Brontosaurus never existed

10 Comments
Posted November 29th, 2008 in Philosophy. Tags: , , , , .

When I was a college freshman, a fiery preacher named Tom Short would stand in a courtyard, evangelizing and arguing with any pedestrian who challenged him. More often than I’d care to admit, I found myself in that courtyard listening to him. It was like watching a car accident– horrible but so fascinating that I couldn’t look away. He spent a lot of time talking about Hell. He casually dismissed accusations that his homophobic rhetoric was indirectly responsible for a recent tragedy– the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard– by suggesting that Matthew was actually killed by other homosexuals. Other frequent topics included the pack of atheistic lies called “evolution,” and the argument that the Earth was only a few thousand years old.

Then one day, I heard him say: “Brontosaurus never existed.” Someone immediately responded: “That’s ridiculous! Of course Brontosaurus existed. We’ve got its fossils!”

Tom didn’t back down, insisting that there was never any such animal as a Brontosaurus. Then, for the first and only time that day, I spoke up loudly enough for the crowd to hear me: “No, he’s actually right this time. Brontosaurus was an old name given to a particular dinosaur, but they changed the name to something else… umm… it starts with an ‘A’. Allosaurus?”

Another student in the crowd said “I know what you’re talking about, but that’s not the right name. Allosaurus was a carnivore, and he’s talking about a plant eater. I don’t remember the name either, though…”

Several agonizing minutes passed as I searched my memories (it’s like a garbage dump in there) but the name eventually surfaced: “Apatosaurus.” Of course, by that time the conversation had moved on– no one cared anymore.

In retrospect, I feel dirty that I helped legitimize Tom’s anti-science agenda. He obviously didn’t mention this (100 year old!) classification error because he’d developed a sudden interest in taxonomy. But he was right about this one particular fact, no matter how disingenuous he may have been to bring it up in the context of preaching young earth creationism.

Ultimately, though, I’d feel even dirtier if I hadn’t tried (however ineptly) to defend the truth, even if that truth was spoken by a man I despised– a man on a personal mission to destroy science itself.

Last modified February 6th, 2012
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10 Responses to “Brontosaurus never existed”

  1. Reythia posted on 2008-12-03 at 14:07

    Shoot. We were told to call the old “Brontosaurus” a “Brachiosaurus” back in second grade or whatever, when dinosaurs were the coolest thing ever. Are you sure about your name?

    (PS: Yes, this implies that I’m too lazy to Wikipedia it myself)

    • Brachiosaurus was similar in size to Apatosaurus, they both lived in the Late Jurassic, they were both sauropods, and their scientific names are identical down to the suborder level. So I can understand the confusion.

      But a Brachiosaur’s front legs were larger than its hind legs, suggesting that its posture was more upright than an Apatosaur’s. Brachiosaurs also had distinctive crests on their heads that Apatosaurs lacked.

      (That’s the result of an obsession with dinosaurs that extended far past second grade…)

  2. Giorgis posted on 2009-08-23 at 19:20

    Can I recommend an alternative angle for these nutjobs … consider it a social experiment.

    Do not attack them with facts, they know how to handle it, move into their own territory.

    They are OK with fabricating facts if it means doing “God’s” work.

    What you need to do is present them with the simple argument …

    With what you’re saying, you’ll be burning in sulfur hell for eternity. You’re being blasphemous.

    You see some centuries ago the Church was burning people at the stake and driving a lot more away because they thought the earth is flat.

    Now you’re claiming lies in the name of God. You’re denying God His incredible creation and falsifying His word. People hear you and say, “if this is what God says I want nothing to do with Him.”

    You’ll be judged for the people you are turning away. You’re the reason the Youth are turning away from the church … damn you to where you are going to end up !!!

    :-)

    G

    • Do not attack them with facts …

      Even better, don’t argue to win at all. Creationists actually benefit when people take an adversarial approach to their claims; it tends to reinforce the “us vs. them” mentality, isolating their flock from the outside world.

      You see some centuries ago the Church … thought the earth is flat.

      That’s a common misconception. The Earth’s spherical nature has been well known for millennia.

  3. Brontosaurus posted on 2009-09-27 at 09:21

    Actually, personally, I’m sick of the “us vs. them” argument too… creation and science are not mutually exclusive, like it or not..

    I’m not afraid to tell you I believe .. however, I’m not so crazy as to believe that concerning ourselves with the origin of this universe are going to solve any problems. Take the Big Bang. That takes a lot of faith to believe in a theory that has yet to actually be attempted – have we managed to run another big bang? Doubtful from the way it has been described as what had happened. If we had succeeded in proving the big bang, guess what, we’d all be dead and wouldn’t have any idea of it. What then, in another 40 billion years, or trillion years, or however long science has increased the age of the universe we are back here again trying to figure out whether we were created by chance or by divine intervention? Yeah that’s real productive..

