Should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?

This is from a letter to the editor that was published in The Tennessean about a month ago. In the "Issues" section on Sunday, they had a page devoted to this, and this time they actually published a long (more than 250 word) letter that I'd written. I had seen, a week previously, that they were going to do this, looking for opinions on the question, "should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?".

I saw in the Issues section of the paper today that you will be doing an
op-ed on the Creation Museum, and you are soliciting comments.

Before I start, I want to make it clear that I comment as both a
scientist and a Christian. I am sure that your op-ed will strive for
some sort of "balance" by trying to present people both for and against
the Creation museum, but I strongly want to urge you to consider that
position. The Creation museum represents ignorance of the worst sort.
The fact that so many people come to defend it shouldn't be taken as a
reason to present "both sides" in an article about the museum, but
should be taken as a disturbing indication of how deep and widespread
scientific ignorance is in this country. What's more, it dismays me
that creationists are, at least in the public eye, being allowed to
define what "Christian" is, and are being allowed to set up a conflict
between science and Christianity that does not need to exist.

Several hundred years ago, it was considered essential to the Christian
faith that the Earth was at the center of the Universe, and that
everything revolved around Earth. Galileo was placed under house arrest
and was considered a threat to Christianity because he made observations
of Jupiter's moons, conclusively showing that something was orbiting
around a body other than the Earth. Today, anybody even mildly educated
knows that all of the planets, including the Earth, revolve around the
Sun, and nobody considers that a threat to their Christianity. Yet,
creationists such as those behind the Creation Museum failed to learn
the broader lesson from that, and seem to think that in order to
maintain their faith they have to deny more than a century of human
progress in understanding our world.

The Creation Museum is bad for both science and Christianity. It's bad
for science because it's a slickly marketed presentation that falsely
presents the case that there is any question about a number of
scientific issues. It's bad for Christianity because it teaches children
and others that they have to hold on to these outmoded and incorrect
ideas in order to hold on to their faith, and it broadcasts to the world
at large that Christianity is a religion of the ignorant. There are
plenty of Christians who have no trouble whatsoever with the evidence
that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, or with the fact that
humans and other species today evolved from earlier species.

I expound on this at some length here:
http://scienceblogs.com/interactions/2007/05/may_28_a_dark_day_for_science.php.

Finally, to answer your question: should kids be taken to the Creation
Museum? You may be surprised that my answer is a qualified "yes." The
reason is that kids need to learn that just because something comes
across described in a slick and professional manner, it is not true.
They need to learn that there are powerful and wealthy deluded people
out there who will use their power and wealth to share their delusions.
They need to learn that there are people who will spread untruths with
slick and professional presentations. Of course, for kids to get this
message, they should be taken to the Creation Museum in context. They
should be taught ahead of time what the Creation Museum really is. They
should know, before going in, that creationists deny more than a century
of human knowledge, and that they are clinging to false ideas. And,
after they visit the museum, teachers should have another discussion
with them to make sure that kids are not sucked in by the disingenuous
but slick presentation of the Creation Museum.

Alas, the vast majority of kids who visit this museum will be taken by
well-meaning parents who buy the creationist message hook, line, and
sinker. They will bring their kids to be wide-eyed and to see the neat
dinosaurs, while affirming the notion that their faith requires
adherence to these deeply incorrect ideas about both science and
Christianity. As such, this museum is going to do far more damage to
the kids than the small good it could do if kids were shown it as a
warning against the kind of slickly produced falsehoods they'll be
seeing all their lives.

--
--Prof. Robert Knop
Department of Physics & Astronomy, Vanderbilt University
robert.a.knop@vanderbilt.edu

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The Museums do represent what folklore tell us about the past and should be preserved as folklore.

You would take your kids to a Theme Park based on Greek Mythology, or even ones based on more modern mythologies like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Star Wars. That does not mean (for example) your kids will start to believe that the universe is permeated by a mysterious substance called The Force. So, yes, why not bring the kids to the Creation Museum?

Only negative part is the money gained by that nefarious establishment. But, if handled right, you might be truly educating your children with some good b-s repellent.

I think it is a different matter for them to go as part of a school outing. You should be seriously worried if their teacher suggests such a thing. It may be ok, but serious investigation as to the true motive is warranted.

Main thing is to bring your kids yourself and keep it a fun thing. In my experience serious and elaborate explanations as to why such and such an exhibit is wrong could be counter-productive with kids.

