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Poes, Trolls, and Dinosaur Deniers

Feb. 24, 2015 by | Comments (35)

Christians Against Dinosaurs imageFor the last week or so, a site for a group calling itself “Christians Against Dinosaurs” has gone viral, and at least a dozen of my Facebook friends have forwarded it to me in surprise, curious as to whether I’d seen it and if it is real. It managed to get covered in the Huffington Post, in, and in several other online media outlets, giving it even more exposure. The site claims that dinosaurs (and fossils in general) are a lie to undermine our Christian faith, and that fossils seen in museums are faked or sculpted out of rock by “Big Paleo” trying to make millions by fraud. Prominently featured on the site and on Facebook and YouTube are short videos by a young woman who makes these very claims, and argues that paleontologists fabricate fossils out of the rock to look like animals. Even more shocking and hilarious, she seems to think that such faked fossils are worth millions of dollars and keep “Big Paleo” afloat. (If only she knew how impoverished most paleontologists are, and how there is no money in paleontology!). As described it:

“A fossil is not actually a piece of bone,” she says in the video. “It’s actually a bone that was once in the ground that has been filled with limestone, calcium, and other stone-like deposits, so at the end of the day, it’s a rock made out of rocks. So, you have a rock that’s [six-inches long] and you hand it to a paleontologist, who chips away at it until you have something looking like a bone — and that is a fossil,” she continues. After covering a table with broken pieces of…something, she tells viewers to pretend they are paleontologists (ooh, activity time!) and put the shards back together in their original form. She even offered some spackle to assist in the reconstruction. But, she says, it’s supposed to be a brachiosaurus skull — and “If you’re a paleontologist and you want to keep your job, you turn that into a brachiosaurus skull.”

The site was thrown off the parenting forum, Mumsnet, after the following post was prominently featured:

I’m really concerned about dinosaurs, and I think something needs to be done. The science behind them is pretty flimsy, and I for one do not want my children being taught lies. Did you know that nobody had even heard of dinosaurs before the 1800s, when they were invented by curio-hungry Victorians?

Charles Darwin’s later theory of evolution entirely disproved dinosaurs, yet the dinosaur lie was twisted and adapted to try to make it fit. Any proper look at the facts will reveal that dinosaurs simply never existed.

Aside from the educational aspect, dinosaurs are a very bad example for children. At my children’s school, several children were left in tears after one of their classmates (who had evidently been exposed to dinosaurs), became bestially-minded and ran around the classroom roaring and pretending to be a dinosaur. Then he bit three children on the face. One poor girl has been left with a severely dented nose and the whole class was left traumatised by this horrible display.

Nothing about dinosaurs is suitable for children, from their total lack of family values through to their non-existence from any serious scientific point of view.

Recently my sister foolishly gave my two youngest some dinosaurs toys for Christmas. After telling her to get out of my house I burnt the dinosaurs. My children were delighted because they know that dinosaurs are evil. I am fortunate that my family has been very supportive, and has disowned my children’s former aunt.

Please, do what you can to get dinosaurs taken off the curriculum. Our school has been recently presented with a 214-signature petition, and following that and our recent protest the headmaster has said that he will take it the governors. We are lucky that he is so sympathetic to our cause, but I fear that others may not be.

If you would like to lend your support to our campaign, we have a Facebook group where we spread facts and research about the dinosaur myth. Hope to see you there! :-)

This seems so over the top that it immediately struck me as another example of extreme satire and parody which are so common on the internet. Often referred to as a “Poe,” these satirical pieces are intended to mock the bizarre beliefs of many groups of people from the extreme political and religious fringes. According to RationalWiki, the idea was first coined by Nathan Poe in a 2005 post, and “Poe’s Law” is the “observation that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between parodies of fundamentalism or other extreme views and their genuine proponents, since they both seem equally insane.” How can you create a parody of people who seriously believe that the earth is the center of the universe, from the extremist Catholics who run the site and hold geocentrism conventions, to the recent YouTube video from a Muslim cleric declaring the sun goes around the earth?

