Dino Dig Helps Adventist Researchers Reconcile Scientific Pursuits with Faith

Experience at Southwestern Adventist University connects international participants.

Emeraude Victorin Tobias, Faith and Science Council
Dino Dig Helps Adventist Researchers Reconcile Scientific Pursuits with Faith
International participants in the 2024 Dino Dig Experience led by Southwestern Adventist University. [Photo: Geoscience Research Institute]

For many, the pull of uncovering ancient relics and the mysteries of the past is an irresistible draw. Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), a Seventh-day Adventist school in Keene, Texas, United States, offers a unique opportunity to step back in time with its Dino Dig Experience, a dinosaur excavation research project in the Lance Formation of eastern Wyoming.

This program, held annually in June, brings together students, families, and international participants to uncover and study dinosaur fossil remains.

An Educational Adventure

The Dino Dig Experience is not just a summer activity but also an accredited course students at SWAU can take for academic credit. The hands-on experience in the field provides a practical extension to classroom learning, allowing students to apply theoretical knowledge in a real-world setting. The excavation site offers an unparalleled opportunity to study Cretaceous dinosaur bones in their natural context.

Families with children also flock to the dig site, eager to share the excitement of discovery. This inclusive approach allows participants of all ages to engage with science tangibly, fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world.

An International Gathering

In 2024, the Dino Dig Experience was indeed a global affair, featuring eight international participants from Brazil, Chile, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Kenya, and Mexico. Among them was Nelson Llempen, a recent geology graduate from the University of Concepción in Chile. Llempen’s journey to the Dino Dig is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance.

Llempen has long been fascinated by dinosaurs and geology, a passion nurtured from childhood. He grew up reading books that fueled his desire to understand how the biblical account of creation aligns with geological findings. His dedication led to extensive research and eventually the Dino Dig Experience through a sponsorship by the Faith and Science Council.

Llempen’s journey began with an online conference for teachers in South America, which he attended despite not being a teacher himself but a geology student. He saw this as an opportunity to connect with Raul Esperante, a paleontologist from the Geoscience Research Institute (GRI) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Llempen paid close attention to the conference and actively participated in the Q&A session, which led to an invitation to an online forum. This forum opened doors for further opportunities, including research trips to Bolivia and Brazil.

In August 2023, Llempen completed a three-week internship at the GRI, which solidified his aspirations. A lifelong fan of geology and dinosaurs, Llempen found a mentor in Esperante, who encouraged him to join the Dino Dig Experience and apply for one of the Faith and Science Council scholarships for international participants. Llempen’s background in studying dinosaur and bird footprints provided a unique perspective, which he felt could contribute to the excavation.

Bridging Faith and Science

For Llempen, the Dino Dig Experience is more than just an opportunity to unearth fossil bones; it is a chance to reconcile his scientific pursuits with his faith. Raised as an Adventist, Llempen has always been interested in how geological evidence can be harmonized with the biblical narrative. The Dino Dig provides a platform for him to explore these questions in a community that shares his values and interests.

Llempen’s goals for the Dino Dig are twofold. Firstly, he aims to gain hands-on experience in the techniques of preservation and restoration of dinosaur bones, skills that are essential for a career in paleontology. Secondly, he wants to deepen his understanding of sedimentology and the history of life on earth from a biblical paradigm.

A Collaborative Effort

The Dino Dig Experience is also a hub for networking and collaboration. Participants like Llempen have the chance to work alongside experienced scientists and fellow enthusiasts, sharing ideas and forging connections that can lead to future research opportunities. Llempen sees this as a vital aspect of the program, emphasizing the need for more outreach and collaboration in creationism.

The shared passion among participants fosters an environment of mutual support and learning. Llempen said he hopes to contribute his knowledge of rocks and sediments to the team, enhancing their understanding of the fossils they uncover. This collaborative spirit advances scientific knowledge and strengthens the bond between participants.

Looking to the Future

As Llempen prepares to start his master’s degree in geology at Loma Linda University this fall, he reflects on the Dino Dig Experience as a pivotal moment in his academic and spiritual journey. The program has provided him with invaluable field experience, deepened his understanding of geological processes, and connected him with a network of like-minded individuals.

The Dino Dig Experience at SWAU is more than just an excavation project; it is a transformative adventure that brings together people from diverse backgrounds to uncover the past, explore scientific questions from a biblical foundation, and build a community of faith and learning. For participants like Llempen, it is a stepping stone to a future where their passions and beliefs coexist and thrive.

Emeraude Victorin Tobias, Faith and Science Council