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Sep 06 2013

Dragons aren’t real

The concepts of “fiction” and “pretend” and “imagination” seem to be very difficult to get across to some people, especially the ones who keep muddling fiction with reality. The Creation “Museum” has a big exhibit on dragons that illustrates this confusion well, with a telling beginning.

The Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky shares a fascination with dragons with the creators of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ new show.

Yep, there’s a sucker born every minute.

Ken Ham is promoting them because he wants to tie folk beliefs, like those about dragons or Jesus or angels, to reality. Hey, if we’re basing our beliefs in the reality of Jesus on myths and fairytales, then fairytales had better be a credible source of evidence.

He said there are carvings and other kinds of primitive artwork all over the world that look like dragons and there are some fossil records to indicate dragon-like dinosaurs. The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon, he said.

“They are so prevalent,” he said, “they may have a basis in reality.”

In homes all around the country, you will find copies of Harry Potter stories and comic books about giant green hulks. They are prevalent too. That does not imply in any way that magic wands actually work, or that you should expose yourself to an atom bomb blast to acquire superpowers.

They’re fiction. Fiction does not have to be based on reality. Sometimes it’s only based on what we want to be true.

Silly ol’ Ken Ham. Isn’t it about time you grew up?

70 comments

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  1. 1
    cervantes

    That’s pretty funny because dragons may indeed have a basis in reality, i.e. dinosaur fossils.

  2. 2
    Anthony K

    “They are so prevalent,” he said, “they may have a basis in reality.”

    If that’s true for dragons, then that’s even more true of gods who aren’t YHWH.

  3. 3
    Jason Dick

    Personally, I’m very intrigued at the possibility that many of the dragon legends may have been based upon fossils (and subsequently spread through cultural diffusion). Somewhat akin to this article:
    http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/fossil-ancient-greeks-mammal-110331.htm

    So I wouldn’t write off entirely the creationist thesis that these legends might have been based in reality. It’s just that the fact that fossils exist make it so that that reality doesn’t need to include any living non-avian dinosaurs.

  4. 4
    skemono

    Of course they’re real. I’ve seen several of them!

  5. 5
    romeovitelli

    You do have to wonder how many marvelous dinosaur fossils were dug up and destroyed in the thousands of years before paleontology developed. Especially in China and other places where “powdered dragon bone” was a prime ingredient in folk remedies.

  6. 6
    george gonzalez

    Of course they’re not real. You haven’t seen one evolve, have you?

  7. 7
    terrellk70

    Hmmmm that means that Jack and the Bean Stalk must be true. I knew there had to be giants…the bible confirms it!!!

  8. 8
    notsont

    You can’t really say that “dragons” may be based in reality until you define what you mean by “dragon”. If you mean a “large lizard” sure, but if you mean a large lizard that flies and breaths fire, then no completely made up. Its like saying “cyclops” may be based in reality because “elephant skulls”. Its very similar the the “Jesus” is based on a “real guy” but he just never did any of the things that made Jesus “Jesus”. I heard Paul Bunyan was based on a real guy, he just wasn’t named paul bunyan and didnt have a blue ox or swing an ax.

  9. 9
    Gregory in Seattle

    I’m reminded of an article series in the old “Dragon” magazine titled “Biology of….” (This was back in the late 80s, when issue numbers were still only two digits.) The idea was to get a writer with a biology background to write an encyclopedic or scholarly article about a critter from the D& D Monster Manual. They were fascinating, reading how dragons, jellies and catoblepas might be made (reasonably) scientifically plausible.

  10. 10
    robertschenck

    romeovitelli: Chinese dragon bone powder aside, the ancient greeks and associates apparently used to look out for strange fossil bones and preserve them, even setting them up in temples for public viewing. They thought the bones were something like saintly relics of their past heroes (who, naturally, were giants, like the Incredible Hulk).
    So there was /some/ preservation at least.

  11. 11
    unbound

    Now if they start adding unicorns, leprechauns, ghosts and UFOs, their “museum” will be complete!

  12. 12
    anuran

    Even if dragons don’t exist we may have An Instinct for Dragons.

    (Yeah, I know. Speculation. Nothing even resembling enough evidence. But it’s an entertaining speculation and makes as much sense as any other explanation as to why the legends are so similar.)

