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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Iguanadon and the order dinosauria: extinct, but evolving terrible lizards Hill, Sheila


Reconstructions of the Iguanodon are an excellent subject upon which to base a study of the relationship between scientific theory and physical evidence. Several fossilized Iguanodon bones were introduced into science, as it then existed, beginning in the early 1820s. These new fossil-remains were interpreted in 1841 by Richard Owen, the pre-eminent British comparative anatomist of his day, when he presented his "Report on British Fossil Reptiles" paper to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In this paper, he reconstructed the Iguanodon and created the Order Dinosauria. Owen's creation of the Iguanodon, the Order Dinosauria, and his subsequent three-dimensional Iguanodon reconstructions of the late 1840s and 1850s can be viewed through a Kuhnian lens as one element of a battle between two clashing scientific paradigms. Owen created the Order Dinosauria and the Iguanodon with encouragement of influential, conservative members of the scientific establishment to support their theory of Divine Creation and to discredit the materialistic theories of evolution being imported into England from Europe. Owen used his 1841 general review of terrestrial British fossil reptiles to argue against the continuous progressive development of the transmutatory (evolutionary) theories of the period. To overcome what the natural historians of his time believed was a regularity of the progress in fossil record, in which the age of fishes gave way into the age of reptiles which eventually progressed into the mammalian age, Owen employed the extremely limited fossil evidence as a basis for his creation of the Order Dinosauria and his reconstruction of the Iguanodon to establish that dinosaurs were superior to modern reptiles as dinosaurs were rich in mammalian features, from their pachyderm-like posture to active, warm-blooded lifestyles. In contrast, modern reptiles were small, cold-blooded and far removed from the apex of creation. If this was evolution, in was retrograde, and not progressive — exactly as the Divine Creator could have planned in anticipation of his most glorious creation, man.

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