Jurassic Park: The New Orthodoxy?
Trevor J. Major
Dinosaurs roam a private island off the coast of Costa Rica. Moats and high voltage fences keep the vicious Tyrannosaurus away from its natural prey, and their human keepers. A giant Apatosaurus strolls gracefully across the fields, while an ostrich-like Gallimimus pauses to drink from a lake. This is Jurassic Park, a dinosaur zoo positioned in the theme park market.
Yet before it has opened to the public, things begin to go awry. There are the usual budget overruns, but there are also accidents among the workers. The investors get nervous, and send a delegation of scientists to inspect the park. They are joined by two of the owner's grandchildren, and so begins an exciting adventure packed with teeth and claws.
The movie Jurassic Park is topping box-office records. Promotion and merchandising have reached heights all their own. Once again, Steven Spielberg has delivered thrilling, wonder-filled entertainment. No one has missed the educational impact of this movie. Kids love dinosaurs, right? Of course, many of them will not see the movie because it gets very intense and graphic. But parents and teachers can still use the deluge of Jurassic Park paraphernalia to teach children all about dinosaurs. With such an intense interest, even little ones can master basic paleontology, nomenclature, and dinosaur biology.
Jurassic Park rides on the crest of a dinosaur craze that has been going on for many years now. The movie, and the countless books on the subject, teach that dinosaurs were the product of evolution, and that millions of years separated man and dinosaurs. Fortunately, creationists can counter with good materials that teach kids a biblical perspective (e.g., Taylor, 1987; Bromling, 1991; Gish, 1992). However, the movie warrants attention because it makes some special claims.
Can Dinosaurs Be Cloned? First, we have to remember that Jurassic Park is science fiction. As one reviewer commented, the science "is only stuffing to ease the suspension of disbelief" (Gee, 1993). The fantasy behind the story is that scientists can clone dinosaurs. This is explained quite well in the movie, although the book by Michael Crichton (1990) discusses the process in more detail.
It began millions of years ago with mosquitoes sucking on dinosaur blood. Some of the pesky insects landed on trees, where they were trapped by sticky resin. After many years, the resin hardened into amber, thus preserving the insects and their meal. It is then up to scientists at Jurassic Park to extract the stomach contents, and isolate the dinosaur DNA. However, the DNA is not intact, so they use sophisticated equipment to fill the gaps. Where this does not work, they use DNA from other organisms, such as frogs. Finally, they insert the completed DNA sequence into crocodile ova, and the dinosaurs are allowed to grow in artificial eggshells.
This whole scheme brings up some important questions. For example, can scientists clone dinosaurs? The answer right now is "No." The reason is that dinosaurs, like humans, are very complicated organisms. Scientists could clone individual cells or portions of DNA, but they wm need a lot more than mummified blood cells. As David Grimaldi quipped, trying to reconstruct the whole dinosaur DNA sequence "would be like trying to reconstruct Tolstoy's War and Peace from a gigantic vat of alphabet soup" (1993, 102:61).
Has anyone actually found dinosaur DNA? Not yet, but someone may announce a discovery in the near future. Already, scientists believe they have recovered DNA from insects, plants, pollen, mushrooms, and microscopic creatures entombed in amber. But if this amber is millions of years old, how could something as fragile as DNA survive for so long? Tomas Lindahl (1993) is so skeptical about recovering DNA from ancient amber that he is willing to suggest that labs are analyzing samples contaminated with modern DNA! The other alternative, and the one consistent with the biblical view of the world, is that the amber is really only a few thousand years old. Further, organisms preserved in amber are strikingly similar to their living counterparts (DeSalle, 1992; Cano, et al., 1993; H. N. Poinar, et al., 1993; G. 0. Poinar, et al., 1993). This suggests that general stability, not large scale change, is the dominating feature of life on Earth.
One last point while we are on the issue of cloning. As stated earlier, Jurassic Park scientists patched dinosaur genes with DNA from frogs. This was a reasonable thing to do, we are told, because all animals have a common ancestry, and so their DNA is very similar (Crichton, 1990, p.209). However similarity can also mean common design. Most cells carry out basic tasks that have to do with perpetuating life. Also, we would expect to find similarities in cells that perform the same function in different animals. Evolutionists are quick to point out that our DNA is 99% the same as chimpanzee DNA. But this does not explain why we are flying space shuttles, while they have climbed little higher than the tree tops.
Did Birds Evolve From Dinosaurs? One recurrent theme in the movie, and certainly one that is emphasized in the book, is that birds evolved from dinosaurs. This theory, developed by John Ostrom, is especially favored among paleontologists (Norman, 1991, P. 1:37). They believe that the ancient bird Archaeopteryx descended from a small theropod dinosaur, and thus was the intermediate between birds and reptiles.
Ornithologists, however are not convinced by this theory. They count all the differences between birds and dinosaurs, while Ostrom counts all the similarities. For example, Alan Feduccia points out that Archaeopteryx had many distinct bird-like features, and that birds were already well-developed before theropod dinosaurs existed (see Major, 1993).
The point is that evolutionists cannot agree on the origin of birds, and neither paleontologists nor ornithologists can account for something as fundamental as the feather.
Conclusion: Jurassic Park has exerted great influence because it is such a juggernaut of a movie. Overnight, speculation has become conventional wisdom. However, the idea of finding and cloning dinosaur DNA raises many questions that challenge evolution. The story also suggests that birds are modern dinosaurs, and yet there are many problems with this theory.
Dinosaurs, though extinct, are here to stay. They have the power to spur the imagination of young minds, but let us not quash this fascination. Yes, evolutionists are using them to promote their theory, but we can use them to teach about God's creation. Let us give our children the tools to recognize good science, and interpret it correctly.
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Cane, Raid J., et al. (1993), "Amplification and Sequencing of DNA from a 120-185 Million-Year-Old Weevil," Nature, 363: 536-538.
Crichton, Michael (1990), Jurassic Park (New York: Ballantine Books).
DeSalle, Rob, et al. (1992), "DNA Sequences from a Fossil Termite in Oligo-Miocene Amber and Their Phylogenetic Implications," Science, 257:1933-1946.
Gee, Henry (1993), Jaws with Claws,' Nature, 363:681.
Gish, Duane T. (1992), Dinosaurs by Design (El Cajon, CA: Creation-Life Publishers).
Grimaldi, David (1993), "Forever in Amber," Natural History,10216]:58-61.
Lindahl, Tomas (1993), "Instability and Decay of the Primary Structure of DNA," Nature, 362:709-715.
Major, Trevor J. (1993), "A Theory for the Birds," Reason and Revelation, 13:23.
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Poinar, H. N., R. J. Cane, and G. O. Poinar (1993), "DNA from an Extinct Plant," Nature, 363:677.
Taylor, Paul (1987), The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible (San Diego, CA: Master Books).
Wieland, Carl (1993), "Meet `Mr Living Fossils' - An Informative Interview with Dr Joachim Scheven," Creation Ex Nihilo, 15121:14-19.
Reprinted with permission from Reason and Revelation, Vol.13 (August