In the summer of 2008, "Einstein," one of the most complete Apatosaurus skeletons ever discovered, made its international debut in the arrivals hall of the Abu Dhabi International Airport. That is a long way from the Wyoming quarry in which it was found. What reason could there be for this unique specimen to make such a journey?
According to the man who organized the display, Khalid Siddiq al Mutawaa, it was because many of the people he met didn't believe in dinosaurs. In an interview just published in The National al Mutawaa said:
I kept hearing people and especially children say that there is no such thing as a dinosaur. ... That really bothered me and so I brought over a dinosaur for our people to see, and everyone else who happens to pass by through here, to learn more about that part of our global history.
While it might be easy to think of young earth creationism or other strains of anti-science as mostly American phenomena there has recently been a resurgence in Islamic creationism. In some Islamic countries there is widespread doubt as to the reality of evolution, and subjects like paleontology are either glossed over or not discussed. Just as within Christianity there is a wide spectrum of beliefs about how to reconcile science and scripture, but in many places evolutionary science struggles for acceptance.
Since Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a country where Islam is the official state religion, the city's airport was a natural place to introduce a large number of people to dinosaurs. To al Mutawaa's delight, the response to the Apatosaurus was largely positive, and he has now embarked on a new mission with the cooperation of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. His goal is to create a top-notch fossil hall to reach even more people with details of the Earth's history. I hope this new project captures the imaginations of even more people who may have never seen a dinosaur before.