T. Rex Meets Biblical Text at Museum

New Kentucky center will present creationism as science, alarming experts.

Los Angeles Times/December 9, 2001
By Stephanie Simon

Florence, Ky. -- There is no mention of Noah's Ark in most science museums. No mention of the Tower of Babel or the Garden of Eden, either.

Instead, you get dinosaur replicas, fossils, models of spiraling DNA. And informational text promoting what millions of Americans regard as drivel: the idea that all life on Earth evolved over 4 billion years from genetic scraps.

It's tantamount to brainwashing. Or so Ken Ham believes. Ham directs the global ministry Answers in Genesis. And he is building a $14-million answer to evolution here in far northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

The Creation Museum & Family Discovery Center will offer all the classic science museum exhibits, but with a twist. Each one will be interpreted as proof of the biblical account that God created the Earth and all that's in it over six days, just 6,000 years ago.

The huge double-helix of DNA will be used to argue that living beings are so complex, there's no way they could have evolved by random mutation from an undifferentiated blob. Fossils will be used to make the point that old bones don't come with a date stamped on them--and to argue that scientific methods such as carbon dating are wildly inaccurate.

Life-size dinosaurs will illustrate the theory that Adam and Eve lived alongside T. rex in a blissful Eden, free from violence. An informational placard might identify a dinosaur model this way: "Thescelosaurus. Means wonderful lizard. Height: 4 feet. Length: 11 feet. Created on: Day 6."

Critics worry the Creation Museum will legitimize an account of Earth's history that they see as a fable. But Ham, brusque and passionate, insists it's evolution that's the fraud. And he's determined to expose it.

He sees the museum as a long-overdue offensive against the scientific establishment--and against the many Christians who maintain that they can be true to their religion without taking every word of the Bible as fact.

"This is a cultural war," Ham said. "It's heating up. They need to know: We're coming."

Answers in Genesis has plenty of experience developing catchy packages to promote creationism. With an annual budget of $7 million, the ministry puts out a "faith-strengthening" family magazine, a technical journal exploring what they call the science of creation, a radio program broadcast on 400 U.S. stations and pamphlets translated for audiences around the world on topics such as: "Where did the races come from?"

The publications are glossy and engaging. Ham expects the museum to be equally slick. He's even hired the designer of the King Kong attraction at Florida's Universal Studios to come up with exhibits that he vows will rival Disneyland's in quality.

There is only one other museum in the country dedicated to creation science--a 3,500-square-foot "journey through time" at the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego. The Answers in Genesis facility is far more ambitious: It will boast 50,000 square feet of exhibit space plus 47 acres of outdoor trails and displays (including, perhaps, a full-size replica ark) just five minutes from the Cincinnati airport. If donations keep coming in on pace, the museum should open by summer 2003.

Already, Ham has filled several warehouses with potential exhibits, some purchased from a defunct science museum in Baltimore. There are walk-through replicas of a human cell and a sea bass, as well as extensive displays on DNA. Then there are the dinosaurs, dozens of them, snarling, scowling, astoundingly real. As Mark Looy, a ministry spokesman, proudly noted: "This is not papier-mache junk from a miniature golf course."

And that has some critics alarmed.

They see the Creation Museum as a sham, sermon disguised as science. But if the disguise is good enough, they fear, visitors to the museum will be snookered.

"The authoritative presentation of this information is likely to confuse people into thinking these are scientifically valid views," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education.

The vast majority of scientists dismiss the biblical creation account as a fairy tale. They hold instead that all life evolved from bits of genetic material that appeared on Earth 3.9 billion years ago. It's a grand sweep backed up by fossil record, from the squid-like creatures that ruled the sea 430 million years ago to the lumbering dinosaurs that became extinct 65 million years ago to modern Homo sapiens, who first emerged 50,000 years back.

Although it's termed a theory, evolution generally is accepted as fact among the scientific establishment.

The public, however, is not convinced. Polls consistently show that just 10% of Americans believe in evolution unaided by external force. In contrast, 45% accept the biblical account that God created man within the last 10,000 years. Most others blend the two stories of man's origins, holding that God guided a process of evolution that lasted millions of years.

Given their own convictions, it's not surprising that many Americans would like their children to learn the Bible in biology. A 1999 Gallup poll found that 68% favored teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools.

The Creation Museum could provide an easy way to satisfy that craving for balance, through field trips or "virtual tours" online.

The president of the Cincinnati Museum Center, for instance, has said he values any venture that challenges students to consider different theories about the world. While his own science museum treats evolution as fact, Douglass McDonald said, he would not presume to shut kids off from other avenues of study. "We realize that within the theories of science, there are as many questions as answers," he said.

Such tolerance infuriates Scott. "The equal-time argument is persuasive but it's irrelevant, because science is not a democratic process. Once an idea is proved wrong, you don't continue to present it. And the idea that everything on Earth appeared all at once 10,000 years ago has been disproved."

That's where the new museum is dangerous, she added: With its snazzy exhibits and scientific jargon, it may make creationism look legitimate. "Students will not be well served."

Creationists hear such statements with glee. They interpret them as evolutionists running scared.

"I grin ear to ear when I think about it," said Mike Rogers, 46, a sales manager in Phoenix. "Why are they so concerned about a little creation museum in Florence, Ky.? If they're so confident about their theory of evolution, they should welcome the critique."

Like other Answers in Genesis donors, Rogers long has been frustrated with what he perceives as evolutionist propaganda at every science museum, zoo and national park. He debriefs his kids after every educational outing to help them mesh what they've learned with the Book of Genesis.

If the zoo declares the lion a carnivore, creationists take pains to remind their children that they believe all animals were vegetarian in Eden, before man's sins brought violence into the world. If the park ranger insists the Grand Canyon was formed over millions of years, creationists take their kids aside to tell them a flood like the one Noah rode out on his ark could have carved the gorge in a flash.

"Everywhere we go, it's 'This took millions of years to evolve' or 'This took billions of years to form,' and we just sit there rolling our eyes," said Rick Sale, 52, a Manhattan Beach marketing consultant. "We're getting a very one-sided view."

Added Frank Di Pasquale, a film producer from Culver City: "Never have I come across an opportunity for my kids to see evidence that there is another option."

The Creation Museum will provide that alternative. And supporters hope it will attract even committed evolutionists by keeping the focus on science, on analysis, rather than on Christian dogma.

"A lot of the exhibits wouldn't be that different from what you would see in any good science museum," said David Menton, a retired anatomy professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who will serve as a museum consultant. "The difference is in the interpretation, in the philosophy behind it."

Menton suggests, for example, an exhibit on the humble hair follicle. Studying the ingenious complexity of the structure would be enough to turn most visitors into creationists, convinced that random genetic mutations could never have produced so exquisite a design, Menton said. But the exhibit could make the point without referring explicitly to Genesis.

"This isn't about just hitting [visitors] over the head with the Bible," he said.

Yet Ham, a former science teacher, is not averse to some good strong Bible thumping. He expects up to 100,000 visitors a year to tour the museum. And he is not going to pretend to present them with an evenhanded analysis.

"We're not doing this to say, 'Here's the evidence for and against, now you decide.' We admit our bias right from the start," Ham said. "The Bible is not a science textbook. But where it touches on science, we can trust it. We make no bones about it: This is the truth."

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