[Lounge #421] »« Harvard’s shame

Dragons!

The Creation “Museum” has a new exhibit: Dragons. Really. You see, according to their rules, which is that every word of the Bible has to be literally interpreted (whatever that means), nothing said in the Bible can be incorrect, metaphorical, erroneous, or even ambiguous — it has to be true. Since God told Noah that at least two of every animal were on the Ark, for example, that “every” means that every single kind of animal must have been on the big boat…which is why they insist that dinosaurs must have been aboard. Well, that and because dinosaurs are good marketing.

Similarly, there must have been dragons, because the Bible uses a word that translates as “dragon”. It’s that simple.

Does the Bible mention dragons? Used multiple times in Scripture, the Hebrew word tannin is defined by The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon as “serpent, dragon, sea-monster.” It likely refers to certain reptiles, including giant marine creatures and serpentine land animals. Though translated several different ways and differing in precise meanings based on context, tannin can denote a dragon and therefore can potentially refer to a dinosaur since all dinosaurs are dragons (though not all dragons are dinosaurs by definition).

If tannin is so vague that it can refer to a serpent as well as a sea-monster, though, and can be conviently post-fit to mean “dinosaur”, it seems to me that there is no necessity to interpret it to mean specifically dragon. But then, my brain doesn’t work like a creationist’s. It says “dragon” in the Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, by God, so there were dragons!

And what’s more, the Bible says they breathed fire, so they were fire-breathing dragons!

The burden against the beasts of the South. Through a land of trouble and anguish, From which came the lioness and lion, The viper and fiery flying serpent, They will carry their riches on the backs of young donkeys, And their treasures on the humps of camels, To a people who shall not profit. (Isaiah 30:6)

Many dragon legends such as what we find outside the Bible could be embellished, but the basic characteristics of dragons can be found in known creatures. Some dragon descriptions fit well with certain dinosaurs. Fossil pterosaurs reveal dragon-like wings. Certain beetles shoot out burning chemicals, so is a fire-breathing dragon really that far-fetched?

Yes. Yes, it really is that far-fetched. The Bible is not a science book.

Bombardier beetles use a small reaction chamber to produce a pressurized blast of peroxides. It’s not “breathing fire”. This is merely the kind of incoherent nonsense you get when you pretend the myths of ancient people are evidence of anything other than that they held certain peculiar beliefs.

Creationist logic now dictates another step: if tannin is a dragon, and dragons breathe fire, and tannin also means “dinosaur”, then dinosaurs breathed fire. Yeah, we’re done here.

Now if the Bible is a mess of incoherence, you should listen to Ken Ham. He was interviewed about his dragon exhibit.

“There are lots of dragon legends because they were real creatures. We believe many of the dinosaurs would fit some of the descriptions of dragons, the land dragons at least. I’ve never seen an exhibit like this anywhere else,” Dr. Ken Ham, president and founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum told OneNewsNow.

“We have an animatronics scientist there and other high-tech features like a dragon fly fossil. People will be able to download an app and when you put it over it, then the dragon fly comes out of the fossils and you see it three dimensional.”

Does anyone understand what the heck he’s saying? It’s interesting that his scientists are animatronic — that seems reasonable given their level of intelligence — but what do dragonflies have to do with dragons? What’s high tech about a dragonfly fossil? What is this magic app doing?

Every time I try to understand the mind of a creationist, my brain hurts.

Comments

  1. francesc says

    Angels are in the bible, angels have wings, pterosaurs have wings too. So… are Angels pterosaurs?
    I want to see a pterosaur with a flaming sword! How awesome would it be?

  2. BaldySlaphead says

    To be fair to Ham (#325 in a series entitled ‘comments I never imagined writing’), I suspect the garbled sense is down to piss poor journalism on the reporting site. Not even Ham imagines dragon flies are anything to do with dragons.

  3. randay says

    One species of cobra spits venom, but that is hardly fire. ““serpent, dragon, sea-monster.” It likely refers to certain reptiles, including giant marine creatures and serpentine land animals.” So are we to conclude that Noah took blue whales and sharks and all other marine life out of the oceans, rivers, and lakes to put them in an aquarium on the bigger and bigger boat? Did he even think of putting all the insects and spiders and other small bugs on the boat too? Then there are all sorts of worms. How did he find them all?

