Investigation of a claim of a late-surviving pterosaur and exposure of a taxidemic hoax: the case of Cornelius Meyer’s dragon
Phil Senter and Pondanesa D. Wilkins
Here we investigate a claim that pterosaurs survived into the seventeenth century in Italy. In 1696 Dutch civil engineer Cornelius Meyer published an engraving of the skeleton of an alleged dragon from near Rome. Some recent young-Earth creationist authors have used the engraving as evidence against the separation of humans and pterosaurs by millions of years, claiming that the skeleton is that of a pterosaur that was alive in the seventeenth century. The engraving is detailed enough to identify the skeleton as a composite of bones from various extant animal species. Until now, however, no one has attempted such identification. Here we identify the specific animals that were used in the construction of this taxidermic hoax. The skull of Meyer’s dragon is that of a domestic dog. The mandible is that of a second, smaller domestic dog. The “hindlimb” is the forelimb of a bear. The ribs are from a large fish. Ostensible skin hides the junctions between the parts of different animals. The tail is a sculpted fake. The wings are fake and lack diagnostic traits of bat wings and pterosaur wings. No part of the skeleton resembles its counterpart in pterosaurs. This piece of young-Earth creationist “evidence” therefore now joins the ranks of other discredited “evidence” for human-pterosaur coexistence and against the existence of the passage of millions of years. Also, a three-century-old hoax is finally unveiled, the mystery of its construction is solved, and an interesting and bizarre episode in Renaissance Italian history is elucidated.
No one is saying a Jewish shopkeeper should have to make a swastika cake for a Nazi couple, nor should they have to make a cake with an obscenity on it if they choose not to. Rather, we are saying that in the era of expanding equality for LGBTs, the law has finally accepted millions of our relationships as equal in its eyes. A bakery held open to the public must acknowledge that a gay couple’s request is as good as a straight one’s, and it must act accordingly. After all, one of the foreseeable consequences of permitting same sex-marriages is same-sex wedding cakes. And contrary to myth, we will not generally make and decorate our own cakes. In fact, we have come very far ourselves, entrusting many straight bakers with this delicate mission.
So if you are a baker with your door open to the public, you may not exempt yourself from baking for some kinds of couples simply because of your personal religious beliefs, or because you want to make gay people feel lousy on their wedding day. You may not do this, just as you may not refuse to make a cake for an interracial couple, even if you believe it's against God's Will that the races intermarry, and even if this belief is sincere. You do not get to elevate your beliefs so high as to ruin another person’s experience and participation in society. Instead, your cooperation is part of the social contract we all implicitly signed onto as part of this civil society.
Still, there’s a major—and frankly obvious—problem with redefining “religious freedom” to give people the right to impose their faith on others. How do you decide whose beliefs are the trump? Because, let’s be honest here, Christian conservatives don’t support a full-throttled legal right to impose your beliefs on others. If I had a store and banned Christians from shopping there, they’d scream bloody murder. If I were an employer and barred my employees from using their insurance on doctors, requiring them instead to visit a pagan faith healer of a belief I just made up, they would feel mighty imposed upon. When is forcing your faith “religious liberty” and when is it just being a dick?
Right now, the uncomfortable answer is, “When the belief in question is a mainstream and conservative one.” This question came up during Hobby Lobby’s case against the contraception mandate, and the court pretty much implied that imposing anti-contraception rules on employees was okay because Catholicism and Protestantism are mainstream, but a minority religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t deny you access to blood transfusions. Similarly, this law in Indiana is clearly meant to give Christian business owners the right to discriminate against LGBT people, but not the other way around. There are plenty of gay photographers, hairdressers and bakers who firmly believe that Christian bigots are the worst, but they can’t cite “religious freedom” to deny service. And while it’s not hard to imagine that there are plenty of people who continue to believe God rejects interracial or interfaith marriages, it’s hard to imagine many conservatives defending the right to invoke Jesus in order to refuse to sell flowers to such a couple.
The United States was not founded as a Christian nation, but polls show a slight majority of Americans believe it was and a majority of Republicans favor officially making it one. The notion turns out to be fairly recent. Historian Kevin Kruse suggests a corporate religious libertarianism was an important factor.
throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.
In a shrewd decision, these executives made clergymen their spokesmen. As Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew noted, polls proved that ministers could mold public opinion more than any other profession. And so these businessmen worked to recruit clergy through private meetings and public appeals. Many answered the call, but three deserve special attention.
The Rev. James W. Fifield — known as “the 13th Apostle of Big Business” and “Saint Paul of the Prosperous” — emerged as an early evangelist for the cause. Preaching to pews of millionaires at the elite First Congregational Church in Los Angeles, Mr. Fifield said reading the Bible was “like eating fish — we take the bones out to enjoy the meat. All parts are not of equal value.” He dismissed New Testament warnings about the corrupting nature of wealth. Instead, he paired Christianity and capitalism against the New Deal’s “pagan statism.”