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Don Stewart :: What Are Dinosaurs?

Don Stewart
One of the most often-asked questions about Genesis concerns the existence of dinosaurs and how they fit into the Biblical record. Though we know that dinosaurs once roamed our planet there are many unsolved mysteries regarding these creatures. What did they look like? What does the fossil evidence tell us? Have human beings ever seen dinosaurs? Do any dinosaurs still exist? Does the Bible have anything to say on this subject?

What Are Dinosaurs?

The word dinosaur refers to reptiles that once roamed the planet. The word dinosaur means terrible lizard. Therefore it technically speaks of those creatures who lived on the land, not in the sea.

Distinct From Other Reptiles

Dinosaurs are distinct from modern-day reptiles by the position of their limbs. Dinosaurs had a fully erect posture - the limbs of their body supported them from beneath. Thus dinosaurs walked like a horse with their limbs beneath them. This allowed them to walk upright like other mammals. Most modern day reptiles, such as alligators, have limbs that project from the side. They do not walk like horses, cows, or the dinosaurs.

Range In Size

Dinosaurs ranged greatly in size. The largest dinosaur weighed as much as eighty tons and stood seventy feet in length. The smallest ones were less in size than a chicken.

History

The modern history of the study of dinosaurs takes us back only a few centuries. In 1677, when the first bones were discovered, they were so big that they were thought to belong to a giant elephant. The first name given to them was Scrotum humanum. The name dinosaur did not come into existence until two centuries later.

Discovery In England

In 1822 Mary Anne Mantell went for a walk along a country road in Sussex, England. As the story goes she found a stone that glittered in the sunlight. The stone was taken home to her husband who was a fossil collector. Dr. Mantell found the stone contained a tooth that was similar to that of modern reptiles. However, this tooth was much larger than that of any living reptile. He concluded that it belonged to some extinct plant-eating reptile with teeth like an iguana's. Dr. Mantell is usually given the credit as the person who began to popularize the age of reptiles. Shortly after this discovery the famous British paleontologist, Sir Richard Owen, coined the term dinosaur, or terrible lizard, to refer to these ancient reptiles that once roamed the planet.

Bones Of Contention

The fact that dinosaurs existed is beyond dispute. The information that we have regarding dinosaurs comes from fossils. Fossils are ancient dead plants and animals or something that was left by them. Entire fossil skeletons of these giant creatures have been unearthed. Though the fact of their existence is undeniable, the time in which they lived and the way in which they became extinct is a matter of much controversy.

Reconstruction's

While the skeletal remains of dinosaurs have been preserved in rocks, it is not always easy to make an accurate reconstruction of these animals. The putting together of dinosaur bones is not an easy process. Often the reconstruction's made are from a single leg, bone or tooth which could be badly damaged. There is also the possibility that bones from one dinosaur were mixed in with those from another. This adds to the confusion of reconstructing these creatures. The conclusion is as much guesswork as it is fact.

Only 40% Known

Even if all the bones were found, there would be only about 40% of the animal left to tell scientists what they originally looked like. We cannot tell the color of the animal or if it were a vegetarian or a meat eater. The presence of sharp teeth tells us only that the food was ripped, not what food was ripped. Therefore many of the conclusions of scientists are guesses with respect as to how the dinosaurs lived and behaved. Consequently we must be careful about accepting too quickly the artists reconstruction's of these creatures. No picture in any book on dinosaurs is exactly right as to their color, shape, and size.

Wrong Body Wrong Head

One of the most curious stories regarding the reconstruction of dinosaurs is that of the Brontosaurus - probably the most famous of all the dinosaurs. The Brontosaurus was reconstructed when a dinosaur head was placed together with a dinosaur body. The problem with that reconstruction is that the head and body were found three or four miles apart. Dr. O. C. Marsh, the man who made the original discovery of the head and the body, never reported they were found apart. He put the two together and named his discovery the Brontosaurus. It has since been discovered that the wrong head was placed with the wrong body. The skeleton actually belonged to one creature - a type of Diploducus while the skull was from another dinosaur - an Apatosaurus. The Brontosaurus never existed! Though millions have seen and heard of the Brontosaurus and though its picture has been in every book on dinosaurs and every museum that reconstructs dinosaurs, this creature did not exist!

When Did They Exist?

A key question with respect to dinosaurs concerns when they lived. The general consensus from modern evolutionary science is that dinosaurs ruled the earth for 140 million years and then died out, for some unknown reason, 65 million years ago.

Summary

With respect to dinosaurs there are several observations that we can make.

1.Dinosaurs, or terrible lizards are reptiles. They are distinct from modern day reptiles in that they walked with their limbs supporting them.

2.Evidence from paleontology makes it clear that dinosaurs did once exist on our planet. They ranged in size from smaller than a chicken to eighty tons.

3.The term dinosaur is a relatively new, coined in the 19th century.

4.Though we know that dinosaurs did exist, there is much still unknown about how they looked. The episode of the Brontosaurus shows the problems that are involved with any dinosaur identification.

5.Modern evolutionary theory holds that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Before their demise they roamed the earth for 140 million years.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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