The Creation Museum swung open its stegosaurus-guarded gates to the public Monday, and I have to say it's out of this world. For those of us raised in natural history Meccas like the American Museum in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington, or the Field in Chicago, the beautifully designed museum induces an eerie vertigo. All the familiar characters are here: T. rex, giant skeletons of triceratops and apatosaurus, a pterosaur spreading its wings above the crowd, live exhibits of birds, amphibians and reptiles, and the dripping, hooting and chirping soundtrack of the primeval forest. There are also a couple of unfamiliar faces, for a natural history museum, in the tan and finely muscled bodies of Adam and Eve.
At the ribbon cutting, Ken Ham, the rugged-faced CEO and president of Answers in Genesis, the nonprofit ministry that built the museum, tells an enthusiastic crowd that the Creation Museum will undo the damage done 82 years ago when Clarence Darrow put William Jennings Bryan on the stand in the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tenn. "It was the first time the Bible was ridiculed by the media in America, and that was a downward turning point for Christendom," Ham says. "We are going to undo all of that here at the Creation Museum. We are going to answer the questions Bryan wasn't prepared to, and show that belief in every word of the Bible can be defended by modern science."
The Book of Genesis, that famous first chapter of the Bible, which Ham's group has interpreted to claim that the universe was created in six 24-hour days a mere 6,000 years ago, serves as the blueprint for the museum. Astronomy, geology and evolution, as they are commonly understood in mainstream science, have no place here. As Ham later tells me, the conclusions of modern science are not to be trusted, as they are biased by the fickle reasoning of man and a modern antagonism toward faith. On the other hand, he says, the Book of Genesis is true "from the first word to the last."
With a staff of nearly 300 employees, Answers in Genesis, devoted to "Biblical apologetics," produces a daily radio program fed to 860 stations, operates a Web site instructing visitors how to out-argue Darwinists, and organizes about 300 traveling lectures each year. It's also a well-oiled money-raising machine and opened the $27 million museum without a penny of debt to banks or lenders.
The museum is situated in Petersburg, Ky., just 20 miles southwest of Cincinnati, an area chosen in large part because it's within a one-day drive for two-thirds of the country or 200 million Americans. Recent polls show that 40 percent of all Americans would feel at home with the views put forth in the Creation Museum. Only about an equal percentage accept the underlying message of the country's mainstream science museums. Only 39 percent answer yes to the question, "Do you believe that human beings as we know them developed from earlier species of animals?"
The museum's 49 acres of carefully landscaped grounds are encircled by a tall metal fence. Visitors tempted to enter without paying will be discouraged by armed guards in black state-trooper-like uniforms and attack dogs. On Monday, just outside the fence, a group of 50 die-hard atheists and skeptics are gathered in the light rain under a "Rally for Reason" banner. Overhead, a small airplane pulls a sign that says, "Thou Shalt Not Lie." Edwin Kagin, national legal director for American Atheists, explains that as far as he's concerned, AIG "can teach that things fall up if they want. But we want to make it clear that this nonsense is not accepted by those who do not share its fundamentalist religious views. They are trying to drag us back to the Dark Ages."
Among the damp roadside protesters is Lawrence Krauss, author and physics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and a member of the advisory board of Defcon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution, the group that paid for the airplane tugging around the Seventh Commandment. Krauss calls the museum "anti-science" and says it reflects an erosion of American science education, posing "a threat to American kids already struggling just to get the basic concept of what science is and how it works."
Inside, the museum is organized according to the "Six C's of History": creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, and the final C, consummation, which isn't given much time or space in the exhibits because there still isn't consensus on just how the apocalypse will come down or who goes to heaven and when. At the Creation exhibit, two young T. rexes peacefully watch fish swim in a placid pond. Two curly-haired robotic kids play nearby. In any other place, this would be the setup for a massacre. But this pre-Noah's-flood Jurassic Park is benign. The animals are vegetarians and plants don't have thorns. The fossil record, says the museum, confirms all of this.
Mark Looy, co-founder of Answers in Genesis, is walking me through the museum. He explains that the great flood is responsible for the fossil record. Plants and animals are distributed in different strata based not on the time of their formation, but on where the flood waters moved them before receding. Those areas where no thorns or other defensive or hostile plants are found, he explains, are pre-flood forms.
Later Ham tells me that his skeptics, who cling to the "millions of years" theory, are wrong about when dinosaurs stalked the Earth. He cites a recent discovery of intact blood vessels in some T. rex tissue, suggesting that the finds are only thousands of years old, not 65 million, as paleontologists say. "They will try to come up with an explanation to keep the fossils old," says Ham, "but we don't need to. The explanation of their age is already right there in the Bible."
For generations, paleontologists have shown that dinosaurs and humans never trod the Earth at the same time, that in fact with the exception of birds (modern-day dinosaurs), they never got within 60 million years of each other on the timeline of natural history. Not so, says Looy. "They all had to exist at the same time because they were all made on the same day. There may not be any fossil evidence showing dinosaurs and people in the same place at the same time. But it is clearly written that they were alive at the same time."
In the Garden of Eden in Genesis, says Ham, when everything was still perfect, animals weren't predators or prey, so the museum's designer, Patrick Marsh, is able to crowd grizzly bears, wildcats, zebras, kangaroos, an iguanodon and several other dinosaurs into the same little chunk of primeval Eden. After the fall, such a scene would result in a bloody mess.