This idea that fundamentalists reject dinosaurs as un-Biblical even goes against recent trends. Most of the media-savvy creationists, from Ken Ham’s “Answers in Genesis” organization, to convicted felon Kent Hovind, who called himself “Dr. Dino” (even though his “degree” is from a diploma mill and  he knows nothing about dinosaurs), have cashed in on the popularity of dinosaurs. They have embraced them as a way to lure in more followers, bending the words in Genesis in order to make dinosaurs fit somehow.

So is “Christians against Dinosaurs” a well-disguised parody, or the real thing? Several internet-savvy people commenting on my Facebook page dug up the source of the site, and found that the admins are not fundamentalist Christian groups, and instead some have associations with other parody sites. But the young woman with the two viral YouTube videos has been tracked down. Her name is Kristen Auclair, and she works in an insurance company in Massachusetts, and is one of the admins of the “CAD” site (another clue in the acronym?). Aron Ra, who has produced many YouTube videos challenging religion, got her to agree to an interview. In the interview she sticks to  her guns, answers him with a straight face, and she seems to be dead serious in denying dinosaurs ever existed. So maybe it’s real? But then someone else did a bit more digging and found that in Kristen Auclair’s yearbook, she was voted “Class Clown“! So maybe she’s a really convincing actor, and the whole thing is a bit of performance art?

But even if she is a good faker, she has apparently attracted a lot of trolls and crazies to her site who agree with her in all seriousness, and think dinosaurs are a challenge to their faith. Their Facebook page is filled with comments by what appear to be people who sincerely believe that fossils are faked! As I blogged about several years ago, there really are fundamentalists who preach that fossils (especially dinosaurs) are frauds perpetrated by scientists to make themselves rich and/or to push their evolutionary ideas on us and destroy our faith. In addition to the sites mentioned in my blog post, there is creationist David Wozney of “Dinosaur Deception” and Clinton B. Ames of ministries, who claims on YouTube dinosaurs are faked.

What they write is so appallingly stupid and ignorant and shows no actual firsthand experience with real fossils that it makes me despair for the future of humanity. But their weird ideas are no stranger than those of the modern-day geocentrists, flat-earthers, “flood geologists”, and many other extreme creationists who believe incredible nonsense just because the Bible says so. Heck, even Bill Nye got boos in Waco, Texas, from people who were shocked when he told them that the Moon’s light is merely reflected from the Sun, since the Bible says God put “two great lights” in the heavens. Remember, only a few centuries ago some scholars thought that fossils were works of the Devil placed there to challenge our faith, and the widespread acceptance of the idea that they are the remains of once-living organisms is less than 250 years old. Our modern age of scientific enlightenment is a very young phenomenon in the scope of human thought, and apparently a very fragile one in the face of fundamentalist religion as well.

Once again, we are seeing the bizarre looking-glass world of the internet and the crazies who haunt it, where black is white, up is down, faith is fact, evil is good, and people will believe just about any wacky idea they encounter. We are also in the tricky position demonstrated by all Poes: the crazies out there are so bizarre that it’s often impossible to tell a well-crafted parody from the real thing.

Donald Prothero

Dr. Donald Prothero taught college geology and paleontology for 35 years, at Caltech, Columbia, and Occidental, Knox, Vassar, Glendale, Mt. San Antonio, and Pierce Colleges. He earned his B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa, College Award) from University of California Riverside in 1976, and his M.A. (1978), M.Phil. (1979), and Ph.D. (1982) in geological sciences from Columbia University. He is the author of over 35 books. Read Donald’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

35 responses to “Poes, Trolls, and Dinosaur Deniers”

  1. Denny Fulmer says:

    There are certainly enough science deniers to wonder if their comments are real or parody.The Daily News Record of Harrisonburg,Va.,where I live,along with a daily diatribe against Obama and the global warming scientists that the editor fully believes are members of a world wide socialist conspiracy to tax wonderful carbon treasures like oil and coal often print letters from ultra conservative christians that make me wonder if they are serious or not.
    Recently they printed a letter from a reader who was convinced that dinosaurs were not on the ark because the dinosaurs were made by Satan and were therefore too confused to make it to the ark on time.

