URCall: Herodotus II: Dragons v. Ibises

From the ICR’s URCall series of videos, hosted by Markus Lloyd. “Are dragons really dinosaurs?” (link)


Have you ever heard of the tale of St. George and the dragon? Many cultures around the world have legends of dragons and winged serpents. The bible mentions them, and even historical figures like Marco Polo, Herodotus, and Alexander the Great wrote eyewitness accounts of them. Even today tales persist about the Loch Ness monster and the monster at Lake Champlain. Can these stories of dragons and sea monsters possibly tell of real accounts of human interactions with dinosaurs?

Are dragons dinosaurs? You’ll notice that the ICR doesn’t actually back this point up, they just point to accounts of dragons and make the leap to dinosaur. But the stories they allude to aren’t all that solid, especially when they have to now be of real dinosaurs.

For example in the last time Herodotus came up in this series I warned that he was not overly reliable, blending fact with fiction, but ended up talking about a description that was probably fundamentally real. This time that doesn’t seem to be the case. CreationWiki provides the quote from Book 2, but only part of it – in more context it becomes a lot more clear that this isn’t a true description, and certainly not of dinosaurs. Here’s the full paragraph:

I went once to a certain place in Arabia, almost exactly opposite the city of Buto, to make inquiries concerning the winged serpents. On my arrival I saw the back-bones and ribs of serpents in such numbers as it is impossible to describe: of the ribs there were a multitude of heaps, some great, some small, some middle-sized. The place where the bones lie is at the entrance of a narrow gorge between steep mountains, which there open upon a spacious plain communicating with the great plain of Egypt. The story goes that with the spring the winged snakes come flying from Arabia towards Egypt, but are met in this gorge by the birds called ibises, who forbid their entrance and destroy them all. The Arabians assert, and the Egyptians also admit, that it is on account of the service thus rendered that the Egyptians hold the ibis in so much reverence.

So we have a location where there are a lot of bones of what are claimed to be “winged serpents.” Already we have two problems: first, although dragons are often said to have wings, dinosaurs didn’t (except birds and some other bird-like dinosaurs, but creationists deny this connection); and second, all Herodotus saw in what the ICR calls an “eyewitness account” were piles of bones, but what the ICR is trying to prove is that people saw more than just bones. The CreationWiki quote includes something about bat-like wings that doesn’t seem to be in the above, but this doesn’t really help.

But the story goes on: apparently the serpents – which, again, are supposed to be dinosaurs – fly (again, an important part of the description) towards Egypt, but are stopped – massacred – by ibises. Now, I doubt being mauled by the bird would be very pleasant, but I also don’t think it could stop the dragons/dinosaurs that the creationists are talking about, flying or not.

There is, however, more context. For example a short paragraph immediately above the one I just quoted says:

In the neighbourhood of Thebes there are some sacred serpents which are perfectly harmless. They are of small size, and have two horns growing out of the top of the head. These snakes, when they die, are buried in the temple of Jupiter, the god to whom they are sacred.

Again we’re talking about “serpents,” but these ones have horns instead of wings and are explicitly referred to as snakes (although that could derive from the translation). Why then should serpent + wings = dinosaur? Again, dinosaurs are not known for their wings, or their snake-like nature.

And there’s more where that came from: while some real Egyptian animals are described around this part of the book, so to is there a mention of the phoenix, which begins:

They have also another sacred bird called the phoenix which I myself have never seen, except in pictures. Indeed it is a great rarity, even in Egypt, only coming there (according to the accounts of the people of Heliopolis) once in five hundred years, when the old phoenix dies. Its size and appearance, if it is like the pictures, are as follow:- The plumage is partly red, partly golden, while the general make and size are almost exactly that of the eagle.

This he seems fine with. It’s the story he recounts of how the phoenix places the body of its deceased parent in the temple of the Sun having first plastered it in myrrh for transport from Arabia, that he says “does not seem to me to be credible.” In other words, don’t rely on Herodotus for evidence that your mythical animal of choice was real.

