Creationism overload

I made a bit of a tactical error in my viewing choices the other night. For some reason I thought that I could handle watching Maxed Out (a great documentary about the soul-sucking practices of credit card companies) and Nancy Pelosi’s Friends of God in one night, but I ended up a bit depressed at the end of the evening. I would recommend both, but Pelosi’s feature is especially good. Here’s a clip from one of her stops to see our old pals from AiG, Ken Ham and Buddy Davis;

The documentary Jesus Camp also featuring some disconcerting footage of creationism being peddled to children;

Both Jesus Camp and Friends of God worked because they allowed evangelical christians to speak for themselves, but people on the other side of the aisle aren’t so happy with the “secular progressive media” documenting the religious fervor popular in America today (although if you don’t have an “almost fanatical devotion” to their point of you, they might not let you see their films). In the mindset of some creationists and other very conservative christians, the “World” (meaning anything that doesn’t have an ichthys sticker on it or doesn’t agree with their beliefs) is corrupting the lives of billions of people and religious alternatives like creation museums, christian golf courses, and bible theme parks are the answer.

You don’t need to go to the “House that Ham Built” in Kentucky to encounter a young-earth creationist view of natural history, though. Last year, while visiting the American Museum of Natural History as part of my birthday present, I was looking at a block of disarticulated mammal bones from the famous Agate Fossil Beds in Nebraska. A woman standing next to me, speaking to her friend, said “This is proof of the Flood, right?” (You could hear the capitalization). She didn’t read the text explaining the block nor did she spend much time looking at the fossils, but the jumble of rhinoceros and other bones seemed to fit into something she already believed.

There are groups that take things even further for those who really want to gird themselves with yec dogma. Recently Nightline featured a group called BC (or Biblically Correct) Tours that take primarily home-schooled evangelicals to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (home of the high-steppin’ Tyrannosaurus). The group tours also tours zoos and wants to teach children that bad art “glorifies man or objects and shapes,” but their DMNS tour was the focus of the recent feature.

Although I’m fairly critical of the way the mainstream media often covers creationism, I think the Nightline report was pretty good; the reporter pressed the creationists on some tough questions (on which they hemmed and hawed a bit) and gave paleontologist Kirk Johnson same air time (I recently reviewed Kirk’s book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway). What struck me about the footage of the tour, though, was how much it had in common with the other clips posted above; the guides acted with a good deal of incredulity, presented a straw-man version of science, and led the children through the “proper” answers to the questions. Afterwards it doesn’t seem that many of the kids know why they agree with creation, just that they do (or just that evolution never happened), although I have to say that the young man’s hypothesis about the world being ripped apart by destruction over billions of years was a new one to me.

Unfortunately, the Denver museum can’t do much about the tours. The group pays for the tickets and as long as they’re not posing as museum staff, they can continue to do as they like. The controversy isn’t new; there are articles going back a few years (see here, here, and here) about these tours, and I imagine that they’re going to continue for some time. It’s unfortunate, but I think the museum is taking the right approach in not banning such tours on the premises. As Kirk said in the interview, perhaps some of the children will be exposed to something at the museum that doesn’t fit with what they’ve been told by their parents or the tour leaders and start to think about science or gain an interest in paleontology, and I certainly hope he’s right.

[Amanda also shares her thoughts on this topic at Self-Designed Student, as does ReBecca at her blog.]