How does the Christian Bible explain or account for fossil evidence?
April 3, 2006 7:21 PM   Subscribe

How does the Christian Bible explain or account for fossil evidence of cavemen and dinosaurs? Was Adam a Neanderthal? Were there dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?
posted by robbie01 to Religion & Philosophy (37 answers total)
 
It doesn't.
posted by billysumday at 7:24 PM on April 3, 2006


Have you read the bible? That seems like a pretty good first step to answering this question.
posted by odinsdream at 7:29 PM on April 3, 2006


one explanation has Noah taking baby dinosaurs on the ark.
was this question prompted by last nights sopranos episode?

on preview: billysumday has a point. you asked about what the bible says, not what some christians say.
posted by jessica at 7:29 PM on April 3, 2006


The Bible was finished about two thousand years ago. Archaeology only started (in a systematic way) in about the 19th century. The Bible didn't need to explain or account for things that were not yet discovered.

Now, how does Christianity explain it? Here's a jumping-off point.
posted by heatherann at 7:31 PM on April 3, 2006


Afaik, dinosaur bones weren't really thought about much 2000-3500 years ago, so it can't really explain it.

It 'accounts' for it by saying God created earth. Therefore, he created the evidence of cavemen and dinosaurs.
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:33 PM on April 3, 2006


and here I thought I was being clever... damn
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:34 PM on April 3, 2006


billysumday has it exactly right

(and I've read it from cover to cover)
posted by unSane at 7:51 PM on April 3, 2006


I can't speak for the other branches of Christianity, and I'm no longer a religious person, but being raised Catholic and attending Catholic school all the way through high school, we were taught that the creation story was just that -- a story.

We were also taught evolution in science class -- in Catholic high school -- by teachers smart enough to respect belief but to not give in to any sort of conjecture or retcon of the bible to explain things that it most certainly cannot.

on preview: on preview: jessica is right about billysumday being right
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:10 PM on April 3, 2006


1. It doesn't.

2. No.

3. Two of each kind of dinosaur, assuming they were unclean animals, or seven pairs, if they were clean.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:13 PM on April 3, 2006


PS: Genesis 6-8 covers the animals.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:13 PM on April 3, 2006


Also, keep in mind that not all Christians are "young Earth" Christians. I'm an "old Earth" Christian.

I've read a fair amount about many of the arguments, and I won't get into a theological debate in this question (I'm new here, and I don't want too many people mad at me at first.) For me, since there is no mention of fossils or dinosaurs in the Bible, I just assume everything went as the scientists pieced it together. There's a great discourse about it called "A New Look at an Old Earth" on talkorigins.org. I don't know if you're having a specific debate with someone or if you're just geniuinely curious, but that would be a good place to do some reading.
posted by cebailey at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2006


I agree with pretty much everything posted above, and I've studied quite a bit about the intersections of science and religion.
posted by muddgirl at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2006


Dinosaurs: God's little joke.

Some believe that dinosaurs are Satan's ponies, the monsterous horses ridden by the rebelling angels as they were driven out of heaven. That is the operating assumption among one renegade synod of the Lutheran church.

Or, better yet, the variety of theories that people like cebailey espouse-- we don't know everything, but just because science and the Bible don't seem to agree on the surface does not mean that they are in conflict or mutually exclusive, since Christians are not at war with the non-Christian world.

If you discard the moonbats, I actually think this is what most Christians believe. And as a respectful agnostic, I actually find this the most reasonable position
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:45 PM on April 3, 2006


The Bible doesn't mention dinosaurs. Therefore, they didn't exist. The "dinosaur skeletons" you see in museums are the result of foolish scientists finding a toe bone and imagining what the rest of it "must have" looked like. They got it wrong, of course, being mere humans and thus not privy to the secrets of life, yet prideful enough to try.

At least, that's what I was told as a child.

