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What Happened to the Dinosaurs?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Kyle Butt, M.A.

Where did the dinosaurs go? This question has stumped the scientific community for decades. The question is extremely difficult because it appears that most dinosaurs (whose bones fossilized) died out in a sudden, catastrophic event. In The Scientific American Book of Dinosaurs, Walter Alvarez and Frank Asaro wrote: “About 65 million years ago, something killed half of all the life on the Earth. This sensational crime wiped out the dinosaurs” (2000, p. 346). Dewey McLean suggested: “Sixty-five million years ago, some phenomenon triggered mass extinctions on the lands and in the oceans so profound that they define the geological boundary between the older Mesozoic Era, often called the ‘Age of Reptiles,’ and the modern Cenozoic Era, the ‘Age of Mammals’.... This mass extinction is usually referred to as the K-T extinctions” (1995, emp. added). [NOTE: Though we completely disagree with the millions-of-years timeframe suggested by Alvarez, Asaro, McLean, and others, we include their quotes simply to show that most scientists admit that a major catastrophe killed many dinosaurs in the past. We also disagree that this catastrophe caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, due to the fact that evidence is available which verifies that dinosaurs lived with humans after the “phenomenon” in question (see Butt and Lyons, 2008; see also Lyons, 2007).]

The perplexing mass destruction of the majority of dinosaurs remains “one of the greatest mysteries in all science” (McLean, 1995). A host of theories attempt to explain the extinction of dinosaurs. In his book Walking with Dinosaurs, Tim Haines noted: “There have been over 80 theories suggested to explain the demise of the dinosaurs. These include plague, constipation, mammals eating their eggs, racial senility, a nearby explosion of a supernova, and being hunted by aliens” (1999, p. 281). Dr. David Norman, one-time head of Paleontology at the Nature Conservancy Council, similarly mentioned several theories in his book on dinosaurs (1991, pp. 147-159). He called one of the theories “racial senescence” or “world-weariness.” He explained that this theory suggests that dinosaurs simply had lived long enough and it was time for them to “slump into decline” and disappear. Dr. Norman then listed several other alleged causes of dinosaur extinction: slipped disc in the backbone; hormonal disorders; too much body heat; “malformations of their bone during growth; or progressive diminishing brain size resulting in death through stupidity and inability to cope with change” (p. 147). Norman continued to list theories such as massive disease, parasite infestation, overcrowding, overkill by carnivores, and a rather odd idea that caterpillars evolved at a rapid rate, stripped the leaves off trees and depleted the food supply. Norman then listed “catastrophic” theories, such as a huge comet striking the Earth and poisoning the dinosaurs because of a large amount of cyanide contained in the comet’s nose, or massive volcanic activity caused by depletion of the ozone layer (pp. 149-150). Norman also mentioned one scientist’s theory that dinosaurs were blinded by monstrous cataracts caused by overexposure to ultraviolet light (p. 150).

Generally speaking, the most popularly held evolutionary view of dinosaur extinction was put forth by Luis and Walter Alvarez. In an essay co-authored with Frank Asaro, Walter Alvarez suggested that a huge, six-mile-wide asteroid crashed into the Earth and caused catastrophic, global devastation. He and Asaro wrote: “A 6-mile-diameter asteroid moving at more than 22,000 miles an hour would ram a huge hole in the atmosphere. When it hit the ground, its kinetic energy would be converted to heat in a nonnuclear explosion 10,000 times as strong as the total world arsenal of nuclear weapons (2000, p. 350). The authors detailed many of the suggested effects of such a huge explosion. They noted that such an explosion would send enormous amounts of dust and water vapor into the atmosphere. This atmospheric contamination would result in virtually total darkness for months, and “[f]ood chains everywhere would collapse. The darkness would also produce extremely cold temperatures, a condition termed ‘impact winter’” (p. 351). After this “impact winter,” it is proposed that greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide caused “a subsequent period of extreme heat” that would have killed many of the dinosaurs that lived through the extreme cold” (p. 351). Add to that the heavy acid rain possibly caused by the impact, plus the idea that more asteroids may have hit the Earth, and the devastation becomes almost indescribable. In their concluding remarks, Alvarez and Asaro stated: “As detectives attempting to unravel this 65-million-year-old mystery, we find ourselves pausing from time to time to reflect that we owe our very existence as thinking beings to the impact that destroyed the dinosaurs” (p. 357).

