Aug 22 2013

T-rex a Vegetarian?

Creationists often have a flagrant disregard for the truth, at times to humorous effect. They often make claims that assault basic logic and common sense, let alone the scientific evidence. One such claim is the focus of a recent video uploaded to YouTube by Paul Taylor from Creation Today, in which he claims that Tyrannosaurus rex was a vegetarian.

Let’s see if we can follow his tortuous logic.

He does acknowledge that T. rex looks like a creature that is supposed to have “et people.” Of course T. rex went extinct about 65 million years before people existed, but that’s a detail that seems to have escaped Taylor. As you will see, attention to detail is not something at which creationists excel.

Taylor further acknowledges that there is “circumstantial” evidence that T. rex may have eaten meat He refers to a triceratops fossil with a T. rex tooth mark, but is clearly minimizing the significance of this evidence as what he calls circumstantial.

He is not fairly representing the evidence, however. There is not one triceratops fossil with T. rex tooth marks, but many. A survey of triceratops fossils from the Hell Creek formation found 18 specimens with T. rex tooth marks. Further:

When they looked closer, they noted something important: none of the bones showed any signs of healing, indicating that the bites were inflicted on dead animals that were in the process of being eaten.

These specimens were not just killed by a single T. rex bite, or a pattern of bites indicating a battle, perhaps with the T. rex defending itself. The evidence suggests that T. rex routinely devoured triceratops. This is direct physical evidence, not circumstantial.

Taylor’s next argument is that scientists believe T. rex ate meat because of their sharp teeth. But, he counters, there are many creatures that eat plants that also have sharp teeth. He gives as examples pandas and the flying fox, which have sharp teeth for eating bamboo and melons respectively.

Here is where lack of attention to details bites Taylor in the backside yet again. Zoologists pay attention to the details of tooth anatomy and do not simply classify teeth as “sharp” or “not sharp.” Teeth can be short, long, flat, pointy, conical, straight, curved, smooth, or serrated (with different types of serrations for different materials). Teeth also differ in their placement with respect to each other (their dentition). Luckily there are thousands of different extant animal species with different diets and different teeth, so we have a huge data set to work from when determining the relationship between tooth anatomy and diet.

T. rex teeth are not just “sharp” – they are long, curved, dagger-like, and serrated. They are optimized for slicing through flesh and tearing off pieces of meat. They are the teeth of carnivores. To compare them to herbivores with sharp teeth is absurd and requires willfully ignoring all the details of tooth and dentition anatomy.

Let’s take a look at his two examples, starting with the flying fox (there are at least 60 flying fox species, so not sure which one he is referring to).

Unlike the oblique shear of insectivore bats, or the antero-posterior shear of the carnivorous ghost bat, the basic flying fox molar pattern presents an outer and inner ridge separated by a shallow, rounded, longitudinal furrow.

The description highlights the differences in details of the tooth anatomy, indicating also that the flying fox teeth are optimized for squeezing the juice out of fruits (I could not find anything about tearing the flesh out of melons). They do have surprisingly large canines, but they are not optimized for tearing flesh. The are currently used for carrying away large fruit in their mouths, and perhaps were retained for this purpose.

The other example is the panda – a very problematic example to use. By multiple lines of evidence, pandas are part of the carnivora order of mammals. Pandas have a recent carnivorous ancestor, and only recently adapted to eating bamboo shoots. They still retain a dentition more characteristic of carnivores, therefore.

It’s interesting that Taylor presents this as if it is somehow a problem for “evolutionists.” Quite the contrary – evolution provides a nice explanation backed by evidence for the apparent mismatch between the panda’s teeth and their diet. It is the creationists who have the real problem explaining this.

All of this information about the relationship between dentition and diet is readily available on the internet, but apparently Taylor did not see the need to avail himself of this information or consult with actual experts. He was content to spout dubious factoids that superficially seem to support his position.

And what is his point, exactly? Why would creationists go through so much trouble trying to make the ridiculous argument that T. rex were herbivores? Well, when God created the earth, everything was a perfect paradise. Animals lived in harmony and only ate plants. Therefore all animals were created by God to eat plants. It is only after the fall of Adam and Eve that God cursed the earth and some animals starting eating other animals.

What this means is that all adaptations for eating other creatures (from a spider’s web to a tiger’s claws) and all defenses against being eaten developed after the fall. I wonder what an herbivorous cheetah looked like. Maybe they were built for chasing down those famous flying bushes of the Serengeti.  Further – T. rex must have been created to be an herbivore.

When you start with unshakable tenets of faith, there are no limits to the logical knots in which you can tie yourself to maintain your premise in the face of contradictory evidence.

16 responses so far

16 thoughts on “T-rex a Vegetarian?”

  1. HHC says:

    Love your logical knots. I feel like breaking into the songs of the Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson.

  2. Bill Openthalt says:

    Before the fall we had steak trees. And wiener schnitzel (with and without crumbs) bushes. That explains the teeth. And the T-Rex would be sitting around the camp fire, grilling steaks and singing jolly songs.

