What about dinosaurs? Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs? It’s a question posed by believers and skeptics alike. The former in an attempt to better understand the God’s role in the world; The latter to challenge the Bible’s authority. It is also the opening question I raise in The Science Of God. Extensive beds of fossils record the rise and demise of these amazing animals. There were swimming dinosaurs, running dinosaurs, even a form of flying dinosaur. According to scientific data, they first appeared some 250 million years ago. About the same time, mammals make their first appearance in the fossil record. And then till 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and mammals co-existed, but on anything other than equal footing.
Dinosaurs ruled the roost, getting bigger and tougher, reaching sizes that rival today’s great blue whale. All the time mammals occupied much more modest ecological niches, never getting larger than a few kilograms. Then 65 million years ago, the rules of the game changed. What appears to have been a meteor some ten kilometers in diameter punched through our atmosphere, slamming into the earth’s surface at 30 kilometers a second. The resulting massive explosion appears to have formed a crater 150 kilometers in diameter off of southern Central America. Dust and debris thrown into the atmosphere shrouded the earth in a cloud that blocked incoming sunlight for half a year. Temperatures plummeted; photosynthesis all but stopped and all animals larger than about five kilograms disappeared from the fossil record. Mammals survived the ecological disaster. The large dinosaurs did not.
From a secular view – what luck for us; not so lucky for the dinos. From a theological view, God has stepped into re-direct the development of animal life. Dinosaurs were getting bigger, but they were not getting smarter. A vessel was needed that could eventually embrace the neshama – the soul of humanity – and dinosaurs were not heading in that direction. Perhaps mammals would.
Dinosaurs raise two basic theological questions.
First, 250 million years?? 65 million years?? I thought the Biblical calendar reaches to less than 6000 years. So from whence arise the millions of years? In my book, The Science Of God, I discuss in detail the age of the universe and the universal perception of time adopted by Genesis for the first six days, a view that sees the flow of events from the beginning, looking forward from a time when the universe (and in parallel time) was highly compressed. In essence, the 15 billion years of cosmic history compress into six 24 hour days, even as the hours remain 24 hours as we know them and the billions of years remain years. I bring the scientifically accepted concepts for this transformation of time in The Science of God.
The second question about dinosaurs relates to their rise and fall. This quandary is far more significant than mere arguments over the ages of rocks. It deals fundamentally with our perception of the Rock Of Ages. If God is omnipotent, able to create heaven and earth, surely God could have devised a world without the need to destroy part of that creation, in this case the dinosaurs, to keep it on line with some divine plan. Simply stated, does God control nature?
The answer to this question lies in the Biblical concept of evolution, or better stated, the Biblical concept of the development of life. For simplicity, I’ll focus on animal life but first let’s look at the Bible’s description of the inception of the first forms of life on earth. It holds a few surprises. Life appears first on day three ((Genesis 1:11), immediately after liquid water formed on earth (Gen. 1:10). This immediate conjunction of water and life had, for decades, evolutionary biologists rolling in the aisles with laughter. All life on earth is water based. No water, no life. Conventional wisdom was that billions of years passed in which random reactions changed rocks and water in living organisms. The laughter was swallowed when in the 1970′s Prof. E. Barghoorn and Stanley Tyler discovered micro-fossils of bacteria and algae in chert rocks (a form of silicon dioxide once considered an unlikely source of fossils) 3.6 billion years old, just after the time when oceans and dry land formed on earth. Genesis was correct all along. Life appeared very rapidly, not after billions of years.
But note that on day three, the word “creation” does not appear. The first life was not specially created. The universe was equipped for life from its inception. It was organization that was needed, organization that could produce the phenomenally intricate functioning of life’s genetic map: DNA, RNA, amino acids, the bio-chemical sources of energy ATP. How that organization occurred in a geological blink of an eye remains an enigma to the scientific community.
Day four passes (Gen. 1:14 – 19) with no further mention of life’s flow. The fossil record mirrors this hiatus. Life remains microscopic for three billion years, and then in a burst of animal forms, known as the Cambrian explosion, every basic animal body plan (the 34 animal phyla) extant today appeared in the fossil record. Animals with jointed bodies, limbs, eyes (with lenses), swarmed in the seas. There was not a hint of this impending proliferation in the underlying fossils. See day five (Gen. 1:20) for a similar description, and please refer to The Science Of God for a Biblical match in the timing of this event as well.
Torah devotes a mere seven sentences to the evolution of animal life (Gen. 1:20 – 26) and one of those sentences only states there was evening and there was morning day five. So we have six bits of information describing the entire flow of animal life starting with aquatic creatures and culminating in the symphony of life we call humanity. Somewhere within that chain of events the dinosaurs rise and fall.
Order Out of Chaos
Order out of chaos is a sequence rarely if ever achieved by random reactions, and stable order is never achieved unless that order is locked into place by the system itself. The six sentences reveal little of how this flow occurred. But the episodes following the six days provide insight into God’s method of earthly management.
