We visited the Creation “Museum” last Friday.
I’m careful to put the title in quotes, because it is not a museum in any respectable sense of the word. I knew this ahead of time; I had no expectation of any kind of credible presentation in this place, but what impressed me most is how far it failed to meet even my low hopes. They clearly want to ape a real museum, but they can’t — their mission is the antithesis of open inquiry.
The guards are a clear example. Real museums have guards, of course: they’re there to protect valuable exhibits from theft and vandalism. But real museums want their guards to be discreet and not interfere with the attendees appreciation of the exhibits. At the Creation “Museum”, one of the jobs of the guards is to suppress criticism. They hover about in rather conspicuous uniforms, armed with tasers, and some use police dogs to check out the visitors. They don’t want dissent expressed in their building, and
they admit it themselves.
There was a lot of mocking inside the museum Friday (and to a lesser extent during Dr. Jason Lisle’s noon lecture) by dozens of the 285 in the SSA group, and some of the mocking could be clearly heard by many of our guests (especially in our Noah’s Flood rooms, but also in the Garden of Eden exhibit when words like “garbage” were uttered, etc.). Several times during the day we had to ask mockers to keep their voices down (I did it five times myself), but generally, it was more peaceful than what we expected (many blog comments from those who were coming were promising some very aggressive actions).
Think about the genuine museums you might have visited. Can you imagine the curators at the American Museum of Natural History being concerned that someone might openly disagree with an exhibit? Do you think Niles Eldredge bustles about the museum, shushing anyone who questions the displays? Would they turn away a visitor wearing a Jesus shirt, or one that baldly declared evolution is false? At real museums, the attitude would range from indifference to active encouragement of discussion. The Creation “Museum” cannot tolerate that.
We were asked to sign a document before we entered that required us to be “respectful” of their facilities, which apparently meant more than simply appropriately regarding their building as private property. One of our atheists was in an entirely friendly conversation about evolution with a creationist visitor, when one of the guards came up and asked them to stop, saying that we had signed an agreement not to even discuss anything in the building where others could hear. (To his credit, the creationist said that he welcomed the discussion the guards wanted to silence, and they continued outside.) They knew we disagreed with them, and they were clearly on edge…and they knew that their beliefs could not stand up in the face of free speech.
There were other differences with real museums once we got inside. Think about the layout of serious museums, like the AMNH or the Smithsonian or our local Bell Museum: you enter, there are various rooms and areas organized by subject matter, but you’re free to explore. In fact, that word, “explore”, is a central theme of most museums. Maybe it’s unfair to compare a small potatoes, non-science affair like Ken Ham’s building to major scientific institutions; it’s more of a place for family entertainment. So compare it to the Pacific Science Center, or OMSI, or the Franklin museum or the Science Museum of Minnesota— places where kids come on field trips and families show up with 5-year-olds, and entertainment is a major function. Exploration is still the byword, and they also emphasize interactivity.
Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum” does none of that. They have a script you’re supposed to follow. There is a single route that snakes through the building with a series of exhibits with a linear agenda. You are supposed to get their Sunday School lesson plan of the 7 C’s (creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, cross, and consummation). Exploration is not an option. You will follow their track. There is no interactivity, either — it’s a chain of displays, dioramas, and little scenes, supplemented with frequent videos that tell you what to think.
This was not a museum: it is a haunted house. It is a carnival ride. It shows throughout in the layout — the rubes are supposed to be shuttled through efficiently, get their little thrills, and exit so the next group can make the trip. If they’d had a few million more, I imagine they would have invested in tracks and little cars and turned it into the Creation Ride. The creators of this place wouldn’t recognize a museum if they woke up in the middle of the Smithsonian on a bed of museum maps with a giant sign saying “MUSEUM” in front of their faces and an army of docents shouting directions at them. They seem to have gotten all their information about how a museum works by visiting Disneyland.
What about the scientific content? They must have made some kind of argument, right? Wrong. They didn’t even try.
This is their core premise. They claim that scientists and creationists are all working from exactly the same set of facts, and the only difference is in how we interpret them…and that they have an extra source of information that scientists reject, the Bible.
Their first big exhibit is a perfect example of the principle in action. It’s a model of a dinosaur dig, with two men working away at excavating the bones. There is a video accompanying it in which the two views are presented. The younger Asian fellow in front says, and I paraphrase, “This animal died about a hundred million years ago. Its body dried in the sun for several days before being slowly buried under layers of sediment in a local flood.” Then the avuncular creationist says, “I see the same bones, but I believe this dinosaur was killed suddenly about 4400 years ago in a huge global flood, which buried it deeply all at once.” And then he goes on to explain that see, they have the very same evidence, but he understands it in the light of God’s word.
