A Short History
Adam and Eve take a bath in the Garden of Eden diorama at the Creation Museum. (Image courtesy Kelly Tuttle)
2800 Bullittsburg Church Road
Petersburg, KY 41080
I went to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, because I like science museums and natural-history museums, and I was curious to see how this museum combines the two. I thought the combination would be difficult to pull off. Mostly, I was curious to see how the museum presented itself. The outside of the building, which faces a pleasant garden complete with lake and serpentine paths, suggests an open, airy interior. The inside, however, is strangely dark owing to the tinted windows in the main hall and the lack of windows in the exhibition halls. The narrow, one-way corridors feel confining, and the frequent signs telling visitors to keep to the side so that others may pass do not help. The museum is described as a “‘walk through biblical history’—with a heavy evangelistic emphasis,” but the weight of the emphasis makes the walk rather unpleasant despite the dinosaur-filled displays.
The museum displays “creation science” and is associated with Answers in Genesis (AiG), a Christian apologetics ministry that defends a certain theological point of view but is not itself a church. Specifically, the museum displays “evidence” of Young Earth Creationism, a belief most often associated with Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute for Creation Research. Young Earth Creationism, which gained popularity in the 1960s, assumes that the earth and its solar system are approximately 6,000 years old and were created in six 24-hour days. Everything shown in the fossil record coexisted with humans and other animals, for all were created within that six-day period. Then, some 1,500 years later, a flood swept over the world, leaving only the descendants of those creatures carried on Noah’s ark. Dinosaurs were saved and existed after the flood; they show up in the medieval world as dragons until finally dying out, helped on their road to extinction by such big-game hunters as St. George.
In the museum AiG is keen to show how creation scientists and evolutionary scientists use the same data to reach different conclusions. Dinosaurs are given pride of place, from the replica of a reconstructed skeleton in the entryway, to the large models in the “dinosaur den” in the main hall, and on to the dinosaurs shown gamboling in the dioramas. A “dig site” begins the walkthrough in which animatronic paleontologists uncover a dinosaur fossil. A video from one of the on-staff paleontologists explains, “We come to different conclusions because of our different starting points.” He adds, “We all have the same facts; we merely interpret the facts differently.” He says he expects his fossil to be about 4,300 years old—the time of the global flood—rather than millions of years, and then finds it so. This is the main thrust of AiG’s argument—that the same facts will yield different results based on one’s starting point.
The repetition quickly stales: there is variety in animals and people because God created many kinds of animals; God is a triune god and therefore likes diversity and unity. This notion explains both the families of species one sees now and in the fossil record as well as symbiotic relationships among creatures.
The displays do not present creation science as a productive science. Once the museum makes the case for creation science, where does it go from there? How does it further people’s knowledge of their world? How can one use it to advance scientific investigation? These questions are left unanswered.
To take one example, a film about birds discusses their hollow bones, wing structures, and feathers—all valid bits of biological information. The video ends, however, by saying birds have these features because God made them thus. It does not offer new insights. It does not provide new theories. It does not further one’s interest in discovery.
Videos constantly tell visitors what to see and what to think; there are no quiet times to reflect on the displays. The “special effects theater” reinforces this feeling with a video mocking the idea of evolution, or “goo to you.” The video encourages children to insist on the teaching of creationism in their schools, for, as the video states, “What’s idiotic is not to question.” Questioning is good. And yet the questions put forth here all lead back to the same answer in an endless loop, never varying, never evolving, and never really bringing new knowledge to the world.
If the Creation Museum could be visited as an adventure in American local color, then it might be worth a pricey stop ($29.95 for adults). Unfortunately, the number of young children learning to distrust the idea of evolution and finding only what they expect to find in their scientific inquiry made this less appealing as a quirky side jaunt.