Toby,

You suggest that because children can tell the difference between reality and SF/fantasy, they are unlikely to be misled by a creationist museum. However, the large number of adults who take creationism seriously suggests that children may be unable to tell the difference between creation "science" and actual science.

By Ambitwistor (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

Allen (first comment) observes:

[... Museums] represent what folklore tell us about the past and should be preserved as folklore.

Is this point even partially true for the "museum" in question?

To take just one example, whilst dinosaur fossils have been found for thousands of years, people have only had worked out what they are and how they formed and so on in the last c.150 years. They are (now) well-known, and attractive to children (and adults), and so the "museum" would, very probably, invite awkward questions if it ignored them.

So what did it do? Invent, invent, invent: Dinosaurs were in Eden's garden, T. Rex ate coconuts, and so on. I don't know what the "museum" teaches about Mr Noah's flood and dinosaurs, but I wouldn't be too surprised it learn it is also a recent invention. (The last of the pre-evolution creationists (i.e., the relevant scholarly community in the 19th century) probably had some ideas about dinosaurs, but I seriously doubt the "museum" actually reflects that more learned (presumably) thinking.)

I'm not sure I'd call recent invention folklore?

I can see, and possibly have myself, calling The Lord of the Rings (modern?-)folklore(-ish), and it certainly contains a great deal of invention--most of which is more cleverly done than ID (in my opinion)--but it wasn't and isn't claimed or presented to be a science nor as anything but an entertaining story.

Please note I'm questioning the implication the specific "museum" in question is either a museum or doing what Allen observes. I concur with Allen's point, when applied to professional living museums, but the one in question is very unlikely to qualify.

There is no way in hell I would let my (hypothetical) kids to visit a Creation Museum with a school group. Not even if I went along. There have to be other ways to teach them about untruths coming in pretty packages. Discussion of creationism, even to refute it, does not belong in schools. _And_ I would be worried about how the material was discussed later by the teacher and/or the other students.

It is possible I would take them myself if they were junior high age or older. Not so much to make the point that "just because it's fancy doesn't mean it's true" but as a way to educate them about the arguments of "the other side" and why these ideas are false so that they can combat those arguments when presented to them by the media, friends, relatives, whoever.

blf--You are exactly right about kids wondering about the dinosaurs. In second grade, we discussed Creation in catechism (Sunday school) and I asked the teacher, "So, where were the dinosaurs during this? Were they on another continent or something?" My teacher was unable to answer the question. The other students thought I was stupid. Looking back, I guess you could say that I was fated to become a scientist. :)

For the record, I am a cell biologist and a Christian.

I will probably take my child to the Creation Museum myself when he's a few years older, for the purposes of discussion. Since he has grown up watching his mommy chipping Ordovician brachiopods off our neighborhood's fossiliferous limestone, I suspect his skepticism will be primed already.

I wouldn't take my kids to the creation museum any sooner than I would take my kids to Jonestown, Guyana to drink Kool-Aid with Jesus.

By Pattanowski (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

Kudos! (Though you were overdoing some parts of it, "Slick". ;-)

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

"You suggest that because children can tell the difference between reality and SF/fantasy, they are unlikely to be misled by a creationist museum. However, the large number of adults who take creationism seriously suggests that children may be unable to tell the difference between creation "science" and actual science."

There is a difference. My kids love the Simpsons even without getting all the adult jokes, allusions and homages to various movies. They don't need that knowledge to enjoy the show. I think as long as the kids understand that the Creation Museum is all hokey, made-up stuff like a fantasy movie or book, there will be able to distinguish it from the real thing. However, I do think they would need a parent or guardian to mediate the visit, and it is very important that the visit not be presented in an educational context.

Adult minds, with the tendency to add context and depth to knowledge, may be much more vulnerable, especially if the package comes with the feeling of "belonging".

Here I can point out that Steven Levitt in "Freakonomics" mentions research showing that bringing kids to museums is not generally successful in teaching them science anyway. Having a lot of books in the house is apparently much more stimulating to young minds.

My kids WANT to go to the creation museum. They figure it's the best place to wear their "t-rex eating coconuts" and "Stand Up For Evolution" T-shirts. Of course they're all wild eyed and hopeful that they can convert some people over to common sense, but I remain a skeptic.

