Fightin’ Fundies, Part 3: The Creation Museum
Sorry, I know this post arrived late in the day, but it’s still May 28…
Our last action-packed episode ended with mention of a major event today (May 28, 2007) that, in my humble opinion, will not help promote nuanced discourse about the origins of life. That event would be the grand opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Sporting a $27 million budget, this multi-media walk-through extravaganza, designed by a former exhibit director at Universal Studies Florida (as in “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” rides), will function as a showcase (I use the word advisedly) for the organization Answers in Genesis and will also serve as the group’s administrative and ministry headquarters. Both Answers in Genesis and The Creation Museum are dedicated to advancing an unapologetic and uncompromising “young earth” interpretation of the contents of the Bible overall and Genesis in particular. Specifically, they insist that the earth and apparently the entire universe were created about 6,000 years ago, over the course of six literal 24-hour days – and much more.
The Creation Museum website speaks for itself, but I would direct your attention to a couple of representative entries. A description for the Bible Authority Room on the virtual walk-through tour announces, “The Bible is true. No doubt about it! Paul explains God’s authoritative Word, and everyone who rejects His history — including six-day creation and Noah’s Flood — is ‘willfully’ ignorant.” The descriptive text for the Creation area declares, “…the Bible’s clear—heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise.”
Now I have no doubt as to the sincerity and commitment of those involved in this project, but I still cannot rejoice in the debut of this particular enterprise. For one thing, it would appear to be one of the biggest, most irresistible targets for media ridicule of Christians in many months. Watch for unflattering attention on SNL or MAD TV or the Daily Show, for starters. (I’m surprised no one picked it up for Phreaky Friday this week, but I suspect the 3-day weekend was a distraction.) No doubt the staff of Answers in Genesis is prepared for this, and will probably consider comedic persecution to be part of the cost of taking their particular stand.
But more bothersome is the fact that those who won’t give an inch in their opposition to the idea that life might have a designer will have another glorious opportunity to lump everyone who questions naturalistic evolution into the six-day, young earth camp. This of course is not at all the case, but it’s certainly a convenient rhetorical device, somewhat like tarring all followers of Islam as terrorists or pro-lifers as clinic bombers. For example, a May 24 LA Times editorial dealing with the Creation Museum (mischievously titled “Yabba-Dabba Science”), notes with some alarm that “…three of the Republican candidates for president do not believe in evolution. Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together.” In fact, the question “Do you believe in evolution?” was asked of John McCain at the 10-candidate Republican debate on May 3. He said, “Yes” and then a moment later noted that he “sees the hand of God” in a sunset or at the Grand Canyon. The moderator then asked for a show of hands of anyone on the platform who doesn’t believe in evolution. Three hands went up, prompting considerable ridicule in the press during the ensuing weeks. I don’t know if the three dissenting candidates are young-earth Creationists or people who (like me) are comfortable with a 4.5 billion year old earth and a 15 billion year old universe, but question the “we are the product of random, meaningless biochemical reactions” party line. There’s a big difference, but I doubt that we’ll hear much about it in the media.
I have one other concern about the thinking represented in the Creation Museum, and, believe it or not, it is actually well-stated in the aforementioned LA Times piece.
Religion and science can coexist. That the Earth is billions of years old is a fact. How the universe came into being and whether it operates by design are matters of faith. The problem is that people who deny science in one realm are unlikely to embrace it in another. Those who cannot accept that climate change may have caused the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago probably don’t put much stock in the fact that today it poses grave peril to the Earth as we know it.
Okay, the last sentence is a little stretchy, but the point is worth pondering. In my own field I have repeatedly seen a disturbing tendency among some evangelicals to distrust scientific inquiry, and in particular to blow off a well-established body of knowledge about how the human body works in order to embrace eccentric or even bizarre therapies. I suppose I could be accused of doing the same with respect to evolutionary biology, but I see a major difference between understanding how cells work (and, for example, that they’re not influenced by “invisible energies” supposedly manipulated by someone waving their hands over the body) and claiming to understand how all of these intricate mechanisms assembled themselves randomly out of primordial soup.
I have to confess that I haven’t probed in depth to see how people who believe the planet must be 6,000 years old explain all of the evidence that suggests otherwise, but in this regard I find them in a similar position as the evolutionary fundamentalists, with a hard-core bottom line and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do about information that doesn’t readily conform to their doctrine. Put another way, I’m equally impatient with Christians who insist that a six 24-hour-day creation is the only way to understand Genesis 1 and with evolutionists who insist that they know that life has no designer.
To both I would say, “Really??…”