It is a profoundly dishonest display. No, they are not using the same evidence: the creationist is ignoring all but the most superficial appearances. The scientist says a few details about this particular dinosaur, but what Ken Ham hides is that every statement would have a large body of evidence in its support. This isn’t two guys stating their mere beliefs in a field…it’s one guy, the creationist, closing his eyes to the evidence and spouting Biblical gibberish, and one scientist stating the conclusions of substantial investigations.
The scientist does not say a particular fossil is 125 million years old simply because he feels like it. It’s a conclusion built on careful observation of the geology — if you read a paleontology paper, you’ll often find a substantial discussion of the details of the rocks surrounding the specimen — and by the morphology of the rocks, the history of the area, the physics of the radioisotopes present, the other animal and plant fossils found in the same plane (which, in turn, had their ages evaluated). It is the product of an impressive consilience of evidence, all of which the creationist is rejecting, or more likely, of which he is utterly ignorant.
It’s part of our problem in getting the message of science out. In this video, the white-bearded creationist speaks calmly, acts like a pleasant and reasonable fellow, and appears capable of tying his own shoes. But if you know even a scrap of the actual science being misrepresented, you know that he’s an ignorant fool who is telling lies to children, and he transforms instantly from Santa Claus to predatory propagandist. I think that’s what they actually mean by “same facts, two views”.
It’s an ongoing theme throughout the “museum” that there are these two views in opposition, and it’s often stated quite unashamedly that the conflict is between God’s word and…human reason. It’s also quite clear that human reason is the enemy to Ken Ham and his crew.
This display is a beautiful example of their tactics, though. I had come to this place expecting a Gish Gallop of misdirection, in which they’d hurl a barrage of half-truths, out-of-context information, and outright lies about the science at the viewer, which usually puts the informed critic in the position of having to struggle with correcting point after point, each one requiring more time to address than the creationist spent asserting it. This place is very different. Instead, we get a Ham Hightail, in which he hurtles along heedlessly pretending that the evidence simply doesn’t exist, so he doesn’t need to argue against it, and it’s enough to back up his claims by quoting Bible verses.
I suppose it works well for the gullible attendees, but for those of us looking for some ideas with which to wrestle, the impression left is one of credulous vacuity. It’s an empty “museum”, with no real ideas, no evidence, just a collection of props to illustrate an unquestioned myth.
When they do make plain statements that contradict the science, they don’t bother to provide a reason to accept their view over the scientific one — reason is the enemy, you may recall. It’s enough to simply declare that this is GOD’S WORD, therefore it is true. Never mind that it is only one narrow interpretation of their god’s awesomely vague words, that many of their fellow Christians can interpret it differently, or that the evidence of nature (which, presumably, is their god’s creation) says something completely different. It is simply no problem to declare that human affinities to other animals are not real, we are unique and unchanging, and that divergence (of a very limited sort) only happens to animals. It is a simple-minded absolutism that relies on ignorance.
The “museum” actually spends more time condemning heretics than it does science, which, as I said, is mostly ignored. I was rather amused to discover several prominent exhibits frothing madly over Charles Templeton —
I almost felt some sympathy for his foundation, since they get hammered from all sides. Almost. (Never mind, wrong Templeton. The exhibits do no refer to the founder of the Templeton Foundation, but to a apostate Canadian author and cartoonist…not to say anything against the fellow, but it’s even weirder that he was given such prominence here.)
One mantra was repeated over and over: “millions of years”. This is also the enemy, an idea whose sole purpose is to undermine their literalist interpretation of scripture. In several places there are little tirades against the whole concept that the world could be more than 6,000 years old — it’s bad, not because there are problems in the evidence supporting an old earth, but simply because it would have the unfortunate consequence of opening the Bible up to interpretations other than their rigid formulation. They had a lovely symbolic representation of this idea with a wrecking ball labeled “MILLIONS OF YEARS” demolishing a church.
Reason is an enemy, millions of years is an enemy, let’s add another: reality is their enemy. No wonder they’re so paranoid!
