Creationist Attacks Adrienne Mayor and Paleontology for Failing to Assume the Bible Is True
[Note: This post has been updated to correct the name of the Answers in Genesis blogger and to add information about Adrienne Mayor's additional fossil evidence.]
A while back I wrote about the criticisms seminarian Ben Stanhope leveled against Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis website, specifically regarding dragons in the Bible. Stanhope had cited the work of Adrienne Mayor on the fossil origins of mythological creatures as the most likely source for Classical reports of mythic monsters, like dragons, that Ham takes as proof that dinosaurs survived until recently. As it turns out, Ham was none too pleased with Stanhope’s critique, and one of his colleagues, Georgia Purdom, fired back on his Answers in Genesis blog, attacking Mayor for insufficient Christianity:
Mayor’s views are based on her ideas about the past (she wasn’t there) and she does not presuppose the Bible as truth. She interprets the evidence of fossil beds and dragon legends in light of her presupposition that man’s ideas about the past—including evolution and millions of years—are true and God’s Word is not.
The Bible, neither the Hebrew Bible nor New Testament, says anything about dinosaurs, and only fundamentalists like Ken Ham and Georgia Purdom twist it to make it so. At least she didn’t try to argue, as one Victorian writer did, that God hand-crafted fossil coprolites (feces) out of artistic fancy!
But she raises two points that I suppose are worth considering: (a) How do we know what happened in the past? And (b): Is there actual evidence that the ancients misinterpreted fossils as giant or monster bones?
To the first question, I can offer no answer Ham or Purdom would accept since he believes that the past is knowable only through Genesis, and therefore all of science (except those parts he can employ to his own ends) is useless. To the second question, the answer is more interesting.
Augustine, in City of God (15.9), wrote that “the bones which are from time to time discovered prove the size of the bodies of the ancients, and will do so to future ages, for they are slow to decay.” Yet somehow all of these giant bodies have vanished, probably due to that pernicious anti-Christian conspiracy that is hiding all the bones in the secret Smithsonian relic vault.
Scholars have argued for the better part of two centuries that the kneecap of Ajax (Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.35.4-5) displayed in Greece was in fact that of a fossil elephant; however, since the actual patella does not survive, it is technically possible that the Greeks actually found the one and only genuine giant human ever recorded. In collecting her evidence, Adrienne Mayor could point to no actual surviving fossils known to be those venerated as heroes. She did, though, report on fossil bones found buried at Troy, in the Temple of Hera at Samos, and in the heroic burials at Messina. Strictly speaking, though, we cannot prove these were viewed as large human bones, despite the correlation between literary accounts and the remains. She also found a correlation between descriptions and fossils and between the location where “giant” and “monster” bones were discovered and known fossil beds. However, she did indicate one place where myth and fact come together on the ground, and that is at Pallene, a Greek headland in the Aegean.
Mayor cited the evidence of Solinus, a third-century CE writer of a book of wonders and prodigies, who spoke of giants eroding from the ground. Mayor provides a translation in the appendix to her book, though she elides some of the inferences involved in the main text. Robin Lane Fox, in repeating the claim in Travelling Heroes, provides a truncated and somewhat loose translation of Solinus. To understand what is to follow, we need to note first that in Greek myth the Giants fought with the Olympians at Phlegra and that Herodotus (7.123) identifies Pallene as the ancient Phlegra, which Solinus (9.6-7) proceeds to describe on that basis:
6 Admonet Phlegra, ubi antequam oppidum fieret rumor est militiam mundi dimicatam cum gigantibus, ut penitus persequamur quantis probationibus imperii indicia diuinae expeditionis in hoc saeculo perseuerauerint. 7 Illic si quando (ut accidit) nimbis torrentes excitantur et aucta aquarum pondera ruptis obicibus ualentius se in campos ruunt, eluuione ossa etiam nunc ferunt detegi ad instar quae sunt e corporibus humanis sed modo grandiora, quae ob enormem magnitudinem monstrosi exercitus iactant extitisse, idque adiuuatur argumento saxorum inmanium quibus oppugnandum impetitum caelum crediderunt.
Philostratus (Heroicus 10.28; 8.16 in linked text) confirms Solinus’ account: “Indeed in Pallênê, which the poets call ‘Phlegra,’ the earth holds many such bodies of giants encamped there, and rainstorms and earthquakes uncover many others. Not even a shepherd ventures at midday to that place of clattering phantoms which rage there” (trans. Ellen Bradshaw Aitken and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclea).