    But let’s just say that’s what happened. We spend billions of dollars trying to figure this stuff out, yet we have enough problems that we could deal with if the money was funneled there – AIDS/”climate change”/etc. So why isn’t science trying to actually solve the problems that affect us now? Let’s worry about recreating the universe some other time and get some stuff done.

    On the other hand, go ahead and recreate the universe because after all, that will take care of all the things that are afflicting this planet quite sufficiently if you ask me.

    • Take the Big Bang. That takes a lot of faith to believe in …

      I’ve previously described some of the overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang metatheory. It doesn’t require faith at all, just some familiarity with observations made over the last century.

      … a theory that has yet to actually be attempted – have we managed to run another big bang?

      That’s not the way science works. In science, observations are compared to predictions, which are then used to modify the theory to make new predictions. There’s no fundamental distinction between science performed in a lab like chemistry and science performed through telescopes like cosmology. (Or any other discipline like paleontology, forensic science or paleoclimatology, for that matter.)

      What then, in another 40 billion years, or trillion years, or however long science has increased the age of the universe we are back here again trying to figure out whether we were created by chance or by divine intervention?

      Huh? The current best estimate of the age of the universe comes from WMAP, which sets it at 13.7 billion years old, plus or minus 100 million years. This estimate fits neatly within the error bars of previous estimates based on the Hubble parameter, which for decades have been predicting an age of ~15 billion years.

      Also, I’ve previously explained that science can’t address questions of divine intervention.

      But let’s just say that’s what happened. We spend billions of dollars trying to figure this stuff out, yet we have enough problems that we could deal with if the money was funneled there – AIDS/”climate change”/etc. So why isn’t science trying to actually solve the problems that affect us now?

      One lesson we’re taught in school is that a good scientist never leaves any stone unturned. It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to determine if an experiment or research project will be useful before performing it. For example, Einstein’s wild daydreams where he tried to run fast enough to keep up with a beam of light eventually led to nuclear power.

      Also, the scientific community can’t be controlled en masse the way you seem to want. Each of us have different skills and interests. For instance, I’m a computational physicist. I doubt there’s anything I can do to help cure AIDS. I just don’t know enough biology, and I doubt I could possibly tear myself away from physics.

    • H posted on 2012-01-18 at 07:47

      I really like your reasoning. Let’s deal with our current afflictions instead of arguing about who is right and who is wrong. And I’m relieved to finally have the whole “Brontosaurus” thing figured out. I was told that the name had changed to Brachiosaurus. So it is the Apatosaurus and the Brachiosurus is a different branch. Good to know because I am currently confusing my little dino lover, and isn’t it all confusing enough?? (By that I mean the world).

  4. scientific Christian posted on 2012-08-01 at 02:16

    I just want to say that as a Christian yes I believe in the creation story- I dont believe its an accurate story given it was written over 7000 years ago, and God knows how long before that was it passed around mouth-to-mouth. If you’ve ever played Chinese whispers you’d understand what I’m trying to get at :)
    I’m also a believer in the evolution- the way I see it if a tadpole changes to a frog in the matter of weeks/months then why not a species of monkey eventually evolving to make humans?
    I think people who have religion, particularly the semetic religions(Christianity, Islam and Judiasm) miss out the point of their holy books. Particularly Christians, seeing as the Torah/ Old Testament/ Hebrew Scriptures, what ever you want to call it, is more or less stories told to teach people morally acceptable behaviour. Again, I want to point out this was written by man so long ago, BY MAN, which means its easy for these books to be changed to suit what man wanted.
    Also, I’d like to point out, the CHristian Scriptures, involving Christ’s deeds, is far more different than the Hebrew Scriptures- its far more light and accepting.
    The Hebrew Scriptures are a bit of a bloodbath at time…

  5. medulla oblongota posted on 2014-05-18 at 02:52

    Actually you and shorty are both dazed and confused. Paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh bestowed the name Apatosaurus on a new breed of sauropod–and two years later, he did the same for a second fossil specimen, which he named Brontosaurus. Later it was determined that the two fossils belonged to the same genus, so Brontosaurus was reassigned (not changed) to Apatosaurus. While the term Apatosaurus has priority, Brontosaurus is still widely regarded as a synonym in academia. Thus, Brontosaurus did roam the earth.

    • Of course, the point here is that creationists use any scientific mistakes- even trivial ones fixed over a century ago- to try to discredit science. My mistake of using “changed” instead of “reassigned” is just another example.

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