An Alternate Reality: A Visit to A Creationist Conference

While most paleontologists see the six-inch long serrated teeth of tyrannosaurus rex as evidence of its carnivorous past, creationist Jason Lisle takes a more optimistic view.

“God didn’t make monsters,” he says, explaining his theory of the dinosaur’s diet. “The first T-Rex would have eaten plants. Dinosaurs, along with all animals originally, were vegetarians.”

“People say, ‘wait a minute – but T-Rex has those incredibly sharp teeth.’ And indeed, T-Rex had six-inch serrated fangs – perfectly designed for ripping and tearing into watermelons, and cantaloupes, and cabbages and all kinds of fruits.”

“You see, you think of a watermelon as soft. But in order to get to the soft stuff on the inside, you have to cut through the hard outer exterior. But not T-Rex. He was quite ready to eat it off the vine.”

Besides prompting some to consider whether their dentist is a creationist, Lisle’s coconut-eating tyrannosaur may inspire only ridicule. The cartoons he brings with him tonight suggesting a 6000-year-old Earth show raptors and Stegosauri outfitted with saddles, a caveman fighting an infant T-Rex, and Adam and Eve strolling in the Garden of Eden alongside triceratops.

“Dinosaurs were docile, gentle, when they were first created,” says Lisle. “All life’s animals would have been gentle when they were first created.”

But while tonight’s presentation this April evening features plenty of “Flintstones”-esque imagery, it reveals a deep divide in how many Americans interpret the world.

“We ultimately view the world through Biblical Glasses or Secular Glasses — evolutionized glasses,” says Lisle. Lisle, one of half of all Americans who believes that God created man in his present form, rejects evolution because it represents what he calls “an erroneous world view” – one that depends on man’s “fallible methods” rather than a literal reading of the Bible to determine the validity of scientific theories. In a country increasingly polarized by the “Darwin Wars,” his lectures this weekend show through the lens of dinosaurs how starkly Americans may differ in their views of what constitutes reality.

“This is a very basic form of logic, very easy,” Lisle says. “T-Rex is a land animal. Land animals were created on Day 6, according to the Bible. Therefore, T-Rex was created on Day 6.”

Lisle lectures tonight wearing an outfit of a plain button-down white shirt and grey slacks spruced up by his tie, which shows Genesis 1:1 framed by eight planets (Earth sits in the center, while Pluto is omitted). Still youthful-looking in his forties, he does not yet look the part of a man who spends months on end traveling the country, often too low on funds to sleep anywhere but a friendly creationist’s home.

“I didn’t let on that I was a creationist to most of my faculty members,” Lisle says, speaking of an education that took him to secular schools – Ohio Wesleyan, where he studied physics and astronomy, and Colorado, where he received his PhD in astrophysics. He speaks of the dilemma faced by creationists at secular schools, urging that students not “come out” until after graduate school. “Some professors will just stop you from getting your PhD if you’re a creationist.”

Lisle is here tonight at Pennview Christian School in Souderton, PA (about thirty minutes east of Philadelphia) to instruct high school students and their parents how to answer the questions an alien secular worldview will ask of them. He stands at the front of the school’s 300-seat auditorium, half-full tonight and with enough aisle room that audience members can easily stand up during prayer songs. Teenagers sit together in the front rows of each of the three seating sections in the room, while their parents cluster towards the back of the room. And while there is no mistaking this gathering for a scientific conference, neither do the audience members resemble the lot H.L. Mencken lampooned during the Scopes Trial 81 years ago. They wear T-shirts without logos (no polo or oxford shirts), classic fit jeans, and V-neck sweatshirts from their alma mater, or failing that, a high school sports team.

Lisle interjects: “People say, ‘wait a minute – wouldn’t T-Rex try to eat people –

try to eat Adam and Eve?’” Lisle quickly points out the response to this common question: the picture of dinosaurs one finds in “anti-God, humanistic-based evolution movies” like Jurassic Park, he explains, is a canard.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to see movies like that. But you need to think about things when you watch things like that. How do I process this from the Biblical worldview? Is this really accurate?”

