Friday, October 22, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Gishosaurs

I rarely deal with creationism outright on this blog, but I couldn't resist taking a look at today's entry in the Vintage Dinosaur Art series: Dinosaurs by Design by Duane T. Gish, illustrated by Earl and Bonita Snellenberger. The title was shared on Flickr by Michael Barton, who also covered it on his fanflippintastic blog The Dispersal of Darwin. When Michael ran across this title at a secondhand store in the midst of shopping for books for his young son, he did the world a favor by taking at least this one copy out of circulation.

'Dinosaurs by Design' by Duane T. Gish

The artwork itself isn't half bad, veering more towards the cartoonish end of the illustration spectrum. Dispensing with the work done during the first half of the dinosaur renaissance, the dinosaurs are all depicted as scaly, thoroughly reptilian creatures (unless you count birds as dinosaurs). As Gish's ideas are cartoons themselves, this approach is altogether fitting. For instance, the following page reveals the "deep, dark secret" that scientists don't have any pterosaur ancestors as evidence of evolution's wrongy-wrongness. The mascot of this is a sort of half-dinosaur, half-pterosaur bastard of a Wuzzle. I hesitate to use the word "guarantee," especially in a science like paleontology, but I guaran-damn-tee that the lineage leading to the pterosaurs didn't concoct anything like this Mesozoic straw man. Gish's house is probably populated by a great horde of straw men. He's probably never lonely.

'Dinosaurs by Design' by Duane T. Gish

Maybe we'll never find a nice lineage of proto-pterosaurs (if that sort of thing is your bag, I'll point you in the direction of Mr. Ed). This could be for many reasons. Maybe they evolved in upland areas where fossilization was rare. Who knows? No one ever will if we just stop looking. But rest assured that the theory of evolution does not rest on the thin hope of finding every extinct creature.

Next we have a dromaeosaur who, considering the fall of Man, has taken up carnivory. Interesting how one person's choice can lead to such widespread gustatory upheaval. Here, she munches on a gazelle bone as a Biblical version of Muldoon walks by in the background, unaware. Clever girl, indeed.
'Dinosaurs by Design' by Duane T. Gish

The book also deals with the Great Flood, AKA the Dinosaur Killer. The geological evidence against this doesn't simply make more sense. It's laughably overwhelming. It's like arguing that beef makes a better burger than cabbage. The flood is a perfect example of an idea that's so wrong it's not even wrong. Mind you, the foundations of the modern science of geology were laid by scientists who were firm Christians. This isn't some atheist fairy tale; it's a body of knowledge built by rigorous minds impartially weighing and arguing the evidence. In this way, science forges robust theories of how nature works. People aren't perfect, so science can't be, either. But it's a remarkably dextrous way of describing the world, constantly open to revision to fit observations made possible by new technology. The constant back and forth of science, cherry-picked by creationists as evidence of discord or corruption is a strength of science, not a weakness.
'Dinosaurs by Design' by Duane T. Gish

'Dinosaurs by Design' by Duane T. Gish

I hope you're prepared for the next one, because it is absolutely freakin' awesome. Last year's Discovery Channel series Clash of the Dinosaurs briefly discusses the unsupported idea that lambeosaurine hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus might have used subsonic waves to deter predators. A wild hypothesis, to be sure, but nothing compared to Gish's flame-throwing Parasaurolophus.

'Dinosaurs by Design' by Duane T. Gish

Gish gussies it up with sciency phrases like "defense mechanism," and compares this to the chemical weaponry of bombardier beetles. Full speed ahead and damn plausibility! Gish writes:
God has given many animals living today very specialized and effective defense capabilities that have nothing to do with teeth or claws. If the fossil skeletons of a skunk, porcupine, or electric eel were dug up by a scientist who had never seen a living animal, would he have any idea that these animals had unique defense mechanisms?
Ah, yes. Parasaurolophus breathed fire because... there's no evidence for it. How else are we to read this? Parsimony, Duane.*

Gish is the master of a debating tactic which has come to be known by his name: the Gish Gallop. Using this technique, creationist debaters spit out such a flurry of nonsense mixed with jargony words and Biblical references that the opponent realizes that it's an impossible task to answer them all, and thus appears to be hammered by truth. The reason this works is that science wears restraints that creationism doesn't: facts. Science can't just adhere to attractive ideas. It has to examine them critically and build a body of knowledge out of repeatable observations and logical deductions. It's not perfect, but science holds itself accountable. The creationist isn't so shackled.