Perhaps the second most popular evolutionary theory for dinosaur extinction is the volcano-greenhouse theory. This theory, proposed by Dewey McLean, suggests that extensive volcanic activity, focused in an area known as the Deccan Traps in India, brought about the end of the dinosaurs. The extent of volcanic activity was so great that lava flows supposedly covered the Deccan Traps area for an estimated 2.6 million square kilometers. Today, the area is still covered by about 500,000 square kilometers of lava flows. In some places, the flows are a mile and a half thick (McLean, 1995). The massive volcanic activity supposedly introduced huge amounts of water vapor and carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. These greenhouse gasses allegedly trapped heat from the Sun, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to heat up. According to McLean, the intense heat generated by the greenhouse gas caused “environmental heat-induced reduction of blood flow to the uterine tract, that damages and kills embryos within their mothers” (1995). Basically, the Earth got so hot that the reptiles could no longer reproduce. Still, concerning the battling volcano-greenhouse theory and asteroid impact theory, McLean stated: “Today, after more than 20 years of often rancorous public debate, and intense efforts by scientists who have collected a huge geobiological data base, neither theory has emerged as victorous (sic).... For now, each theory remains but a theoretical framework for future research” (1995).

The problem with all such theories is that they fall short of adequately explaining all the data. For example, no one knows why the effects of an asteroid striking the Earth would kill every dinosaur but leave many other forms of life unharmed. Why did the asteroid not kill other reptiles such as turtles and alligators? What’s more, nothing in the fossil record supports the death of all dinosaurs at once. Though many dinosaurs are found in fossil “graveyards” throughout the world, the evidence also shows that some lived at a later time. Evolutionist Tim Haines admitted: “No single doomsday theory fits all the evidence...” (1999, p. 281). Haines is only partially right, however; no theory based on false, evolutionary assumptions fits all data. The asteroid impact theory, volcano-greenhouse theory, caterpillar theory, constipation theory, etc., cannot explain why the reptilian dinosaurs died, but crocodiles, turtles, and other reptiles lived. They cannot account for the fact that sharks and other marine fish and reptiles survived the event, but marine reptiles such as Plesiosaurs died. As Norman noted: “The curious nature of this mass extinction is not only that it was widespread in groups that it affected, but it was also selective” (1991, p. 147). Norman’s term “curious” simply means that no prevalent evolutionary theory explains it.

THE GLOBAL FLOOD

One theory pertaining to dinosaur extinction fits the available data better than any other proposed explanation: the global Flood of Noah’s day. Since one of the major facts of dinosaur destruction is that most major dinosaur fossil graveyards were caused by huge amounts of water, the theory that most dinosaurs died during the worldwide Flood is the best explanation for the mass destruction of dinosaurs.

Graveyards Associated with Flooding

The Dinosaur National Monument fossil quarry is one of the largest fossil repositories in the world, where over 1,600 fossilized dinosaur bones are buried (“Dinosaur National Monument,” 2004). Built around the major rock face that contains the fossils is a museum, which offers interesting information about the early discovery of the site in 1909. Like almost every federally funded dinosaur exhibit, the Dinosaur National Monument also propagates the standard evolutionary refrain that the dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. One intriguing thing about this monument is its explanation regarding the cause of its huge fossil graveyard. The wall opposite the rock face contains a large painted mural. This mural shows various dinosaurs wading through deep water. Under the mural, a placard reads: “After a seasonal flood: This scene of 145 million years ago is based on clues found in the rock face behind you. Carcasses brought downstream by the fast-moving, muddy water were washed onto a sandbar. Some were buried completely by tons of sand—their bones preserved in a nearly perfect state” (emp. added).

