Dinosaur Train and Reality

Dinosaur Train and Reality
I have been blessed over the past year with a two-year-old who calls me “Booh” which is Thai for “Grandpa.” It has been a wonderful experience for me in several ways. One of the things I have learned as he has grown older and watches children’s television is how much bad good and bad information children are exposed to in their preschool years. My adopted grandson’s favorite television program is a PBS Kids series called Dinosaur Train.

The program opens with a small pair of creatures that look like pterodactyls standing by a nest containing four eggs. The eggs hatch and the first three hatchlings look like their parents, complete with the ability to fly. The fourth egg hatches a few seconds later with a baby who looks nothing like the parents and who says, “What am I doing in a flying reptile nest?” The mother dinosaur picks up the baby, and the whole family flies to a train station called the Dinosaur Train.

On the train, a conductor takes the family on a trip to different geologic time periods–Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Paleozoic, Triassic, etc. There the family meets dinosaurs from the various time periods who explain what they eat and how they find their food. The train has a cattle car with large dinosaurs in it, and the family goes to a coach containing smaller dinosaurs.

Occasionally a scientist identified as a paleontologist presents a mini-lecture. The lecture may be on the meaning of words, the current evolutionary beliefs about the animals, or the geological processes that shaped the history of the Earth. His presentations are generally accurate, and he attempts to give the viewers a vocabulary that would be the envy of most college freshmen. Sound effects are very entertaining, and the program stays away from blood and gore and tends to focus on herbivores.

There are lots of concerns that parents may have about the current geologic and evolutionary beliefs that are presented as facts. I am concerned about the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs. The train is a mid-twentieth century coal-burning steam engine and the train station is from the same time period. The conductor is a dinosaur wearing an outfit that looks like a circus barker. He not only calls the “All aboard,” but he gives Powerpoint-style explanations. The dinosaurs all speak perfect English and behave as humans. Everyone is friendly, T-Rex speaks kindly with everyone, and groups of dinosaurs sing Broadway-style tunes. Dinosaur Train is quite frankly very entertaining.

The problem I have is that the dinosaurs are essentially humans, engaging in human contests, doing human things, and having human relationships. Mom and dad have human roles and enjoy human activities like picnics and visits to different climates and places of recreational value. It is no wonder that those who tell children that humans and dinosaurs lived together find a ready audience of young people. I have hunter friends who dislike the story of Bambi because it vilifies hunters and fails to present children with the importance of balance in nature and the role that carnivores like ourselves serve. The same difficulty is present when people don’t understand the role that dinosaurs had in preparing the Earth for humans by supporting the ecology that produced the resources we need to survive on this planet.

Dinosaur Train is interesting and creative, but parents need to take time to give more accurate and realistic teaching to their toddlers as they get old enough to understand. There is no problem in explaining the role of dinosaurs if we understand how God designed and planned for humans from before time began.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Pterosaur Egg Jackpot Found

Chinese scientists have discovered a block of sandstone three meters square that has more than 215 fossilized eggs. The eggs are from one species of flying reptiles known as Hamipterus tianshanensis–a pterosaur from the Cretaceous geological period. When scientists find that many eggs in one place, they can establish a great many facts about how the animals reproduced and lived. There is no question about the arrangement of the bones or how they developed.

We have suggested that dinosaurs had a very large role in the development of the resources on Earth that humans would eventually need. Knowing how these animals lived, what they ate, how they got around, and how they interacted with their environment helps us understand that role. In this case, the eggs contain at least 16 embryos for study.

The flying reptiles didn’t have the limitations of restricted mobility that other animals had, so they are of special interest to many paleontologists. Using computerized tomography (CT) scanning, they can see the embryos in three dimensions. Science can tell us much about the history of creation, and the pterosaur is just one part of that picture. We remind ourselves again that can know there is a God by the amazing things He has made.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018
Reference: Science News, December 23, 2017, page 6.

Dinosaur Mummy Found

Nodosaurus Dinosaur
Scientists have difficulty finding information about dinosaurs. Much of what we know about them has come from indirect information. I spent a great deal of time studying coprolite, which is petrified dinosaur droppings. By analyzing the solid wastes left by a dinosaur, we can tell what the animal ate. Sometimes we find plant materials–leaves, stems, seeds, etc. Sometimes it’s animal remains–teeth, bone fragments, and complete bones. It is extraordinarily rare to find a complete skeleton of a dinosaur, but now we have something even better.

Until recently we had never found an animal with skin in place and internal organs visible. In 2011 miners working in northern Alberta came across an amazing find that has given scientists their first complete mummy of a dinosaur. This dinosaur was a plant-eating nodosaurus, which means “knobbed lizard.” This animal is complete with its armor, spiky skin, and internal organs. Paleontologists have spent some 7,000 hours carefully extracting the creature. Caleb Brown, who is a researcher on the project, said, “We don’t just have a skeleton, we have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

Dinosaurs were the agents that prepared Earth for humans. Without that preparation, we would not be able to have our crops, our domesticated animals, and our advanced civilization. Dinos were key agents in preparing an ecosystem suitable for us. They lived in an environment very unlike what we have on Earth today. Having a find like this will greatly enhance our understanding of Earth’s history.

It is clear that God used natural processes to prepare the planet for us, and the dinosaurs played an important part in that process. Scientists will continue to study this dinosaur, and in the process, we will learn more about God’s wisdom in design.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: The Week. June 2, 2017, page 23,and National Geographic.