A rather unusual species of museum
The glass display case, soon to be filled with a variety of finches, could be in any natural history museum. It is set among exhibits on frogs and lizards, across from a gift shop and a diorama of life in ancient times.
But this is something different: the Creation Museum, a $27-million destination that is expected, on its Memorial Day opening, to bring a new level of high-tech polish to argument against evolution.
The text below the display case says scientists are “puzzled” by the varieties of finches. “The Bible provides the explanation,” it says. “In the beginning of time, six thousand years ago, God created every kind of bird, including the finch kind, and He gave them the ability to ‘multiply on the earth.’ ”
The 60,000-square-foot museum, near Cincinnati on 49 acres of lush Kentucky countryside, is the work of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the “young Earth” creationist movement. Unlike proponents of “intelligent design” -- who question aspects of evolutionary theory but may accept that the universe is billions of years old -- members of “young Earth” groups insist that the Book of Genesis is an accurate historical record.
Because the world began only 6,000 years ago, they argue, dinosaurs discovered in the fossil record must have coexisted with humans. In the diorama that greets museum visitors, models of baby tyrannosaurs cavort among animatronic children clad in buckskin.
Dinosaurs, in fact, are all over the Creation Museum: Visitors can plunk down $29.99 for a plastic apatosaurus in the gift shop. Their kids will be able to saddle up on the back of a model triceratops by the coffee bar.
“Kids are fascinated by them,” said Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham. The creatures have too long been used as propaganda for the evolutionist cause, he said.
“We like to say, ‘You’ve captured them for evolution, and we’re going to take them back.’ ”
The museum, with its flat-screen TVs and special-effects theater, is an attempt to go mainstream with an idea that has been widely discredited by modern science. And that is a concern for defenders of evolutionary theory. The Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a Washington-based group that advocates science education and the separation of church and state, recently compared the museum to cigarette ads.
“This is to science what Joe Camel was to health -- a crass marketing ploy that cynically preys on the impressionable minds of children,” co-director Clark Stevens said in a statement.
Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director for the group American Atheists, is organizing a protest outside the museum on opening day.
“In the recent presidential debate you had three Republican candidates raise their hand and say they didn’t believe in evolution,” he said, referring to Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. “Now, that’s getting dangerous.... Within a generation we could be back in a Dark Ages, where direct revelation is accepted over science.”
Ham, a former schoolteacher in Australia who founded the ministry in 1979, said he simply wanted people to “think about the origins issue” in a new way.
“You have secular museums in every major city that treat evolution as fact, and public schools around this nation treating evolution as fact, and they’re worried about one Creation Museum?
“If evolution is so obvious,” he said with a smile, “why are they so worried?”
Ham believes that many modern Christians have strayed from the basic tenets of their faith because they learned in school that evolution, not Genesis, provided the best blueprint for the story of creation.
Creationists already boast one smaller museum, the Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee, Calif., as well as a number of roadside attractions. In Cabazon, Calif., dinosaur models tower as high as 65 feet over the nearby Interstate 10, enticing visitors to unlearn Darwin.
The Kentucky museum takes creationist tourism to a new level. Its chief designer, Patrick Marsh, designed the Jaws and King Kong attractions at Florida’s Universal Studios.
Organizers are expecting to attract 250,000 visitors a year, who will pay $9.95 to $19.95 for a ticket.
Mark Looy, an Answers in Genesis spokesman, gave a preview of the experience last week.
Beyond the diorama of the dinosaurs and children is a reproduction of a narrow slot canyon from the Grand Canyon. “Have you ever wondered where canyons come from?” asks a video on a flat-screen TV, laying the groundwork for a recurring assertion: that the Grand Canyon was not carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River, but by a rush of water in the great flood described in Genesis.
Further exhibits promote the idea that the fossil record, among other evidence, can be viewed from two “different starting points.” Using the starting point of “human reason,” scientists arrive at the idea that the universe began with a Big Bang and that all life, including humans, evolved from one organism 4 billion years ago.
But if one begins with God’s word as a guide, the exhibits argue, everything looks different. One chart rebuts the notion that Lucy -- the Ethiopian hominid whose bones scientists consider an intermediary link between apes and humans -- has anything to do with the story of humanity.
Elsewhere, the 176-seat special-effects theater will simulate wind and rain for a “visual thrill ride” through Bible history; Noah’s Cafe will offer a Before the Fall salad with “Ice Age” iceberg lettuce; and animatronic Bible characters will hammer on a reproduction of Noah’s ark.
The Answers in Genesis group believes the story of the ark to be literally true as well. After the ark ran aground in Central Asia, the museum explains, the surviving animals repopulated the other continents by floating across the oceans on the “billions of trees” uprooted by the great deluge.
It is those kinds of assertions that make scientists like Lawrence Krauss laugh out loud.
“That’s remarkable,” said Krauss, a physicist and astronomer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, in a phone interview. “Any child knows that when they make up a story, and unfortunately make up the facts, they have to make up more and more excuses to justify those facts.”
But Krauss, an advisory board member at the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, takes the museum’s threat to science education seriously. He has reviewed Answers in Genesis’ literature and has taken a virtual tour of the museum online (at www.answersingenesis.org/museum/media.asp). He recently compiled a 10-point rebuttal to creationism that he hopes will be turned into a brochure for potential museum-goers.
Michael Jones, pastor of Big Bone Baptist Church, a few miles away, got a sneak peek at the museum early last week, and said he would encourage his flock of 350 to attend often.
His church, he said, is near Big Bone Lick State Park, where scientists discovered remains of wooly mammoths and mastodons believed to be from the Pleistocene epoch, more than 10,000 years ago.
The bones are on display at a small park museum that Jones has never visited.
“I’m just a simple person,” he said, “but I could never believe we came from goo.”