I used to do temping work between contracts, and one of those temporary jobs was working for a local university doing data entry. The work was dull, but the office environment was fantastic, and was full of people that I really liked, and we had a grand time. One day, the girl (we’ll call her Jane) who sat next to me was listening to me talking about dinosaurs. She stared at me, incredulous, and said something that blew my mind. The conversation went something like this:
Jane: “So do you, like, really BELIEVE in dinosaurs then?”
Me: “Um, Jane, that’s kind of like asking me if I believe in cows.”
Jane: “Oh. I thought they were like dragons.”
Now, Jane was not a fundamentalist with religious motivations. She was simply uneducated about something that I thought was (or at least should be) common knowledge. And this isn’t the only time I’ve encountered this level of ignorance in real life.
I was once giving a bat talk and walk to a group of some 20 people, and as usual I began by talking about the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period giving rise to the Cenozoic – the age of mammals. I went on to explain the current thinking that bats had evolved from a tree-dwelling shrew-like creature, before developing flight. Later on, during the walk, one of the adult men (whom I knew to be a Jehovah’s Witness – make of that what you will) confronted me:
“You don’t really think bats evolved from voles do you?”
I reiterated what I had previously said about shrew-like creatures, and proceded to elaborate about early bats in the fossil record showing vestigial claws at their finger tips, a ‘missing link’ between bats and their early ancestors.
“There ARE no missing link fossils” he said.
“Archaeopteryx?” I said
“It’s a hoax.” He said.
“Um.. there are eleven of them.”
“They’re all hoaxes.”
“Okay, well I’m not paid to debate theology with you. I’m here to teach science, and if you don’t agree with me teaching science, then you shouldn’t come to a science event.” I replied.
Anyway, he proceeded to accost the other attendees of the event, pretended to be a ‘monkey’ to ‘prove’ that humans didn’t evolve from monkeys, all the usual claptrap, and generally ruined the evening for everyone. In his case, this person wasn’t someone who had never been taught the truth, like Jane. This man was aware, even, of what archaeopteryx was, but had rejected it due to religious doctrine.
[You see, I’ve always been crazy into dinosaurs. You can see above the remnants of my dinosaur paraphernalia. (I have whittled it down somewhat as I’m a grown-up now.) Dinosaurs were my first love. The photo at the top of the page is me in around 1997 on my first ever trip to the Natural History Museum, at which I was pretty much giddy.]
Just when I thought that I’d seen it all, the wonder of facebook made me aware of someone today whose ignorance beggars belief, and I’ve been seething with irritation all afternoon. (And you know me, irritation = blog post!) This little gem is Kristen Auclair of – wait for it – Christians Against Dinosaurs, a ‘grass roots movement with 12,000 members’. Now, I’m going to embed this video, but I’m not promising you’ll get through it.
Among this outspoken young woman’s claims (see her other video here) are that ‘science has only been around for maybe 10-15 years’ and that ‘a complete dinosaur has never been found’, and that ‘the parts they have are just fossils that have been put together in a way that looks like dinosaurs’. This is all, apparently, because of the ‘corruption and greed in the [billion dollar] palaeontology field. It’s not just the ignorance, but the smug self-satisfied attitude that grates on me. This girl is perpetuating a stereotype, and giving Christians a bad name.
She, like many people who seek to ‘debunk’ evolution, seem to be perfectly fine with science when it brings them electricity, medicine, broadband, cars, re-runs of ‘Friends’ and hair gel, but they reject the specific types of science that they don’t find personally beneficial. This type of cherry-picking gets my goat. The same scientific principles that cured polio are the foundation of evolutionary biology and palaeontology.
I’m not out to offend anyone. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter if I “Believe in dinosaurs” or not. They were (are) real. Fact. It blows my mind that people who are otherwise extremely intelligent can deny the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting the theory of evolution. (And yes, it is a theory – like everything else in science. That’s how science works: we find out more accurate information or make new discoveries and we continually build on our knowledge, peer-reviewing our findings and changing our textbooks to show our growth. That is how we come closer to truth with every new paper, study or discovery. Science is self-correcting.)
And, for the record, I’m not saying that evolution is proof of the absence of god(s). This post isn’t about that. Science tells us, by the way, that we can’t prove absence of something – we can only say if evidence supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis. I know plenty of people for whom Faith and Darwinism aren’t mutually exclusive. (They are for me, but that is not the issue.)
Anyway, I found something that calmed me down from my frenzy of irritation: Slowly, patiently and methodically, piece-by-piece, this wonderful soul talks to Kristen over the course of an hour, trying his best to educate and inform. This man has more patience than I will ever have. Ultimately, she remains firm in her misguided beliefs, but that’s the problem with dogma – you can’t use facts to talk people down from the ledge.
I’ll leave you with this thought though – next time you’re surrounded by people who are not from your tribe – take a leaf out of Bradbury’s book: Pack up your dinosaurs and leave.