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Ask Dr. Robert Bakker About Dinosaurs and Merging Science and Religion 528

Posted by samzenpus
from the what's-old-is-new dept.
With his trademark hat and beard, Dr. Robert Bakker is one of the most recognized paleontologists working today. Bakker was among the advisers for the movie Jurassic Park, and the character Dr. Robert Burke in the film The Lost World: Jurassic Park is based on him. He was one of the first to put forth the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers and were warm-blooded, and is credited with initiating the ongoing "dinosaur renaissance" in paleontology. Bakker is currently the curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Director of the Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado. He is also a Christian minister, who contends that there is no real conflict between religion and science, citing the writings and views of Saint Augustine as a guide on melding the two. Dr. Bakker has agreed to take some time from his writing and digging in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Ask Dr. Robert Bakker About Dinosaurs and Merging Science and Religion

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  • Mixed Footprints (Score:2, Interesting)

    by croftj (2359) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:00PM (#42799119) Homepage

    So what is your take on the human footprint inside of the dinosaur footprint in the one creation museum near the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas?

  • by Ramsees (1007423) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:01PM (#42799135)
    I don't think so.
  • Mass extinctions? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:06PM (#42799201)

    Hello Dr. Bakker,

    Has your thinking regarding mass extinctions, particularly the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, changed or evolved from the time of your writing THE DINOSAUR HERESIES?

    Thanks sincerely -

  • Dinosaur Behavior (Score:5, Interesting)

    by capt.Hij (318203) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:06PM (#42799209) Homepage Journal
    There is a lot of speculation about dinosaur behavior. For example people talk about how velociraptors hunted in packs or how they hunted. When these things are discussed in the media the ideas are stated with a great deal of certainty. How do you react when these theories are stated as being definite facts? What do you, as a scientists, try to do to try to get reporters to understand the nature of science and the role of dialogue/debate and uncertainty within the scientific community?
  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:08PM (#42799229) Homepage Journal

    Charles Darwin a life long student of nature very aptly commented concerning evolution "what a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature"

    How can one reconcile the long suffering and blundering low and cruel works of nature with the notion of a powerful omniscient and omnibenevolent being?

  • by Enry (630) <enryNO@SPAMwayga.net> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:10PM (#42799271) Journal

    That depends on how literally you take your religion. Much of the voices you hear in the press and in places like the Creation Museum believe that the Bible was written directly by God and every word is the literal truth. In that case, you're right.

    I'm religious(I'm not a minister, but I do attend services regularly along with serving on the governing body of the local parish). To me, there's symbolism all over the place in the Bible, so why isn't much of the Bible itself symbolism?

    Absence of proof doesn't mean it didn't happen, but proof of something happening is pretty darn convincing. I can say God exists and Jesus rose from the dead, but I can't prove it. But I'm not going to try and convince you I'm right about that. There's plenty of evidence that the Big Bang happened and the universe is 14ish billion years old and monkey and humans share a common ancestor. There's plenty of things that science doesn't explain (yet): what happened before the Big Bang? What caused the bolt of lightning that caused the amino acids to come together? What caused humans to evolve the way we did? Those are all things where God acts within the laws of nature He created to make us the way we are.

    Disagree? I'm cool with that. This works for me. I don't expect it to work for everyone.

  • by starglider29a (719559) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:14PM (#42799345)
    It is my observation that reader comments on science article quickly follow a Godwin-like trajectory to a flame war between those who hold to religious (though many are scientists) beliefs and those who hold to scientific (usually atheist) beliefs. The two factions spew hate, obscenity, and generally impugn the intelligence of the other.

    Question: What advice can you offer to help the readers, and thus the comment posters, to strike a balance? Can there be some kind of 'kumbaya manifesto' to skip the quarreling and get to the matter at hand? Climate change, dark matter, even human colonization need well-tempered minds, of all persuasions. How do we get there?
  • Raptor Red (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gertlex (722812) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:15PM (#42799355)

    Dr. Bakker,

    I'd just like to say thanks for the good childhood memories from your book, Raptor Red... I still have my signed copy of it, and should definitely re-read it some time.

    I guess I should ask a question, too... If Raptor Red were being written today, are there any new discoveries in the last two decades that would neccessitate significant changes from how you wrote the original?

  • by xevioso (598654) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:23PM (#42799459)

    I have a bunch, but yes, only one question per post. So:

    Dr. Bakker, people are incredibly fascinated with dinosaurs, and with good reason. But there's a huge swath of very interesting creatures that lived life on earth prior to the end-Permian event. Lots of really interesting creatures like members of the labrynthodonts and sauropsids. Although children's imaginations and movies like Jurassic park focus on dinos and their immediate relatives, have you ever thought about promoting the diversity of creatures prior to the end-Permian in cultural ways? In other words, will we ever see a giant flesh-eating Anomalocaris in a movie? Can you make that happen please?

  • by starglider29a (719559) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:23PM (#42799461)
    I am aware of many ideas that "young Earth believers" foster to explain the stratigraphy of fossils in a 6K-year old Earth.

    Question: What explanations have you heard? What answer can you offer from the middle ground between a scientist (whose expertise relies on that stratigraphic record) and a man of faith who reads the same Bible that the "young Earth believers" do?
  • by Again (1351325) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:28PM (#42799529)

    The Bible lists a bunch of individuals who lived 900+ years. Do you take this literally? If not, how do you interpret this?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:29PM (#42799545)

    You really believe that the creationists are a media fabrication? Normal Christians coexist with reality because they dump any religious belief that's obviously silly. Conservative Christians dump any reality that conflicts with their religious beliefs. As everyone who can think and adapt leaves religion on the trash-bin of history, the people who can't absorb new info and discard bad ideas are becoming more extreme. Check twitter tag #tgdn to see these intellectual infants act out.

