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Clarey, Tim, Ph.D. Dinosaurs: Marvels of God’s Design. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015. Hardcover, 192 pages. ISBN 978-0-89051-904-2.
Bible believers, who accept Scripture’s ultimate authority in all matters on which it speaks, are appropriately inclined to take all that Scripture says in its natural, straightforward sense (that is, in the sense that would be most natural and straightforward to its original recipients), and to let that sense, and all that it implies, guide their thinking on all topics. When the implications of Scripture’s natural sense, such as that the earth is “young” (thousands, not billions or even millions, of years old) and that a great flood once wiped out all land-based life not aboard a divinely-designed ship, radically contradict a narrative taken for granted by the broader culture, such as the anti-biblical “scientific” narrative about molecules-to-humanity evolution and billions-of-years deep time that is tiresomely repeated in everything from school textbooks to science documentaries to popular films, Bible believers, who must always be training themselves to think more biblically, urgently need a Scripture-consistent counter-narrative to draw upon. Sadly, the norm among Christian scholars today is not to provide such a counter-narrative, but to attempt to integrate the Bible’s words with the anti-biblical narrative.
Dr. Tim Clarey’s Dinosaurs: Marvels of God’s Design is a welcome exception to that norm. Though “the text is as accurate, up-to-date, and scientifically sound as any secular book on the market” and “covers the complete spectrum of dinosaur-related topics, from the earliest dinosaurs to debate over why they went extinct,” it does so without compromising the straightforward sense of Scripture. Rather than following the scholarly norm of explaining Scripture in terms of a narrative that currently passes for “scientific,” it offers scientific explanations of extant evidence that comport with the biblical narrative: it “explains dinosaurs in a biblical context” (8). The glossy Time-Life-Books-series style won’t appeal to everyone: the color pictures are great, and the graphic design is appealing, but roughly half the writing is white text on a black background—easy enough to read, but highly annoying to annotators and underliners. The book also has some minor flaws, which I’ll note below, but overall it merits a top rating and high recommendation.
The book comprises a table of contents, preface, fourteen chapters, one appendix, a brief “About the Author” page, endnotes, photo credits, and a brief index. The first four chapters, the scope of which is clear from their titles, cover the more general and foundational topics: Chapter 1, “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark”; Chapter 2, “Dinosaur Basics”; Chapter 3, “The True Age of Dinosaurs”; Chapter 4, “Dinosaur Discoveries.” The book’s final chapter, Chapter 14, “The Real Story of the Dinosaurs,” also deals with general and foundational topics, serving as a concise overview of the Scripture-consistent scientific narrative informing the whole book. This last chapter deserves to be read first. Clarey’s use there of his own research into the thickness of megasequences in various areas of North America to explain why dinosaur fossils and footprints are found where they are (and not found where they’re not) is especially interesting. (Megasequences are spans of geologic strata larger than the greater-name-recognition systems. For instance, the Zuni megasequence spans much of the Jurassic, all the Cretaceous, and just a bit of the Tertiary systems. Clarey, in common with other creation geologists, interprets these megasequences, of which there are six, “as catastrophic deposits left behind by six major advances of the Flood waters onto the continents” .)
The book’s fifth through thirteenth chapters, as well as the appendix, deal more with details about dinosaurs and, in the cases of Chapter 13, “Digging Dinosaurs,” and the appendix, “Determining the Weight of a Dinosaur Using Scale Models,” how one might go about doing some amateur dinosaur science oneself. I confess to zero interest in the do-it-yourself chapter and appendix, but the more empirically inclined might enjoy them. As in the case of the more general and foundational chapters, the scope of these more detail-oriented chapters can be well discerned from the chapters’ titles. Chapter 5 through 9 focus upon specific types of dinosaurs: Chapter 5, “The Many Varieties of Theropod Design”; Chapter 6, “The Sauropodomorpha: The Large and Lumbering”; Chapter 7, “Suborder Ornithopoda: The Duck-bills”; Chapter 8, “Suborder Marginocephalia: The Domed, Horned, and Frilled”; Chapter 9, “Suborder Thyreophora: Armored and Plated.” People who often exclaim “I love dinosaurs!” at inappropriate times and in public places will probably like these chapters best. Chapters 10 through 12 are somewhat more general than Chapters 5 through 9, though still more focused on scientific details than the first four chapters. Again, scope is evident from titles: Chapter 10, “Dinosaur Biology / Anatomy”; Chapter 11, “Dinosaur Behavior”; Chapter 12, “Dinosaur Endings and Extinction.” Those who, like myself, can’t recall ever exclaiming “I love dinosaurs!” will probably like these chapters, along with Chapters 1 through 4, more than Chapters 5 through 9.