  2. daniel gautreau says:

    The Loch Ness monster is not a plesiosaur.It is a Walrog, a water-dwelling Balrog,vainly waiting for the return of Sauron. It likes to wear old inner tubes and only comes up when it is very foggy.

  3. Tom McIver says:

    Update add: CAD just added a photo of school kids using plaster to make dino bones for worldwide “Make a Fake Fossil Day.” The pic is taken from an Episcopal school in Lufkin, Texas; the real occasion was learning about bones and fossils. And BTW, Kristen Auclair became Facebook friends with Ronald Miller, RaBenson of CAD, and “Brontosaurus Rex” the first week of Oct. The Mumsnet post was Feb. 6. CAD started in January, as I recall, but admins claim it was in existence more than a year ago, but another group with the same name (the one with a picture of a possessed Linda Blair) started in Sept., and the “real” CAD started a new page (the present one). They dismiss the other as a fake–satire. There are also a few other FB groups with the same or similar name, confusing the situation further, plus the other offshoot groups… The “Kristen Auclair Admirer Page” features fake (photoshopped) pictures of Auclair and satirical posts.

  4. uncertaintist says:

    An update: The original “Dinosuar demonstration” pic was taken at a local protest in Cornwall in February 2011, and has been featured on the protesters’ Facebook page all along.

  5. mikeb says:

    Further evidence that “www” evolves to mean “world-wide waste.”

  6. Tom McIver says:

    Pranking runs in the family: in 1987, Tom Auclair of Southbridge, a senior at a Mass. college and editor of the student newspaper, posted an April 1st spoof article about the college’s female president running a telephone sex ring.

  7. Max says:

    A biology textbook by Accelerated Christian Education taught that the Loch Ness monster, Nessie, “appears to be a plesiosaur.”

  8. Tom McIver says:

    Just a note about Kristen Auclair’s history. In 2004 she was elected “class clown” in her senior class yearbook. The year before she was involved in an incident that attracted police attention: a brush fire resulting from a gas explosion that was set off by a group of high school students (apparently a chem class prank gone awry). The year before, she sent a series of messages to an online paleontology group, claiming to be 13 (she was actually 16) and needing homework help. She said she wanted “old, bizarre ideas” in one post, and in another that she wanted “opinions about how people think about the creation of dinosaurs.” Some of the paleontologist responders dismissed her with ridicule, but others tried to figure out what she was after (creation as opposed to evolution? or creation as in making a dinosaur out of plaster of paris?). She signed herself “Kristen” with username Ditzy71.

  9. Cajundaddy says:

    Yep, definitely a spoof and all in good fun until someone loses an eye. The thing that bothers me is that this CAD site and vids have really brought out the stalker chatter. The CAD spokesperson is roughly the age of one of my daughters and has exposed herself to maximum crazy from both fundamentalist Atheists and rabid Christians who may not find this whole thing funny at all. All it takes is one unhinged lunatic for this big joke to end in tragedy. Time to take it all down methinks.

    • kraut says:

      “both fundamentalist Atheists”

      can you please define “fundamentalist” atheist? I am not aware of a text that requires adherence for one to be considered atheist, or that is fundamental to atheism.
      Either you are severely straw-manning, building up false equivalencies or are the local representative of the SJWs league or are adherent from what loosely might be called “liberal” christians…or are you just trolling?

      • Cajundaddy says:

        “Rabid” Christians and Atheists. Is this appropriate terminology? I meant no hidden agenda and bow to your superior use of the descriptive adjective. I just don’t see much relevance. There is plenty of crazy in both wings of the bell curve.

