A House of Sand and Fog
I recently finished a tour of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky's Boone County, just a few minutes from the Cincinnati airport. I had a wonderful time. It was a glorious day and the grounds, with their many water features and delightful winding paths, were welcoming, on par with similar exhibits at Disney parks, minus the characters in entertaining costumes. Perhaps because the weather was so nice, attendance was down and I was able to wander free from jostling crowds or noisy teenagers. I also got to park close to the front entrance, where a friendly guard took my picture against the first of many dinosaurs that visitors encounter in the museum.
An inviting deck reaches out over a small pond at the edge of the museum and I wished that my family were there to enjoy lunch with me on the picnic tables. I probably would have ordered "Noah's Chili Dog" or some such biblically inspired fare; my daughters and my wife would order salads. On an afternoon like this, I could relax in such a setting for hours.
Inside the museum everything was well-organized. Friendly personnel answered questions, sold me a pass and a book, and directed me where to go. The other visitors were mainly families comprised of well-behaved children and attentive parents.
The exhibits were appealing, some bordering on spectacular. Animatronic dinosaurs waggled their heads at me; well-lit dioramas and small theaters laid out the story; and a modest planetarium supplemented the program with astronomy and cosmology fare. I attended two shows in the planetarium.
The Creation Museum's story unfolds in a natural order as you walk along a winding corridor. It is organized according to the "Seven C's of History": creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, cross, and consummation. The story is remarkably coherent: God creates a world that is shortly corrupted by sin--visible in the "Cave of Sorrows"--which he finds intolerable and responds with the catastrophe of the Flood. After the flood, sinful humans arrogantly begin work on a tower to reach into the heavens, so they can be exalted like God. This building project--the infamous Tower of Babel--upsets God again so he confuses human language. A monolingual human race is now partitioned into languages and cultures and spreads around the globe, in a diaspora some four thousand years ago. Christ then appears, dying on the cross to save the sinful human race, and departs with a promise to return at the end of time to consummate human history by rescuing the faithful and taking them to heaven.
This is the full story of the Creation Museum, where displays of dinosaurs and paleontologists are followed by ones with Moses and Paul, the two formative intellects of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Martin Luther also has space in this museum, calling Christians back to the Bible after they ran off course during the medieval era because, I guess, they were Catholics.
The message of the creation museum is clear--too clear in fact. None of the ambiguities that make science, biblical studies, history or theology so interesting are present. There simply aren't any real questions in this slick packaging of all-that-matters. The earth is a few thousand years old, the flood of Noah was worldwide, Jesus' mission was simple, and fundamentalist Protestantism is the way to heaven. The English text of the Bible, read in the most natural way, is the ultimate guide to truth, with secular science and history simply filling in a few gaps around the edges. I didn't encounter a single display with any ambiguity or even nuance. Even the astronomy shows were clear-cut. Mainstream scientific ideas that didn't contradict the Bible--like the distances to the planets, or the brightness of the stars--were presented as simple facts. Ideas that challenged the young earth picture, like the formation of stars over billions of years, were presented as shaky ideas championed by "secular astronomers", irresponsibly arguing for the reality of events they have never seen occur.
Almost every bit of the "science" in the creation museum is completely wrong, thoroughly refuted by mainstream science. Much of it was refuted by Christian naturalists two centuries ago. The Creation Museum is truly a house built on sand and filled with fog. But the happy families strolling through the "seven C's" have no way to know this. They have no reason to doubt that this is real science. In fact, this is better than real science, since it interweaves so nicely with their religious beliefs. They will leave the Creation Museum energized in their faith that, in ways they probably won't recall, their Christian worldview is intellectually robust, and aligned with our most advanced understanding of the natural world, the Bible, and history.
Some of those well-behaved young people so enchanted by the dinosaurs may retain their beliefs into adulthood, but many will not. The ideas on display in the Creation Museum are thoroughly at odds with contemporary understandings of both the Bible and science. These ideas will come crashing down around them if they get even a modest amount of education. I enrolled in an evangelical college as a young earth creationist, took a few courses in science, one in the Bible and one in philosophy and--crash!--my creationism came tumbling down around me. The structure on display in the Creation Museum is thin and brittle, carefully and precariously built on a foundation of sand. It can withstand little more than the most superficial challenge; a modest bit of education will demolish it.
Studies continue to reveal that many Christian young people lose their faith in college, even in Christian colleges. But when that faith is in ideas thoroughly refuted two centuries ago, it is no wonder. Evangelicals need to embrace contemporary science and see it as God's wonderful unfolding of creativity. Only if we can learn to do that can our young people go off to college with a faith that won't come crashing down as soon as they learn a bit of science and can see through the fog of young earth creationism. Our worldviews need to be built on the rock of a firm foundation, as Jesus advised, not on sand.
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.