  13. 13
    scimaths

    In homes all around the country, you will find copies of Harry Potter stories and comic books about giant green hulks. They are prevalent too.

    There is a big diference between symbols and stories that arose independently across pre-modern cultures, this can tell us something interesting about the human psyche, and stories that are prevalent because we now live in a globally interconnected world.

  14. 14
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    That does not imply in any way that magic wands actually work, or that you should expose yourself to an atom bomb blast to acquire superpowers.

    Correct.

    To get superpowers, you go to prison b/c someone you know committed a crime, but the police pin it on you, b/c oppression duh, and then volunteer for human-enhancement experiments.

    it is through those experiments that you get your superpowers and break out of prison to go back to your community and do good (while trying to pay the rent).

    Whether or not you later befriend a white guy who’s totally co-opting all the Eastern martial arts tropes in the world and calling himself the world’s greatest martial artist, well, that’s up to you.

  15. 15
    Raging Bee

    Lemme guess…they’re trying to pander to “Game of Thrones” fans, just as Denarys’ dragons are starting to grow from “cute” to “air support.”

  16. 16
    Karen Locke

    Physical dragons aren’t real, but they’re a wonderful metaphor. As a child I read a book called “Professor Diggin’s Dragons”, a story about a college professor who takes a bunch of children to the beach for a couple of weeks in the summer; over the course of the book the reader learns that every person has his or her own dragon(s) inside to conquer. The book made a huge impression on me, and I still use the metaphor for things I’m struggling with inside.

  17. 17
    lochaber

    Of course dragons are real, I’ve seen our military use them:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M47_Dragon

  18. 18
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Crip Dyke
    He volunteered? I thought he ‘volunteered,’ but it’s been a while since I read the origin.

  19. 19
    chigau (違う)

    dragon poem

  20. 20
    Sili

    A commenter here a while back referenced the idea that the fiery breath of ‘dragons’ in medieval depictions was due to the artists multiplying the bifurcated tongue of snakes. One split bad, many splits worse.

    Does anyone have a reference to that?

  21. 21
    scottruplin

    Hulk smash puny museum!!!

  22. 22
    Al Dente

    The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon, he said.

    There’s a double-headed eagle on the Albanian flag so there must be double-headed eagles flying around somewhere.

  23. 23
    Al Dente

    Sorry, there’s a bad link in my post 22.

    Let’s see if this one work. (It would be nice if there was some sort of functional preview feature in FTB.)

  24. 24
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    or that you should expose yourself to an atom bomb blast to acquire superpowers.

    There go my weekend plans.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken Ham thinks magic wands do work because demons.

  25. 25
    truthspeaker

    Cancelling that trip to Fukushima, Naked Bunny?

  26. 26
    chigau (違う)

    Al Dente #23
    I use Preview to check links all the time.
    What isn’t working for you?

  27. 27
    Moggie

    The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon, he said.

    Well duh, Wales. Why do you think Torchwood are based there? That wormhole (wyrmhole?) lets all kinds of nasties in.

  28. 28
    yazikus

    Cancelling that trip to Fukushima, Naked Bunny?

    I thought traveling was unnecessary, as the radioactive cloud was headed around the world?

  29. 29
    RFW

    The science/math forum on Craigslist frequently includes postings from people who clearly don’t grok the distinction between “fiction” and “fact”. This usually leads to a spate of tart responses to the dimwits who post such nonsense.

    Particularly frequent are postings that posit scenarios contrary to the laws of thermodynamics or contrary to the concept of light having a finite, fixed velocity. It’s slightly amusing when someone waltzes in full of enthusiasm for cars powered by hydrogen gas, claiming that this is “free energy”. When it’s pointed out that extracting elemental hydrogen from water takes energy, readers can almost see the confusion on the posters’ faces.

    And then there’s a friend’s daughter, who at the age of seven asked “Mommy, can we go see the dinosaurs?” after watching Jurassic Park. I believe the young woman has long since outgrown that.

  30. 30
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon, he said.

    Evidence!

    Checkmate, evil-ooshunists.