This is how ideas like the fire-breathing Parasaurolophus pop up. Creationist debaters know that science delivers the goods, and has earned, generally speaking, a good reputation. Thus, as they attempt to derail science, they try to sound as much like it as possible. If you're going to say that Leviathan was a dinosaur, fine. Just say it was T. rex, the one your audience is guaranteed to know about, and be done with it. It's just as likely as Parasaurolophus, whose nasal ornamentation offers no additional support for such an absurd "defense mechanism."

In other words, admit that you've made a choice to set aside a scientific worldview (less charitably, to believe in magic) and stop forcing dinosaurs to play this ridiculous role of shoring up your mythology.


* Regarding porcupines: in the right conditions, it is fully plausible that porcupine quills would be recorded in the fossil record, which we know is so much more than bones and claws. Advances in technology have opened up all kinds of exciting new avenues of inquiry. Granted, this book was written before the avalanche of feathered dinosaurs came out of China - you know, those supposedly imaginary "transitional forms" between small theropods and birds.

Update: Check out the comments below to links for the Stupid Dinosaur Lies posts on this title and others. Also added excerpt from the book on Michael Barton's kind suggestion.


  1. Hey! I did a rebuttal of this on my Stupid Dinosaur Lies site along with the older version of this called Dinosaurs Those Terrible Lizards which is the earlier version than the latter! Why don't you update your link section and include a link to my site? It'll be a swell boost to my traffic I get on my site and a full scale rebuttal to this idiot book.

    Here's my URL

    and here's my rebuttal to Gish's own gallop!

    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3
    Part 4
    Part 5

  2. David, your rebuttal is a fanflippintastic as Michael's blog.

    This post is pure gold.

  3. Harp - I've added it to the links. I used to have it, but when the feed went dead it got pruned out.

    Glendon - Thanks! It was a joy to dig into this stuff.

  4. It's hard to know how to respond to this type of nonsense. It is tempting to dismiss everything as beneath notice, but unfortunately there are still people out there who are determined not only to believe it themselves but to indoctrinate others into their fantasies.

    It just feels ridiculous to be arguing these things seriously. "The ark was how big? How many creatures were on it? How much food did they take? How big an asshole is a God who would do such a thing in the first place, and why would you want to worship him?". It feels like arguing with a three-year-old. But, unfortunately, it is the children we need to reach - adults who believe this are likely beyond help.

  5. Sadly, I also just came across a book about dinosaurs for kids by Ken Ham (of the Creation Museum) that was released in September of 2009.

    I don't like this "trojan horse" method of promoting a creationist/anti-evolution message to kids....there should be a warning sticker on these books like the parental warnings on adult music.

  6. Scott - Yeah, I really do think it comes down to a choice people make. Children are definitely where to train our attention. And it's not about brainwashing, despite what the more loony fundamentalists might say. It's about putting the tools of scientific inquiry into their hands with responsible adult guidance... and letting their natural curiosity lead them to the satisfactions of solving problems on their own. That's why I have a mega-crush on the Donors Choose project.

  7. I agree, David, the key is to put the tools into their hands as early as possible. If you went to an adult who had never been exposed to creationism and started telling them about arks and burning bushes and Jesus Ponies, they would laugh in your face.

    But, if the adult grew up in an environment where, for as long as they can remember, other adults took this nonsense seriously - then the BS detector is circumvented. If they are taught to accept these fables at a time before their critical thinking faculty has been developed, then it is much easier to just go with what they are being told.