Interesting, is it not, that such a huge fossil graveyard is said to have occurred because of a “seasonal flood”? Further research has shown that many fossil finds are explained using a seasonal, regional, or flash-flood scenario. In November 1999, University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno uncovered a 65-foot-long dinosaur called Jabaria. This skeleton was almost 95% complete. What was the explanation for its burial? “It looks as though the dinosaurs may have been caught in an ancient flash flood and buried quickly” (“Dinosaur Articles...,” 1999, emp. added). Robert Sanders, in an article copyrighted by the University of California, described a huge pterosaur graveyard by noting: “The fossil bones were found strewn throughout an ancient flood deposit in Chile’s Atacama desert, suggesting that they were animals or corpses caught up in a flood perhaps 110 million years ago at the beginning of the Cretaceous period” (1995, emp. added).

A BBC article discussing the series “Walking with Dinosaurs,” explains that much of the information for the first episode of the series came from a fossil find called the Ghost Ranch, located near Abaquiu, New Mexico. The article describes this site as one of the richest fossil finds in the world. Why were so many dinosaurs buried suddenly? “Palaeontologists believe that the collection of fossils was the result of a mass death around a dwindling water resource during a drought. Before the bodies of the animals were eaten by scavengers, a flash flood buried them in muddy sediments where they were preserved” (“Dig Deeper,” n.d., emp. added).

In the Fall of 2007, a massive fossil bed was uncovered in an area known as Lo Hueco, in Spain. The fossil bed contained at least 8,000 fossils, and bones from an estimated 100 Titanosauruses as well as several other dinosaur species (Catan, 2007). What caused such massive burial? Fernando Escasco, a paleontologist at Cuenca’s science museum, said that the animals were probably washed into the fossil bed by “heavy flooding” (De Elvira, 2007, emp. added).

The Global Flood of Noah’s Day

How interesting to learn that evolutionists explain many of the largest dinosaur graveyards in the world as having been caused by a flood (though they are quick to include words such as “seasonal,” “flash,” “regional,” and the like). It is important to recognize that any other theory of massive dinosaur destruction besides the global Flood of Noah’s day, must still somehow propose that great amounts of water directly caused many of the dinosaur graveyards around the world. In truth, the global Flood of Noah’s day (as recorded in Genesis 6-8) provides an excellent explanation for many (if not all) such graveyards around the world. The Bible explains that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11-12). Furthermore, “all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered” (Genesis 7:19, emp. added). During that year-long Flood, countless thousands of dinosaurs would have drowned and been buried quickly in muddy deposits around the world. It is reasonable to conclude that these dinosaur burial grounds became the well-known fossilized graveyards scientists have discovered around the world.

HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE FLOOD

Aside from biblical testimony of a catastrophic worldwide flood, historical evidence also exists. Similar to the ubiquitous nature of dragon legends, anthropologists who study legends and folktales from different geographical locations and cultures consistently have reported Noahic-like flood stories. Legends have surfaced in hundreds of cultures throughout the world that tell of a huge, calamitous flood that destroyed most of mankind, and that was survived by only a few individuals and animals. Although most historians who have studied this matter estimate that these legends number above 200, according to evolutionary geologist Robert Schoch, “Noah is but one tale in a worldwide collection of at least 500 flood myths, which are the most widespread of all ancient myths and therefore can be considered among the oldest” (2003, p. 249, emp. added). Schoch went on to observe: “Narratives of a massive inundation are found all over the world.... Stories of a great deluge are found on every inhabited continent and among a great many different language and culture groups” (pp. 103,249).

Over a century ago, Canadian geologist Sir William Dawson wrote about how the record of the Flood “is preserved in some of the oldest historical documents of several distinct races of men, and is indirectly corroborated by the whole tenor of the early history of most of the civilized races” (1895, pp. 4ff.). Legends have been reported from nations such as China, Babylon, Mexico, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Persia, India, Norway, Wales, Ireland, Indonesia, Romania, etc.—composing a list that could go on for many pages (see Perloff, 1999, p. 167). Although the vast number of such legends is surprising, the uniformity of much of their content is equally amazing. James Perloff noted:

In 95 percent of the more than two hundred flood legends, the flood was worldwide; in 88 percent, a certain family was favored; in 70 percent, survival was by means of a boat; in 67 percent, animals were also saved; in 66 percent, the flood was due to the wickedness of man; in 66 percent, the survivors had been forewarned; in 57 percent, they ended up on a mountain; in 35 percent, birds were sent out from the boat; and in 9 percent, exactly eight people were spared (p. 168).

