Remember that trip to the Creation Museum during the big paleontology conference this summer? Linda Vaccariello has a lengthy, and pretty good, article about it in the current issue of Cincinnati Magazine. Here’s a nugget I liked:
Looking over the exhibits in the Dinosaur Den, we learn that the flood killed all the dinosaurs except for the ones on Noah’s ark. “But their days were numbered,” the signage explains ominously. What happened? Here, the museum makes a rare admission of uncertainty. But it does present a tantalizing possibility: “Dragons could have been dinosaurs,” the sign says.
That’s right. Evolution is only a theory. But God’s Truth is supported by . . . dragons.
There are a lot of interesting tidbits to mull over. For example:
But at the Creation Museum, the answer is more basic still, and it’s found at the end of a dark, graffiti-scarred alley that leads to a world where the Bible’s word has been abandoned. There’s a video of a teen worrying over a pregnancy test; another of boys looking at on-line porn; a third of parents listening to a “liberal” sermon while their son, sitting in the pew next to them, fiddles with a cell phone. And at the center of it all is the destructive force that has brought all these woes to modern life, symbolized in the form of a huge wrecking ball slamming into the side of a church. A label on the ball says “millions of years.”
This, [pakeontologist] Arnie Miller has told me, was the real sticking point for him the first time he visited the museum; this is the “depth of the message” that he wants his colleagues to understand. “The idea that if you accept the view of evolution, you’re undermining the church,” he says. “That’s the one part of the museum that truly offends me: that we are evil.”
That’s not the point at all, says Terry Mortenson, a researcher and speaker at the Creation Museum, when I talk with him after the paleontologists’ visit. “The evolutionists who say that are not being very observant,” he insists. According to Mortenson, the push to accept evolution and the “old earth” notion that it depends on was first promulgated in the late 19th century by those with an anti-church worldview. The museum explains this history in a display that precedes the wrecking ball–an exhibit that includes an exploration of the evangelical movement in the U.S. and the Scopes trial. That century-old fight “was a worldview conflict,” he says, not a battle between science and the church. So…the wrecking ball? “Once the church accepted the ‘millions of years’ idea, it destroyed the authority of the Bible,” he explains. “It’s not an issue of people against people; it’s about ideas.” And the idea of evolution, Mortenson says, is “philosophy masquerading as science.”
Got that? It’s not the scientists themselves that are evil, just the Bible-discrediting ideas they advocate. I’m sure Miller feels deeply chastened.
And just in case you missed the point the first time:
Otherwise, when scientists have come, they’ve done so on their own, as individuals. Mortenson knows that some have taken the museum’s message personally. “Some have said to me, “You’re demonizing science,’” he relates.”
Not so, says Mortenson. If you’re really paying attention, it is sin that’s getting the blame: “[It’s] human rebellion against the Creator that has produced all the evil.” Those who say otherwise, he adds, “are driven by an anti-Biblical agenda.”
And it’s not really cigarettes that get the blame for causing cancer and emphysema, it is the toxic chemicals in the smoke. That’s totally different.
Of course, the article discusses the science / religion aspect of things, and inevitably includes tidbits like this:
“It’s so beautiful,” says Patricia Princehouse, a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, looking across the lovely hillside gardens. “It’s insidious, really. It seems criminal to lead kids into a situation where they have to choose between science and God.” Princehouse, a Dayton native and Harvard PhD, helped found the lobbying group Ohio Citizens for Science and she’s involved in efforts to make sure that evolution continues to be taught in schools. Like a number of the conference attendees that I’ve talked to, she offers me her own faith perspective. “In the Catholic tradition,” she says, “you know God through His word and His works. This [Young Earth creationism] discounts His works.”
Criminal? Strong word. Richard Dawkins referred to that sort of religious indoctrination as mental child abuse, and was greeted with a storm of indignant condemnation for his trouble.
I would add that the indoctrination of small children into some rather unsavory beliefs plays a big role in the Catholic tradition no less than for the fundamentalists. Not to mention the other intellectual delights of that tradition, like the infallibility of its leader and the eternal damnation of anyone who questions its authority. I do not think the Catholics really have much basis for lecturing the fundamentalists about sound theology.
The article also found an atheist to interview:
Just when I’m beginning to think that paleontology is like a foxhole (i.e. according to the battlefield canard, there are no atheists there), I catch up with Jason Rosenhouse. Actually, Rosenhouse isn’t a paleontologist; he’s a math prof at James Madison University in Virginia. But he’s a vocal opponent of the teaching of creationism and intelligent design and is a contributor to an evolution blog called “The Panda’s Thumb.” He’s also an atheist.
A couple of years ago, when he was first learning all that he could about creationists and creationism, he sat in on a speech given by Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis. Afterward, he cornered Ham in a hallway and, “I was telling him why everything he was saying was wrong,” Rosenhouse explains. “He said I was very arrogant. And I said, ‘No, arrogant is standing in front of an audience and pretending you know anything about science.’”
But, Rosenhouse admits, he was arrogant back then. These days, he has a more wry attitude toward the object of his, well, objections. This is his fourth visit to the Creation Museum, he announces pleasantly–a frequency that suggests that, in his own way, Rosenhouse is fascinated.
In his own way, Rosenhouse is fascinated by it. If you can manage the suspension of disbelief and really immerse yourself in the YEC view of the world, you can begin to understand why so many find it so appealing. This stands in stark contrast to the theistic evolutionist view of the world, which I do not understand at all.
I have moderated my tone over the years, at least when I am actually attending creationist conferences. I used to be a bit brash, which is emotionally very satisfying but probably not the best way of conducting oneself in this setting. On the other hand, I definitely don’t regret lecturing Ken Ham on the nature of arrogance!
The article concludes with some more of my wit and wisdom:
Miller hopes the visit will help others understand, as he says, “the power of the message, how well it’s being presented, and how many people are responding.” He’d like to motivate his colleagues to get involved when issues such as intelligent design come up in secondary schools. “And,” he says, “I’d like them to think about how to convey our message in a way that’s not condescending, not overbearing, not alienating.”
It’s an approach that Rosenhouse seems to have embraced. Waiting for the bus at the end of the visit, I mention to Rosenhouse and the National Council for Science Education’s Eugenie Scott that I saw him in one exhibit room patiently discussing something–fruit fly evolution?–with a couple of older teens. It looked to me like the teens were itching for a debate. Rosenhouse explains that an Associated Press reporter had been interviewing him about the museum’s “misleading claims,” the teens overheard the conversation, and came over to question him. They weren’t being confrontational, he says. “It was all very polite.”
“Did you make any headway?” asks Scott as our bus wheezes to a stop.
“Not a dent,” he says.
In the interests of heading off the inevitable comments about framing and accommodationism, let me reiterate the view I described in this post. Different modes of discourse are appropriate in different venues. There is a place for calm, civil discussion, and there is a place for angry polemics. Both have a role to play in advocating for evolution, and more generally for a more secular society. Endless hand-wringing over scaring away moderates is silly and uncalled for. But that doesn’t mean screaming and yelling are always and everywhere the wisest things to do.