  31. 31
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Cancelling that trip to Fukushima

    Yeah, may as well. PZ says there’s no point in going. I’ve decided instead to camp under a local wind turbine and wait for it to spill or explode or whatever it is they do.

  32. 32
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon

    That’s just an old tale. There’s no such thing as the Welsh.

  33. 33
    Rey Fox

    There’s no such thing as the Welsh.

    Then where did all these leeks come from?

  34. 34
    aziraphale

    The dragon on the Welsh flag has 4 clawed feet and 2 bat wings (much too small to support it). If Ken Ham has a fossil fitting that description he’s being remarkably quiet about it.

  35. 35
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Dalillama:

    Hrmmm. I can’t remember so well either. I was barely over a year old when the first book came out, but he was a character that fascinated me. I really loved his books. I kinda remember it as him volunteering without coercion by the people running the experiment, but being coerced generally by the inability to protect himself in prison, and it was supposed to be some cellular repair/regeneration thing and he thought if it worked, it would keep him safe. Of course, the experimenters were callous jerks, but I remember them as not being the ones who forced him into “volunteering”.

    But I’m not at all sure that that’s the original origin story. It has been retold, and I might be getting the retelling mixed up with the first telling. In any case, he was in dire straits when he volunteered – created by the experimenters? Don’t think so but not sure.

    But regardless of the details, anyone interested in the character absolutely has to watch

    …this…

  36. 36
    Lynna, OM

    I wish Ken Ham were fiction.

  37. 37
    holytape

    If dragons aren’t real and can’t fly, then how do you explain dragonflies? Gotcha, you evilutionist!! Or who do you explain this picture of Jesus and a dragon? You can’t.

  38. 38
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Ken Ham is promoting them because he wants to tie folk beliefs, like those about dragons or Jesus or angels, to realityzip lines.

    The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon, he said.

    I need a new desk, and possibly medical treatment for my head. Cave drawings? I mean, we know there were dragons in late antiquity to the middle ages, because, e.g., St, George.

  39. 39
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Raging Bee:

    Lemme guess…they’re trying to pander to “Game of Thrones” fans, just as Denarys’ dragons are starting to grow from “cute” to “air support.”

    Or to fans of The Hobbit, since the next film in the franchise will show a lot more of Smaug than the first one?

  40. 40
    Amphiox

    Dragon legends probably did have some basis in reality. Aside from the already mentioned dinosaur fossils, there were crocodylians.

  41. 41
    Holms

    …and there are some fossil records to indicate dragon-like dinosaurs.

    Funny how he invokes the fossil record when it suits him or abandons it when it doesn’t…

  42. 42
    truthspeaker

    Al Dente

    6 September 2013 at 12:54 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    There’s a double-headed eagle on the Albanian flag so there must be double-headed eagles flying around somewhere.

    I have a double eagle for Ken Ham.

  43. 43
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I love dragons
    Dragons are cool
    And unicorns
    And pegasi
    And I’m especially proud of having a 6 yo who’ll tell people that a winged unicorn is called an alicorn, duh.
    And we feed them carrots.

  44. 44
    koncorde

    Contrary to Kens belief, there’s a rather significant absence of dragons in the vast majority of the worlds folklore. Better still, those cultures with “dragons” (the Welsh not being one) all draw them all differently, and attribute either clear personalities and characteristics to them (Chinese mythology in particular) or describe them with such varied detail that nobody of reasonable intellect could “believe” in them.

    Better still – we can actually largely map out the spread of modern dragon mythology between the originating cultures and those surrounding them.

    For instance, lets be unequivocal about this here, there are absolutely no Dragon myths associated with the Middle East (and in particular Judeism, Christianity, Islam, or be it the Babylonians or Ancient Egyptians). They are also rather surprisingly notable by their absence from Greek and Roman mythology.

    Now sea serpents and the like, oh the Greeks have those and called them Drakons – but lets not confuse matters now Ken. The large creatures blowing air in massive spouts, rolling seas of flapping fins and flukes….yeah, bit of a difference between a “whale” and the Welsh flag Ken old bean.

    Meanwhile those of us who have read some actual mythologies would be insulted to see some of those creatures clubbed together as “dragons” in order to suit your own particular agenda.