  8. This is the kind of thing that is just so so very very wrong that you have to laugh. And then weep for the children.

    "If you asked an evolutionist to describe from what dinosaurs evolved, he wouldn't know how to answer."

    That "sentence" made my eyes bleed.

    I am kind of in love with the illustration of "Parasaurolophus used Flamethrower - it's SUPER EFFECTIVE!!!" I want to use it as an avatar everywhere. (And it somehow doesn't bother the author that the Leviathan is supposed to be a *sea* monster described as too big for puny humans to deal with.)

    Freakin' dinosaurs, how the hell do they work? XD

  9. Is Gish the origin of the dinosaur on the ark image? I have one of Ham's books from the nineties and I know it's a big part of his museum. I've read some books by ark hunters (they call themselves ark-eologists) from at least the eighties that push the idea. And I remember a film from Morris's Institute for Creation Research back in the seventies that used it. Gish was long employed by Morris, so I guess my question is: did Gish get the idea from Morris, did Morris get the idea from Gish, or is it older than both of them?

  10. John - They aren't the first. It's something I really want to dig into, but in a quick initial search, I've found reference to an E. Boyd Smith book from 1906ish which features dinosaurs on the ark. Here's a link.

  11. The whole dinosaurs on the Ark thing has always read like an Onion article. It's so hard to believe anyone takes it seriously.

    The ark story is a nice fable, creating science around 'flood geology' is like arguing about what kind of bread (rye or pumpernickel?) Hansel and Gretal used for their trail. And then trying to find the exact location of the witch's candy house.

  12. ^ Ffft! Everyone knows Hansel and Gretel actually used millet seeds. And the birds that ate them were Passer montanus.


  13. Dude, get with the times! A prominent team of Noah's Arkeologists has already discovered the ark!

    It's wood, it's on a mountain - quid erat demonstratum, dude! Quid ararat demonstratum.

    Just a single dino turd in the remains and the Jesus Ponies don't look so ridiculous, do they?

  14. Begging for popular culture thrashing of the tongue in cheek kind!
    I hope that books like this drive some people to say "REALLY?!? That sounds weird, I might look it up myself!"

  15. The more I think about this book (I will admit, it has kind of blown my mind), the more I secretly wish it had a "This is what some people actually believe" disclaimer running along the bottom a la "South Park"...

  16. you atheists are so sad, believing you evolved from a rock that evolved from nothing!! now you sit there posting sad little comments that scoff against God instead of researching the truth!!! idiots

  17. Thank you for the comment, Jude. I'd like to know more about what you think of the content of this post, too. It also should be noted that not all people who see through the flimsiness of Creationism are atheists. Regardless of our position on the existence of a god, our research, and the hard work of generations of scientists, has let us to conclude that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. If you are interested in learning why evolution is so heavily accepted, I'd encourage you to read the excellent guide at NCSE (

  18. Jude, here's a question for you. According to Genesis, God tells Noah to take seven pairs of "clean" animals onto the Ark, and one pair of "unclean" animals. But why did God say that when it was centuries before God gave the Jewish people the rules about clean and unclean animals? As a matter of fact, if you read closely, Genesis has two conflicting versions of God's instructions regarding how many animals to take. Oh, and BTW, at the BAPTIST institution where I received my bachelor's degree, evolution was taught in biology classes, just as they should be. I bet some of those professors would be surprised to be called "atheists".

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  20. Ahaha, this is a blast from the past! I grew up a young earth creationist, and I read this book all the time as a kid! The thing that sticks out to me most nowadays though is that it was inexcusably misleading with regards to saurischian dinosaurs. Because of this book, I literally did not realize until a month ago that maniraptorans had bird-like, something which the book conveniently forgets to mention when it proclaims that the lizard-like hips of saurischians means that they couldn't possibly be the ancestors of birds.


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