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Fundamentalists Meet Animatronics: A day at the new Creation Museum | The Nation

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Fundamentalists Meet Animatronics: A day at the new Creation Museum

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Nathan Dickerson

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The third in a series of debates between The Nation and The National Review, moderated by Roll Call.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Creation Museum, which opened on May 28, is an innovative, $27 million complex in Petersburg, Ky. that argues "The Bible is true from Genesis to Revelation." It exists to combat the consensus among geologists, paleontologists, biologists, cosmologists, and a variety of other professionals anchored in the framework of science, that the Earth is billions of years old and humans were not created by God in their present form. It is the headquarters for the United States branch of Answers in Genesis (AiG), an organization and ministry dedicated to defending the superiority of a literal understanding of the Bible.

The museum is located just a short drive away from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport, which places it within a day's drive of almost two-thirds of the U.S. population. As someone who used to believe in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible myself, I thought it was worth a visit. This peculiar facility houses an educational museum, classrooms for students from Christian schools and households, a war room for crafting media strategy, and more.

But whether visitors are Christian moderates, atheists, or people of different faiths, the Creation Museum does little to persuade someone to challenge their presuppositions. For example, the museum explains that fresh water fish survived Noah's flood because the fresh water remained above salt water, and the fresh water fish survived by merely swimming in a different layer of water. It also suggests that dinosaurs became extinct because humans killed them off and that dragon myths (including Chinese dragons which look nothing like dinosaurs) reinforce this notion. The museum, which insists that God created the universe in six 24 hour days, also does an especially frustrating job of reconciling how and why God created the day and the night on the first day of creation and the sun on the fourth day. This conflict was only passively addressed in a short film featuring "a dramatic reading of Genesis," which showed an illuminated, computer animated Earth--complete with sunshine--on day one, but the formation of the sun only later.

What the museum lacks in reason-based persuasive appeal, however, it compensates with presentation. The museum is an entertaining experience comprising a fascinating array of sets, animatronic humans and dinosaurs, and other components common in theme park attractions. Patrick Marsh, who has created rides for Universal Studios, designed the museum. Appropriately, the Creation Museum had a ride-like set path that followed AiG's structured and absolutist understanding.

The welcome gates feature silhouettes of Stegosaurs, the park outside the facility has bushes sculpted in the shape of Tyrannosaurs, and more dinosaurs dominate the main hub of the museum. But, alas, the Creation Museum sets any young dinosaur enthusiast up for disappointment.

The museum is currently constructing a "Dino Den" room to open on July 4, but the dinosaurs here remain little more than a motif intended to exploit children's cultural fascinations to teach them religious lessons.

The museum demonstrated its real priorities as I entered the first major exhibit, which confusingly features the Grand Canyon. I expected the museum's rooms to be chronologically structured, but the first several rooms postponed the 6,000 year history lesson and instead focused on why Christian fundamentalism is superior to the framework of science. The Grand Canyon room serves as an introductory example of how AiG claims Christian fundamentalism and science can reach such different conclusions from the same set of facts. In this exhibit, AiG suggests the Grand Canyon did not have to form over millions of years, and uses Burlingame Canyon, which was formed in six days after humans diverted excess water from irrigation canals, as a precedent. Water from Noah's flood, according to AiG, probably created the Grand Canyon in a relatively short time.

The "Graffiti Alley" and "Culture in Crisis" exhibits are direct appeals to fear. Graffiti Alley was modeled after an urban back alley tagged with a variety of subversive messages and, curiously, a collage of news clippings showing threats including gay marriage and stem cell research.

The "Culture in Crisis" room showed what AiG believes are the consequences of Christians having assumed a more moderate position on the 6,000 year Earth theory. These consequences include abortion, Internet porn, and as an ominous overhead voice notes, the fact that "One in 10 teens does not believe in absolute truth."

Adam and Eve are portrayed frolicking with dinosaurs, evidence that ultimately, AiG can't bring itself to rely solely on the Bible. The museum's curators adopt scientific-sounding rhetoric to bolster an argument inescapably rooted in a leap of faith. AiG's website explains, "Why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions. These are things that are assumed to be true, without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions. All reasoning is based on presuppositions (also called axioms)." [emphasis in original] Justifying fundamentalism in terms of "interpreting facts" and "presuppositions" instead of a direct appeal to faith seems to be a concession to the enlightenment values of reason over dogma. But this false equivalence of AiG's faith with the more reasonable competing interpretations from science requires a suspension of disbelief from all but the already converted.

With its moving parts and ride-like atmosphere, the museum is, perhaps intentionally, an environment ill-suited for contemplation. By the time I was questioning whether the gene pool was still pure for intermarriage among Noah's children as the museum claimed it was for Adam's and Eve's children, I was wondering if I missed the explanation for why God gave humans a tail-like bone. My mind began to shut down.

Perhaps the museum isn't supposed to make you think at all. Rather, it fulfills its real mission quite effectively--it creates a symbol to bolster fundamentalist creationism. The museum's arguments are lost in the shadows of its dinosaurs. The museum stands, symbolically and physically, to make a point that arguments for six day creationism exist no matter how implausible they may be. In so doing, it gives new life to the fundamentalist creationism movement, much like its artificial dinosaurs are bringing new life to AiG's Eden.

Nathan Dickerson graduated from the University of Kentucky in May 2007 with a public policy major and computer science minor.

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