Anatomy (e.g., Supersaurus vivianae)7
  • Variation (e.g., Ceratopsian [horned-frilled] dinosaurs, such as Triceratops)8
  • Diversity (e.g., Compsognathus longipes; Giraffatitan brancai; Kentrosaurus aethiopicus).

Given those extremes, the fossil evidence that one would expect to explain their origins is also largely lacking. The biblical creation worldview readily accommodates these extremes, however. And, despite this considerable diversity, dinosaurs quite neatly fit the biblical concept of created kinds, or baramins. (There are currently thought to be about 55 dinosaur baramins.5)

Monuments of creation

The Crystal Palace was eventually lost in a large fire in 1936. But the fantastical ‘live’ dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park, with occasional restoration work, still proudly stand in the Park today.

Importantly, however, after a significant leap forward in knowledge, the message of modern dinosaurs has moved beyond the flawed, idealistic, and ultimately compromised message of Owen and Hawkins’ dinosaurs. It has become consistent with science and Scripture: Dinosaurs, like all the “beasts of the earth”, were created by God. They were originally part of the “very good” creation before the Fall (Genesis 1:31), their countless millions of remains buried and preserved by the cataclysmic Flood of Noah.

Posted on homepage: 27 November 2023

References and notes

  1. Owen, R., Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World, Crystal Palace Library and Bradbury and Evans, London, p. 7, 1854. Return to text.
  2. Lescaze, Z., Paleoart, Taschen, Cologne, p. 65, 2017. Return to text.
  3. Oard, M., Evolutionary troubles with the origin and demise of dinosaurs, J. Creation 25(2):8–9, 2011; creation.com/origin-demise-dinosaurs. Return to text.
  4. Bergman, J. and Snow, P., Dino-bird theory—a flight of fancy, J. Creation 29(1):17–24, 2015; creation.com/dino-bird-fancy. Return to text.
  5. Catchpoole, D., Dino ‘puberty blues’ for paleontologists, creation.com/dino-puberty-blues, 15 Jun 2010. Return to text.
  6. Thomas, B., Spinosaurus swam! How a swimming Spinosaurus fits Scripture, icr.org, 26 May 2020. Return to text.
  7. Clarey, T., Supersaurus-sized dinosaur no match for the Flood, icr.org, 6 Dec 2021. Return to text.
  8. Clarey, T., Horned dinosaurs created as one kind, icr.org, 21 May 2018. Return to text.

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