What is the significance of the various flood legends? The answer is obvious: (1) we have well over 200 flood legends that tell of a great flood (and possibly more than 500—Schoch, p. 249); (2) many of the legends come from different ages and civilizations that could not possibly have copied similar legends; (3) the legends were recorded long before any missionaries arrived to relate the Genesis account of Noah. The reasonable conclusion is that in the distant past, a colossal flood forever affected the history of all civilizations. As Dawson noted more than a century ago: “[W]e know now that the Deluge of Noah is not mere myth or fancy of primitive man or solely a doctrine of the Hebrew Scriptures.... [N]o historical event, ancient or modern, can be more firmly established as matter of fact than this” (1895, pp. 4ff.).

DID SOME DINOSAURS SURVIVE THE FLOOD?

Since much historical and physical evidence indicates that humans interacted with dinosaurs as recently as hundreds or thousands of years ago (e.g., stories and rock art of dinosaurs), then it must follow that some of the dinosaurs survived the Flood. What’s more, since the only dry area on the globe during the Flood was on Noah’s ark (Genesis 7:23), dinosaurs must have accompanied Noah and his family on the ark. Questions arise, however, as to how pairs of huge dinosaurs, some growing to lengths of over 120 feet, weighing more than 110 tons, could have been housed on the ark. First, it is important to remember that the ark was a huge vessel—300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high (Genesis 6:15). The word “cubit” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “forearm,” because the Hebrews used their forearm in determining the length of a cubit. Generally, a cubit was the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger (cf. Free and Vos, 1992, p. 182). According to our own measurements, a cubit would be about 18-20 inches. Thus, the ark was approximately 450 feet long (one-and-a-half football fields!), 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall. For a long time, it was the largest sea-going vessel ever recorded.

The ark would have had a total floor area of about 100,000 square feet—the equivalent of slightly more than 20 standard basketball courts! And its total volume would have been roughly 1.5 million cubic feet. To help readers get a better idea of just how large the ark really was, John Whitcomb urged people to “imagine waiting at a railroad crossing while 10 freight trains, each pulling 52 boxcars, move slowly by, one after another” (1973, p. 23). Now imagine putting all of those boxcars into the ark. Whitcomb noted that the space available inside the ark would have held 520 modern railroad boxcars! (p. 23).

To some, the idea of dinosaurs on the ark seems absurd. However, it is not so hard to accept the idea of dinosaurs on the ark after considering the subject carefully. First, remember that God was the Creator of all animals, and He knew exactly how big the ark needed to be in order to house all different kinds of land-living animals. Second, contrary to popular belief, not all dinosaurs were massive. According to the famous evolutionary dinosaur fossil-hunter John Horner, the average dinosaur was only about the size of a large cow (see Horner and Lessem, 1993, p. 124). Many dinosaurs were only a few feet tall—even as full-grown adults. Some were as small as chickens. Third, God may have allowed Noah to take baby dinosaurs into the ark, instead of those that were full grown. That allowance certainly would have saved space and reduced the amount of necessary food. The largest fossil dinosaur eggs indicate that a 40-foot-long dinosaur laid eggs that were less than a foot in diameter (see “Dinosaur Reproduction,” 2007). As hatchlings, even the largest dinosaurs were no bigger than an average house pet. Young dinosaurs on the ark would have needed no more space than the average dog.

WHAT CAUSED THE DINOSAURS’ EVENTUAL DEMISE?

So why did dinosaurs eventually become extinct if some survived the Flood? We do not know for sure, but one reason may be that the dinosaurs who survived the Flood on Noah’s ark were unable to cope in the new world, because the climate was so different. One indication that the world was very different after the Flood is that human life expectancy decreased by hundreds of years. Before the Flood, the Bible indicates that men commonly lived to be 800 and 900 years old (see Genesis 5:3-32). In fact, the grandfather of Noah, whose name was Methuselah, lived to be 969 years old (Genesis 5:27). After the Flood, however, people began dying at much younger ages. Instead of living to be 800 or 900 years old, the descendants of Noah eventually began living to be only 150 to 200 years old. For example, Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7). Although that is extremely old by today’s standards, compared to the ages of people prior to the Flood, it is much younger. Many creation scientists believe that the conditions that caused man’s lifespan to decrease were the same conditions that eventually (years later) drove the dinosaurs to extinction.

