Ten Questions for David Read

In honor of the ten-year anniversary of the publication of my book, “Dinosaurs —An Adventist View,“ I am posting an old publicity interview done when the book was first published.

Q.    Why a book on dinosaurs?

 A.    As an Adventist creationist and a trained controversialist, I couldn’t help being interested in the controversy surrounding origins, the struggle between Darwinism and creationism that has now been raging for 150 years.  I began to read books on the topic, and other aspects of ancient history and archeology.  When I finally decided to write a book on origins, I decided to make it dinosaur-centric for several reasons, including the fact that anything featuring dinosaurs seems to be very marketable.  (I once remarked to a group of my friends that “dinosaurs are sexy,” which occasioned quite a bit of derisive laughter and ridicule.) 


Q.    You are a lawyer, not a scientist.  How are you qualified to write this book?

A.   Trial lawyers have to become experts on the technical details of whatever topic our latest case is about, whether medical malpractice, toxic torts, products liability, complex business disputes, oil and gas exploration, or what have you.  The diversity of areas into which litigation intrudes is as wide as the world itself.  As a result, lawyers become quick studies.  They learn to penetrate to the heart of a controversy, ascertaining which facts are in dispute, and which are not; which facts are important or relevant to the outcome, and which are not.  That skill set is useful in approaching any controversy, including the controversy over origins.  Of course, as lawyers know very well, there is no way to avoid the homework.  During the course of writing this book, I read scores of books and did several hundred hours of library research.  I checked and re-checked the facts, and also had trained scientists review the manuscript. 


Q.      What topics does the book cover?

A.     I conceived of the book as answering a set of questions about dinosaurs:  What are dinosaurs?  When did they live?  Where did they come from?  Did birds evolve from dinosaurs?  Why did dinosaurs become extinct?  In fact, in the first draft of the book, each of these questions was the title of a chapter, but this structure led to too few chapters that were each too long, so I changed it.  But the book is still designed to answer people’s questions about dinosaurs. 


Q.     I assume that you are writing from the creationist perspective?

A.    Absolutely.  Darwinism has plenty of defenders; it is the dominant point of view in academia, media, museums, foundations, government, entertainment, business, etc.  Darwinism has no need of additional advocates. 


Q.    But there are also many books by creationists.  What makes yours special?

A.    Several things, but primarily that there has never been a full-length book for adults specifically exploring the Seventh-day Adventist angle on dinosaurs.  This is the first such book. 


Q.    Is this book only for Seventh-day Adventists?

A.    No.  In fact, it could have been much shorter had it been intended only for Adventists, because Adventists already understand and take for granted the “young earth creationist” paradigm, which eight of the chapters are devoted to explaining.  But I wanted anyone to be able to pick up the book and follow the chain of reasoning from the beginning, which meant that I had to explain why Adventists reject not only Darwinism but also long ages geology; I had to explain the damage those two scientific philosophies do to the structure of Adventist and Christian doctrine.


Q.    Do you bring any new insights into explaining the young earth creationist model and the critique of Darwinism?

A.    Maybe not, but I think I have presented the material in a fresh and interesting way.  One example is my discussion of the theory of evolution:  When our DNA copies itself, it does so flawlessly 99.99% of the time, but occasionally there is a copying error.  The modern theory of evolution posits that those copying errors accumulate to create new biochemical mechanisms, new organs, and eventually change species into different, new species.  That is the theory of evolution in a nutshell.  But our real-world experience with DNA copying errors is that they cause all kinds of problems, including thousands of diseases.  The notion that DNA copying errors are responsible for all the diversity of plant and animal life we see around us is an idea that I don’t find at all credible, and I marvel that it has become scientific dogma.  But it has, and to remind readers what evolution is, I refer to it throughout the book as “the copying error theory of evolution.”


Q.    Can you give another example of your unique approach to the material?

A.    A scientist writing this book would not have spent as many pages on the history.  But the history is crucial, because it is impossible to evaluate contemporary science without knowing how and when it developed its biases.  For example, I wrote extensively on the history of geologic interpretation, because opponents of biblical creationism rely much more on geology than on biology.  But the geological doctrines that conflict with creationism are not facts, but conclusions flowing from an interpretation of the facts. 