O.K, as a freak show or anthropological study I would take a smart kid to the creation museum if it were not for one aspect; the entry fee. Otherwise, there are plenty of reasonable and wonderous museums to go to. My daughter and I had a terrific time at Chicago's field museum a couple weeks ago and we have lots of swimming and camping to do!! We don't need to go see a goofball diorama of Cain killing Able to have a fun and educational summer.

By Pattanowski (not verified) on 10 Jul 2007 #permalink

You can't compare an honest fantasy playland to an expensive promotional tool that intentionally teaches lies and fake science as though it were real.

No one is insisting that Harry Potter or Gandalf are real and that the stories actually happened. This so called museum exists for the sole purpose of expounding upon and promoting lies and myth as objective fact.

Personally I would never take a child to this propaganda outlet unless the same child had seen a number of real science museums and natural history museums first and had a decent grounding in what science is about.

I would not think twice about suing a public school that used public funds to expose children to this garbage. No public school should be allowed to teach or promote specific religious beliefs. Given that this fake museum exists purely for that purpose, not one taxpayer penny should be supporting it or its sectarian beliefs.

By ThomasMcCay (not verified) on 10 Jul 2007 #permalink

I would love to take my 4 year old boy to this theme park. He loves dinosaurs, and i'm sure he'd sleep a little better 'knowing' that T Rex ate only coconuts. But i have the luxury of living in a secular country, one where there is a proper seperation of Church(s) and State. I know that this would be the only time he would experience the idiocy that is ID.

Two points, the first one minor.
(1)The real point of contention between The Church and Galileo was of a more philosophical nature. The Church would've accepted Galileo's admission that his view of the Solar System was a MODEL. Galileo insisted that it was, in fact, how the Solar System was put together.

(2) Even those of us who are versed in the workings of the universe as it is, need to be aware of hubris.

Galileo insisted that it was, in fact, how the Solar System was put together.

Um.

His model was far closer to the reality of the situation than the Church's. I don't really see Galileo as being at fault here.

Are you claiming that the geocentric model and heliocentric models of the Solar System should be considered as being on equal footing?

Even those of us who are versed in the workings of the universe as it is, need to be aware of hubris.

Those of us who are not should not use the accusation of hubris against those who are as any sort of reason to think that their views about how the world works aren't dead wrong.

None of you guys understand what creationists believe. Then use just as much science as evolutionists. They look at fossils. They believe there are enough genes in the gene pool to create dogs from wolves or cats from wild cats. Its been shown that structures like canyons and caves can form within one minute, that's right, one minute. (captured on tape). Long periods of time are not an issue. It's not just made up stories. (like the flying squirrel started flying because it kept jumping off trees all of the time)
Can anyone prove that mutations can cause entirely new species.
And there is enough water on earth to fill the ground 1.5 miles high (hence, Noah's flood).
What do you think of that?

I think it's a lot of doubletalk and cherry picking to support ideas that don't make sense. I think it's a false edifice put together to convince yourself that the clear picture that's come out of modern science isn't as clear as it really is.

You do not have to give up your faith to accept what we know -- that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, that the Universe is at least 13.7 billion years old, and that today's species developed from earlier forms through biological evolution. I'm a Christian myself-- and I don't see the need to contort together false arguments to try and convince myself that there is scientific evidence that writings of people from a prescientific age are the literal truth about the history and workings of Nature.

-Rob

I don't know, Rob. It does not sound like you've actually studied what creationists believe beyond the surface. Creationists have dating methods that are reliable. Macro evolutionists, because of their uniformitarian assumption, find ways to date the world 4.7 billion years old. Using the same philosophy, of course, similar dating methods will get similar results. Do understand that 90% of fossils are living creatures today. And the assumptions evolutionists make about ancestry can be proven false in the case of the caelacanth (sp) fish. And besides, some rocks show, using evolutionary dating methods, that there was oxygen during the premodial soup era, which would destroy all proteins from combining to make life. Besidesc creationists do believe in speciation to a certain degree because of what's already encoded in the genes. But, thousands of generations of bacteria equal to 80 million years of human evolution have shown no major changes. everyone else is just making emotional arguments here, like the democratic party of America.

If you don't believe the methods that give us the 4.5 billion year old Earth, then you also don't believe that atoms hold together, that we know how to make nuclear plants work, that we know how to build cyclotrons, that we know how to do radiation therapy for cancer patients, that we know how to build atomic clocks, because it's all based on the same stuff.

