“How Many Gallons of Gas Does One Dinosaur Make?”

Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex -How many gallons of gas does one dinosaur make?
Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex

“How many gallons of gas does one dinosaur make?” Marilyn vos Savant has a column in Parade magazine. In the February 5, 2017, issue (page 8), that was the title of her column, taken from a reader’s question. We get this same question in one form or another, usually from an adult, not a child. Many people believe the gasoline that drives our cars and all of our fossil fuels came from the bodies of dinosaurs that were smushed into crude oil. The fact that the Sinclair Oil Company had a green brontosaurus as their mascot for a long time probably contributed to this misunderstanding. 

The real answer has much to do with our view of how God has provided for advanced human civilization. Ask yourself what you would answer if a young person asked where crude oil originated. In a Bible class context, the question might be, “How did God make crude oil?”

The answer to this question comes from our view of how God does things. Do we view God as a magician who zaps things into existence? Did God zap petroleum products deep underground so that we could find them and use them to drive the industrial age and our infatuation with gasoline-powered cars? We have tried to suggest over the years that God has used natural processes for most of what He has done. In Genesis 1, the Hebrew word for “create,” indicating a process that only God can do, is only used three times–verses 1, 21, and 27. These are all major items–space/time in verse 1, life in verse 21, and the human soul in verse 27. All the other verses in Genesis 1 use a word for “make” or “formed,” which implies a natural process. The bottom line is that most of what Genesis 1 describes were things formed by natural processes, not miraculous acts of God. Genesis 2:3 uses both words to describe the methods God used: “…he had rested from all his work which God (elohim) created (bara) and made (asah).” (Hebrew words in parentheses.)

So where did the gasoline for your car come from? The answer is that it came from an ecology that God created and shaped to produce it. That ecology was warm, had a particular chemical balance, and was full of single-celled animals called foraminifera and diatoms. They formed a tiny drop of crude oil in their bodies during their life processes. When the organisms died, their hard shells became diatomaceous earth, and the drop of oil united with millions of other drops to make a pool of crude oil. The dinosaurs were the agents that served as the gardeners to provide nutrients, prune, spread seeds, and generally control the ecology. Because God used this method, scientists can locate oil deposits miles below the earth’s surface. If God had formed the petroleum with a magic trick, humans would be unable to locate these resources. Because we know how the oil was formed, we know where to find it.

God used an incredible group of animals to prepare the things that humans would need. Not only was oil produced in this way, but coal, iron, and a plethora of other resources. God employed engineering skills and ecological genius to give us the standard of living we enjoy today. That is much more exciting than smushed dinosaurs.

–John N. Clayton © 2017