Just a mile off an obscure exit of a northern Kentucky interstate, I follow the signs and turn down the quiet country road. The humidity is real, the way that Coloradoans (and Colorado transplants) forget is possible. As I pull into the parking lot, it is littered with midwestern license plates attached to minivans and SUVs.
Why am I here? Why am I nervous about being here? Why am I fighting the urge to wear a large hat and fake moustache and affect a foreign accent to avoid being recognized?
Some of it has to do with this sign which greeted me at the entrance:
I had heard rumors about the tightly controlled environment present within the Creation Museum. How a group of visitors (albeit admittedly there to peacefully protest the Museum) had been forced to have “mug shots” taken at the entrance. How security guards were present in many of the rooms, many of whom were armed, some of whom had dogs. I had heard that some visitors had been harassed by these guards, even asked to leave the premises, after engaging in harmless debates with fellow museum-goers about the veracity of the claims presented on the displays. (I did not witness this the day I visited, though – see below.)
And I knew I wasn’t going to fit the typical Creation Museum-goer profile. A single man in his 30s with a large camera around his neck? Please. As I wait in the ticket line, this assumption is reinforced as fact. Mostly families with young kids, elderly couples, and a couple school groups (I can only assume Christian schools. Yeah.).
Now – I should mention, I do not come to the table without my own presuppositions. I have a BS in Physics, a minor in Classical Archaeology, and am about to finish a second Master’s in Old Testament Biblical Studies. The book of Genesis and I…are acquainted. I should mention, too, that the Civil Engineer part of me was impressed with the multi-million dollar complex and wondered how the site drainage was working in such a humid climate.
So I handed over my $29.95 to the elderly staff member behind the desk. (okay, let’s just say it: $30. THIRTY DOLLARS. As comparison, the Met in NYC is $25, the Louvre in Paris is 13 Euro (about $17) and much of the Smithsonian is FREE.) Was I imagining her suspicious glances at my camera, followed by the scowl, followed by the distinct lack of courtesy as she ran my card? Not sure. At first I thought I was being my vaguely neurotic self. But as I walked away and heard her chipper, “Welcome to the Creation Museum!” directed at the family of four immediately behind me in line – well, one might forgive me for wondering.
I hurried past the photo booth (whose staffers made no effort to intercept me for “record keeping” purposes) and to the second elderly woman gatekeeper, whose job it was to scan my outrageously priced ticket and allow me into the displays. Her demeanour was equally…charming…as the first. Anyhow, on to the displays. One of the very first displays I witness is this video:
Immediately thereafter, I found myself in a room featuring a mock archaeological dig, wherein two fictitious scientists disagree over the age of excavated dinosaur bones. One (whom we are told is the secular, non-Bible believing, godless scientist) postulates that the bones are millions of years old, while the other scientist (you know, the Godly, correct one) says that he believes the bones to only be a few thousand years old, based on the account in Genesis Chapter 1.
This tended to be the theme throughout the entirety of the museum. To be briefly stated: If any of the claims of Scripture are to be taken as true, including the salvation of all mankind through Christ Jesus, then the Bible must be true from beginning to end. This includes a literal reading of Genesis Chapter 1, wherein all creation and the earth itself is created within the space of 6 literal days. The reliability of God’s message to humanity through the Scriptures, then, hinges upon a 6-day creation. Practically every display here is geared towards proving to the patron this “truth.”
I’ll not burden you with a play-by-play of the remainder of the tour. The central themes tended to be dinosaurs, Adam, Eve, and their fall from grace, and of course Noah’s Ark. In each case, the patron is sternly challenged to accept these accounts found in Scriptures as “literal” – anything less, and apparently you will either turn into a Nazi, a heroin junkie, or just generally be a worthless schlep who fools around in church while the Truth is being yelled at you. (These last points were all I could really glean from a bizarre, and in no way “child-appropriate,” portion of the museum sprinkled between Noah’s Ark and the “Amazing Science Videos” display.)
The placard I’ve posted (above) is one example among many of the stretches in logic and credibility that the museum is sadly forced to go through to support such a literal reading of accounts such as Noah’s Ark. Which is deeply unfortunate, because it doesn’t need to be done, as I’ll explain below.
So obviously I did not walk away from the Creation Museum as a proponent of their particular philosophy of Scripture interpretation. But nor did I set out to visit this place with the goal of shredding it in a blog post or poking fun at what I know is the world-view of many well-meaning Christ followers. That would be a pretty crappy motivation.