  • Quality of evidence (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:31PM (#42799567) Homepage

    You are an expert in two fields: paleontology & theology; please compare and contrast the quality of the evidence that supports the theories in each field and how the theories are objectively and repeatably tested.

    Please pay particular attention to: independent verifiabilty of evidence; tests that could be performed which would show these these theories to be false (and, presumably, how the theories have been found to surive such tests); how the theories have been modified over time in the light of new evidence that has been discovered; independent critical peer review of writings about each set of theories; how full evidence is widely and completely made available; objective comparisons with competing theories; how critical discussion of competing theories happens in a calm manner without ad-hominem attacks.

  • Here's another: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xevioso (598654) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:32PM (#42799583)

    This may be slightly outside your field of expertise, but I'd like to ask anyways:

    There's a huge argument right now about what caused the end-Permian event, with lots of scientists thinking it was the Siberian Traps as the main culprit. Even with the end-Cretaceous event being thought of as a result of of a bolide impact, there's some scientists who think that the Deccan traps had to play a role. Now, I've read a number of books, especially "When Life Almost Died" that shows what appears to me to be a fairly strong relationships between bolide impacts and extinctions, but which also show the great possibility of these large eruptions causing the extinctions. There are some scientists who think that there is an antipodal relationship between bolide impacts and "bulges" or "plumes" going through the earth and causing large eruptions on the other side of the planet over time, thus contributing to or causing extinctions. (I also find it very interesting that in general, when positing the Siberian traps as the cause of the end-Permian event, no one ever really talks about what might actually have caused such a massive series of eruptions..)

    As far as I know, the research on this effect is pretty limited, but to me as a non-scientist, I can say the relationship appears to be more than coincidental. But a real scientist can't say that, of course.
    1) What is your opinion on antipodal bolide events causing or contributing to mass extinctions?
    2) Do you have any recent information on research that is being done in this area that you could point me to? Any links? Thanks.

  • by scrib (1277042) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:35PM (#42799615)

    I am an atheist, but I will concede that science does not conflict with religion as a general idea (the belief in God, or things outside of science), but science often does conflict with specific religious beliefs.

    My grandparents raised some of their children religious and some not religious. My parents are atheist but I have aunts and unlces who are missionaries and cousins who are young Earth creationists. They reject sciences like paleontology, geology, and astronomy as hoaxes because they all point to an Earth much older than their church tells them. Of course, they "know" evolution is wrong, though they have a weak grasp on what it actually is.

    The question: how can the deeply religious be convinced (or reassured) that accepting what science teaches does not require rejecting their faith?
    Part B: have you ever convinced someone to change their mind about accepting those sciences?

  • Here's another (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xevioso (598654) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:37PM (#42799639)

    Dr. Bakker, what is the current status of the digging going on in southern Utah...do you expect to see new species found soon, or are they finding mostly duplicates of known species? Specifically, I'm really interested in the ceratopsids. I am fascinated by weird ones like Medusaceratops, and so I'm wondering if you think that they will find additional new specimens similar or even weirder than that one. Also, tell the naming committee to keep naming dinosaurs with very cool names. Medusaceratops is fantastic. Maybe...Shoggotheratops or Balrogeratops for the next one? Just a suggestion.

  • Why Slashdot? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:47PM (#42799771)

    Really, just look at the questions. Half of them are attempts to get you to say that Christianity is (in part or in whole) false, with the implication that if you say otherwise you are discrediting yourself as a paleontologist. Most of the readers of this forum have already decided their beliefs to the point where they believe that they do not have beliefs but are entirely guided by evidence, and will down-mod anyone who provides any counter-evidence.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:12PM (#42800097)

    What about the other direction:

    How can the deeply atheistic be convinced (or reassured) that belief in God does not require rejecting science?

  • Dinosaurs, again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:31PM (#42800389)

    Hello again Dr. Bakker,

    What do you make of efforts by Jack Horner and others to 'reverse-evolve' a dinosaur from chicken embryos?

    Thanks -

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:48PM (#42800627)
    Will Pterosaurs ever be reclassified as Dinosaurs? They seem to far better fit as dinosaurs than reptiles yet a 100+ year classification seems to still lock them into being reptiles. The main argument I've heard was concerning hip rotation but that seems to be disputed. Is it really dogma keeping Pterosaurs classified as reptiles?
  • by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:34PM (#42803127)

    I don't think science contradicts or even tries to contradict the existence of God. Therefore science is not opposed to deism, pantheism, etc. But honestly what is the point of being a Christian if you don't believe the Bible is true? If it's a bunch of stories that teach a moral message, fine, but why adhere to that moral message? Lots of the moral messages in the Bible are good, but lots are absolutely abhorrent by today's standards.

    Believing in a higher power is one thing. Believing that this one particular book is true (or even partly true) is another. Do you really believe Jesus was resurrected and that he died for our sins? Or do you think he was just an enlightened philosopher?

    I think some of the ideas attributed to Jesus are truly positive and revolutionary for their time, but I don;t see any reason to believe any of the stories about his divinity, or that I should treat the Bible as a book inspired by a higher power. It seems quite clearly just a man made artifact, although a very historically significant one.

    I am not saying you shouldn't believe in a higher power. I don;t think there is any evidence one way or another for that. But if you don't believe in the 100% truth of the bible, then why are you a Christian? The Bible certainly doesn't make any logical arguments for why Jesus is the son of God. Why take the Bible on faith over something like the Book of Mormon or Lord of the Rings?

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