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Dinosaur deniers

DinoBayreuthPhoneresizedWeb.JPGDid dinosaurs really exist? Geologist and science writer Nina Morgan examines the evidence

"I'm really concerned about dinosaurs, and I think something needs to be done", pleaded  ‘CADMinistry’, an anguished parent, writing in 2015 on the popular parenting website Mumsnet. "The science behind them is pretty flimsy and I for one do not want my children being taught lies... Nothing about dinosaurs is suitable for children, from their total lack of family values through to their non-existence from any serious scientific point of view. Any proper look at the facts will reveal that dinosaurs simply never existed...  I used to believe in dinosaurs. We all did. We were all raised on the dinosaur lie, and so we don't question it. I'm used to getting amused reactions at first, and then I'm equally used to people learning a bit about the facts themselves and coming to the obvious realisation that they've been fed a fraud." 

Left: A dinosaur spotted in Bayreuth, Germany.  Photo: Ted Nield

A fraud, it is implied on the official CAD website, perpetrated by 'Big Paleo' [sic!] in order to undermine the Christian faith and to make millions by creating fake fossils.

CADMinistry's impassioned post, which attracted around 1000 comments, ends with the plea: "Please, do what you can to get dinosaurs taken off the curriculum," and notes that dinosaurs set a very bad example for children. 

A comment from ‘Polyesterslacks’ on the same website goes on (just possibly with tongue in cheek?) to point out the dangers:

"You know that dinosaurs are just a gateway to the harder stuff... One day your children are watching Walking With Dinosaurs then suddenly they're onto the hard stuff and reading The Origin of Species. Dinosaurs, just say no!"

A grain of truth

Rubbish?  Well, not entirely.  ‘CADMinistry’ also claims that that nobody had even heard of dinosaurs before the 1800s. Perhaps they have a point. It wasn't until 1824 that William Buckland [1784 – 1856] the first Reader in Geology at Oxford University, provided the first scientific description of a dinosaur in his Notice about Megalosaurus published in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London.

Gideon Mantell [1790 – 1852] followed in 1825 with his Notice on the Iguanodon, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. And it wasn't until 1842 that Richard Owen [1804 – 1892] coined the term 'dinosaur', after recognising that Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosuarus, shared a number of distinctive features and thus, in his mind, represented a distinct taxonomic group.

‘CADMinistry’s scepticism about evolution is also not entirely out of line with Owen's own thinking.  Many early geologists were, in effect, Creationists. Buckland, Mantell and Owen were among the numerous geologists and palaeontologists who found the idea of evolution hard to swallow. In an article discussing a talk given by Owen at the 1841 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting outlining his work on British fossil reptiles, the Literary Gazette of 14 August 1841 noted that: "Owen's grand conclusion, so essential to science and our knowledge of creation is that there was no graduation of one form into another ... each were distinct instances of Creative Power, living proofs of a Divine will and the works of a Divine hand ever superintending and ruling the existence of our world."

Truth or Lies?

Some modern bloggers, including the geologist Dr Donald Prothero, have suggested that ‘CADMinistry’ and the accompanying website, Christians Against Dinosaurs, might be a hoax.  But before you write ‘CADMinistry’ off completely, just consider: when was the last time you ever saw a real, live dinosaur? I rest my case ... No fooling!  Happy April everybody.


Sources for this vignette include: an article by Alice Roberts about fake fossils available from Website; Comments by CADMinistry on; Website; William Buckland, Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield, Trans. Geol. Soc. Lond.  1 (2): 390–396, 1824; Gideon Mantell, Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile, from the sandstone of Tilgate forest, in Sussex. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. 115: 179–186, 1825; pages 140 – 141 in The Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury, ISBN 9781857029635; and a blog by Donald Prothero available at Website

* Nina Morgan is a geologist and science writer based near Oxford.  Her latest book, The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, is available via Gravestone Geology