Righting America

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Dinosaur Bones, Mark Meadows, Neo-Confederates, and the Tawdry World of Young Earth Creationism | Righting America

by William Trollinger

A skeletal mount of Ebenezer the Allosaurus at the Creation Museum.
Ebenezer the Allosaurus on display at the Creation Museum. Copyright Susan L. Trollinger (2014).

Ebenezer the Allosaurus is a star at the Creation Museum. But the story of Ebenezer is a window into the corruption, fraudulence, and right-wing politics at the heart of young Earth creationist culture. But maybe weirder and more important than all this, Ebenezer the Allosaurus reveals that, when it comes to creation science, there is no there, there.

This story begins in 2002, near the appropriately named town of Dinosaur, Colorado. (Personal note: Growing up in Denver as the son of a geologist, I knew all about Dinosaur). There a creationist named Dana Forbes had purchased a 100-acre lot, which he opened to young Earth creationist groups to look for dinosaur fossils that would ostensibly prove (more on this later) that the Earth is but 6,000 years old. Two creation science groups participated in this expedition: Pete DeRosa’s Creation Expeditions, and Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum. 

The enterprising Phillips used this fossil hunting expedition to produce a documentary: Raising the Allosaur: The True Story of a Rare Dinosaur and the Home Schoolers Who Found It. Appearing in the film is Mark Meadows (yes indeed, that Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s chief of staff) and his wife, mother, and two children – all of whom were along for the “dinosaur dig.”

And it turns out that Meadows’ daughter was the movie’s star. With her father nearby, and as reported in a Vision Forum press release,

Nine-year-old home schooler Haley Meadows was dusting away dirt with her brush when she found the claws to a 100-foot Sauropod, presently believed to be of the rare Ultrasaurus variety.

According to the documentary, the creationist fossil hunters implored Jesus to help bring the dinosaur skull out of the Earth. Jesus answered immediately. With claws and skull, there was – according to the film – dramatic and conclusive evidence that the dinosaur had been buried just over 4,000 years ago in a global Flood. 

But shortly after Raising the Allosaur came out, news emerged that the story told by Phillips, Meadows, et al. was, well, a fabrication. Nine-year-old Haley Meadows did not discover the dinosaur claws, and she and the other homeschoolers did not uncover the skull. The landowner (Dana Forbes) had found it in 2000, and paleontologist (and creationist) Joe Taylor had unearthed most of the bones a year before the “Dinosaur Dig,” in 2001.

It remains unclear how the Raising the Allosaur scam was set up. It is certainly plausible (likely?) that both Phillips and Meadows were in on it, particularly given that both men have a history of significant ethical lapses. As regards Phillips, this hard-core patriarchal fundamentalist was forced to abandon Vision Forum when it turned out that he was having sexual relations with a young woman not his wife, a woman who attested that Phillips began “grooming” her when she was but 15, and who sued him for sexual abuse

As regards Meadows’ own ethical shortcomings, it turns out that, once he entered Congress in 2013, he had a difficult time abiding by congressional disclosure requirements. Remarkably enough, one of his failures to disclose directly relates to the 2002 “Dinosaur Dig.” 

In 2003 Meadows purchased the 100 acre lot in Colorado from Forbes, the original idea being that he would lease it to Pete DeRosa for additional creationist fossil digs, a lease Meadows soon disallowed when he discovered that DeRosa was not the paleontologist he claimed to be. Then, in 2016, he sold this land to Answers in Genesis (AiG) for them to use for their own creationist purposes. He sold it for $200,000, to be paid in monthly installments. Meadows never included this income on his congressional financial disclosure forms, an act of ethical negligence that, of course, made him a perfect candidate to serve as chief-of-staff in the Trump Administration.

But let’s get back to Ebenezer the Allosaur, and additional sordid details. It turns out that there was a nasty legal fight over who owned the dinosaur skeleton, between Pete DeRosa (Creation Expeditions) and Joe Taylor (the paleontologist who identified and excavated the skeleton), both of whom claimed that they had rights to the bones. In the middle of this dispute Michael Peroutka of the Peroutka Foundation offered to pay Taylor for his part of the allosaur – and the financially strapped Taylor said yes. And in 2013 the Peroutka Foundation gave the dinosaur fossil to the Creation Museum, who put it on display in 2014.

But who is Michael Peroutka? The AiG press release announcing the “Ebenezer the Allosaurus” display failed to mention that Peroutka, who was the 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president, is a neo-Confederate who obsessively sought to have Barack Obama impeached, who claimed that the Maryland General Assembly was “no longer a valid legislative body because . . . it has tried to restrict the right of the people to keep and bear arms . . . [and] declared that little girls must share bathrooms with older men who are ‘gender confused,” and who attacked “government schools” for their relentless efforts to “enslave a Christian people” (Righting America 190).

What a sordid story. An elaborate scam. Corruption and abuse and creationist legal wranglings. And a neo-Confederate donor to the Creation Museum.

But for all of this, the weirdest part of the story may be that – for all the desperate efforts on the part of creationists to secure this dinosaur skeleton, for all the brouhaha and AiG-hype surrounding “Ebenezer the Allosaurus” – the Creation Museum makes absolutely no use of the skeleton itself to advance the case for a young Earth and a global Flood. Referring to arguably the most relevant placard that accompanies the dinosaur fossil, we note in Righting America that 

Given that this placard appears in the room wherein a truly impressive skeleton of a real dinosaur is on display, and given that this placard tells a story that seeks to link that skeleton to the Flood, it is surprising that the placard makes no mention of the skeleton itself. Not one piece of physical evidence from the skeleton is mobilized in any way by this placard. No inferences whatsoever are drawn from the skeleton about Ebenezer on this placard . . . In the end, Ebenezer-the-skeleton appears to make no contribution to an understanding either of his demise or any other creature’s (Righting America 93).

The only evidence provided by the Creation Museum in behalf of the claim that Ebenezer died in a global Flood is the story recounted in Genesis 7:21-23. That’s it. 

When it comes to creation science, there is no there, there.