  10. Tom McIver says:

    Uncertaintist (above) is right. The site started in October, and its admins had connections to other hoax sites such as Landover Baptist, Christians for Michele Bachmann, and others easily recognized as satire. The admins have experience not in conservative religious issues but in web design and graphics, marketing and salesmanship, search engine optimization, social media strategies, and other internet aspects. And lots of atheist affiliations. They are highly successful at getting attention–from both sides. They can not only ridicule fundamentalists, but also feel superior to anti-fundamentalists who attack them. It’s a good gig–cheap and easy.

    • Max says:

      Are they making money through ads or what?

        • Tom McIver says:

          The indiegogo fundraising video is credited to Andy Walloon, Kate Kavanagh, Michael Wolf, Maarten De Clerck, and Melissa Openuni. Auclair is named but not clear to me if she is actually involved. As evident by the accents, several of the people in the video are British (Glasgow, Sheffield, Wales…). Walloon also did CAD’s heavy rock video; prior to CAD he promoted many spoofs (he particularly admired Kunt and the Gang’s FemFresh caper). Pranksters all of them, as their profiles show. Nothing religious except as ridicule.

  11. uncertaintist says:

    CAD is indeed a hoax. Here’s some shopped stuff from an early CAD spokesperson’s Photobucket, placed in context of last October’s Michele Bachmann caper.

    The object of the satire is “a curse on both your houses,” that is, both Fundamentalists and also those who would view such foolishness with alarm, an inviting target group, which some hasty reactions to the Bachmann meme showed lies close to the surface. (Some have also suggested that no tears are being shed by the producers of the upcoming Jurassic World film.)

    • Donald Prothero says:

      OK, you’ve convinced me. However, people like David Wozney and Clinton Ames are dead serious, as you can tell by the way they write, what they write, and their obvious signs of serious religious fundamentalism. There ARE people who really DO believe fossils are faked and are a part of a conspiracy of scientists to challenge our faith…

  12. Max says:

    “she has apparently attracted a lot of trolls and crazies to her site who agree with her in all seriousness, and think dinosaurs are a challenge to their faith.”

    The crazies are the ones who truly agree with her, and the trolls are pretending to agree with her? Or the trolls think she’s serious, and insult her and Christians?

  13. Keith Peacock says:

    I’m sorry, we all know the earth is flat otherwise all the water would flow to the base of the ball and drip onto the turtles. What is taught in school these days is dangerous. I fully support Poes, they enrich the universe (if it existed of course).

  14. daniel gautreau says:

    Reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek review in Skeptic magazine of an anti-evolution book by Anne Coulter, suggesting that it was so bad that it must have been intentionally so, in order to ridicule anti-evolutionists. If Kristen A. is sincere, she needs therapy. And an education.

  15. Roland Miller says:

    I think its a shame that you feel that this group is intended to abuse members of the Christian faith. The group is fully aware that many people have varied beliefs, and try to embrace them. We are centric to the truth of the dinosaur myth, and the group is testimony to this belief of people around the world. It is articles like yours that seeks to persecute religious beliefs. Please be more tolerant of those that think differently to you.

    • Tom McIver says:

      Roland, I confess I don’t understand your performance art and satire that I’ve seen on various sites. I glanced at your dissertation on performance art but still don’t see the relevance to spoofing of fundamentalist beliefs. Are you a member of the Sheffield Humanists?

  16. Robert Seidel says:

    It would be quite bizarre for a fundamentalist Christian to claim that “Charles Darwin’s later theory of evolution entirely disproved dinosaurs”. Your suspicion of that post being a Poe is, I think, warranted.

  17. Mark Scurry says:

    Good article. I can’t help but think it’s people desperate for attention.

    Ah yes, ‘Big Paleo’. Just when you think the internet can’t get more stupid, a new standard is reached. You would think before you create a term to signify an greedy corporate entity, it might be worth checking to see if there’s money in it first.