God places Adam and Eve in Eden. They fail their test and are expelled. God could have stopped them from eating the forbidden fruit but chose not to. First Cain and then Abel brought offerings to God. God accepted Abel’s and rejected Cain’s and then tells Cain to control his emotions (Gen. 4:6). Immediately (the very next sentence) Cain murders Abel. God allowed Cain to murder Abel, and then exiles Cain as punishment. God could have stopped the murder but chose not to. Just ten generations after Adam, the world had become so degenerate and corrupt that the Bible tells us that God regretted having made mankind ( Gen. 6:7). In Biblical language, God has regrets! God could have re-directed the course of humanity much earlier but chose not to, allowing the situation to worsen till all hope was lost.
Following the flood, longevity gradually decreases from its pre-flood value of 900 years to the 90 or so years we know today. Clearly the 900 year life span for humans was a failed experiment. Ninety years seems to be working a bit better. Wasn’t it clear to God from the start that 900 years would not be an effective life span?
In the Book of Exodus, God is encouraging the Israelites in their planned conquest of Canaan. “And I will send the hornet before you to drive out [the enemy]. I will not drive them out in one year lest the land be desolate and the beasts of the field multiply against you” (Ex. 23:28, 29). What?? God can control the hornets but the beasts are a bit too strong for God to control? Of course not. God controls and releases control at will, according to divine plan, not necessarily according to our limited logic.
God creates and then develops the world over six days. Put yourself in the mindset, not of today, but of 3,000 years ago, in the era of the giving of the Torah on Sinai. At that ancient time, six days was not seen as too short a period for this Genesis, it was too long! Why should an infinite God require six days. Why not an instantaneous, ready-made universe? The message is that God works through nature and nature takes time. In the entire account of Genesis chapter one, the creation chapter, the only name of God used is Elokim. Elokim is the biblical name for God as made manifest in nature. Working through nature allows the world to appear natural, thus allowing human free will to follow or not to follow the Torah.
Isaiah describes what the act of creation is from a Godly view point: “I am the Eternal, there is nothing else. I form light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil …” (Isaiah 45:6.7). The source of all light creates darkness. How? By withdrawing some of the light. Similarly, the source of peace, harmony, creates evil by withdrawing some of the peace. The Biblical word, creation, implies a partial withdrawal of God’s overt infinite control. In Hebrew the concept is tsimtsum.
The creation described in Genesis 1:1 implies that God withdrew part of God’s undifferentiated unity and allowed physical complexity to appear: time, space, matter, the laws of nature. The creation of animals (Gen. 1:21) relates to the creation of the soul of animals, the nefesh in Hebrew, and gives animals the ability to choose, to learn how to manipulate a maze. The creation of Adam (Gen. 1:27) grants a further divine pull back, allowing us free will, the soul of humanity, the neshama in Hebrew.
God chose to give a leeway to the system. In this light the rise and fall of the dinosaurs becomes understandable in the divine scheme for life. Life, designed by Divine input, produced an array of animals, included therein were the dinosaurs. But their dominance was off the Divine course. In a manner reminiscent of the flood destroying the 900 year longevity gene pool and replacing it with 90 year life spans, the destruction of the dinosaurs opened space for mammals, and eventually humans, to thrive. All of these examples are of micro (not macro-) evolution, small changes in existing body plans.
Was God bound to allow dinosaurs to appear? Certainly not, but God chose to limit overt control to key junctures. Similarly God could control the beasts just as God controlled the hornets but chose not to. The divinely created laws of nature are adequate to set the path. Even when the path is being directed, usually the insertion of direct control is in a way that can be interpreted as natural. The option for free will is maintained.
Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory calls out for randomness to set the course of life’s development. Evolution, Bible style, also sees life develop from the simple (day three and day five) to the highly complex (humanity on day six), but realizes that in this world, random reactions are simply not up to accomplishing that task. Random reactions alone simply do not and can not produce stable order. That is the lesson of the laws of thermodynamics.
Questions and Answers
According to Genesis, the first life was created:
B. day 4
C. day 5
D. none of these options
Answer d, the word creation is not mentioned at the origin of life on day 3. The implication is that universe is made for life, built into the fabric of existence from the very the beginning.
The extinction of the dinosaurs is:
B. consistent with the Bible’s description of God’s management of the world
C. not consistent with the Bible’s description of God’s management of the world
Answer b. A parallel, though very many years later, would be God’s bringing the flood at the time of Noah to destroy the badness, and to change the world from one populated with persons able to live to 900 years to a world with persons living to 90 years. Please see my detailed discussion of this in “The Hidden Face Of God.”
Mammals appear in the fossil record:
B. long after dinosaurs
C. at about the same time as dinosaurs
Isaiah describes the act of creation as:
B. God partially withdrawing overt divine control of nature
C. God directly manipulating nature
Answer b, See Isaiah 45:6, 7 for this insight.
According to the fossil record, after the formation of liquid water on earth, the first life on earth appeared:
B. after billions of years of gradual evolution
Answer a. This discovery, only made in the mid-1970′s, has forced a complete change in the attempt to describe life’s beginnings by totally random processes.