Curriculum

Creation Museum Draws Scientific Community’s Wrath

By Sean Cavanagh — May 25, 2007 5 min read
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The last dinosaurs roamed the Earth about 65 million years before the first early humans made an appearance, according to the historical timeline the vast majority of scientists accept. But prehistoric reptiles and two-legged primates will appear as having lived alongside each other at a new, controversial museum that presents an account of life’s development from a biblical perspective.

The Creation Museum, scheduled to open May 28 in Petersburg, Ky., has drawn the ire of scientists and advocacy groups that say it distorts the scientific record by discounting the theory of evolution, which scientists overwhelmingly accept as the most plausible explanation for life’s development.

Over the past few years, fights have erupted in states and school districts across the country over the teaching of evolution and attempts by critics to challenge its status with alternative explanations for the diversity of life on Earth. But those battles have been fought mostly in public settings, such as public schools and state boards of education debating science curriculum. The Creation Museum, on the other hand, is a privately run, nonprofit institution. Critics say it will present the public, and students who might visit it, with a distorted view of science. Supporters say the museum presents history from a religious perspective—and only for visitors who want to be exposed to that point of view.

The museum will show visitors how “science actually confirms biblical history,” according to its Web site. It will serve as the headquarters for Answers in Genesis, a Christian advocacy group that supports a literal interpretation of the Bible and owns and operates the facility.

The museum complex will feature a “walk through history” of exhibits rooted in biblical belief. Those beliefs, museum officials say, include the claim that the Earth is 6,000 years old—most scientists put its age at more than 4 billion years—and that God created the universe and all living things in six days, including the first two humans, Adam and Eve, as described in the book of Genesis. “God’s word is true, or evolution is true,” reads one online description of an exhibit, adding, “there’s no room for compromise.”

‘Creationist’s Disneyland’

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Located just south of Cincinnati, the $27 million museum complex will include robotic dinosaurs, a planetarium, and several theaters, said Ken Ham, the president and chief executive officer of Answers in Genesis. Exhibits will show humans as living side by side with dinosaurs, said Mr. Ham, who believes that the fossil record cannot show conclusively that dinosaurs existed millions of years before humans did. Scientific consensus, based on a vast pool of evidence in archeology, biology, and other fields, is that dinosaurs did, in fact, live on Earth long before humans.

The museum has drawn objections from a coalition of scientists and organizations, including the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, or DEFCON, a Washington-based group that says it seeks to combat the political influence of religious conservatives. In a May 24 conference call with reporters, those opponents said the museum is presenting a distorted view of evolution and the earth’s history.

Eugenie C. Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization that supports the teaching of evolution, called the museum a “creationist’s Disneyland.”

“I have trouble referring to this place as a ‘museum,’ ” Ms. Scott told reporters. She worries that science teachers who try to explain evolution to their students would soon be hearing from students, “ ’I went to this fancy museum this summer, and you’re teaching us a lie.’ ”

Ms. Scott estimated that there are a “couple dozen” privately run museums around the country that present creationist views of human development in one way or another. She said the Petersburg museum, as a privately run facility, has a right to present exhibits from a religious point of view. But Ms. Scott and others said they have an obligation to explain why the museum’s displays are inaccurate from a scientific standpoint. DEFCON officials said they were arranging a protest at the museum on its opening day.

But Mr. Ham dismissed the critics’ complaints. He said the museum presents a view of evolution that the public has a right to hear. He also said the primary audience for the museum is the public at large, and not school-age children, specifically.

“What they’re really saying is that they don’t want to see Christianity legitimately defending itself, and using science to do it,” Mr. Ham said of the museum’s critics. The museum’s opponents are “dogmatically asserting” their beliefs about evolution without respect for opposing views, he argued.

The critics “are the same people who say [society] should have tolerance for everything, but not when it comes to us,” the museum’s founder added.

Mr. Ham said he hopes the museum, which has a staff of 300, will draw 250,000 visitors its first year. The admission is $19.95 for visitors ages 13-59, $14.95 for adults over 60, $9.95 for children ages 5-12, and free for children under the age of 5.

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The theory of evolution holds that humans and other living things evolved over time through natural selection and random mutation. Scientists also estimate that the Earth is at least 4 billion years old. Both those views contrast with the beliefs of those who interpret the Bible literally and contend that the planet is only thousands of years old and that God created all living things.

Several well-publicized battles have erupted in school districts in recent years over attempts to challenge the status of evolution in public school science classrooms. One closely watched dispute arose in Dover, Pa., where school board members sought to require that students be introduced to the concept of “intelligent design,” the belief that living things show signs of being created, rather than having simply evolved. A group of parents in the 3,600-student district sued to halt the policy. In December 2005, a federal judge issued a sweeping ruling declaring that the board’s policy was unconstitutional and that “intelligent design” was a religious concept, not a scientific one. (“Possible Road Map Seen in Dover Case,” Jan. 4, 2006.)

Mr. Ham says his museum’s staff includes several scientists with Ph.D.s, who support the exhibits presented. The DEFCON officials did not dispute the credentials of those individuals, but questioned their expertise—given their support for the museum. In addition to admission fees, the museum is also being supported through donations and paid memberships, according to descriptions on its Web site.

DEFCON leaders said this week that they had collected 3,500 signatures from educators, including teachers and college faculty, who are opposed to the museum, and nearly 17,000 signatures from members of the general public who did not approve of its presentation.

Mr. Ham said the museum is expecting large crowds of visitors on the museum’s first day. He said he was not worried about protesters showing up. “We know they’re going to be there.”

See Also

See other stories on education issues in Kentucky. See data on Kentucky’s public school system.

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