I'm not even going to bother going past your second sentence, because it's all more of the same.

Look at talkorigins.org if you want point-by-point refutations of the various things that creationists claim are "science." I'm not going to spend the time. Come here if you want discussion of how being Christian fits in with the modern scientific era.

Rob, you can't see the fallacies in your own reasoning. Of course, I believe in the atomic clocks, and nuclear plants. That stuff deals with the present, not the past.I believe in science in the laboratory, that doesn't make philosophical guesses about the past.

If you don't believe the methods that give us the 4.5 billion year old Earth, then you also don't believe that atoms hold together, that we know how to make nuclear plants work, that we know how to build cyclotrons, that we know how to do radiation therapy for cancer patients, that we know how to build atomic clocks, because it's all based on the same stuff.

Ironic, coming from a person who refuses to acknowledge that the modes of thought that gave us those methods, that produced all of the understanding and technical accomplishments of our civilization, precludes what he desperately wants to believe.

You can believe all of the findings of science without giving up your faith, unless there's a specific contradiction between your dogma and the findings. But you cannot accept science and retain your faith.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 14 Jul 2007 #permalink

One post is as good as another I suppose...

Rob and DuWayne

you can CALL yourselves anything you want. But the franchise for CHRISTIAN has already been taken.

If you want to invent a special category of believers that are so un-imaginative that they worship some other religion's god-figure (but only the parts they like) instead of dreaming up a new one, then you can go ahead and do that but you should really call yourslves psuedo-xtians and leave it at that.

BTW I think the the FSM followers are more honest than you guys. At least they came up with their own diety on which to hang their beliefs.

"I think it's a lot of doubletalk and cherry picking to support ideas that don't make sense"

Rob! Exactly! just like you and xianity!

But you cannot accept science and retain your faith.

Uh.... watch me.

Kevin, Caledonian : please, we don't need your trolling here. We know you think that atheism is the only rational response and that you think you're intellectually superior and that you have no respect for religion. We get it. Please do me a favor and don't come about trolling and threadcrapping on this blog. I promise not to attack PZ again, so there's no need to defend him. Come here if you have something constructive to say, not "you're all dumb" or "you're all wrong" or "you can't be what you say you are." Otherwise, stay away. It does nobody any good.

-Rob

No, rob, there's an assumption, using these methods, that things decay at an even rate. Ya'll uniformitarians are using science with an assumption that there isn't anything that disrupts this pattern. What about those classic discoveries of dating a recently dead animal at 50 million years old?

Uh huh, and if they didn't, to make things work for you guys, they'd have to have been decaying an awful lot faster in the past. Which would generally have made the surface of the Earth rather toasty.

Never mind the fact that stars shine, and we see them shining at distances of thousand and millions of light-years, according to all the same physics (change of which would be required to change those decay times).

Again, I point you to talkorigins.org for detailed discussion on all of this.

You're making the mistake of the time of Galileo. You're denying what humanity knows to be true to hold on to a version of your religion which is at direct odds with the natural world we observe. Seriously, think about accepting what science has to tell us and re-evaluating your faith in that light. There is no need to construct a house of cards about a bunch of bizzare, unlikely, and unworkable modifications to the science we understand in order to maintain your faith.

Notice today that (a) nobody doubts that the Sun is at the center of the Solar System, and that (b) Christianity is still around. All the fears of the religious in the time of Galileo have turned out to be unfounded. Several centuries later you're doing the exact same thing. Christianity will survive. Already, many, if not the majority, of Christians do not see the 4.5-billion year old Earth or the fact of evolution to be a threat to their faith.

-Rob

Come here if you have something constructive to say, not "you're all dumb" or "you're all wrong" or "you can't be what you say you are."

When a dead end has been reached, backtracking is moving forward. When you've made a false idol of your beliefs, destroying them is being constructive.

Quite simply, you're not what you say you are. Building the demonstration of this fact is constructive by every use of the word.

Otherwise, stay away. It does nobody any good.

I'm sure it would be nice for you if everyone willing to hold you accountable for your errors stayed away from your blog. Unfortunately, that's not how things work.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 14 Jul 2007 #permalink

Hey, rob, we could go on like this all day. to be a christian and believe in millions of years of death and disease before the "fall" bewilders me still, the earth revolving around the sun is in the present. it can be proven. It's nothing like trying to paint a picture of the past. Yes, the light argument may be the only thing that stomps creationists. But hey, that's the only theory evolutionists can completely hold on to. creationists are getting their theories in... e.g. if that theory that light has slowed down in the past comes true...( hey, we stopped light in a vacuum). creationists have their phd. scientists just as evolutionists do.