Unlike the scientists depicted in the slides tonight who squeal, “The Earth is billions of years old! Take my word for it!” Lisle emphasizes that the evidence points towards creation. His presentation mixes genetics with Genesis, showing how secular evidence can resolve the origin of Cain’s wife. He calculates the size of Noah’s Ark for the audience in cubits, showing the volume to be around 1.3 million cubit feet. Next, he demonstrates how the progenitors of every modern animal fit into the ark with room to spare.

“We think there would have been a little less than 8,000 birds, little less than 5,000 reptiles, a little less than 4,000 mammals. You add it up, and you get about 16,000 animals. You see, this estimate is being generous to our critics. This is sort of, ‘upper limit.’ We think the true number of animals would have been less than that – perhaps quite a bit less than that. So, about 16,000 animals on the Ark, maximum.”

But as Lisle reminds his audience, the Bible – “The History of the Universe” – trumps all secular evidence.

“It’s not all based on Christian views,” says home schooler Jimmy Glunt of his non-creationist geology textbook. “I can tell if it’s not right.”

A book handed out to winners of a raffle this evening emphasizes that “when reconstructing dinosaurs from bony remains, scientists make all kinds of guesses, and often disagree” and dwells mistakes paleontologists have made when identifying Apatosaur skeletons. Another chapter informs of scientific discoveries first described in the Bible: “the earth is round; the earth is suspended in space without support; the stars are countless; the hydrologic cycle; sea currents; living things reproduce after their kind; many insights into health, hygiene, diet, physiology; the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and many other things.”

This book is just one of many hawked by Lisle tonight. Lisle’s slides have been moving quickly – none sits on the screen for more than fifteen seconds – and ten separate blocks of advertising for books from Answers in Genesis, Lisle’s employer, divide the presentation.

“It’s how they make their money,” says Daniel Batcher, a home-schooled high school junior who has been to creationism events before. The books’ titles and cover imagery support his point. The Lie: Evolution depicts an apple-shaped Earth with a bite taken out of it. And while Lisle has mostly steered clear of culture war tonight, another book, Genesis and the Decay of Nations, shows an “evolution snake” constricts Earth at the Equator, threatening to destroy “the Christian structure of nations.”

As Lisle’s last speech of the weekend comes to a close, he reminds the audience why creation is so important. He brings up a cartoon, his last, on the screen, showing a small church with a cross on its roof standing next to a monumental white cross, upon which is printed “The Church.” A network of white roots, labeled “Creation,” secure “The Church” into the ground. Secular science attacks creation, he says, with “ ‘Ape equals Man’ this, ‘millions of years’ this, ‘evolution’ this.” On the screen, a salvo of cruise missiles appear, with “Ape=Man,” “Millions of Years,” and “Evolution” printed on their side.

“Millions of years hits – boom. And the Church is inclined to say, ‘well, it didn’t hit the Cross.’” While, Lisle explains, these missiles only hit the Church’s roots – creation – they threaten to undermine the entire Biblical worldview. This is where Answers in Genesis comes in.

“We want to come along,” he says. “We’re not a church – we’re going to stand alongside the church and we want to help out.” A small shack appears next to the church. A radar dish stands on its roof, surveying the incoming secular missiles.

But Lisle and Answers in Genesis don’t just intend to survey these attacks.

“The next time, we say, ‘Warning, Warning.’ And we should, because these are attacks on the Christian faith.”

As Lisle says this, the cartoon changes again. With new targets obtained from the radar system, the church begins firing lasers – emitted from its cross – at the incoming missiles, at secular reality. It is only “spiritual warfare,” Lisle insists, but the metaphor remains troubling. The cascade of laser beams strikes the missiles, causing them – and their erroneous messages – to erupt into flames.

“Come to the Cross and be saved!” proclaims the church.

And as Lisle closes his speech, the wreckage of these failed ideologies fall towards Earth, vestiges of a world that had so assumed the existence of factuality that it never thought it might have to defend it.

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2 thoughts on “An Alternate Reality: A Visit to A Creationist Conference

  1. Intrinsic

    Of course, Jason Lisle has no academic or professional qualifications related to paleontology, biology, or any of the related sciences required to actually know why sharp, serrated teeth are impractical for eating gourds & melons. (No flat teeth means no chewing the fibrous plant material, which is why there are precisely zero herbivorous species today with only sharp teeth.)

    He’s a (disgraced) astrophysicist, which makes him about as qualified to make statements about biology as an engineer, mechanic or architect.

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