While different readers will like certain chapters more than others, every chapter is well worth reading; and, given the prevalence of the anti-biblical narrative throughout our culture, even Bible believers with no interest at all in dinosaurs should consider acquiring a copy (or, as suggested on the publication data page , requesting their local library purchase one). A couple particularly useful matters covered (beyond what has already been noted) are created “kinds” and how they might relate to current scientific taxonomy (14, 21, 22, 92, 110, etc.) and the discoveries of intact dinosaur soft tissue (48-9), which the anti-biblical narrative cannot reasonably explain, and of carbon-14 where the anti-biblical narrative says there shouldn’t be any (50-1).
One of Dinosaurs’ minor flaws is that Clarey occasionally resorts to ad hoc and speculative suggestions to “solve” problems raised by the Scripture-consistent narrative he’s presenting. Since advocates of the anti-biblical narrative also employ ad hoc and speculative suggestions freely (with considerably more freedom, it could be argued), I am tempted to consider this a feature rather than a bug, at least where no unstated or undefended assumptions are involved. Such an unstated assumption does seem to be involved in at least one case, however. In the “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark” chapter, Clarey writes the following: “In order to fulfill this command [God’s command to repopulate the earth], the so-called meat-eating dinosaurs (theropods) probably ate only plants after the Flood, at least for a time, before returning to their meat-eating ways” (14). In compliance with the natural sense of Scripture, Clarey affirms that all animal kinds, even the kind that includes the vicious T. rex, were vegetarian prior to humanity’s Fall and the resultant Curse (145). This is clever and, when first read, sounds plausible. Upon reflection, however, one perceives an unstated assumption. In proposing that theropods reverted to vegetarianism for a time after the Flood, Clarey clearly assumes that the basic anatomy and physiology that allowed the various meat-eater kinds to survive and thrive as vegetarians before the Fall remained sufficiently unchanged by the Curse to allow their post-Flood reversion to vegetarianism. This assumption is unstated in the context of this speculation, so I’ve tagged it as a flaw. I’ve tagged it as only a minor flaw because, though Clarey leaves the assumption unstated and so undefended here, he does come very close to stating and defending it later. In “The Many Varieties of Theropod Design” chapter, he writes this: “Exactly what type of vegetation T. rex [better, the created kind of which T. rex is a representative] ate with those massive teeth remains a mystery, but animals with similarly sharp teeth have remained exclusively vegetarian, like the fruit bat and panda. A recent study of modern crocodilians,” he adds, “has shown that nearly three-fourths of them consume plants, including fruits, nuts, and grains to supplement their diet, leaving secular science baffled for an explanation” (79). Would Clarey go so far as to maintain that all created kinds, including humans, today retain the ability to survive and thrive on entirely vegetarian diets? Clarey’s failure to answer this question is not a flaw, but I am curious.