Needless to say, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
posted by kindall at 8:55 PM on April 3, 2006


Another former Catholic here. I was told by the priests exactly what Robot Johnny was told: the creation story is not literal but rather a poem/metaphor about god, and that science tells us objective facts. In other words, as Catholics -- at least in my post-Vatican II experience -- there was no contradiction between the fossil record and the Bible.
posted by scody at 9:01 PM on April 3, 2006


How does the Christian Bible explain or account for fossil evidence of cavemen and dinosaurs? Was Adam a Neanderthal? Were there dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?

Note: the following is all from memory from when I was twelve-fifteen and read every Creation Science book I could get my hands on. So this information is about a decade out of date. Fair warning. That said . . .

Your standard New International Version or King James Version Bible makes no mention of either, except that some interpret the 'Leviathan' in Job (which according to supposed Biblical chronology is one of the older books) as being a reference to either a terrestrial or aquatic dinosaur.

Creation Science explains any evidence of cavemen as simply humans or apes with mildly abnormal physiology, depending on which the skeleton appears closer to.

As for dinosaurs on the ark - the Creation Science thinking on this point is that the dinosaurs were in the Ark - a baby or egg from each gender of each major species, but that there wasn't enough plant matter/prey to sustain them post-deluge.

As for dinosaur bones, the Creation Science explanation is that there was not yet significant erosion of topsoil on the mountain tops, or that the geography was significantly altered during the flood - thus the dinosaurs were buried in massive mudslides triggered by the torrential downpour. The rain came from a supposed 'water canopy' the existed only prior to the flood. The greenhouse effect of this water canopy made much of the Earth like Eden prior to the flood, and also blocked out significant amounts of ultraviolet radiation, etc. which was a contributing factor towards humans having a lifespan frequently in excess of seven hundred years, etc. The flood was a result of this thick 'water canopy' condensing. The excess water receded into the Earth because the continents were shifting during the Flood - this is why South America and Africa look like they fit together, etc.

Oh, and Adam was no Neanderthal because the world has only existed for five thousand years or so, therefore even if speciation were true (which it isn't, of course) there was never time for it to happen.

The Bible makes no mention of any of this (*cough*) this is just what 'Creation Scientists' have worked out on their own. And yes, there are multiple books advancing all of these theories and more in considerable detail. This all is what I was taught in science class in seventh grade at the private religious school I was sent to.

You've no idea what a pain in the ass it was unlearning this crap (and I used to know it in painstaking detail far beyond the Reader's Digest version I've given you) when I became an atheist at eighteen.
posted by Ryvar at 9:07 PM on April 3, 2006


I've always wanted them to find another version of Genesis which said "...and he I created a few dinosaur bones and buried them, just to freak people out".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:09 PM on April 3, 2006


My experience was the same as scody's and Robot Johnny's. But my sister once had a crazy substitute teacher who insisted that dinosaurs were put on earth by Satan to test our faith (like, the world is only 6,000 or so years old and dinosaurs are there to throw the non-believers off). Seriously. I don't know what religious background she had, but it can't have been Catholic.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 9:14 PM on April 3, 2006


I asked the same thing to my father (a former minister) as a child and he explained that in Genesis it stated that God created the animals and THEN created man. Although it says he created he world in six days and then rested on the seventh, how are we to know how long one of his days is? My dad said, "one of his days could be millions of years for us, long enough to create dinosaurs, let them rule the lands, destroy them, then create different kinds of animals that would work better for man."

Yeah... me and my Dad haven't spoke in about six years.
posted by Ugh at 9:15 PM on April 3, 2006


Ugh (the person, not the exclamation!) - that's a pretty common integration of the two view points. It is often hand-in-hand with the view that "evolution by natural selection is the tool used by God to create".
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 PM on April 3, 2006


Mu uncle thinks that the great flood caused massive pressure on newly dead animals (including dinosaurs), thus creating not only fossilization, but oil etc as well. This was all based on some anti-evolution book that used science loosely to attack it, as well as his own layman ideas. So, that's one way.