    Of course plant life doesn’t seem to be mentioned, so it would largely have died out in the flood leaving nothing to eat for the boat people, except the animals aboard which rather defeats the purpose.

  4. Rumtopf says

    “We have an animatronics scientist there and other high-tech features like a dragon fly fossil. People will be able to download an app and when you put it over it, then the dragon fly comes out of the fossils and you see it three dimensional.”

    Cargo cult museum?

  5. Martin says

    The app he talks about is probably a smartphone app made for the dragonfly exhibit. You use the app and aim the camera of your phone at the exhibit. The dragonfly comes from the fossil and shows itself as an image on the screen.

    @2 Not sure who is responsible for the garbled sentence, but it does seem that the last part is more about the museum than it is about dragons. Though I won’t put the reasoning “horseflies live near horses so dragonflies must live around dragons” beyond them either. They’re not that strong on facts and reasoning after all.

  6. Daniel Armak says

    Isn’t it obvious? They take texts literally. Dragonfly = dragon + fly = a dragon that flies.

  7. dantalion says

    Tannin doesn’t exactly mean dragon. But in the KJV it is translated that way. The KJV bible also has unicorns and satyrs.

  8. carlie says

    Katherine – there is a very interesting hypothesis that dragons actually were dinosaurs, but not in the way that Ham is suggesting. Adrienne Mayor wrote a book called “The first fossil hunters” that lays it out in quite convincingly Amazon link. Basically, if you look at a lot of mythological creatures (not just dragons) and where their myths originated, they look an awful lot like dinosaur and other fossil skeletons found in areas with fairly loose sediments (making it appear that they are more recently deceased remains).

  9. grumpyoldfart says

    At least the mainstream Christians are much more sensible. Virgin births, walking on water, curing blindness with spit – so much more reasonable than Ken Ham’s nonsense..

  10. says

    …legends such as what we find…

    Ugh.

    Those! “…legends such as those we find…”
    </pedantry>

    Sorry!

  11. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    A fossil, fucking high tech? A fossil is the very opposite of high tech!

    @Tyrant Al-Kalam

    We have an animatronics scientist there

    Now that is hilarious.

    FTFY.

  12. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    @Thumper,

    When I first read that, I assumed that they had a, you know, animatronic scientist, you know, as a simulation in lieu of flesh and blood one? Only after a while did it occur to me what they mean.

  13. yoav says

    the Hebrew word tannin is defined by The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon as “serpent, dragon, sea-monster.

    Meanwhile in actual Hebrew Tannin mean a crocodile, a reptile that actually exist and was very common in streams along the Israeli coastline until they were hunted to extinction during the 19th century. But in HamLogic™ it’s more likely that the people writing the bible were talking about some magic animal invented centuries later instead of the actual animals they knew well.

  14. Gregory Greenwood says

    And what’s more, the Bible says they breathed fire, so they were fire-breathing dragons!

    Hold on a second – I thought the thread about fantasy novels was the other one…

    Is this Ken Ham’s A Song of Con-Artistry and Lies?

  15. laurentweppe says

    @ Gregory Greenwood

    Keep Blashpheming and Saint Daenerys the Merciful will fuck you up and and you hometown with her angelic dragons and her army of heavenly ennuch slave-soldiers: You’ve been warned!

  16. says

    yoav
    “serpent, dragon, sea-monster” is a pretty good (if unscientific) description of a croc.

    Next week:
    Behemoth did not use its silk spray to defeat Godzilla! Read all about it!

  17. unbound says

    Although dragons are a great step, I’m still waiting for them to have the UFO exhibit added.

  18. Gregory Greenwood says

    laurentweppe @ 17;

    Keep Blashpheming and Saint Daenerys the Merciful will fuck you up and and you hometown with her angelic dragons and her army of heavenly ennuch slave-soldiers: You’ve been warned!

    So… still more fun than pretty much any form of xianity then?

  19. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @Tyrant Al-Kalam

    Yeah I got that; my post wasn’t a criticism of your post but a comment on the idea that anyone working for the Creation Museum could be referred to as a scientist with a straight face. Sorry if that didn’t come across :)

  20. says

    That horrible “museum” has been a blight on my city since the damn thing opened. Every time I drive downtown I pass one of these STUPID Billboards (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/creation-museum/files/2013/05/Dragon-C.jpg). And I have to explain to my kids once again that we aren’t going to that museum when we have a perfectly good Natural History Museum here in Cincinnati. http://www.cincymuseum.org/

    Seriously, if you ever get the urge to visit Ham’s monstrosity for the Lulz, pass and go to the Hall of Justice looking place instead.

