The Creation Museum, one year on

The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach features a few thoughts from Gordy Slack on AiG's Creation Museum, which just passed the 1-year mark back in May. The controversy surrounding it has largely died down in the last year, particularly given the shenanigans involved with the release of Expelled, but Slack thought it profitable to take another look.

Slack starts off the piece by identifying what all the hubub is really about. While claims of creationists, like Tyrannosaurus rex lived alongside Adam & Eve and ate coconuts in Eden, are little more than delusions the creationists don't particularly care. For them this is about their holy book, a book that they interpret in so narrow a fashion that nothing can be allowed to contradict it. They will make the most absurd arguments imaginable based upon their fear that if one part of their myopic interpretation of the Bible is wrong then their entire theological system goes out the window. Indeed, the aim of the museum is not to make people believe that humans lived alongside dinosaurs as an endpoint, but rather to provide them with excuses to eschew rational thought in favor of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.

Not far into the next page, however, Slack repeats an oft-heard compliment made about the museum; that is beautifully executed, perhaps moreso than actual natural history museums;

The museum is beautifully built out of carefully chosen and expensive materials. The exhibits are well designed and artistically executed. And from a little distance they look familiar; dinosaur skeletons, soaring pterosaurs, live tropical frogs, a diorama of an archeological site, and primordial forests occupied by animatronic dinosaurs.

I admit that I have not been to the Creation Museum but plenty of others have and they have graciously shared their pictures on the web (some examples can be found here, here, here, here, and here) . What I've seen hasn't particularly been impressive, seemingly like a mish-mash of poorly-labeled exhibits and animatronic figures. My biases are apparent, but the rows upon rows of fossil skeletons on the 4th floor of the AMNH put Ken Ham's funhouse to shame. Indeed, the term "funhouse" appears to describe the contents of the building far better than museum, the emphasis being on the narrative AiG wants to sell rather than presenting actual evidence for their nonsense. Even then, the dinosaur sculptures look more silly than scientific, and their dromeosaurs are (of course) missing their feathers. I don't imagine that AiG cares that there are now recognized osteological characters that denote the presence of feathers in dinosaurs like Velociraptor, though, so I expect that their dromeosaurs will continue to be nude.

The rest of the article is pretty much the same old stuff, pretty boring to anyone who is already familiar with AiG's bag of tricks. What will eventually become of the creationist crown jewel? I can't say. It is an amusement park, one many people seem convinced is the science museum they have waited for all their lives, and it does not do any of what a good museum should. It is not a research institution or a place where collections will be accumulated for comparison and study; it's doors transport the visitor into a fantasy world where the most absurd claims can be justified by people who believe their are modern day prophets. Unless something of major importance occurs this is the last I expect to write of Ham's wretched palace. I'm all too happy to leave it to rot.

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Here's something I wrote about the Creation museum and comparing it to the presentation at the London Natural History museum:

"Ive long complained about the shoddy educational structure of modern science museums. They are stuck in the 19th century. I visited the famed Natural History Museum in London recently and was appalled at the wasted educational opportunities. These folks seem to think that taxidermied animals behind glass are the best way to teach about natural history.

"These museums are not about teaching, theyre about exhibiting specimens. At the British Natural History Museum, I expected a phenomenal bang-up presentation about Charles Darwin. After all, his collected specimens are housed there. Nope. There was a statue of him in the dining area of a cafeteria.

"I looked for their display on human origins. It consisted of several replicas of hominid skulls in a glass case. That was it! No diorama of australiopithicenes on the savannah. No models of cave life with Homo neanderthalensis. Nope. Plastic skulls you could buy from Bone Clones locked away in a glass case.

"Heres a photo of that museum. Does anything look exciting to you?
Yes, that photo looks old, from the 1920s Ill guess. But the current presentation is still the same, nearly 90 years later.

"Our science museums do not teach. They do not engage the visitor with the central themes in the story of life on earth. They do not show evolution. They do not show the scale of geological time. They do not educate. They merely display specimens."

Full article linked from my name below.

I seem to remember Ham really going off once on the notion of feathered dinosaurs ("Dinosaurs were reptiles! They were not birds! There is no such thing as evolution so they couldn't possibly have feathers!" to paraphrase).

Now that feathered dinosaurs are well documented and known scientific fact, I wonder if his tune has changed at all (and if so, would that be considered an acceptance of evolution?), or if he somehow twists the findings into supporting Creationism, or if he simply refutes or ignores it. Probably the latter.

Naked dromeiosaurs? Scandalous! They should at least have a loincloth.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 09 Jul 2008 #permalink

I recently visited a creationism museum, of sorts, on accident. In Haughton, Louisiana there is a small taxidermy museum called Touchstone Wildlife Museum that has a pretty nice collection of professional taxidermy animals, like giraffes, lions, wolves, peccaries, and what not. However, almost no one ever goes there except for the occasional elementary school trip.

The entire place seems pretty creationist-free, except for one small wall on the second floor which is jam packed with bible quotes and assorted creationist jabber. There is even a painting of the Rapture and a testimony by the museum's founder on how he "wasted thirty years of his life on evolution" followed by the word christ a lot.

There really wasn't any propaganda of any sort anywhere else in the place, so I actually enjoyed my visit there, and was just slightly annoyed. I don't see the small display as being any sort of real threat around here, because the majority of people who see it either already agree, or are too young to understand the issue (like I was when I visited as a kid, I don't even remember that part).

Here's some pictures if you're interested:
http://img56.imageshack.us/img56/820/sdc10269eb0.jpg
http://img60.imageshack.us/img60/6707/sdc10270ze1.jpg
http://img56.imageshack.us/img56/2940/sdc10314sw1.jpg
http://img525.imageshack.us/img525/7340/sdc10271lg1.jpg

Photos of the rest of the place can be found at my website too (which is unfortunately just a myspace...)

No diorama of australiopithicenes on the savannah. No models of cave life with Homo neanderthalensis.

For which we are truly thankful. Personally, I find such attempts to create "dioramas" at the expence of the specimens uninformative, uninspiring and often just plain tacky.

"Now that feathered dinosaurs are well documented and known scientific fact, I wonder if his tune has changed at all..."

Of course it hasn't. Remember, fossils were put on Earth by the evil dark lord to tempt us into betraying our belief in the big G.

There have been well-documented and known scientific facts supporting evolution for hundreds of years. That hasn't stopped them.

"Remember, fossils were put on Earth by the evil dark lord..."

So Voldemort did it! The truth can be told at last. Now that Voldemort is dead, I suspect we're going to find out a whole bunch of stuff that he did which we've wrongly been attributing to Lucifer....

Gordy Slack? The guy who was recently eviscerated by PZ and a few others, for his silly article about "what ID creationists got right"?

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 10 Jul 2008 #permalink

"Personally, I find such attempts to create "dioramas" at the expence of the specimens uninformative, uninspiring and often just plain tacky."

And a fake plastic skull in a locked glass case is better how exactly?

I mean, at least at the LA Natural History museum they let the kids pick up the plastic hominid skulls.

What the world (or the US, anyway) needs at the moment is an answer to the question: "why trust what the scientists say"?

Public displays of scientific stuff need to present something on how science is done - the role of peer review, journals, universities and museums. How the process of science happens - including a little history.

Heck, it ought to be part of the hight school science curriculum.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 10 Jul 2008 #permalink