He also believes in a vast conspiracy by the media to discredit el-Busho and paint the Iraq war in a bad light. Not that the media doesn't, but hey, like you need a conspiracy to do that? lol.
posted by cellphone at 9:27 PM on April 3, 2006


From my understanding, in the Genesis account of creation, 7 days are used to indicate how long it took. When you read the (more) original hebrew, you can translate that to be "1 day" or "1 period of time, of an unspecified length". For all we know, 1 day could be a billion years. Or they could each be variable periods, either way, they represent a certain definate period pertaining to a certain phase of creation, origin of the solar system, the planet, the continents, plant life, sea life, etc. It doesn't explain cavemen or dinosaurs, because it doesn't have to. It's not meant to be a play-by-play of the minutia. It was written by people who would have had a hard time understanding the concepts of science, and an even harder time trying to explain it to the uneducated masses. It's written in a language they would understand with symbols that are easily accesible to even the smallest child. The rest is left to science.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:33 PM on April 3, 2006


What blue_beetle said. The Bible is a book of faith, not a book of science. I believe God can do anything he or she wants, and that includes billion year "days," species that live, adapt, and die, and using Darwinian evolution as a tool in creating life.
posted by lhauser at 10:19 PM on April 3, 2006


I was told something along the same lines as blue_beetle and something that takes the same approach as what Ryvar was told.

And then I realized that I didn't need all that and that I'd be okay with just science.
posted by acoutu at 11:36 PM on April 3, 2006


I once got into a "debate" with a Creationist who claimed that Dinosaurs were simply giant lizards (*sound of John Ostrom spinning in his grave*). He went so far as to state that Iguanadon eventually "mutated" (not evolved) into, you guessed it, iguanas. Just because of the name, I assume.
posted by brundlefly at 3:04 AM on April 4, 2006


Yeah, I don't have much time for literalists. The church I was raised in was pretty firm in the philosophy of religion rather than the dogmatism.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:30 AM on April 4, 2006


>What blue_beetle said. The Bible is a book of faith, not a book of science. I believe God can do anything he or she wants

Except not exist, of course.

The bible doesn't explain much in terms of the natural world. Its a series of religious texts written by people who knew much less about the natural world than most modern ten year olds. Of course, this obvious lack of information and insight doesnt stop believers from questioning too much, just tossing out what can not longer be assumed to be true, like the creation story. Modern catholicism under the pressure of the scientific record slowly dismissed creation and moved towards a "divine evolution" doctrine. This didnt happen internally with prophets and prayers guiding the way, but because education breeds skepticism.

See also: God of the Gaps
posted by skallas at 5:04 AM on April 4, 2006


How is Christianity going to cope with the statistically-inevitable discovery of life — particularly sentient life — on other planets? Pinnacle of God's creations, eh?
posted by Danelope at 5:52 AM on April 4, 2006


I was taught once that Dinosaurs were mentioned in the Bible in Job 40:15-24.
posted by banished at 6:18 AM on April 4, 2006


When you read the (more) original hebrew, you can translate that to be "1 day" or "1 period of time, of an unspecified length".

It is equally readable as "degrees of being" or somesuch, so each "day" is an increasingly developed plane of manifestation. In this reading, Creation didn't happen a long time ago, it is happening right now, all creation is emanating out of the Uncreated Source. Sort of a proto-Neoplatonic thing.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:34 AM on April 4, 2006


I wonder what the bible says about nuclear magnetic resonance, positron emission tomography, partial differential equations, microwave energy, electroluminescence, gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, quantum physics, superstrings, the cosmic background radiation, quantum electrodynamics, special relavity, vaccination, ad infinitum.

From what I can tell, it's not a manual for anything scientific. It's an allegorical composition of primarily illiterate writers with no relevance to scientific questions. None. Nada. Zilch.

One doesn't consult a chemistry book for answers to math questions. One doesn't consult Betty Crocker's cookbook for physics questions. Why the bible for archaeology?