Cliff -

I have a serious question for you, about evidence for macro-evolution. If evolution is so obviously false, then why do whales have hind legs, hidden under their blubber? How long do you think it took for them to go from having those legs on the outside, to them moving to the inside? Or, do you take this as evidence that whales will one day walk out of the oceans? If so, how long do you think that will take? Finally, how do the hind legs of whales, fit into micro-evolution?

You don't have to give up your faith to accept science or a billions years old earth. Indeed, I have a hard time believing in a God that would create a world and a universe, that appear to be billions of years old. There is not a lick of evidence that the earth is any younger than that, while their are mountains of evidence that it is. There is no evidence that life just "Poofed!" into existence, while there are mountains of evidence to support evolution. I simply cannot comprehend why God would be so dishonest and tricksy as that.

Hey DuWayne, I've heard the same arguments made about the "tail bone" ,known as the coccyx,on humans as being vestigal parts when in the end it turns out it does have a purpose. To macro evolutionists, every part is leftovers of past species until a purpose is finally discovered. Speaking of "poofing" into existence. how about the lack of fossils from one celled creatures to multi celled. ( even cells are more complex than any plane made by intelligent humans)? and how about every major phylum appearing in the cambrian explosion.

to be a christian and believe in millions of years of death and disease before the "fall" bewilders me still,

You really don't get out much, do you?

Ever hear of the Clergy Letter Project?

Quite simply, you're not what you say you are.

And you have no clue what you're talking about.

You have chosen a definition of "Christian" that many practicing Christians do not fit under. I refuse to recognize your authority to define the word.

So, go away already.

You have chosen a definition of "Christian" that many practicing Christians do not fit under.

It's an empty label at this point - the only requirement to be a 'Christian' is to call oneself that.

But that isn't the point; that isn't where the contradiction lies. You claim to be a theist and a scientist. I have no doubt that you're a theist. But you don't practice science. You reject its most basic principles.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 15 Jul 2007 #permalink

Caledonian -- even PZ has said that he thinks Rob Knop is a valuable addition to SB. You're simply being obnoxious and offensive, and trying to insult someone who actively practices science as a career.

He has made a belief choice you don't agree with. That does not excuse your being and obnoxious git towards him.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 15 Jul 2007 #permalink

even PZ has said that he thinks Rob Knop is a valuable addition to SB.

He's also said that the various true believers who come to his blog to comment on his public scorn towards faith are a valuable resource - because they make plain just how foolish and inane the cult of belief is.

In that sense, I agree - Rob Knop IS a valuable addition. Because, by increasing the contrast, he makes people like PZ look even better.

He has made a belief choice you don't agree with.

That isn't the point. He made the decision without founding it in reason, by making an exception in rationality for an absurd position, and by referencing the consequentialist fallacy. His argument is wrong, and his position is wrong - that's why he's being mocked, not because we "don't agree".

It doesn't help that he went trolling for a flamewar, then hid the post when the flood of support he expected didn't arrive, and accurate and biting analysis of his position showed up instead. Then he closed comments on the thread discussing this move.

Additionally, I note that he's made no apology for his statements, nor admitted to his failure to "turn the other cheek" as his religion demands. He just tried to cover up what he'd done and deny that his actions ever took place.

He's not only irrational, and a credulous acceptor of the absurd, but a coward as well.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 15 Jul 2007 #permalink

He didn't go "trolling for a flamewar", he got mad and lashed back at someone he perceived in calling him names. The result was a lot of the supporters of that someone showing up and calling him more names, and being sincerely nasty without adding reason or substance to the criticism, under the impression, somehow, that the insults were substance. Kind of like what you are doing now. He cut off the flamewar.

If you don't like him, don't troll him. If you have anything of substance to say, try to do so without calling names. Rob should have done that too, but you are hardly improving anything, or proving anything about your point other than that you are capable of trolling.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 15 Jul 2007 #permalink

Luna is right -- I lashed. A day later, I regretted that I had lashed. I took the post down, and apologized to the other sciblings whom I had disturbed.

And, by the way, I'm closing off comments on this thread, because it's turning into the flamewar I tried to stop by closing off comments on another thread!