The last passage quoted from in the preceding paragraph (and the bracketed modification I’ve made in the portion quoted) points to another minor flaw. Clarey, oddly enough, fails to employ his own thoughts on created “kinds” in some of his discussion. For instance, just before the words quoted near the end of the preceding paragraph, Clarey writes, “In God’s original creation, even the mighty T. rex was a vegetarian, as were all animals. It wasn’t until after the sin of man and the resulting Curse that T. rex became a meat-eater” (79). T. rex, however, is a species (genus Tyrannosaurus, species rex), and Clarey is quite consistent in pointing out his belief that a created kind is probably close to a taxonomic family, the next level up from genus. Though the presence of T. rexes in Flood sediments means that the species had been produced by the created kind’s build-in potential for variation by the time of the Flood, it doesn’t follow from this that God necessarily created any actual T. rexes when he created their parent kind. Since created kinds are not species, we can’t assume that any specific species were among what God originally created. The same rapid speciation proposed to have repopulated the earth (from as few as one species per created kind) with a vast array of species after the Flood, might be expected to have produced (from an original creation that included only some species of every kind), at least some of the species extant at the time of the Flood. This, at least, is something one might easily think. If Clarey has biblical or scientific grounds for maintaining that every species existing at the time of the Flood had been created as a separate species when God first created each kind, he should set forth those grounds in the book.
Another of the book’s minor flaws is the lack of rigor and detail in its use of concepts drawn from presuppositionalism. Like many capable advocates of biblical creationism, Clarey is an empirical scientist by training, so detailed and wholly consistent treatment of foundational philosophical matters can hardly be expected. Still, Clarey’s use of such presuppositionalist concepts as “worldview” merits comment.
Opening Chapter 1, “Biblical Beginnings and the Ark,” Clarey notes that, in addition to being “a science book about dinosaurs,” this text is “a story of discovery,” then adds the following: “However, each discovery is judged on presuppositions, or a particular starting worldview….How factual data, like dinosaur fossils and rocks[,] are interpreted, depends on which presuppositions you start with.” One such set of presuppositions is “the uniformitarian worldview,” adherents of which “believe the earth has had the same processes, unchanged for eons of time” and “believe life somehow began from nonlife without help of a Creator”—“the dominant worldview in science today.” The other set of presuppositions is “the worldview that God’s Word is true,” which “holds that God made everything in six days and that there was a Flood that destroyed the original world just thousands of years ago. This,” he adds, “is the presupposition used throughout this book.” He adds further that “this worldview completely fits with the factual evidence” (11).
In saying this, what does Clarey mean exactly? The most natural reading seems to be that, in Clarey’s opinion, worldviews are subject to testing by how they fit (or fail to fit) with uninterpreted, worldview-independent (“brute”) facts. This understanding, however, is inconsistent with the presuppositionalism from which such terms as “presupposition” and “worldview” are drawn. (The terms exist in the broader language, but the apologetic use of them should be credited to presuppositionalism.) The idea that worldviews are subject to worldview-neutral empirical testing is, at least, inconsistent with the most rigorous and self-consistent form of presuppositionalism, that advocated by such thinkers and Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, what adherents call “true presuppositionalism.” Even use of such terms as “factual evidence,” “facts,” “evidence,” and “data” without qualification, as though adherents of all presuppositional frameworks necessarily understand the terms the same way, is open to criticism in terms of “true presuppositionalism.” Such presuppositionalism recognizes that worldviews don’t just guide how one interprets evidence, but guide what one identifies as evidence. In place of Clarey’s “this worldview completely fits with the factual evidence,” such presuppositionalism might suggest such phrasing as “this worldview permits one to explain, in a self-consistent manner, all that it identifies as data or evidence needing explanation, and to explain, when necessary, why what advocates of other worldviews identify as data needing explanation is not such in terms of this worldview.” Because secular science in the West has borrowed its understanding of the natural world, and so its understanding of data or evidence, from the West’s Christian heritage, it is easy and natural to assume that evidence is held in common by adherents of both biblical and anti-biblical worldviews, but increasing numbers of persons on the anti-biblical side of things are recognizing that a consistent (“postmodern”) outworking of their worldview allows very different views of evidence, perhaps even rejection of the concept of “evidence” altogether. A presuppositional purist would likely not speak of a “uniformitarian worldview” either, since uniformitarian scientism is merely one outworking of the anti-biblical worldview (which, like all outworkings of that worldview, proves inconsistent and self-refuting when analyzed closely enough).
