Norwich Cathedral’s Dippy and the Genesis deluge
Following the news last month that well over 100,000 people have been to visit “Dippy” the Diplodocus at Norwich Cathedral, Matthew Pickhaver explains why he believes that Dippy helps to throw light on the biblical story of the great flood.
Since Dippy the Dinosaur arrived at Norwich Cathedral some interesting articles have been written – or talks given – in response, mostly from a similar perspective. But alongside the ‘Diplodocus in the nave’ I believe there is also an ‘elephant in the room’! This is the iconic skeleton’s obvious connection to a large-scale flood event such as that described in Genesis.
Earlier this year, in anticipation of Dippy’s visit, I made a five-minute video called ‘Dippy and the Deluge’. It begins with some background about the skeleton and its discovery: it’s both a plaster cast copy and a composite – the original consisting of the bones of at least six individuals dug out of the Morrison Formation in the western US, pictured right.
I then describe features of this sedimentary rock layer that are consistent with rapid burial by a watery catastrophe, including:
• Concentrated fossil bone beds with animal remains highly fragmented and jumbled.
• Dinosaurs alongside invertebrates, fish, amphibians, smaller reptiles and mammals.
• Bones sorted by size.
• Signs of tissue still attached to bones.
• A large number of other sauropods besides Diplodocus, without evidence of the substantial vegetation required to support such a population in one location.
• Material from volcanic eruptions, a long way from any trace of volcanoes.
• Evidence of mudflows caused by volcanic eruptions and water.
To see these features illustrated, you can watch the video at this link.
Besides such mass burials, there are many other ways in which dinosaur discoveries in general help to reinforce an historical reading of Genesis:
• When first appearing in the fossil record in the upper Triassic, dinosaurs are already specialised into about twenty diverse but distinct groups, and widely distributed across separate continents. Lacking transitional forms, this record fits the rapid successive burial of ecosystems by a global flood better than slow burial over long ages.
• Increasingly, soft tissue such as muscle fibres and proteins are being extracted from dinosaur fossils or actual non-fossilized bones. It is difficult to see how such tissues could survive for millions of years so this is a challenge to conventional dating.
• Many dinosaurs are preserved with their heads thrown back and tails arched – a position that indicates that drowning was the cause of death. Others have been preserved while fighting each other or sitting on nests of eggs, again suggesting very rapid burial in water.
• Job 40:15-24 is thought by some scholars to describe a sauropod or at least some sort of dinosaur. And cultural dragon myths found all over the world have been cited as evidence that mankind and dinosaurs did at some point exist together.
As for the question of dinosaur extinction, the radical climate change that would have occurred after a global flood provides an alternative hypothesis for their demise: the gymnosperm plant communities that herbivorous species had previously thrived on greatly decreased in quantity and variety, which in turn impacted higher up the food chain too.
Dippy’s visit then is a Gospel opportunity – in fact, I like to think of dinosaurs as ‘evangelizards’! Rather than icons of molecules-to-man evolution, as reminders of the Flood they point us to the reality and necessity of a Holy God’s judgement of sin. Yet as well as reshaping the physical world, the Flood also ushered in the era of grace we are still living in, which has at its centre the cross of Christ.
Jesus certainly taught that the Flood was historical (e.g., Luke 17:26-27) and calls us to repent and trust him if we’re to be part of the New Creation he will usher in at his equally real return.
The Dippy exhibition continues at Norwich Cathedral until October 30.
The top picture shows the original Dippy skeleton in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is courtesy of Matthew Pickaver. The other two pictures, of the Dinosaur National Monument visitor centre in Utah, located on Morrison Formation outcrops where Dippy's bones were excavated, and the Natural History Museum model of a Diplodocus model, are courtesy of Paul Garner.
Read our most recent story on Network Norfolk about Dippy here.
Matthew Pickhaver BSc(Hons), PGCE, works for Biblical Creation Trust, which you can find on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and at www.biblicalcreationtrust.org
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users.