For that matter, why consult the bible for anything, except to determine how our uneducated predecessors explained the inexplicable world around them? Unless, of course, you need the questionable support of the ignorant for fantastic explanations.

Living in a modern society has an implicit obligation to act intelligently. If you use the fruits of technology, like the microwave oven and penicillin, you already concur with the methods of science by default. It's what they call a Faustian bargain. Of course, you may wear a robe and eschew all aspects of modernity in deference to profound religious precepts for all I know. There are moral people who put their money where their mouth is and walk the walk, but these days, they are as scarce as intellectuals at Liberty University.

If you can't handle the conclusions, you aren't equipped or qualified to ask questions, nor is a reasonable person required to extend any credibility to positions based as on wishful thinking and magic.

How many dinosaurs on Noah's ark, indeed. Perhaps the Tooth Fairy can field that one.
posted by FauxScot at 7:22 AM on April 4, 2006


Afaik, dinosaur bones weren't really thought about much 2000-3500 years ago, so it can't really explain it.

Actually, this is not true at all. They didn't know they were dinosaurs, they thought they were the bones of giants and cyclopses and such mythical characters. There is mention of the time when "giants walked the Earth," this is referring to a past time when the mythological titans were on the prowl.

Genesis 6:4 - There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:00 AM on April 4, 2006


Pollomacho is right, there are historians who feel that the Greeks invented monsters like the griffin based on their interpretation of dinosaur fossils. Check out John Boardman's The Archaeology of Nostalgia: How the Greeks Re-Created Their Mythical Past for details. Adrienne Mayor also wrote a few general audience books on the topic.
posted by hyperizer at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2006


there are historians who feel that the Greeks invented monsters like the griffin based on their interpretation of dinosaur fossils.

I've always thought that idea was neat. From Wikipedia:

Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist, has made tentative connections, in Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, between the rich fossil beds around the Mediterranean and across the steppes to the Gobi Desert and the myths of griffins, centaurs and archaic giants originating in the classical world. Mayor draws upon striking similarities that exist between the Protoceratops skulls of the steppes leading to the Gobi Desert, and the legends of the gold-hoarding griffin told by nomadic Scythians of the region; among the artistic evidence, the 6th century Greek vase on the book's cover is incontrovertible. The size of that fossil skull may be the source of the claim that a griffin is eight times the size of a lion.
BTW, great link, banished. I love how they draw their conclusions based on this one phrase: "He moveth his tail like a cedar." Then they check elsewhere in the Bible to find out how big a cedar is. I guess the Bible is just an all-purpose reference.
posted by brundlefly at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2006


The bible says nothing about it, because the bible is exactly what it appears to be: a pile of peasant myth containing exactly the sort of beliefs and ignorant ravings one would expect.
posted by Decani at 5:09 PM on April 4, 2006


Even better, what did Noah do with all the fish? How did he store them all? (Anyone who has ever kept tropical fish - heck, any fish, knows that they wouldn't cope well in the turbulent silt thrown up by global flooding)
posted by tomble at 6:54 PM on April 4, 2006


I am kind of curious why you are asking the question.

1. If you are trying to reconcile the two, I think you should save some time and just come to terms with the fact that 'science' (testable conjecture based on observation of overwhelming evidence and controlled experimentation, which, as FauxScot alluded to above, is probably directly responsible for most of the quality-of-life you enjoy) is simply incompatible with (and is almost by definition, the antithesis of) 'faith.' It is probably obvious which I prefer. However, even if one person practices both, trying to connect the two is probably not going to lead down a useful path. You can theorize all you want that God made the dinosaurs on the second day and worked through natural selection, or whatever, and it still isn't science, because you can't test it. You have bridged nothing.

2. If you are trying to garner ammunition to help 'prove' the bible is wrong, you are also wasting your time. Anyone who has suspended their sense of logic and disbelief enough to accept the Bible, with its internal inconsistencies and outright absurdities, isn't even going to blink at a couple bones someone found in the ground.
posted by blenderfish at 10:12 PM on April 4, 2006


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