August 15th, 2006

Dinosaur Adventure Land

Originally published at blog.scatmania.org. Please leave any comments there.

ON DINOSAUR ADVENTURE LAND

This is the strangest thing I’ve seen so far this week, and I’m a diggdot reader. Dinosaur Adventure Land (site navigation requires JavaScript) is a dinosaur-themed education park with all the usual things - fossils, a “back in time” ride, huge plastic dinosaurs: you get the idea - that you’d expect a theme park with it’s name to have. But there’s a twist.

Dinosaur Adventure Land is run by Kent E. Hovind. Mr.Hovind (I shan’t call him “Dr.” until he gets a real doctorate) believes the world to be less than six thousand years old. He believes this because it’s what he interprets the bible as telling him.

At his theme park, having learned about how different dinosaurs lived and hunted, he reveals to his guests that dinosaurs and humans at one point lived alongside one another. The mass extinctions evidently didn’t affect humans too badly, in his mind, but he also claims that some dinosaurs continued to live amongst us well into the 20th century. This explains, he says, occurances like bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

You can read Mr. Hovind’s theories for yourself, if you can’t be bothered to get his DVD (although I might - it’s uncopyrighted so perhaps I can download a copy). Here are some of my favourite crackpot theories from his mind:

  • Continental drift is a myth. Despite heaps of evidence to the contrary, including modern-day observations of plate techtonics, Mr. Hovind attempts to refute the existence of continental drift. If you point out to him that the continents are an awfully convenient shape, then, he’ll point out that “what the geologists don’t tell you is that very similar fossils are found on opposite sides of the ocean, suggesting a world-wide flood.” He fails to spot that this could also be evidence that the continents were joined when the life forms died and fossils formed, and later seperated.
  • The Earth’s magnetic field is static. Magnetic anomolies among the continental ridges, while provide evidence for geomagnetic reversal (a theory almost universally-accepted by geologists), do not exist or are insignificant, he claims.
  • All of the mammoths were killed almost instantly. Hovind teaches us that we’ve found many deceased mammoths, all standing up and with evidence that they died very quickly, and claims that this is evidence for his “great flood” theory (which I’ll mention later). He’s wrong, by the way - we’ve not found many intact mammoths and I can’t find any evidence that any were found standing up (the one he usually mentions, the Berezovka Mammoth, may well have died from drowning, but certainly wasn’t standing up). He also carefully skirts around the fact that dinosaurs’ (which, according to his theories, would have lived at the same time as mammoths) bones are found buried in a way (different depths, carbon dating, etc.) that would suggest that they lived over a huge period of time and did not all die out in an instant.
  • So what killed all these extinct species? A great flood! And not just any great flood: a comet hit the Earth, we’re told. A huge comet entered the solar system and (for some reason he doesn’t really clarify) began to break apart. Lots of chunks of water ice (recent evidence from probes like Deep Impact suggest that comets contain far less water ice than was previously thought, containing far more dust and rock and ices of other gases, like methane). The craters on the moon, Mars and other planets were caused by this immense icy meteor, as were the rings around Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune (wow; this really is a huge comet). The comet seperated further in the Earth’s atmosphere, and fell as snow… curiously, the ice particles became statically charged in the Earth’s atmosphere which caused them to be attracted towards the Earth’s magnetic poles, which is why they are icier today than other parts of the Earth - which makes no sense whatsoever. The melting snow created filled in the huge valleys that are now the oceans (presumabley there wasn’t very much water on Earth before this happened).
  • More evidence for a great flood! Mr. Hovind takes pretty much every bit of evidence for an “old Earth” and twists it with a huge dose of imagination in order to attempt to turn it into evidence for his “young Earth.” Fossils of sea creatures found in the Himalayas have been accepted (through biological analysis, carbon dating, and the techtonic record) to have been pushed up there when the Indian techtonic plate crashed (very slowly, but it’s very heavy!) into South Asia. Mr. Hovind, however, explains that the only way you could possibly get seashells up Everest would be with a great flood “washing” them up there. He uses the bible to demonstrate the infallability of the bible a few times to help demonstrate the correctness of his theory.

He goes on to “disprove” coal formation, which is also amusing reading, but the whole thing remains kind-of alarming to me when I think about the fact that people genuinely believe this stuff.

ON MENTAL MODELS AND STAGNATION

When we are confronted by evidence that contradicts our model of the way things are, we are confused. We can amalgamate this new evidence and relieve the confusion in one of two ways. The first way, which is the most comfortable, is to assume that our existing model (what we already believe) is correct and take the extra evidence as an exception to the rule. The second way, which is harder, is to adapt the model to fit the new evidence. Which one is more correct depends upon the situation, but something that is certainly true is that it is far more difficult to retrospectively adapt a model (where your model has been hard-set by, for example, years of belief in it) than it is to adapt a model which is less-strongly held.

Let’s have a simple example: a woman has a son who, on a particular occassion, gets into trouble at school. Her mental model includes predicates like “My son is a good boy,” and so this new evidence challenges that belief. Odds are good that she will extend her model with an exception, such as “…except when he plays with [scapegoat],” or even “…except that one time.” This is probably correct, and her model is refined with this “bolt-on” extra clause. If she continues to be bombarded by evidence, she is likely to have to change her model to accomodate it, eventually changing her original ideas: “My son is not a good boy.”

Retrospectively changing ideas is very hard: the human brain doesn’t seem to feel as comfortable with it. Suppose you had firmly believed that there was a deity who cared about you and would grant you a place in it’s heaven if you lived your life in accordance with a certain set of rules and traditions. Then suppose something somehow managed to persuade you that this deity probably didn’t exist at all. Changing your mental model to something new, contradicting yourself, and saying “I have been wrong for the last 20 years,” or whatever, isn’t an easy thing to do, so people don’t like to do it.

What people will sometimes do is to maintain their model with an ever-growing string of complicated and intertwined exceptions, making themselves into an apologetic for their cause. “God doesn’t condone homosexuality, because Leviticus 18:22 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18 forbid it! Oh; but don’t mind Leviticus 11:12 and Deuteronomy 14:10 - of course God doesn’t mind us eating shellfish in this day and age.”

Everybody does this: not just the theists. But it scares me that we seem to be seeing an increase in this kind of thinking from theists worldwide, and while it’s probably better than them taking their thousands-of-years-old holy books as literal and following them to the letter, it sets a bad precedent. If they can justify making exceptions to the rules they don’t like, it follows that they will eventually adapt their models, internally, to say “It is okay to change our models to fit our needs and still believe that we aren’t hypocrites.” It’s happening now to many people all over the world, and it disappoints me.