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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Were there dinosaurs on Noah's Ark? Maybe so. If they were alive on the earth in Noah's day, then they were included in God's directive that Noah bring two of every kind of land animal and bird into the ark (Genesis 6:18-21).
But wouldn't that have been impossible, given the dinosaurs' size and temperament? How could massive herbivores like an apatosaurus and savage carnivores like a Tyrannosaurus rex fit onto the boat and behave themselves? Well, first of all, the ark was huge – more than a football field long and approximately 45 yards tall and 75 yards wide.
Second, Noah only had to load general kinds of animals, not every species. So, for instance, he didn't have to board a pair of zebras, a pair of Clydesdales, a pair of Lipizzaners, a pair of Thoroughbreds, etc. One set from the horse family would do just fine, and breeds could emerge down the line. Similarly a few dozen dinosaur types, if that many, could cover things. Third, the dinosaurs didn't need to be adults; babies or juveniles could fill the bill.
Fourth, if Noah (with God's help) could keep the lions from eating the sheep, the snakes from biting the frogs and the elephants from trampling the mice, then he could keep the dinosaurs under control.
So what's the problem? Well, many Christians agree with the majority of scientists that the earth is extremely old (perhaps 4.5 billion years), and that dinosaurs appeared and were long gone by the time man arrived on the scene as God's special creation, Adam and Eve. (This "old-earth creationist" view is presented at reasons.org and answersincreation.org.) "Young-earth creationists" (see icr.org and answersingenesis.org) maintain that dinosaurs were part of God's creation-week work, along with Adam, and that these creatures and man co-existed on earth. Following the various genealogies given in the Bible, from Adam on down, they calculate the age of the earth to be somewhere under 10,000 years.
Where you stand on this dispute depends in part upon your view of the behavior of the universe back through the centuries. If you take a "uniformitarian" view, you argue that the patterns we see now (such as radioactive decay or sedimentary rock formation) are reliably constant, and so we can extrapolate from our current experience back through the millennia to make claims about the fossil record, often postulating some form of God-directed evolution.
Those who embrace "catastrophism" beg to differ, saying that Noah's flood is a perfect example of how God has engineered great upheavals in the order of things, an event reflected in Psalm 104:5-9. They also say that death and decay -- including the destruction of dinosaurs -- didn't occur until after man sinned (Genesis 3), and that, besides, there may well be references to dinosaurs in the Bible (though the word, "dinosaur" didn't appear until the 19th century). They claim, for instance, that the "behemoth" in Job 40 can't be a hippo or elephant since they don't have tails "like a cedar." And they wonder whether the King James Version's reference to dragons (dinosaurs?) in Deuteronomy 32:33 and Micah 1:8 might be closer to reality that the modern versions, which translate the Hebrew word, "tanniym/tanniyn" as "serpents" and "jackals."
Whichever way they go on this, all believers should agree that God is Lord of the universe and that He can form, alter and dispose of it exactly as He pleases. Furthermore, the Bible is God's Word, and whatever position one chooses, it must be consistent with Scripture or be discarded.
Not surprisingly, I'm a "young earther," and I don't think it's a trivial matter. However, some fellow evangelicals I highly respect aren't there ... yet. In the meantime, we work together to fulfill the Great Commission, delivered by our Lord in Matthew 28:19-20, and rejoice in the great sweep of Scripture, centered on Christ.
This column first appeared at the blog of Bible Mesh, online at biblemesh.com/blog. Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).