  21. Gordon says

    I had to chuckle at Ken’s article about how his “museum” with talking animals based on fairytales is of “Disney Quality”

  22. Moggie says

    Attendance figures for the “museum” must be falling. Dinosaurs bring in the kids, bit now Ham needs to find a way to make dinosaurs more awesome to keep the turnstiles moving. Don’t be surprised if, in a few months’ time, “museum” “scholars” reveal that some Hebrew word in Isaiah means “lasers”.

  23. jamessweet says

    We have an animatronics scientist there

    Hah, I thought at first he was saying they have a “scientist” who studies animatronics. “I’m an animatronologist!”

    Also: Who knew that dragons were an important part of what gives wine its flavor?

  24. clevehicks says

    Really PZ this is simply brilliant … worthy of Mark Twain! Dragonflies indeed …

  25. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Hah, I thought at first he was saying they have a “scientist” who studies animatronics. “I’m an animatronologist!”

    Wait, we should get this straight now, I thought this was a joke.
    So once and for all, are they using animatronics to simulate a scientist in a desperate attempt to replace a real one, or do they have people working on animatronics which they call scientists in a desperate attempt to sound legit?

  26. randay says

    Ekwhite, no the Leviathan was finally identified by Thomas Hobbes and is not Godzilla.

  27. ChasCPeterson says

    Yeah, you download this app, see, and then when you wave your phone at a fossil, an image appears on your little screen that proves that it’s identical to a living animal.
    Well, except the dinosaurs, they may be extinct, at least the big ones.

  28. hillaryrettig says

    I think you’re overthinking it. He’s a marketer seeking to maximize revenues, and dragons are hot.

  29. says

    Oh, those poor sods at AIG. There have been many many mistranslations in the bible. “Tannin” does not mean “dragon”. In the old-neo-reformed hebrew, “Tannin” mean “toaster”. And the stories of fire-breathing toasters were just warning parables to keep your toasters free of bread crumbs.

  30. No One says

    Not even Ham imagines dragon flies are anything to do with dragons.

    Where you there?

  31. dukeofomnium says

    Evidently, the Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon was also divinely inspired and completely inerrant.

  32. graham says

    “I’ve never seen an exhibit like this anywhere else.” I’m sure you haven’t Ken, I’m sure you haven’t. And why might that be I wonder?

    So there were fire-breathing animals on the Ark? How did that work then? It’s a heath & safety nightmare!

    Reminds me of this Ricky Gervais sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmaE1966kjo

  33. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    And the stories of fire-breathing toasters were just warning parables to keep your toasters free of bread crumbs.

    Once, I tried to make a toast at work and the toaster exploded into flames. A colleague had to throw it out of the window using a pipe wrench. True story!

  34. Lofty says

    Proper dragons, just not fire breathing ones. They’re so cute, two could fitted in Noah’s vest pockets on his trip to collect the Australian beasties..

  35. Rich Woods says

    @dukeofomnium #36:

    Evidently, the Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon was also divinely inspired and completely inerrant.

    And written in 1906.

    Still, I would have liked to hear Ken argue in favour of a fire-breathing sea monster…

  36. francesc says

    @27, @29 Indeed, they have “scientists” who “study” animatronics through the bible. They are trying to understand Lazarus’ code right now. Yeah, he was not dead, he was the first automat recorded in history.
    Ugh, wait, that’s from the NT, they were not the first.

  37. says

    They have an exhibit where a plastic doll creationist in a coat pulls out a fossil and says “This came from the great flood! I know because the Bible says so!” and another creepy robot doll says “This is millions of years old and I say so because I hate God and I like to make things up!” I think this is what Ken is talking about.

    Paraphrasing the dialog here. I was hoping to find a video of the fighting dolls online but no such luck. It must be out there unless I imagined it.

  38. terrencekaye says

    If anyone knows how to contact Ken Ham, can you ask him this question: If there were two of every kind of animal on the ark, what did the anteaters have for their second meal?

  39. says

    The ancient world was completely awash with “The viper and fiery flying serpent.”

