Divided Dinos: What the Dinosaurs Can Teach Us About Ourselves

By Aaron Williamson

In order to continue exploring the intersection of faith and science, let us draw our attention to an article from the December 2015 issue of Scientific American for further engagement.  The article is entitled "What Killed the Dinosaurs: the asteroid strike was bad. The timing was worse,"  by Paleontologist and author Stephen Brusatte.  If there is one subject in the biological sciences that almost universally seems to spark the imagination, it is dinosaurs.  This fascination appears to be equally prevalent among those concerned with faith issues, where questions long ago emerged as to where dinosaurs fit into the Biblical story.

Brusatte discusses one of the biggest mysteries in the natural sciences:  what killed the dinosaurs?  This mystery has fascinated scientists’ for years, without any definitive answers.  From the religious side, the Bible provides very little detail on the natural environment at the beginning of the world.  Dinosaurs are not mentioned, nor are clues given to their disappearance, except possibly the flood narrative.  As such, many people in the scientific and religious communities are puzzled over these questions.  

The reigning theory among scientists is that a large asteroid hit the earth, whose aftermath caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.  A debate emerged as to whether this asteroid killed the dinosaurs suddenly, or whether it dealt a final blow to a population already declining toward extinction.  Brusatte has proposed that the dinosaur population was generally healthy.  The one exception being a "middle group" of herbivores that included the triceratops, which had very low diversity at this stage just prior to the asteroid impact.  If true, the asteroid would have decimated these herbivores.  The result of this would have been the massive disruption of the food web.   When one group of dinosaurs disappeared, it caused a chain reaction that brought about the extinction of the remaining members, which depended upon them as a food source for survival.  In fact, all species were interconnected.  When one group died, it affected the remaining dinosaurs, who were now unable to survive.

If even scientist such as Brusatte can view the interdependence of the dinosaur population as central to their survival, what does that say for the survival of humanity, and our need for community?  We in the West pride ourselves on our individualism and self-autonomy, and often do not even know our neighbors who live next door.  At the same time, we seek to identify with our own groups, such as those of the same nationalities, economic status, race, gender, sexual identity, religion, political affiliation, or career path.  In the church, we are often seen as isolationists.  However, this is not the message of Jesus.  He broke all boundaries, crossing over to touch the leper, to fellowship with sinners and tax collectors, to heal the sick, to care for the poor, and to connect with with gentiles.  He crossed all divisions of economics, nationality, race, religion, gender, age, and status. 

In Jesus we are all connected to our fellow humans through a bond of love:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have love you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  (Jn. 15: 12-13).  God’s message of hope was to all the nations around the world:  “the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.  And they shall come and see my glory, and I will set a sign among them.  And from them I will send survivors to the nations . . . that have not heard my fame or seen my glory.  And they shall declare my glory among the nations” (Is.  66:18-19).  

In the conclusion to his article, Brusatte argues that even the most dominant organism can go extinct suddenly.  He warns that since modern humans are destroying our biodiversity at an exponential rate, humanity itself may be threatened just as the dinosaurs were.  We are only as strong as our weakest links.  So that while as Christians we know that the future is in God’s hands, “declaring the end from the beginning and . . . saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’ “ Is 46:9-10, we must also keep in mind the welfare of the weak--the other (Mt. 25:40).

One day we will be called to account for how we live our lives and how we take care of His creation both in terms of nature and humanity itself.  Brusatte’s account of the dinosaurs’ extinction provides a necessary critique of some of our abuses.  Brusatte's message of community and interconnectedness is something that we should all take to heart as we think about our responsibilities to our fellow human, and to the world that God has created.  It cannot merely be "survival of the strongest" because the nature of our interconnections, and discipleship in Christ's self-giving, relativizes that very distinction.