And, to be fair – I never saw security guards or dogs in any of the exhibit rooms on the day I was there, perhaps that feature of the experience has been wisely removed. Though I didn’t exactly feel welcomed, nor was I harassed or made to feel uncomfortable at any point.
If I were to offer constructive critique, I would do so mainly to inform those among you that might be drawn to the Creation Museum for an individual, family, or school excursion. I’m still processing what I saw there myself, so I welcome comments and feedback whether or not you agree with my observations. Especially if not.
1. A “literal” or overly simplistic reading of any book of the Bible can be problematic, depending of course on one’s definition of “literal.” First, your Bible was not written in English, but in Hebrew and Greek. Second, especially with a book such as Genesis, literary genre and cultural background to the text is absolutely crucial to a proper understanding of the text.
To take Genesis Chapter 1 as an example, the genre of literature is not what we call “Narrative History,” i.e. a record of consecutive events happening in linear time. It is rather a quasi-poetic piece of literature, using parallelism and word associations to clue the reader into the main ideas of the passage.
I was disappointed that the museum does not acknowledge the poetic features of Genesis 1, such as the relationship of Days 1-3 to Days 4-6, or the recapitulation of the creation (which reads, coincidentally, quite differently!) in Genesis Chapter 2. Nor does it acknowledge that the Hebrew word for day, “yom” (יום) can just as easily refer to a nebulous period of time or even as a poetic device to indicate the generic passage of time. It does not by definition need to refer to a literal 24-hour day.
It makes me sad when the Creation-Evolution (or 6-day Creation vs. longer) debate takes attention from what I believe to be the true message of Genesis Chapter 1:
A. That one God, the God of Israel, created all from nothing, created order from chaos.
B. That humans were not created as an afterthought, or as a burden to the God(s), but rather as God’s crowning achievement endowed with the highest value.
C. That we carry the living image of the God of Israel with us, and as such we represent His goodness and authority to all creation.
Aren’t these points so much more compelling and interesting than, “Hey! These bones are only 4000 years old! Science sucks!”
2. On a related point, an overly simplistic reading of Genesis leaves no room to wrestle with the cultural background of the Old Testament. Many of the ideas in Genesis 1-11, for example, rely highly upon subversive counterpoints to Canaanite theology. This is demonstrated by points A-C as I’ve stated above. Just as Paul was concerned in some of his letters with combating Gnostic heresies and incorrect Jewish dogma in the early church, so is the much earlier author of Genesis concerned with combating Canaanite theology which teaches that a multitude of gods have created and ruled creation for their own selfish whims, and that humanity’s only value is as a source of amusement and power for these egotistic deities.
3. I had assumed that the Creation Museum would house actual dinosaur bones and authentic reconstructions of excavated creatures. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This “museum” is not really a museum at all in the classical sense. There are very few artifacts to speak of, and the museum’s displays seem to leave no room for interaction with critical scholarship. The orientation of the displays is much more concerned with “proving” the literal reading of Genesis Chapter 1’s timeline than the display of artifacts.
4. There are many well-respected, Evangelical Christian scholars that do not see the need to regard the Creation as having taken place in a literal 6-day space of time. It is a shame that these viewpoints are not interacted with. Meanwhile, as might be expected, contrary scientific viewpoints are more or less dismissed as “Godless” and against God’s Word.
Most concerning to me is the “false choice” which the museum sets up for the patron: Good Christians believe in a 6-day creation. Disobedient Christians, or atheists, don’t. This false choice dumbs down the discussion to talking points and absurd mental gymnastics to make the text “work” with modern scientific knowledge.
One of the most interesting aspects of my visit was the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversations of my fellow patrons. At one point, a guy in his early 20s, along with his wife, passed by me. As they read a placard explaining why modern science could not accurately determine the age of the universe (yeah, I know…the physicist in me was screaming), he turned to another patron and began a conversation on these ideas. The young man soon sighed in quiet exasperation and declared, “We are so disobedient, man! Why can’t we just accept that God’s Word is true?” The strange thing was, even in the absence of the security guards and the dogs, I couldn’t bring myself to engage this man with a gentle word. I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that he would not have listened to the alternative. That perhaps sound scientific discovery and a firm foundation in God’s Word are, in fact, completely able to co-exist.
I walked to the next display, my mind racing in a thousand directions.
They do have a petting zoo, though.