Petersburg, Ky. -- Steve McConaughy gets goose bumps when he tells people about the Creation Museum.
The $26.4-million facility will not open until spring, but the air-traffic controller from Toledo already has made nine pilgrimages to the suburban Cincinnati site.
"The first time was in the fall of 2001, when it was just a muddy field with a bulldozer sitting on it," he said with a proud smile.
Mr. McConaughy made his ninth visit just nine days ago for a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility with exhibits - including animatronic dinosaurs and a high-tech Special SFX theater - that are only 10 percent finished.
The preview was open to Creation Museum charter members and invited guests, so Mr. McConaughy took the opportunity to bring 34 people from the Toledo area who share his belief that the universe was created exactly, literally, word-for-word as the Bible describes it in the Book of Genesis.
The July 28 preview, the last one scheduled at the museum before the opening, drew more than 3,000 people from throughout the Midwest, filling the parking lot to capacity and creating long lines in its gleaming Noah's Ark Cafe.
Eight months before the official opening, the Creation Museum has signed up 7,000 charter members who donated $149 for one-year memberships, $495 for five years, or $1,000 for lifetime memberships. The majority live more than two hours from the museum, according to Mark Looy, vice president.
Ken Ham, the Australian-born science teacher and founder of the museum, said organizers are in the unusual - and enviable - position of having to expand the facility before it even opens.
The price tag was upped from $25 million to $26.4 million. Organizers plan to add more parking spaces, expand the lobby, and add a level to the cafe.
Mr. Ham said $22 million has been raised thus far and the museum is on track to be debt-free by opening day. More than $15 million has come from gifts of $100 or less, he added.
The broad support among conservative Christians is not just because of the museum's presentation of the creation story. Many supporters are rallying behind the museum's stated mission to "take back our culture."
How a person views creation and evolution sets the tone for how he or she views the world, Mr. Ham asserted.
That makes the creation debate a critical battle zone in America's "culture war."
"There is a widening chasm between those who adhere to Christian morality - i.e., absolutes that are actually founded in the Bible - and those who adhere to moral relativism - i.e., everyone has a right to determine his or her rules for life," Mr. Ham said in an interview with The Blade.
"The more that generations are trained to disbelieve the Bible's account of origins, the more they will reject the rest of the Bible," he said.
The teaching of evolution as fact, rather than as theory, has undermined the authority of the Bible and brought about the rise of secularization and moral chaos, Mr. Ham said.
He also believes the rejection of the Bible as a moral compass has given rise to an array of cultural conflicts on issues such as abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and euthanasia.
The Creation Museum is designed to inspire Americans to accept the Bible as absolute authority and to halt the spread of secular humanism and moral relativism in society.
As Mr. McConaughy sees it, the Creation Museum can change people's lives.
"The museum has all the scientific answers for creation," he said, "but they really want people to know that if you take the Bible as your starting place, you're probably going to be more successful in looking out at the world."
Among the scientific positions that the Creation Museum espouses is that the Earth is 6,000 years old, as opposed to the more than 4 billion years that most scientists ascribe to, and that dinosaurs co-existed with human beings and were among Noah's menagerie on the Ark.
One of the most popular attractions at the museum, especially for children, will be a dozen life-size animatronic dinosaurs, including a 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Most of the dinosaurs were created by Buddy Davis, a country singer and songwriter who said he learned animal anatomy and expression through taxidermy.
Mr. Davis created his dinosaurs and took them around to shopping malls for display, refusing to let them sit in a natural history museum that taught evolution. When Answers in Genesis announced it was building a museum, Mr. Davis found a home for his behemoths.
Evolution experts find the Creation Museum to be amusing but scientifically in error.
"There is massive physical and chemical evidence that the Earth is in fact not 6,000 years old but a heck of a lot older and that dinosaurs and humans did not live together," said Michael Ruse, a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and an expert on Darwinism.
"I just don't think it's a scientific issue but a politico-religious issue that makes for all sorts of other arguments," Mr. Ruse said. "There's a cultural divide in America today, the red versus blue states and such, and it's not just creationism but attitudes toward abortion, stem-cell research, homosexuality - a whole cluster of issues that is very much defining the way people look at the world."
Donald J. Stierman, a professor of geology at the University of Toledo, said the record of faunal succession - the layers of fossils found in sedimentary rock - is indisputable proof that the Earth is billions of years old.
Creationists also are wrong in their assertion that radiometric dating methods are unreliable and that they give erroneous readings because they are based on false assumptions, Mr. Stierman said.
He cited a 1965 research project by Fred Vine that used radiometric measurements to accurately conclude that the ocean floor was expanding by 2 centimeters a year.
"Now we have GPS [global positioning satellites] that show he was right. How could he have gotten it right if his methods were not right?" Mr. Stierman asked.
He said Creation Museum advocates blur the line between science and faith.
"A lot of scientists are religious. They may feel something in their heart but can't prove it scientifically," Mr. Stierman said. "If we could prove it, it wouldn't be a matter of faith. We're not all atheists."
The Creation Museum is an outgrowth of Answers in Genesis, an organization founded in Australia in 1979 and brought to the United States when Mr. Ham immigrated in 1987.
The organization, originally based in San Diego, conducts about 400 creation seminars a year around the country.
When Answers in Genesis' board of directors decided to build a museum, it chose a 50-acre plot near Cincinnati - just two miles west of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport on I-275 - because it is within 650 miles of two-thirds of the U.S. population and provides easy access to travelers heading along the I-75 corridor.
The building comprises about 100,000 square feet, with 55,000 for the museum and the rest for offices for its 190 employees.
Charter members have signed up from around the country, with the majority living more than two hours from the museum and a surprising number from Washington state and Alaska, Mr. Looy said.
Mr. Looy and Mr. Ham said that although the Creation Museum cost $26.4 million to build, its actual value is more than $80 million because labor and many of the materials were donated by people who believe in the museum's mission.
In quality of construction and design, Mr. Ham wants the museum to equal or surpass anything that secular theme parks or museums can offer.
Its spacious atrium, with a 48-foot-ceiling, has a number of dinosaurs sitting atop rocklike structures. A pterodactyl looks down from its perch above the entrance to the Dragon Hall Bookstore, which is designed to look like a medieval castle.
The SFX Theater's seats will shake its visitors and hit them with gusts of wind and mists of water linked to scenes in a 20-minute video.
In the Noah's Ark exhibit, 12 animatronic characters will be busy hammering and sawing as Noah shouts instructions.
About six years ago, the museum hired Patrick Marsh, an exhibit designer whose previous projects included the Jaws and King Kong exhibits at Universal Studios in Florida.
He had been designing theme parks in Asia when he heard about the Creation Museum and sent in his resume.
"He said, 'I'm an exhibit designer, I believe in everything Answers in Genesis teaches, and I would love to design exhibits for you.' We have an incredible amount of talent on our staff," Mr. Ham said. "People ask how we found all these people and I say it's just like God brought all the animals to the ark; he brought the people here."
In an address to charter members, Mr. Ham said he believes many visitors will experience a spiritual conversion after touring the Creation Museum.
"And if they don't get saved, then we'll make them go through it again, because they must have missed something," he joked.