The Garden of Eden will soon bloom in Northern Kentucky, in a hangar-like building seven miles west of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, on the south side of I-275. It will be just as God created it: the “very good” world of Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, and Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Tyrannosaurus Rex. Most famous and fearsome of the dinosaurs. Alive and well in Eden. After all, according to the Bible, land animals were created on Day Six.
“Dinosaurs were peaceful creatures—we were all vegetarians initially—and humans and dinosaurs lived together,” says Mark Looy. “That’s what we believe. It goes against what most scientists believe.”
Looy is vice president of outreach for Answers in Genesis (AiG), the ministry behind the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Scheduled to open in 2007 or 2008 at a projected cost of $25 million, this biblically inspired history and science experience purports to lay bare the “bankruptcy of evolution” while telling the true story of the universe—all 6,000 years of it, most of which is right there in the first book of the Old Testament. To wit: After Eden, some 1,600 years did pass, Noah built his ark, and waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth. Thus, the world has fossils, continents, and the Grand Canyon.
As a matter of fact, the Grand Canyon is the first thing a visitor to the Creation Museum will see. Answers in Genesis plans to cast a mold of a portion of the canyon wall and recreate it at the entrance of the building, complete with dinosaur skeletons displayed amongst the faux-rock layers. From there, you’ll walk into a large, high-ceilinged lobby and get a glimpse of the real things, such as they are—two animatronic baby dinos cavorting with two children around a three-tiered waterfall. Off the lobby there will be a café (which is already up and running), a bookstore, a theater, and a planetarium, followed by several introductory exhibits. But the heart of the museum will be “Creation Walk,” which unfolds in a gigantic room alongside a descending ramp.
The walk first takes you through the Six Days of Creation, an interactive presentation. Then, Eden: lush and green and verdant, with waterfalls and fruit trees all around. Here you’ll see sculptures of Adam and Eve and an exhibit showing how they were created: Adam, from the dust; Eve, from Adam’s rib. You’ll also see Adam naming all the animals, and, looming just below this idyll, a 40-foot long, 14-foot high model of our friend Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as a Stegosaurus. While dinosaurs are not the Creation Museum’s raison d’être, AiG knows that kids who go to the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History remember little except for the giant skeletons. Here they’ll get a similar, albeit de-secularized, thrill.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil will feature an animated serpent; enter the “Cave of Sorrows” and you’ll see Adam and Eve biting the fruit, and the Fall will flash before your eyes. And finally: “Corruption Valley,” a place of pain and drought and hardship and above all,death. Answers in Genesis does not dismiss evolution simply because it questions the Biblical account of God’s creation of the earth; they dismiss evolution because it questions the Biblical account of God’s creation of a sinless world. Since there was literally no death before Original Sin, they argue, how could there be fossils, or animals who fed on other animals?
After Adam and Eve’s transgression, both are in the mix. “Dinosaurs are no longer vegetarian,” says Looy. “They are no longer peaceful. They’re killing each other. Men are killing dinosaurs for food. We have the first murder—Cain killing his brother Abel. It’s a very different world.”
A very different world indeed.
Ned Flanders: “Now boys, we’re gonna film the world’s first, and some would say, best, murder mystery: the story of Cain and Abel!”
Rod: “Daddy, if Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s only children, how did they make more babies?”
Todd: “Did they make babies with their mother, or with each other?”
Ned: “Your mouth is hopin’ for a soapin’, boy. Now stop asking silly questions and go kill your brother!” —The Simpsons
As Homer might say, “Stupid Flanders!”
But it’s not really his fault. Like so many well-intentioned true believers, Ned’s not properly equipped to defend his Christian faith. Clearly, the First Church of Springfield needs a visit from Ken Ham.
A former high school science teacher raised in a religious home, Ham, who is 53, cofounded Answers in Genesis in 1979 in his native Australia. (Acknowledging he “looks like Abraham Lincoln and sounds like Crocodile Dundee” is his public speaking laugh line.) AiG is an “Apologetics” ministry—in this case meaning logic and explanation, rather than penitence—dedicated to “upholding the authority of the Bible from the very first verse.” As Ham sees it, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is the chief threat to that authority. Because if Genesis is not the Word of God, then what of John 3:16?
Realizing America was where this message needed to be heard loudest, Ham spent seven years working at San Diego’s Institute for Creation Research before he and two ICR colleagues, Looy and Mike Zovath, started the American branch of AiG in 1994. So what brought them to Northern Kentucky?
