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Sunday, September 11, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Did T-rex graze in the Garden of Eden?

By Ashley Powers
The Los Angeles Times


CABAZON, Calif. -- Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.

The 45-foot-high concrete Apatosaurus has towered over I-10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two-by-two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least a half-dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25 million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous.

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of the National Center for Science Education, a group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary."

Tyrannosaurus rex and his gigantic brethren find themselves on both sides of the nation's renewed debate over the Earth's origins and the continuing fight over whether Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" or Genesis best explains the development of life.

Science holds that dinosaurs were the Earth's royalty for about 160 million years. Their reign ended abruptly, possibly after a meteorite smacked into the planet, but they're considered the forebears to birds.

Unearthing dinosaur bones that are millions of years old "doesn't prove evolution, but it shows the Genesis account doesn't work," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.

A different story is told at Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola, Fla. Its slogan: "Where Dinosaurs and the Bible meet!"

The theme park and science center embodies its founder's belief that God created the world in six days. The dinosaurs dined as vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned -- and only then did they feast on other creatures, according to the Christian-based young-Earth theory.

About 4,500 years after Adam and Eve arrived, the theory goes, pairs of baby dinosaurs huddled in Noah's Ark, and a colossal flood drowned the rest and scattered their fossils. The ark-borne animals repopulated the planet -- meaning that folk tales about fire-breathing beasts are accounts of humans battling dinosaurs, who still roamed the planet.

Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and founder of Reasons To Believe ministry in Pasadena, frets that "young-Earth theologians" damage the credibility of scientists who are Christian and push intellectuals away from religion.

"I'd put them in the same category as flat-Earth people and the people that think the sun goes around the Earth," he said. "They think they're defending the truth, but the young-Earth model has no scientific integrity."