Just yesterday, I was reading a blog written by a critic of young earth creationism, who argued that geological field research led directly to the conclusion that the earth’s fossiliferous layers are millions of years old.  This is a key argument against creationism, but it is false.  The decision to interpret the strata as the residue of long ages was a philosophical decision.  An Englishman named Charles Lyell—who, perhaps not coincidentally, was also a lawyer—argued that past sedimentation must have occurred at the same rate it occurs today.  He argued that it was bad science to posit that geological processes worked at different rates in the past than they do in the present. 

This principle became known as “Uniformitarianism,” which sounds like the name of a religious denomination, and uniformitarianism is every bit as faith-based as any religious dogma.  Under this assumption, the fossiliferous strata must be millions of years old, because it would have taken millions of years to accumulate that much sediment at current rates of sedimentation.  But this conclusion is obviously not dictated by geological field research.  I quote two very capable scientists, including the late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, stating that the “catastrophists” (those who argued that the sedimentary strata were deposited rapidly) were actually better field researchers than the uniformitarians.       


Q.    Many other Christian denominations and individuals embrace “young earth creationism.”  For example, the Creation Museum, which opened near Cincinnati in May, 2007, has already had over half a million visitors [as of May, 2009].  What can Adventists add to the conversation?

A.    The question makes it sound as though Adventists are latecomers to this debate, when the opposite is true.  Academics who have studied the topic will tell you that Adventists have been very influential in creationism from the beginning.  For example, Seventh-day Adventist George MacCready Price, who wrote prolifically in the first half of the 20th Century, influenced Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, whose 1961 book, “The Genesis Flood,” is a touchstone in the history of modern evangelical creationism.

But I think Adventists have a unique emphasis to add, which is that the Darwinian model is not just wrong, but backward.  All creationists reject the idea that humans evolved from lower animals, but most Christians seem to have bought into the Darwinian meta-narrative that the race started out in a primitive condition and has been continually advancing.  By contrast, Adventists believe that mankind has dramatically fallen—physically, mentally, and spiritually—from our original condition when God created us.  Instead of evolution, there has been a profound devolution. 

For example, Ellen White wrote that early mankind needed no written language, because people were able to grasp and perfectly retain what they were told.  That kind mental strength is difficult to comprehend.  Any scholar who has read and studied over the course of a working life as short as 40 years soon realizes that he has already forgotten far more than he currently knows.  That’s why we write things down; it is why we write books. 


Q.     Do Ellen White’s writings figure into the content of your book?

A.    Absolutely.  The book’s central thesis revolves around a cryptic statement by Ellen White concerning “amalgamation.”  She stated that the worst sin of the people who lived before the universal Genesis Flood was the sin of amalgamation, which produced species that God did not create. She states that one of the most urgent reasons for the Genesis Flood was to destroy the amalgamated species.  For many years, the most knowledgeable, doctrinally well-grounded Adventists have seen a connection between extinct prehistoric animals, such as dinosaurs, and Ellen White’s “amalgamation” statements.  My book explores the thesis that dinosaurs were the products of “amalgamation”—now understood as genetic engineering—by people who lived before the Genesis Flood.  While this theory, like any theory about origins, has its problems, it is a very defensible thesis.  Moreover, it explains much about the fossil record that cannot otherwise be explained within the “young earth creationist” paradigm. 

This theory has been discussed by and among Seventh-day Adventists for several decades, but there has never been a book-length exploration of it.  An appellate court justice I worked for once told me, in the context of legal cases, “you don’t really know what you’ve got until you write the opinion.”  In other words, you do not know how strong your position is until you write it down on paper, and explain and argue it in a logical, step-by-step manner.  That’s what I’ve tried to do in this book with the Adventist view of dinosaurs.  I hope everyone who reads it will find it interesting, and receive a blessing from it.        

David Read grew up in Keene, Texas. He is a graduate of Southwestern Adventist University, where his father taught music for many years, and The University of Texas School of Law. He was a briefing attorney for a Texas state court of appeals in Texarkana, Texas, then practiced law in the small town of Paris, Texas, and later practiced in the larger town of Los Angeles, California.