Much of the museum consists of little more than pretty affirmations. The various exhibits that have gotten a fair amount of press, such as the models of Adam and Eve, the construction of the Ark, the consequences of the Fall, etc., etc., etc., just sit there. There isn’t any evidence for them, other than a few sentences in an old book, so the construction crews in Kentucky just let their imaginations run loose and built improbably scenes out of the fabric of quaint myths. But there they are, solid and visible, and that’s their sole purpose — to solidify Bible scenes in the minds of the faithful. This stuff has all the verisimilitude and significance of a wax museum exhibit of Britney Spears, Queen Elizabeth, and Liberace…more emptiness, with much money spent to make it a pretty void. There is a great deal of useless noise in this theme park…well, useless in making a defensible argument, at any rate. This is all eye candy for the believers.
There are some jarring moments. A lot of effort is spent discussing how horrible the consequences of the “millions of years” worldview are, yet they rather blithely skip over the horrible consequences of their imaginary god’s actions. The space dedicated to Noah’s Ark and the flood is very large — it might be the largest section of the “museum” — and the grim horror of that story is treated callously. A diorama contains, rendered in loving detail, a few rocks in a rising sea covered with desperate people struggling and frantically waving to the Ark serenely gliding by. Ah, yes, a little hint of the joys of heaven, when the saved will be able to smugly watch the suffering of sinners in hell.
There is an appalling video recreation of the flood which shows children playing and villagers going about their business in a small ancient town, when suddenly an immense wall of water rises on the horizon, and then…the roar of the tidal wave and the screams of the doomed. Charming.
I do not think I like these people.
I was also a bit aghast at this display.
With complete seriousness and no awareness of the historical abuses to which this idea has been put, they were promoting the Hamite theory of racial origins, that ugly idea that all races stemmed from the children of Noah, and that black people in particular were the cursed offspring of Ham. If they are going to reject science because of its abuses, such as eugenics, they should at least be conscious of the evils perpetrated in the name of their strange cultish doctrines, I should think.
Again, though, there’s absolutely no science in any of this — every conclusion is built exclusively on an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible. There is nothing at all for a scientist anywhere in this entire edifice. There is nothing for anyone other than a fundamentalist Christian who has bought into a great deal of presuppositionalist nonsense, either.
One last example of this irrational absurdity. This is a strange thing: they seem to take pride in their boldness of stating this idea, making comics about it and even selling t-shirts in their store that declare it. They have an answer for where the sons of Adam and Eve got their wives, and they are quite definite about it. They married their sisters. And that was all right.
I think they might be disappointed to know that I find nothing shocking about their conclusion. What I find terrible is their rationale, which they explain at some length in this ugly wall of text.
Again, no science anywhere in there, just reasoning after the fact from a pre-determined conclusion. Everything written in the Bible must be literally true, so since 1 Corinthians and Genesis teaches that Eve was the mother of all people, no other interpretation is possible but that Cain had to marry another child of his mother and father.
The rest is excuses, claiming that since they were genetically perfect, inbreeding wouldn’t have been a problem, and most amusingly, it was OK because God said so. Anything god says is good.
Since God is the One who defined marriage in the first place, God’s Word is the only standard for defining proper marriage. People who do not accept the Bible as their absolute authority have no basis for condemning someone like Cain marrying his sister.
There is no rational argument that can address the claims of a group of people who claim absolute authority from an invisible man whose voice is heard only in their heads. We cannot change their minds with science; if you think you can sit down with a genetics text and a paleontology text and a geology text and run through the evidence and expose the foundations of the Creation “Museum” as false, you’re doomed — there is no rebuttal to the illusion of an omniscient authority.
You will also not make headway by coddling religious belief or respecting their delusions. I recalled this quote while I was there:
The American scientific community gains nothing from the condescending rhetoric of the New Atheists–and neither does the stature of science in our culture. We should instead adopt a stance of respect towards those who would hold their faith dear, and a sense of humility based on the knowledge that although science can explain a great deal about the way our world functions, the question of God’s existence lies outside its expertise.
Mooney and Kirshenbaum, Unscientific America, 2009
This is precisely what Ken Ham wants. He demands that you respect his ideas, and he certainly does hold his faith dear. His whole premise in his theme park is to amplify uncertainty about science, to insist that scientists must be more humble, while asserting absolute certainty about the existence of his god, and that his belief is the sole explanation for all natural phenomena.
Don’t give it to him. All his carnival act deserves is profound disrespect and ridicule. Go to his “museum” as you would to a cheap freak show, and laugh, laugh, laugh…and go home to publicly mock and heap scorn upon it.
Irreverence is our answer, not dumb humble deference.