That Phelgra was the site of the battle between the gods and the Giants (not to be confused with the battles with the Titans and Typhon) is otherwise attested in Pausanias 1.25.2, Apollodorus 1.6.1, Ptolemy Hephaestion in Photius Myriobiblon 190, and about a dozen other sources.
For a very long time, this was considered a myth. Then, in 1994, the fossilized teeth of giant elephants were found during road construction. As Lane Fox discussed, excavations carried out in Pallene between 1998 and 2007 uncovered a veritable menagerie of ancient “giants”: giraffes, mastodons, and more—all beside sulfuric hot springs reminiscent of the infernal landscape of the Giants’ war and smelling of the rotting corpses of the Giants.
This is about as close as we will get to proving the Greeks mistook mastodons for human(ish) Giants unless and until we find a Greek sepulcher marked with a hero’s name and containing the bones of an elephant. Therefore, it is still a tad conjectural—the Greeks could have found and somehow managed to lose the only true Giant bones ever found, and other sites (also with mastodon bones) also claimed to be the legendary Phlegra.
But, on the plus side, it causes a problem for creationists: If you want to argue that there really were “Giant” bones there (as those who cite reports of giant bones must do), you must do so by accepting the testimony of the Greeks, which also assert the reality of Zeus and the gods. You can abandon them as lies or claim the gods were really demons (Augustine, City of God 7.33), but then you have impugned the testimony of the very Greeks you need to support your case. If the Greeks were wrong in some things, why not others? If they could mistake demons for gods, why not mastodons for Giants? I’m happy either way: give up the gods and the giants, or make room for Zeus among the Elohim.
8/18/2013 09:59:42 am
Perhaps the giants were human-mastodon hybrids and contemporary scientists have misidentified them. As many movies and comic books have shown, this sort of thing can happen with exposure to toxic waste or radiation, either of which may have been left behind by the ancient alien's UFOs.
The Other J.
8/20/2013 06:54:25 am
That actually sounds similar to one of George R. R. Martin's giants.
8/18/2013 04:24:20 pm
I was under the impression that while there is no such box or caption as you note, that Mayor cites cases where fossils have been found in temple contexts, and were typically just cataloged and ignored as perplexing anomalies. I am speaking specifically of the Greeks here.
8/18/2013 04:37:40 pm
p. 177-178, she notes temples to Set with fossils in Egypt
8/18/2013 11:25:10 pm
Thanks. I was apparently looking in the wrong place in the book. I was looking in the chapter on giant bones rather than the one about "fossils" specifically. Much appreciated!
8/19/2013 01:17:41 am
The AiG article you link to isn't in fact by Ham himself, but by Georgia Purdom.
8/19/2013 01:18:37 am
Thank you. I'll fix the error.
8/19/2013 02:03:37 am
Should I find it surprising, at all, that Stanhope became the latest victim of the creationists' rabid damage control efforts? No need for cogent arguments here; let the bloodletting begin!
8/19/2013 05:06:18 am
Mayor provides translations of all the ancient Greek and Latin sources she discusses, including the passage from Solinus (p 278), in Appendix 2, "Ancient Testimonia" (First Fossil Hunters).
8/19/2013 06:20:05 am
Sorry about that... I forgot about the appendix. I've corrected the reference above.
8/19/2013 05:44:28 am
Religious freaks attacking legitimate academics like Ms Adrienne Mayor.Alternative history snake oil peddlers threatening debunkers & critics with lawsuits.The vultures out in the open, they are getting more & more aggressive & arrogant.The offensive is getting stronger.I consider going after these slugs,a matter of public hygiene,until we finally agree on building reeducation camps.
8/26/2013 04:51:05 pm
Why don't you tell us how you really feel.
7/8/2014 06:36:11 pm
Saying that Dragon legends were merely inspired by Dinosaur Bones sounds like a plausible out for Evolutionists. Until one remembers that not all Dragon stories are presented as "Long long ago". Plenty are Eyewitness or very near contemporary accounts, like the Beowulf Poem which was clearly written very soon after the title character died.
7/30/2015 03:04:53 am
Didn't some scholars say that Phlegra was located in Thrace?
7/30/2015 04:26:52 am
ancient Pallene was in Chalcidice, northeastern Greece, now Kassandra Peninsula, in antiquity part of Thrace
4/8/2016 09:45:57 am
Jason, I thought you might get a laugh out of number 2 and the first part of number 3 in this piece I recently wrote about the museum. It regards their claim that the Biblical unicorn is a prehistoric creature, and the idea that Hawaiians had an indigenous version of the Biblical flood:
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