There are other sources that the ICR relies upon, as Lloyd says. So far as I can tell Marco Polo didn’t claim to have actually seen a dragon, he merely reported what he was told about them – although Kublai Khan himself claimed in poetry to have ridden “a Blue Dragon in the royal carriage,” if that helps at all. Meanwhile in their That’s a Fact video on the subject the ICR went so far as to claim that Alexander the Great’s army fought a dragon, while here they merely say that he personally wrote an eyewitness account. In truth, not even the writings of his contemporaries survive.

As for the other things, the legend of St. George is exactly that – a legend. There’s not a lot we can do with that. And let’s not get started with Nesse et al, except to note that they make a great example of how not every tale has to be true, and that this shows how the ICR is being excessively credulous.

To make the argument that dragons were real and that they were really dinosaurs you need to provide some solid accounts of actual dragons – which the ICR does a terrible job of – and make a leap of logic – that they aren’t even prepared to provide any backing for in this case. Very convincing.

Post Script: While I was researching around this topic I found some resources which might be useful for a more thorough investigation of this claim. First, an interesting website, and second this short but potentially terrifying video:

It depends how far your imagination ran while reading this post.

17 thoughts on “URCall: Herodotus II: Dragons v. Ibises

  1. How sad that ICR has to resort to dragon legends as evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together in the recent past. The reason they do is that they can’t point to ANY reliable empirical evidence for this claim, even tho there should be countless well documented cases if YECism were true. YECs also try to make hay out of petroglyphs and other ancient artworks supposedly depicting dinosaurs frolicing with humans,, but again, all they can point to is a handful of highly dubious, whereas one would expect countless thousands of well verified cases if YECism were true. Likewise for their claims about alleged dinosaurs in the BIble. For more discussion of theses topics, see:

  2. Accelerated Christian Education used to teach Nessie as evidence of dinosaurs still among us, and hence of a young Earth, in the UK until about a year ago and for all I know still do so elsewhere: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/nessie-cut-from-creationism.21694263 . ACE link to Creation Ministries International; see http://www.christian-education.org/bbc/bbc-statement/

    I’m not sure (can you tell us?) just how AiG, ICR, and CMI interconnect. ACE was the subject of a pair of very interesting BBC News and Newsnight reports. England’s school inspectorate called the curriculum good! My posts on this at http://wp.me/p21T1L-gc and http://wp.me/p21T1L-fR

    • I read about the Nessie thing a while ago, but was actually thrown a bit when it came up here. I thought it wasn’t the kind of argument that would be made by the supposedly sophisticated ICR, but I suppose they’re prepared to lower their standards if indoctrinating children is the aim of the game.

  3. For the most part, the American-based ICR is largely independent of more international AIG and CMI. However, there has been some overlap among their leaders, and the latter two groups are closely connected. Indeed, they started out as essentially the same organization (with yet other names), after which they had a contentious split, starting a long and complicated series of events and organizational changes. Among the web sites addressing their histories are the following:
    Ron Number’s 2006 book _The Creationists_ gives interesting accounts of the origin and operations of various YEC groups. It is somewhat outdated now, but Numbers recently told me he is working on a new edition.
    I am not very familiar with ACE. From a quick web search I found that they were founded in 1970 by Donald and Ester Howard of Texas to produce and sell educational materials to home schoolers from a “Bible based” (translation: fundamentalist/literalist) perspective. Although they push YECism, as far as I know they have no official connection to any major YEC groups. An interesting article on ACE:

    • [In reply to eyeonicr 10:03] It is CMI that ACE link to; see their statement ot he BBC about ACE, at http://www.christian-education.org/bbc/bbc-statement/ and further link there to Sarfati. CMI’s Philip Bell cliams that Donosaurs were roaming in Tudor England; see http://creation.com/bishop-bells-brass-behemoths. He was allowed to address a Church of England academy on all this, leading to the CrISIS (Creationism in schools isn’t science) petition of three years ago, http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/crisis-creationism-in-schools-isn-t-science.html, part of the movement that eventualy got Gove to say that indeed creationism had no place in science classes in state funded schools.