    The vipers were perhaps the small serpents with “two horns growing from the top of the head” that were sacred to Zeus. Flying serpents seemed to abound too:

    the city of Buto, to which place I came to inquire about the winged serpents: and when I came thither I saw bones of serpents and spines in quantity so great that it is impossible to make report of the number, and there were heaps of spines, some heaps large and others less large and others smaller still than these, and these heaps were many in number. This region in which the spines are scattered upon the ground is of the nature of an entrance from a narrow mountain pass to a great plain, which plain adjoins the plain in Egypt; and the story goes that at the beginning of spring winged serpents from Arabia fly towards Egypt, and the birds called ibises meet them at the entrance to this country and do not suffer the serpents to go by but kill them.

    As for the serpent its form is like that of the watersnake; and it has wings not feathered but most nearly resembling the wings of the bat. Let so much suffice as has been said now concerning sacred animals.

    (Herodotus: “An Account of Egypt.”)

    Seems one couldn’t throw a stone in Egypt, without hitting a “tannin”.

  40. chadwickjones says

    I assume the app he is talking about is something like Aurasma, and he is simply going to try to produce a small augmented reality type presentation for his gullible audience.

    “Dr.” Ken Ham… LOL! That’s funny enough.

  41. Amphiox says

    Well, when the asteroid impacted 65 million year ago and set off global wild fires, I suspect very many dinosaurs did indeed breathe fire.

    For a few seconds, at any rate.

  42. says

    Does the museum have a cockatrice? Isaiah 14:29 “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Not my favorite brand of dragon, fun all the same.

  43. David Marjanović says

    Wait. How does he get from “fiery flying serpent” to fire-breathing dragon? Divine inspiration?

    As far as “tannin” is concerned, here’s what Owlmirror had to say on this subject a bit more than four years ago. The series of question marks is the actual Hebrew that National Geographic was too stupid to code properly.

  44. eoleen says

    Tsk tsk… You should invokke yer spel-chkker…

    it is conveniently , knot conviently.

    (Furst sentense after quote…)

  45. says

    @ David Marjanović

    fiery flying serpent

    I get the impression from some translations that it is the flying serpent that was actually *on fire*. I mean like GOATS ON FIRE!!!. Literally on fire.

    KJV (1611) has: “fierie flying serpent” suggests it is burning.

    Basic English: “the burning winged snake”, well…. there you have it.

    Though Isaiah is talking about Egypt here, I can’t remember Herodotus saying they were literally on fire. He was also from round about that time (about half a millenium before Babyjesus), so you’d think they were talking about the same critters. That his guides would fail to inform him of the little flying infernos seems quite incredible. More likely (the writer’s of) Isaiah made that part up as part of their marketing gambit to help sell their new book.

  46. rowanvt says

    …. Is it wrong that I was to see this exhibit, and then complain volubly about all the things they doubtless got wrong biologically that would subsequently make it impossible for the beast to walk or fly?

  47. Amphiox says

    Wait. How does he get from “fiery flying serpent” to fire-breathing dragon? Divine inspiration?

    Divine oxidation!

  48. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Divine oxidation!

    From the producers that brought you such hits as the burning bush

  49. karley jojohnston says

    The “fire-breathing dinosaurs” they most usually point to are crested lambeosaurs. Because they had hollow crests which could store bombardier chemicals, see.

    When I recounted my experience at the Creation Museum of the Ozarks, I actually called a guy who studied these crests. He sayeth “No way.” But then, he’s not viewing the crests through a biblical lenses!

    http://johnnykaje.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/a-trip-to-the-creation-museum-of-the-ozarks/

  50. says

    fiery flying serpent

    These could also be referring to “Seraphs“:

    fiery six-winged beings that fly around God’s throne singing “holy, holy, holy”

    I wish I could make shit like this up.

    @ Ken Ham

    Ok, I realise you take the babble literally. We all have our little idiosyncrasies. But which of these divergent translations of the old texts are we to take literally? (Just one word has taken us from fire breathing dragons to flaming phantasms via …er , … dinosaurs, you say?)

  51. Skeptic Dude says

    @16
    I wish HBO would adapt the Bible. There is way more sex and violence than anything written by George RR Martin, although the amount of fantasy is kind of overkill.

  52. Owlmirror says

    Re: burning snakes: Tetrapod Zoology —
    Close encounters with the Father of Death
    . “Burning” is almost certainly a reference to how much the venom hurts before it kills the envenomated.

