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.
2015-04-07 Update: Whoops.Last modified April 7th, 2015