    • I agree with your comments about their marketing the Nessie argument to children. It seems to apply to most of the material on ICR’s URCall site. While many adults are on to many of the old, well-refuted arguments they trot out there, evidently they have no problem pushing them to a new generation of kids in even more superficial, sound bite form. They should be ashamed of themselves, but apparently, they feel any way they can inculcate kids into the YEC mindset is fine.
      How they imagine this will help in the long run is beyond me. Even many kids are bright enough to see through many of the shallow arguments, and many who don’t will grow up and do so, and resent ICR for what they have done.

    • I’ve seen a few people already searching for information about the videos and landing up here – it’s probably already starting.

      I follow their comment feeds and some of their twitter stuff, which are hardly what you would active and popular with young people. It’s too soon to call URCall a failure, but it’s not a success either.

    • Let me indeed commend my friend Jonny Saramaga, who went through ACE, and his web site leavingfundamentalism. Jonny was on BBC TV last night, as was his supervisor Michael Reiss (Jonny is doing a PhD on ACE and related movements); details, and my comments (BBC’s Jeremy Paxman actually used the “only a theory” argument!) at: BBC Newsnight on evolution: Mind your language, and don’t say “theory” unless you mean it http://wp.me/p21T1L-gc

    • Paul, when you say it’s CMI that ACE “link to” are you suggesting they have an official connection, or using “link” just in the web page sense? The first page you link to is by CEE rather than ACE, and tho it mentions ACE, does not mention CMI, and that it links to an article by Safarti may just be because it dealt with the topic of the day. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that ACE makes use of materials from CMI and other YEC groups when developing their “curriculum” and it would be interested to know if ACE is intimately connected to (financially or otherwise) any YEC group. Do you know if your friend Johnny found evidence of that during his research?

  4. The major flaws in ICR’s logic can be summed up by noting that based on the same logic one could make a good case for the coexistence of humans and unicorns, cyclops, griffins, mermaids, Bigfoot, and sea monsters. Oh wait, they’ve already done it with sea monsters. 🙂 They can’t afford to encourage Bigfoot too much, since it’s supposed to be a sort of ape-man. On the other hand, while ignoring alleged Bigfoot prints, they did once promote big footprints (of alleged giant humans, strolling with dinosaurs in Texas) but I trust most readers here know how that turned out. In case not, see: http://paleo.cc/paluxy.htm

    • It is CEE that markets the ACE curriculum in Europe, so the ACE-CEE link is solid. CEE in their statement that I cite use Chapter 1 of Sarfati’s book to claim that there is real controversy about evolution, making their choice of creationism intellectually respectable. They then link, not to Sarfati’s book as such, but to the CMI page that gives you the chapter as a free download.

      So one resolved question – ACE marketer CEE refers to CMI materials, and CMI does do the dino thing, so ACE having done the Nessie thing is par for the course.

      One question I don’t know the answer to; is the link from ACE to CMI any stronger than that?

    • To be clear (my using the ambiguous term “link” made things unclear); there is a formal link between ACE and CEE; CEE markets ACE in Europe. There may beo other close ties. CEE quotes Sarfati *as posted by CMI* with approval. Thus CEE regards CMI as a source worth citing, on this occasion at least. Is there a formal relationship, or overlap of personnel, between (ACE _-CEE) and CMI? Don’t know. Jonny might. Will ask.

  5. Just a thought:
    According to that irrefutable reference, Wikipedia*, the African sacred ibis is 68 cm long or a fraction over 2 feet in avoirdupois. The idea of a bird that size killing piles of dinosaurs is ridiculous.
    * But it might be close enough here.

    Much more interesting is
    Dragons vs dinosaurs:

  6. I’ve come to call this kind of thing But-Maybeism. “But maybe dragons are actually dinosaurs!” “But maybe the dinosaurs Noah took on the ark were babies!” AKA grasping at straws.


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