The last surviving dinosaurs may have become extinct for the same reason that many other animals through the years have died out—the filling of our planet with humans. It is very possible that humans hunted various kinds of dinosaurs into extinction. Certain species of tigers, bears, elephants, and hippos have all been hunted to the brink of destruction. Perhaps the same thing happened to many species of dinosaurs. Immediately after the Flood, God said to Noah and his family:

The fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs (Genesis 9:2-3).

Not until after the Flood do we read of God granting humans permission to hunt animals. Soon, mighty men such as Nimrod, a grandson of Ham, began hunting animals (Genesis 10:8-12). Although dinosaurs repopulated in various places throughout the world after the Flood, it could be that many eventually died at the hand of hunters. Countries all over the world, after all, have stories of dragon slayers (see Lyons, 2007).

CONCLUSION

Everyone who has heard of dinosaurs likely has pondered, at one time or another, why they became extinct. The fact is, no one knows for certain why all of the dinosaurs ultimately died out. The worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis 6-8 undoubtedly explains adequately the presence of massive dinosaur fossil graveyards around the world, but exactly why the last dinosaur on Earth died is speculation. There are reasonable possibilities, but it is presumptuous for one to assert that he knows for sure. “What happened to the last dinosaurs?” is an interesting question, but one that we may never answer with all certainty.

REFERENCES

Alvarez, Walter and Frank Asaro (2000), “An Extraterrestrial Impact,” The Scientific American Book of Dinosaurs, ed. Gregory Paul (New York: Byron Preiss Visual Publications).

Butt, Kyle and Eric Lyons (2008), “Physical Evidence for the Coexistence of Dinosaurs and Humans—Part I,” Reason & Revelation, 28[3]:17-23, March, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3626.

Catan, Thomas (2007), “Huge Dinosaur Graveyard Found in Spain,” [On-line], URL: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,313761,00.html.

Dawson, John William (1895), The Historical Deluge in Relation to Scientific Discovery (Chicago, IL: Revell).

De Elvira, M.R. (2007), “Rail Work Points Way to Most Diverse Dinosaur Site in Europe,” Expatica, [On-line], URL: http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_id=81&story _id=46144.

“Dig Deeper” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dinosaurs/dig_deeper/finds_ 1.shtml#top.

“Dinosaur Articles 1999” (1999), [On-line], URL: http://www.crystalinks.com/dinosaurs3.html.

“Dinosaur National Monument” (2004), [On-line], URL: http://www.desertusa.com/dino/.

“Dinosaur Reproduction” (2007), [On-line], URL: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/dinosaurs/anatomy/Repro.shtml.

Free, Joseph P. and Howard F. Vos (1992), Archaeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Haines, Tim (1999), Walking with Dinosaurs: A Natural History (London: BBC Worldwide).

Horner, John R. and Don Lessem (1993), The Complete T. rex: How Stunning New Discoveries are Changing Our Understanding of the World’s Most Famous Dinosaur (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Lyons, Eric (2007), “Historical Support for the Coexistence of Dinosaurs and Humans—Parts I & II,” Reason & Revelation, 27:65-71,73-79, September-October.

McLean, Dewey (1995), “The Deccan Trapps Volcanism-Greenhouse Dinosaur Extinction Theory,” [On-line], URL: http://filebox.vt.edu/artsci/geology/mclean/Dinosaur_Volcano_Extinction /pages/studentv.html.

Norman, David (1991), Dinosaur! (New York: Prentice Hall).

Perloff, James (1999), Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism (Arlington, MA: Refuge Books).

Sanders, Robert (1995), “Pterosaur Insights,” [On-line], URL: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/berkeleyan/1995/0503.pterosaur.html.

Schoch, Robert M. (2003), Voyages of the Pyramid Builders (New York: Jeremy P. Parcher/Putnam).

Whitcomb, John C. (1973), The World That Perished (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).




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