It’s likely that our depiction of dinosaurs, such as in Jurassic Park, is quite different from reality. CNS photo/Universal Pictures

Gerry Turcotte: Blushing at what aliens would see

  • March 25, 2022

"For everything created by God is good."

- Timothy 4:4

How would aliens reconstruct skulls that they discovered here on Earth?

One clever artist tried to imagine how this would look and produced a horrific rendering of the hippopotamus that looks like a creature from the movie Predator. In a wonderful book entitled All Yesterdays, C.M. Köseman reimagines today’s animals through the lens of paleo-artist renderings of dinosaurs.

For Köseman, the way artists have imagined dinosaurs is completely flawed, exacerbated by Hollywood’s desire to make these extinct creatures as frightening as possible. Köseman’s complaint is that the lizards of old are rendered without body fat and fur, and are delivered to us “vacuum-packed” with skin tightly drawn around their muscular contours. His reproductions of contemporary animal skeletons, drawn with the paleo-artist’s vacuum-sealed approach, are equally terrifying.

Representations that are undertaken as though we didn’t know what the creatures really look like turn swans and hippos, manatees and elephants, into something that would be at home in Jurassic Park. Conversely, re-imaging dinosaurs with appropriate (and likely) body fat, fur or skin colour, transforms these terrifying beasts into something festive and Dr. Seussish. This speculation has led to other conversations on social media about how we may possibly be under-estimating or over-estimating the variety of species of dinosaurs that existed.

All of this forces us to wonder how many assumptions we make about the past based, often, on rather loose assumptions. For example, there is ample evidence that Vikings rarely, or indeed never, wore the horned helmets that are part of their Hollywood garb. Archaeological evidence shows they most likely fought bareheaded. At five-foot-two, Napoleon was not actually significantly shorter than his countrymen, and the title “the little colonel” was most likely an affectionate appellation. Despite this fact, an entire representational myth, and indeed a psychological condition (the Napoleonic complex), has been constructed around this errant fact. Hundreds of false facts often take on a life of their own because of a single throwaway reference.

Over time some deeply problematic assumptions are eventually reversed. More recently, social media has evidenced the deliberate manipulation of information, and the notion of fake news now dominates the lexicon. While facts have always been modified for propagandistic purposes, modern reporting makes the volume and range of this manipulation much more obvious, even if the lines between truth and falsehood are sometimes no less blurry.

All this invites us to consider how we might be judged if viewed by an alien race. Not so much our looks, but our actions. To be more specific, how might an alien presence — perhaps one who had researched our proclamations and ideas, our sacred texts and our ideals — judge the result they found if they happened to visit? I suspect they might be shocked to see the disconnection between our Christian words, for example about loving our neighbour, and the evidence of our actions in our divided society. Might they be surprised at the language around love and inclusivity, on loving the other as thyself, versus the very stark reality of homeless millions: not just in developing or war-torn countries, but also in western nations that are awash in plenty?

If they read our Bible and the values there about the need to care for our planet and all the creatures of the Earth, might they be shocked to find that over 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours? Might they be shocked by our dumping tons of plastic into the oceans and releasing billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year? To that there is a disconnection between what we say and act is an understatement.

The Bible does not ask us to be perfect, but it invites us to be our best selves, modeled on the words and life of Christ. This invitation is backed by a gift of grace and forgiveness that sets us up for success, not failure. Hopefully we can find a way to take stock of the great riches we’ve been given, to share these with those less fortunate and to reset the balance of a planet in need.

Bill Watterson once said that the “surest sign that that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.” I don’t believe in aliens, but if they did exist, I’d like to be proud of what they found if they ever drop by.

(Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.)

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