Petersburg, Kentucky — Amid protesters and television cameras, several thousand visitors lined up yesterday for the opening of the Creation Museum, a $27 million attraction purporting that the Bible's creation story is literal fact supported by science.
Visitors watched high-tech animatronic dinosaurs wag their tails next to playing children in a diorama. They examined fossils and skulls, walked through a lush Garden of Eden and watched robotic men hammer on Noah's Ark in advance of God's retribution.
Through a mix of exhibits and displays, they were told that the Grand Canyon was created in the biblical flood; that Noah's animals repopulated continents by floating across oceans on uprooted trees; that the earth is 6,000 years old, not billions; and that poison dart frogs were harmless before Adam's sin.
Some visitors said the 60,000-square-foot museum — a cross between a natural history museum and a biblical theme park — reinforced their views that evolution and the Big Bang — the theory that the universe was created in a giant explosion — are wrong, despite scientific consensus to the contrary.
"If you want to believe you came from animals, that's you," said Paul Aduba, who came from Toledo, Ohio. "But it's a lie."
Outside the gates of the museum, more than 100 protesters, including scientists and humanist groups, held signs that read "Science Not Superstition" and "Don't Brainwash Our Children."
One group rented a plane that buzzed the parking lot trailing a sign that read in part, "Thou Shalt Not Lie."
"This is a museum of misinformation," said Lawrence M. Krauss, an outspoken critic who heads the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
"It's fine for people to believe whatever they want — whether it's wrong or not," he said. "But what's inappropriate is to essentially lie and say science supports these notions. It doesn't."
Gene Kritsky, a biology professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, said the "quote-unquote museum," which has drawn international media attention, was "an embarrassment" for the region.
The museum, which includes a digital planetarium, is the work of Answers in Genesis, a conservative religious group that is part of the "young Earth" creationist movement.
Unlike "intelligent design," an idea that suggests that the universe was created by a "designer" but doesn't specify who that is and still accepts that it is billions of years old, young Earth creationists believe the Bible's book of Genesis is exactly how the world was formed — that is, in six 24-hour days.
Because they believe the world is just 6,000 years old, they say that dinosaurs must have co-existed with humans. They believe the story of the flood and the ark are literally true.
"We use the same science … we just interpret it differently," said creator Ken Ham, who started the ministry in his native Australia and has raised money for years to build the museum.
Ham said he sees the museum as a new weapon in a wider "culture war" for Christians who "feel like they've been beat down" in battles over abortion, gay marriage and the display of the Ten Commandments in public places. He also hopes it will change the views of non-believing visitors.
Polls show that many Americans agree with some of Ham's views. A 2006 CBS poll found that 51 percent of Americans think God created humans in their present form. More believe that while humans evolved, God guided the process. Just 15 percent said that humans evolved and God was not involved.
There are a handful of creationist museums nationwide. But critics and supporters alike say Kentucky's museum brings the idea to a new level because of its scope and high-tech design.
One of its top designers also helped created the Jaws attraction at Universal Studios in Florida. Organizers expect 250,000 people a year.
Inside, a 200-seat special-effects theater simulates wind and rain and features two angelic characters who declare, "God loves science!" At a great flood exhibit, animatronic men work on a wooden reproduction of Noah's ark, which the museum contends also held dinosaurs and could carry 125,280 "sheep-sized animals."
Fossils, the museum contends, were formed in the aftermath of God's retribution in the flood thanks in part to "unique chemical conditions."
"There's two different theories," Sean Riccardelli of Pennsylvania told his daughters, Elina, 7, and Liza, 9, as they read biblical passages from one exhibit. "You believe what's in your heart … what your faith tells you."
Exhibits question evidence of evolution, such as Lucy, the Ethiopian hominid whose remains are thought to be a link between apes and humans. "It makes sense," one exhibit says, that some organisms' systems were designed to work together.
At the cafeteria overlooking the facility's 49 acres of parkland, patrons munched on "Before the Fall" salads and the daily special — BBQ Pterodactyl wings (pork shank). The bookstore included titles such as "Lucy: She's No Lady!" and "Refuting Evolution" along with children's coloring books and plastic dinosaurs.
Judy Vinson, who drove seven hours from Alabama to see the opening, said she didn't find anything she disagreed with.
"Evolution doesn't make sense," she said, nor does the Big Bang, thought by scientists to have created the universe. "Explosions don't construct" things, she said.