Buddy Davis, a technician and artist who has also made dinosaurs for use in secular exhibits, tells me he's much happier seeing his dinosaurs at the Creation Museum, promoting faith in the Bible. "I want to see God get credit for his creation," he says. "I look around and see so much beauty -- even if it is marred by sin -- and to think that it all just came from an explosion billions of years ago is just wrong. To me it's obvious the hand of God is behind it. As scripture says, 'They are without excuse' who do not believe."
The Garden of Eden presents a series of scenes down a "trail of life." In the first, a bearded, dark-haired Adam beckons to a mountain lion with one outstretched arm, while the other is wrapped around a little lamb. Smaller animals appear drawn to Adam, who is perhaps naming them, God's first assignment for him. A bit farther along we're introduced to Eve, looking like a great big brown Barbie and staring intently into Adam's eyes. Adam and Eve are naked, and Maggie and Tom Thorne, a pair of Christians visiting from Michigan, are smiling at the scene. They agree it seems a little unfair for God to expect two such well-designed specimens not to get around to sinning pretty quickly. A few yards further we see Adam and Eve again, this time standing in a pool of water, their genitals coyly obscured by lily pads. Now they definitely appear to be grappling with the chemistry that will get them in big trouble.
An oversize cobra-like snake makes an appearance, and before you know it, Eve is holding grape-size, blood-colored fruits in her outstretched hand, offering knowledge of good and evil to a flummoxed-looking Adam. "We're not sure what kind of fruit it was, but we do know it wasn't an apple," says Looy, perhaps to demonstrate the kind of questions the several Ph.D. researchers at the museum are now toiling over in the labs behind the walls of the exhibition space.
In the next scene, after the fall from grace, Adam and Eve, looking far less happy than before, are standing next to two lambs they have slaughtered on a sacrificial stone table. The sacrifice has a practical value -- the original couple are now wearing lambskin suits and the lambs are skinless -- and a spiritual one; the lambs are sacrificed, a visitor explains to me, in partial payment for the debt incurred by Adam and Eve for eating the fruit of knowledge. I tell the visitor it seems unfair for the lamb to pay for their mistake. "Well, it wasn't enough," he says. "God had to send his only Son to pay the ultimate price for their sin." When I tell him that sounds kind of extreme, he looks at me and shakes his head slowly a couple of times before moving on.
Inside the Garden of Eden, Nancy Senai, who is visiting from Lansing, Mich., tells me, "It feels pretty nice to have something that is for God and about God, instead of all the evolution in other places." I ask her if she thinks the history presented here is true. "God said it clearly, and I believe it the way he said it," she says. "Everything else is uncertain."
The great flood, which washed away all life on earth, is the key to understand the Catastrophe exhibit and the museum's version of natural history. After Adam and Eve's original sin, God told Noah to build an ark. He sent him two of every kind of land animal to repopulate the earth. Visitors to the museum walk among robotic representations of Noah and his building crew as they construct a supposedly full-scale section of the boat. After Noah has invited his sinning neighbors onto the ark and warned them of the coming flood, they mock him or are dissuaded from heeding his advice by the small pressures of daily life. The door slides shut and they are left behind to drown in the 40-day deluge that formed everything we see on Earth today, from Mt. Everest to Death Valley.
In Ham's view, the great flood explains not only where scientists find fossils today but also the topography of the modern world. The Grand Canyon, he informs me, was made in a matter of days or weeks as the waters of the flood rushed away and the land was reclaimed. In the exhibit, you walk through a winding canyonlike corridor with spinning, dizzying lights into a wide-open room with videos, exhibits and diagrams explaining the hydrology of instant canyon-making. Ham says that instant canyon-making is based on the fact that volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens, created reservoirs of water for a time in their altered topography. When those reservoirs breached, deep grooves were cut by the flowing water, leading to the fast formation of canyons.
After the flood, Noah's descendants multiply again on Earth, but not quickly or broadly enough to satisfy God, who then introduces a slew of new languages to drive people apart, resulting in their dispersal around the globe. The ensuing C-for-Confusion theme is represented through a gritty and menacing back alley postered with newspaper headlines about the rise in abortion, drug use, homosexuality and teen suicide.
The entire exhibit, in fact, is awfully grim. A montage slide show of fetuses, starving kids, swastikas, tourniquet-bound arms ready for the needle bombard the wall in a room with a soundtrack of blaring sirens, boots marching in unison, and crying kids. In the middle of this urban mess is a big wrecking ball with the words "Millions of Years" carved into it. Ham blames the notion that the Earth is quite a bit older than the Bible suggests for just about all the world's problems. Evolution, which requires large amounts of time for small changes to accumulate into larger ones, makes it far too easy for people not to believe the Bible, he says. And that loss of belief "is at the root of modern evil."
Inside the Confusion exhibit, I strike up a conversation with Tim Shaw, a high school student visiting from Florida. "I don't care how long it took to make the Grand Canyon," he tells me. "It's not how old it is that matters to me. What matters is being right with God. Darwin's theory has no God. It can't be right. I don't know if this story is truer than Darwin's theory, but I do know it's better."