    If Dungeons & Dragons was a religion, I’d be consulting my Monstrous Manual right now and castigating you from the holy tome of Gygax.

    His picture on the link is an insulting mish-mash of mythical representations, and scientifically discovered dinosaurs. I’d be interested to know what names he has put alongside Argentinosaurus and the others to dress them up as mythological creatures. Looks like the Atlantic sea monster may have “Nessie” as the name.

  45. 45
    doublereed

    The title of this blog post title should really have a spoiler warning.

  46. 46
    magistramarla

    I remember finding an article by an archeologist who conjectured that the ancient Greeks had once found a partial mastodon bone and thought that it was the skull of a giant with one eye, leading to the cyclops story.
    She also conjectured that if they found something like a tar pit, where several different dinosaurs had died, the mash up of the different bones that they found might lead to some of the more colorful monsters (and dragons) that we read about in the myths.
    I had my students to read this article and a lot of light bulbs went on that day!

  47. 47
    montanto

    I confess this is subject where I’m an easy mark. Mythology and folklore has always been a passion of mine. (in fact one of my first steps into agnosticism and onward were thanks to spotting all of those lovely folklore motifs in the bible.)

    Similar legends only tell us things about human migration and what people told other people, fascinating on it’s own but obviously not what Ham was going for. In fact I think he’s digging himself in a pit by admitting they are legends. After all when someone admits something is a legend it opens the door to the reality that OTHER things are too.

    In fact from what I can see of that map the only thing that he can really use for his purpose is the Mušḫuššu from the Ishtar Gate in Babylon. Cryptozoologists have been fun wondering if that one was base on a real critter for some time and it’s kind of biblical.

  48. 48
    Anthony K

    Sorry, Al Dente, but that double eagle on the Albanian flag must be an albatross.

    Anyway, where’s Louis when there’s a discussion of the Welsh going on?

  49. 49
    anuran

    Fill in the rest of the (old) joke:
    “My husband is the mightiest Samurai because he has his Dragon on the floor”

  50. 50
    Rob Grigjanis

    Late to the thread. Dragon my ass.

  51. 51
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    koncorde

    Better still, those cultures with “dragons” (the Welsh not being one) all draw them all differently,

    Query? The dragon of Wales appears in the Mabinogion, which is as Welsh as it gets.

    For instance, lets be unequivocal about this here, there are absolutely no Dragon myths associated with the Middle East (and in particular Judeism, Christianity, Islam, or be it the Babylonians or Ancient Egyptians). They are also rather surprisingly notable by their absence from Greek and Roman mythology.

    For values of dragon which exclude sea serpents but include the Dragon of St Gearge, Fafnir, and the assorted dragons of China and other parts of East Asia, this is untrue, viz. Ladon, Hydra, Aži Dahāka and other serpent monsters from Zoroastrian mythology.

    All that said, the gist of your post is correct, and I’m just quibbling about details.

  52. 52
    CJO

    Not just Ladon and the Hydra: Dragons in Greek Mythology

    Granted, these are all oversized serpents, but they seem clearly to be the antecedents of the classic medieval European dragon, which name is itself Greek (drakon). Not understanding the claim of their absence from Greek and Roman mythology.

  53. 53
    gworroll

    Dragons are too real! I have one in my garage. He’s invisible. Oh, also silent. Oh, he doesn’t leave footprints….

    (apoligies to Sagan)

  54. 54
  55. 55
    aziraphale

    @magistramaria:

    That sounds like Adrienne Mayor. She has written two good books on the subject, The First Fossil Hunters (about the ancient Greeks) and another about the Native Americans.

  56. 56
    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    Well duh, Wales. Why do you think Torchwood are based there? That wormhole (wyrmhole?) lets all kinds of nasties in.

    Hey, no revealing our secrets!

    That’s just an old tale. There’s no such thing as the Welsh.

    Oh yeah? I is one, working for one, supporting a hi-tech product built by a load more, in Walesishland. S’there.

  57. 57
    theignored

    I remember one of AronRa’s videos where he deals with stories of dinosaur carvings and stuff.

  58. 58
    theignored

    Damnit, I gave the wrong link.