  3. TheBlackCat says:

    “Maybe they were built for chasing down those famous flying bushes of the Serengeti. ”

    Of course not. They were chasing flying papayas. In foggy mountains. They just had to watch out for papaya storms.

  4. anselm says:

    The other day a panda keeper at Edinburgh Zoo told me that pandas do eat meat if they can get it. It’s just that generally they are too lazy to hunt. Biologically they still have carnivore plumbing inside (not just carnivore teeth), and need to eat massive amounts of bamboo, which they really can’t digest all that well, to keep going. They also tend to poop a lot.

  5. Davdoodles says:

    So god created a world without steak? And then punished us by letting us eat meat?

    That monster.

    And imagine how much methane all those wildly over-engineered cud-chewing sharks would have produced…

  6. eiskrystal says:

    But surely the tooth marks on those bodies were created after the fall, when a huge selection of creatures suddenly and altogether changed their bodies, brains and gut bacteria on a whim because 2 humans ate an apple.

    I really don’t see where his logic is wrong on that one…

  7. John Pieret says:

    One point:

    In the LEGAL sense of circumstantial vs. direct evidence, Taylor is correct that marks matching T. rex dentation found on fossil triceratops bones is “circumstantial” evidence. But as any lawyer (I’m one) knows, circumstantial evidence of this sort is MUCH more reliable than “direct” eyewitness evidence.

    An amusing (and no doubt apocryphal) example is an attorney questioning a witness against a defendant accused of assaulting another man, during which the defendant supposedly bit off the ear of the victim.

    Lawyer: Did you see my client bite off Mr. Jones’ ear?

    Witness: No sir.

    Lawyer: Then how can you sit here before this jury and accuse my client of this heinous crime?

    Witness: I saw him spit it out.

  8. oldmanjenkins says:

    For an excellent expose on the Creation “Museum” one only has to listen to comedian Marc Maron’s “This Has to be Funny” track 7 “The Creation Museum” for imo an intellectual attempt on Maron’s part to try to wrap his brain around their (ID’s) logical leaps to dinosaurs walking with humans. Some comedians (Maron one imo) are truly the poets of our generation.

  9. Kawarthajon says:

    Would have been better if he’d just argued that T-Rex and other carnivores just subsisted on God’s love prior to the downfall of humans. He could have then involved the handy “God made it happen” clause that creationists so often fall back on (i.e. God made the universe SEEM as though it is 14.?? billion years old, even though it is only 6000yo).

    I feel that this might be a letdown for Rebecca of the SGU, however – she probably would have been happy to hear the the King of Dinos shared her love of plant-based foods. Maybe don’t tell her about the truth about T-rex’s on this one. 😉

  10. Mick says:

    I remember from back when I had a pet boa constrictor that their teeth point back toward their throat – the better to keep prey from escaping. I notice in the photo that T. Rex had a little bit of that going on as well. So, based on the teachings of Mr. Taylor, we can only assume that this was to prevent heads of cabbage from getting away.

  11. locutusbrg says:

    This is the kind of mistake creationists make that work in our favor….

    The general scientific illiterate “Know”. T-rex bit that guy in half off the toilet and ate the goat in the movie. No way it’s eating salads. Bats bite people too! My brother’s sister’s cousin’s college roommate had to have rabies shots because of those bats. I saw Fox’s “when animal attack” and the Panda grabbed that guy I pretty sure they are not veggie lovers either.

    SO this is the creationists version of making themselves look like Dumb As**# on their own.

  12. norrisL says:

    I sent this post on to 2 friends of mine who are veterinary dentists. I’m sure they will be highly amused by “creationist logic”

  13. ccbowers says:

    The serrations on the T rex are further evidence of their vegetarianism. The only serrated knives I own are a bread knife and tomato/bagel knife. Clearly the T rex used his teeth to slice the bread and tomotoes of the humans with which they co-existed.

    “Quite the contrary – evolution provides a nice explanation backed by evidence for the apparent mismatch between the panda’s teeth and their diet. It is the creationists who have the real problem explaining this.”

    Let me introduce you to the “god works in mysterious ways” argument. Whenever you begin to doubt through thinking, you can remind yourself of the above. Problem solved.

    Sorry for that. I’m feeling sarcastic this evening.

  14. ccbowers says:

    On a serious note, I assume that the lack of a healed T Rex tooth mark despite many unhealed tooth marks implies that T Rex may not have hunted healthy triceratops (at least very often), but they mostly scavenged or killed very weak triceratops. My understanding is that T rex is considered both a hunter and scavenger, but it’s behavior would depend on the the potential prey in question and availability of food.

  15. BillyJoe7 says:

    ” on a whim because 2 humans ate an apple ”

    Eve must have eaten the first half and put the remainder in cryogenic storage for 60,000 years so that Adam could eat the second half.

  16. a_haworthroberts says:

    Perhaps you should post this as a comment under the video?

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