    • Roland Miller says:

      We have a closed face book group. People can join or not. This is not attention seeking. Its supporting like minded people to share ideas and have a voice.

      • Tom McIver says:

        Roland, I am curious as to why none of the CAD admins whose profiles I glanced at had any connections to actual Christian groups (other than a few hoax sites), but lots of connections to satirical groups and sites. One admin, for example, earlier ridiculed Ray Comfort, calling him a “comedy genius,” yet now claims to be a believer. Is professed commitment to dinosaur denial the only requirement for admins?

        • Tom McIver says:

          Another CAD admin, in California, has two Facebook profiles, one devoted to CAD dinosaur denial, and the other to his Hollywood web design and marketing business, precisely the kind of internet and search engine optimization, graphics and salesmanship skills that CAD profits from. On the former he describes himself as “Chrsitaisn [sp. sic] Soldier at Graceland Christian Bookstore,” with a Christian college education, but on the later he provides a different college and no Christian associations–only internet companies.

          Studied Bachelor of Science

        • Dru S. says:

          Hi Tom,

          I think you mean me. As I am a devout Christian I can promise you I am indeed 100% devoted to dispelling the dinosaur lie. I started using a second facebook account a few months back to help admin CAD’s facebook group due to the constant harassment I was receiving to my personal facebook account. It got to the point where a couple atheist bullies singled me out and kept reporting my facebook as fake, which would end up with facebook locking me out for a set period of time until they had a chance to review my account. Being an SEO guy I also do Social Media Marketing and oversee the facebook pages and advertising for several clients. When I get locked out of facebook, it directly affects my business and my clients. Hence, two accounts.

        • Tom McIver says:

          Hi Dru,
          Thanks for joining in. On Feb. 15 you posted that Auclair is “one of the top scientific minds of our church.” What church is that? Do you mean your internet group? Genuine dinosaur deniers like Ames have very rigid, specific beliefs on many theological issues, and are concerned with heresies within other Christian churches. Not so CAD folks. I contacted Ames several days ago and he had never heard of CAD, despite its popularity among satirists and social media types.

  18. John H says:

    Donald – Are you exaggerating when you say these things make you despair for humanity? There are so many silly things that people believe, things that occur under normal daily circumstances and require no particular sophistication to sort out, that to be appalled at this nonsense seems disproportionate, at least. People believe the check is in the mail, that their political party of choices are the good guys, and that they are above average drivers, so why are we astounded when a few believe in invisible beings with magical powers, or transparently false conspiracies, or made-up world histories? I congratulate you for resisting a misanthropic viewpoint, but at some point your expectations must be adjusted.

  19. Tom McIver says:

    Kristen Auclair has apparently left (or been terminated from) her insurance job, because of harassing communications to her employer due to her internet videos. The company she worked for no longer lists her. If she was fired because of her beliefs, or because of an internet shaming campaign, I do not approve. The CAD site is full of satirists and “performance artists,” but harassment is not satire or art. I tried contacting her a couple of weeks ago when I discovered her identity from the list of CAD admins, but didn’t get a reply. She has responded to the alleged harassment under a “Jane Doe” Facebook identity, mentioning legal action. All the CAD satirists might ponder this.

  20. Loren Petrich says:

    I haven’t followed it very much, but I’ve found a similar sort of site: Save the Guinea Worm Foundation: defending the world’s most endangered species. In “How can I help save the Guinea Worm?” it states

    If you’re really serious about making a difference, join the Preservers. This brave group men and women volunteers to host living Guinea Worms in a valiant effort to preserve the species.

    That actually raises an interesting issue. What to do about species that depend on us for at least part of their life cycle, and that cause nasty diseases in doing so? Protecting ourselves from them would cause their extinction. That has already happened to the smallpox virus, extinct except for some samples in some vials in disease-research labs.

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