    I note that when they copied the comments for TetZoo, they managed to get the character encoding right (Hebrew, and presumably other characters, show up correctly).

    I can’t quite figure out saraf me’ofef (שָׂרָף מְעֹופֵף)/(שרף מעופף), from Isaiah 30:6. Weak speculation is that the snake moves so fast it looks like it flies? Perhaps it looks like it’s flying when it strikes?

  53. Owlmirror says

    Or, it must be said, the author of Isaiah may have been hallucinating. Isaiah is one of the weirdest books of the OT canon. But then, so is Job. And Ezekiel. And Daniel. And…

    Actually, they’re all kinda wacky.

  54. CuervodeCuero says

    @61 …Weak speculation is that the snake moves so fast it looks like it flies? Perhaps it looks like it’s flying when it strikes?

    Or they leap from trees with great gliding elegance, but that’s still too realistic. The good Ham deserves nothing less than…

    Snakes.On.A.Plane.

  55. says

    I’ve seen a dragon fly on many occasions, so not much of a draw there. What I haven’t seen, though, is a barn dance. Do they have any of those at the museum?

  56. says

    I get the impression from some translations that it is the flying serpent that was actually *on fire*. I mean like GOATS ON FIRE!!!. Literally on fire.

    KJV (1611) has: “fierie flying serpent” suggests it is burning.

    Basic English: “the burning winged snake”, well…. there you have it.

    I have a couple other interpretations:

    1. Color: It’s red and/or orange, resembling the color of fire.
    2. Temperament: Fiery as in excitable, short-tempered, or capricious.

    Naturally, those wouldn’t be literal enough for Ham’s tastes.

  57. robro says

    Owlmirro — That’s almost certainly “authors” of Isaiah. Biblical scholars generally identify at least two main sources and some of that material was probably derived from other common sources. So essentially it’s a compilation. And that’s not counting all the redactors who fidgeted with it over the several centuries that it took to come to it’s present form.

    Trying to figure out what the writers of the bibles meant by tannin is probably a exercise in futility. Some of them may have believed in literal flying, fire breathing, sea dragons…or not. In any case, the writers were more interested in ideology than documenting nature or mythology. The Pppffff has an interesting speculation that tannin may have been used as a reference to Egypt. In that case, it’s a metaphor for a powerful neighbor and rival with the Seleucids for dominance in Palestine.

  58. Amphiox says

    KJV (1611) has: “fierie flying serpent” suggests it is burning.

    Basic English: “the burning winged snake”, well…. there you have it.

    Basically, what happened that time Quetzalcoatl got drunk and was given a match.

  59. newfie says

    I saw something the other week that could be relevant. The legend of St. George slaying a dragon in what is now Libya could have just been Georgie killing a monitor lizard. Early painting and iconography started with one forked tongue, but artists, always trying to outdo each other, added a pair of forks to the tongue, then another pair, until the highly embelished forked tongue looked like fire coming out of the lizard’s mouth. Come KJV and there’s yer fire breathing dragon.

  60. yoav says

    ChristineRose #42

    They have an exhibit where a plastic doll creationist in a coat pulls out a fossil and says “This came from the great flood! I know because the Bible says so!” and another creepy robot doll says “This is millions of years old and I say so because I hate God and I like to make things up!” I think this is what Ken is talking about.

    And then the creationist robot delivers Kenny the pork’s killer argument, where you there?

  61. skaduskitai says

    It’s like “the sun” vs “the son” bullshit from new age dupes. You see, appearantly all people cared about in the middle east thousands of years ago was how things were going to get to be translated into english thousands of years later.

  62. David Marjanović says

    Early painting and iconography started with one forked tongue, but artists, always trying to outdo each other, added a pair of forks to the tongue, then another pair, until the highly embelished forked tongue looked like fire coming out of the lizard’s mouth.

    …Are you speculating, or did this actually happen? Because that would explain a lot.

  63. newfie says

    …Are you speculating, or did this actually happen? Because that would explain a lot.

    No, I actually saw something on this a few months back. My google-fu isn’t turning up the results that I’m looking for though. But the host was explaining iconography, and mentioned that artists would ‘one-up’ each other by adding extra forks to the lizard’s tongue, until after a century or two, it became interpreted as fire. I thought it a very plausible explanation. Wish I could find it now.. darn it.