To be fair, Carey’s usage is only a flaw to those of us trying to perfect our presuppositionalism, to make it as self-consistent and rigorous as possible, to ensure that nothing “neutral” sneaks in. No higher authority has declared that “presuppositions,” “presuppositional frameworks,” “worldviews,” and related terms must be used only in the “true presuppositionalist” manner purists prefer. Whatever its potential flaws, Carey’s usage does not prevent valid insights. For example, in Chapter 10, “Dinosaur Biology/Anatomy,” when discussing the debate over whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded (Clarey believes they were cold-blooded), Clarey says of this “metabolism debate” that “It is actually a war of worldviews. Mainstream, secular science is trying to make dinosaurs into warm-blooded animals because they [adherents of mainstream, secular science] are trying to make them [dinosaurs] the evolutionary ancestors of birds” and “Birds are warm-blooded, or most are nearly so” (124). Later in the same chapter, Clarey observes that, “Because of the nagging lack of transitional fossils, Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed a modification of Darwin’s…theory that tried to explain away missing links, called punctuated equilibrium. Their hypothesis didn’t…provide…rock and fossil evidence; rather, it was merely an acknowledgement that the fossil record shows repetitive episodes of no change (stasis) followed by periods of sudden change. This,” he adds, “is precisely what creationists have pointed to as conclusive evidence of a catastrophic Flood, with sudden fossil changes occurring in rapid succession as sediments accumulated. It all depends on your starting assumptions, your worldview, to explain the same results” (129). The facts (“results”) themselves are not at issue in these “worldview” conflicts, only interpretation of the facts. While this usage of terms, like that in Chapter 1, doesn’t mesh with “true presuppositionalism,” it does, like discussion in Chapter 1, offer a valid and helpful observation: commitment to a biblical or uniformitarian viewpoint determines how one interprets evidence more than evidence determines whether one commits to a biblical or uniformitarian viewpoint.
This “valid and helpful observation” is stated in terms I think Clarey could accept. Introducing Chapter 11, “Dinosaur Behavior,” which suggests what “can be gleaned about behavior from the study of footprints, egg nests, and even computer models,” Clarey writes, “Once again, all conclusions are a consequence of worldview. If you think dinosaurs are millions of years old, you will most likely interpret this data much differently from those of us that hold a biblical worldview. The data set is the same, however, and scientists are always making new discoveries” (141). Here, Clarey interestingly suggests that someone whose presuppositional framework includes the evolution-and-deep-time narrative will only “most likely” interpret the data in a manner consistent with that framework. The presuppositional purist must wonder whether Clarey really believes that “all conclusions are a consequence of worldview,” since surely one draws a conclusion whenever one decides that something one observes is or is not part of the set of relevant information (“data set”). Non-purists, on the other hand, may join Clarey in hoping that, as the data set expands to include new discoveries, those with the uniformitarian worldview might, faced with offering ever more complicated interpretations of the data to make it fit with their worldview, grow more willing to consider the biblical perspective.
An additional minor flaw, the most minor of all, is scattered instances of editing mistakes that I think one more round of editing would have caught. Mostly minor stuff that typical readers won’t notice (and won’t care about if they do notice it), such as misplaced or missing commas, these mistakes do include at least one that stands out enough to make one wonder how a publisher’s multiple rounds of editing and final proofreading could have missed it: “An adult, 5-metric-ton T. rex, if endothermic or warm-blooded, would have had to eaten the equivalent of an adult hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) each week to supply its hunger needs” (145). That should be “would have had to have eaten” or “would have had to eat” or “would have to have eaten.” Like all other mere mortals, I of course make such errors myself all the time (more than likely, there are some in this review), but I’m not a publishing company with, one hopes, multiple sets of editors’ eyes reviewing documents.
In summary, Dinosaurs’ strong points are numerous and significant, and its weak points are few and minor, making it easy to recommend and rate highly.
By the way, one of those intrusive bureaucratic agencies we all know and loathe “recommends” that those who receive free copies of books in exchange for unbiased reviews state so in those reviews. Though the presuppositional purist in me scoffs at the idea of “unbiased” anything, I note that I am such a free-review-copy recipient.