Mark Wilson December 7th, 2011
This past Saturday Elizabeth Schiltz of the Philosophy Department and I took our First-Year Seminar students on a long drive to the infamous Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. It was a beautiful day and we had a good time, if you set aside the intellectual travesties and pseudoscientific contradictions of the place. Our Wooster students were very polite and inquisitive, and they had many observations after we left the premises. The museum is uber-slick and the staff extremely helpful and friendly. We were on their property and grateful that they are willing to share their story and facilities with anyone who pays admission and follows the rules. Still, we felt both astonished and oppressed by the place.
The scene above is just inside the entrance of the museum. The juxtaposition of an animatronic dinosaur and a happy child tell us much about the philosophy and science of the organization: this is not a museum in the traditional sense. Dinosaurs with people is one thing — the dinosaur not eating the child is another!
Elizabeth’s First-Year Seminar section is titled “On the Meaning of Life“. Her students have been working through worldviews and why people hold them, so this trip was most appropriate. My First-Year Seminar is on “Nonsense and Why it is so Popular“. It is obvious why we were here!
The Creation Museum has been reviewed many times by scientists and other skeptics. (Here is a detailed account of a visit.) I am just presenting our impressions here with a few photographs.
One of the first displays in the Creation Museum is this life-sized diorama of two paleontologists excavating a dinosaur skeleton. (Geologists should note how important they are to the creationist worldview.) The scientist on the right is a traditional evolutionist; the older man on the left is a heroic scientific creationist we meet several times later in displays and videos. Both are looking “at the same facts”, but they have different “perspectives” and reach wildly different conclusions. From the start we saw a surprisingly post-modern view of science — it is all in the presuppositions of the observer with the “facts” as just a text for subjective analysis.
Especially to a geologist, the time scale of creationists is bizarre. At the Creation Museum the old Archbishop Ussher chronology is used, giving the first year of the Universe as 4004 BC. Here you see the timeline combined with the “7 C’s of History“. A literal reading of Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) is essential to the Young Earth Creationist view of Christian salvation.
An irony much noted by our students is that throughout the Creation Museum the displays denigrate “human reason” and elevate “God’s Word”, yet they appeal to human reasoning in every display of “evidence” and argument. Here we see the peculiar creationist view of “evolution within kinds” which allows for “microevolution” but not the appearance of new kinds of life. (Yes, there is a very fuzzy definition for “kind”.)
We all agreed that the models for Adam and Eve were … well … hot. They were so well done that, in this case especially, we felt like we were intruding on intimate moments. Just above this happy pair, out of view, the snake awaits with his temptation.
The Flood of Noah gets a lot of attention, of course, at the Creation Museum. Among many other things, it is used to explain the fossil record and the current distribution of life. I suspect the museum designers also derive a bit of pleasure from the idea of sinners dying in misery and despair as a small remnant of the righteous survives.
A critical part of the message in this museum is that the “evolutionary worldview” has brought much pain and destruction to our civilization. This elaborate and rather odd display shows the concept of “millions of years” destroying a church building. (Just think what billions of years would do!) Again, note the threat of modern geology to the fabric of God-fearing society.
Dinosaurs are a huge part of the Creation Museum’s program. Because kids love them so much, the Answers in Genesis people call them “missionary lizards“. (I don’t know which is most offensive: calling them missionaries … or calling them lizards!) The dinosaur models are, like their human equivalents, spectacular. Their star T. rex looks a bit overweight, but otherwise the reconstructions would pass in a real museum. The information on the signs, of course, is another story. Note the approximate date for the Upper Jurassic and that they ate meat only after the Fall. (Before that there was no death on Earth and thus no predation.)
Most disturbing is the effect of an institution like the Creation Museum on the education of children. This display makes sure you get the point that kids are at last hearing the real story outside of their corrupting public schools. The museum caters to home-schooled children for their “science” components, as well as to many private Christian schools. We often overheard parents and teachers telling their students “what we believe”. I caught a couple conversations describing a fallacious view of evolution (using the classic “I don’t know why there are still monkeys if we evolved from them” argument) that will likely go unchallenged in that child’s life. Very sad.
At the end of our experience we visited the outdoor portion of the museum with beautiful gardens and, to our delight, a petting zoo! This was the best way to discharge the tension built up during our visit: playing with innocent goats, feeding llamas, and watching albino peacocks display. All products of a long evolutionary history despite whatever stories we tell.