Dinosaurs are new stars of creationism

Believers use popularity of lizard giants to reach families, win converts

September 03, 2005|By Ashley Powers | Ashley Powers,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CABAZON, Calif. - Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion. The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes whether dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, about 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark.

The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least a half-dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking converts to creationism. More are on the way.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25 million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that already is overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say kids are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of Jurassic Park.

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden, and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group that supports teaching evolution.

Tyrannosaurus rex and his gigantic brethren find themselves on both sides of the nation's renewed debate over Earth's origins and whether Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species or Genesis better explains the development of life.

Science holds that dinosaurs were Earth's royalty for about 160 million years. Their reign ended abruptly, possibly after a meteorite smacked into the planet, but they're considered the ancestors to birds.

Unearthing dinosaur bones that are millions of years old "doesn't prove evolution, but it shows the Genesis account doesn't work," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.

Drivers who pull off Interstate 10 in Pensacola, Fla., are told a far different story at Dinosaur Adventure Land: "Where Dinosaurs and the Bible meet!"

The nearly 7-acre museum, low-tech theme park and science center embodies its founder's belief that God created the world in six days.

The dinosaurs, even super-carnivores such as T. rex, dined as vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned - and only then did they feast on other creatures, according to the Christian-based young-Earth theory.

About 4,500 years after Adam and Eve arrived, the theory goes, pairs of baby dinosaurs huddled in Noah's Ark, and a colossal flood drowned the rest and scattered their fossils. The Ark-borne animals repopulated the planet - meaning that folk tales about fire-breathing beasts are accounts of humans battling dinosaurs, which still roamed the planet.

Kids romping through the $1.5-million Florida theme park can bounce on a "Long Neck Liftasaurus" swing seat, launch water balloons at a T. rex and a stegosaurus, and smooth their own sandbox-size Grand Canyons, whose formation is credited to the flood.

A "fossilized" pickle purports to show that dinosaur bones could have hardened quickly.

"Go to Disneyland; they teach evolution. It's subtle; signs that say, `Millions of years ago,'" said evangelist Kent Hovind, the park's founder. "This is a golden opportunity to get our point across."

Carl Baugh opened his Creation Evidence Museum in the 1980s near Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, where some people said fossilized dinosaur tracks and human footprints crisscrossed contemporaneously.

The Texas museum sponsors a continuing hunt for living pterodactyls in Papua New Guinea. Baugh said five colleagues have spotted the flying dinosaurs, "but all the sightings were made after dark, and we were not able to capture the creatures."

Advocates of the intelligent design theory, who assert that certain features of life are best explained by a creative intelligence, bristle at being lumped in with young-Earth creationists. There's little question that the Earth is billions of years old, said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle that is critical of Darwinian theory.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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