  59. 59
    theignored

    Ok, fuck. This isn’t working

  60. 60
    robro

    So Ham is a pagan? Apparently he believes in the literal truth of the Biblical “dragon” and as that’s Tiamat, Mesopotamian goddess of chaos and oceans, and mother of the first human-like gods, I’m forced to conclude that he is, indeed, a pagan.

  61. 61
    theignored

  62. 62
    chigau (違う)

    theignored

    <a href=”paste address here”>type cute title here</a>

    will make a link rather than embedding the video

  63. 63
    theignored

    Flinstones Archeology or something like that…

    It’s what I get for posting instead of going to bed after being at work all sodding day….

  64. 64
    weatherwax

    I recently had an argument with a young earth creationist who insisted there were dinosaurs in the bible. I pointed out that if dinosaurs existed in the biblical age, they would be all through the bible. ‘And lo, the stegosaurs did come and decimate Job’s crops’, etc.

    He insisted they were too shy to show themselves to men.

  65. 65
    andrewpang

    Another sign of how religion wacks up the brain.

    When i was in high school a friend told me his deeply Christian mom took away his comics and fantasy novels BECAUSE of dragons.

  66. 66
    blf

    Ken “Piglet Rapist” Ham is confusing jet aeroplanes with dragons. Both breath fire, make loud noises, fly, consume people, and are big and magical.

  67. 67
    Inaji

    Weatherwax:

    He insisted they were too shy to show themselves to men.

    That’s, um, interesting. In biblical times, it would have been a tad difficult for dinosaurs to hide.

  68. 68
    koncorde

    @51 Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    I was trying to differentiate between literal dragons (i.e. creatures mis-identified, cryptozoology etc), and metaphorical ones. There is no suggestion that the Welsh believed in their existence, and obvious links between the stories and the symbolism behind them referring to the Anglo Saxon invaders. In re-editing my original text I see I have lost a sentence that made this clear. My apologies.

    I was also trying to highlight the obvious attempts to tie anything remotely serpenty or scaly to being a “Dragon” or otherwise a Dinosaur – the monsters in the Mesopotamian, Babylonian and Zoroastrian mythology aren’t Dragons other than by subsequent classification, usually via a tort of language or by attempts to place them parallel to westernised creatures. In reality, placing European Dragons alongside Middle Eastern Serpents, and Chinese Dragons is no more “scientific” than placing Whales next to Lizards, next to Fish and claiming they’re all the same – it suits the needs and aims of creationists to do that if it means they can somehow bring that back to the Bible somehow. it’s also somewhat lazy mythology (imo) and possibly can be somewhat pinned to Tolkien and those who inherited his work and the revival of celtic mythology that has so seen attempts to naturalise otherwise quite distinctly foreign mythologies as “western (if not specifically “British”).

    A particular frustration of mine is seeing “Dragon” – and western characteristics – substituted over the top of far more interesting and complex native mythological creatures for I know not what purpose. Ladon for instance is a serpent, always has been a serpent (made quite clear by contemporary art). The use of modern “Dragon” is a bastardisation of the mythology.

    Infuriatingly I now see this goes as far as misquoting Ptolemy & Photius on wikipedia.

  69. 69
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Dragons aren’t real.

    Correct, but they are fucking cool, and no less so for being imaginary.

    He said there are carvings and other kinds of primitive artwork all over the world that look like dragons and there are some fossil records to indicate dragon-like dinosaurs. The Welsh flag still features a picture of a dragon, he said.

    Still trying desperately to “prove” dinosaurs co-existed with humans, eh Ken?

    “They are so prevalent,” he said, “they may have a basis in reality.”

    Indeed, I think that’s likely; but I feel it is far more likely to be based on big lizards or crocodiles and an elongated international game of Chinese Whispers (I believe this game is called “Telephone” in the US) than long-dead uber-reptiles.

    That said, I suppose it’s possible that a chance fossil discovery could have started it off; but that seems unlikely. How would they have known it was a reptile? I don’t think the study of reptile anatomy was advanced enough in the days of dragon myths for someone to spot the analogous features between a contemporary reptile and a dinosaur fossil. I think big lizard or crocodilian is more likely.

  70. 70
    David Marjanović

    The dragon of Klagenfurt, Austria, is based on the skull of a woolly rhino.

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