“Outside of, ‘When’s the museum gonna open?’ and ‘Where did Cain get his wife?’ that’s the third most common question we get asked,” says Looy. One major reason was the airport—Ham and other speakers are off spreading the Gospel almost every weekend. Then there was the fact that two-thirds of the country’s population lives within a day’s drive of the region.
The Creation Museum aspires to be more like the Cincinnati Museum Center than a bunch of dioramas on the first floor of your pastor’s house. Its design director, Patrick Marsh, has a background that includes the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, as well as the Jaws and King Kong attractions at Universal Studios Florida. Lead sculptor Brad Toschlog came to AiG from Chase Studios, Inc., which has done work for countless museums and national parks, while sculptor Carolyn Manto studied in Florence (Italy, that is). The planetarium will offer programs designed by Jason Lisle, AiG’s resident Ph.D. in astrophysics. (It’s safe to say there will never be a Black Sabbath laser show.) And the 170-seat “Special FX Theater” will feature rumbling, quaking seats, and smoke, light, and water effects.
“I think it’s going to blow Boone County out of the water,” says Ham. “In the secular world, there are all these museums that just present ‘millions of years’ as fact. Why can’t Christians do something of the same quality? We believe that God called us to do that.” AiG initially projected the museum would draw 300,000 visitors a year, but Ham says they’ve already upgraded the figure to 600,000, at least for the first year. He also says someone from ABC’s Nightline predicted they would hit the million mark.
What a difference seven years makes. When this magazine wrote about Ham’s still-embryonic plan in 1998, the museum had not yet received zoning permits, and there was
a definite undercurrent of, Is this guy nuts? Are these Boone County’s Branch Davidians? These days, Answers in Genesis employs more than 100 people, maintains a voluminous and regularly updated web site, syndicates Ham’s daily radio show to some 730 stations around the world and has a warehouse full of mail-order books and DVDs. One can still hold the opinion that the AiG folks are cuckoo-for-Christ extremists, but only if you think the same of President George W. Bush (“The verdict is still out on how God created the Earth…”), Tom DeLay (“Our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes…”), and many of your friends and neighbors.
In a recent Gallup Poll regarding evolution, 45 percent of adult Americans surveyed agreed with the statement, “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” That percentage has been pretty much the same in each of six polls Gallup has conducted since 1982. But in an increasingly conservative America, the issue has become more visible, from the school boards to the courts to certain IMAX theaters, where, according to a recent New York Times report, there’s been public pressure to reject films like Galapagos and Volcanoes of the Deep Sea because of evolutionary content. In Ohio, the State Department of Education science curriculum includes an optional 10th grade lesson plan that calls for students to “critically analyze five different aspects of evolutionary theory,” while the teaching of Creationism has long been legal in Kentucky; you can even use the Bible, so long as you remain on topic.
“It’s very interesting to me to see what’s happening across this nation,” says Ham. “Young people from church homes are going to public schools and challenging their professors, people are putting pressure on school boards, you’ve even got things like the IMAX theaters. I know that a number of those parents have AiG materials.”
Much of the current creation/evolution discourse centers on Intelligent Design, which suggests life came from some kind of unknowable omnipotent, but leaves room for the Big Bang, -zoic eras, and a fair amount of Darwin. Critics see Intelligent Design as a Trojan Horse to put religion in the classroom, but Answers in Genesis rides a completely
different kind of horse—tall in the saddle, crosses, Bibles, and morality on full display. Their science may be dubious, but they do not offer it in an attempt to put religion over on an unsuspecting public. Religion is, in fact, the bedrock of their argument.
“We’re not out to convert people to believing in Intelligent Design,” says Ham. “We’re not out to convert people to not believe in evolution. And we’re not out to just convert people to being Creationists. We’re Christians.”
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered. —Stephen Jay Gould
Answers in Genesis says its publication TJ (“the in-depth journal of Creation”) is “the world’s leading peer-reviewed Creation science journal.” Which is another way of saying that it’s full of scholarship established journals wouldn’t touch.
In TJ, you can pore over an article regarding string theory that ends with the insight, “There is no scientifically valid way to avoid the conclusion that ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’”; or a biological analysis of whether frogs evolved from fish (short answer: no) that ultimately argues, “It was not the evidence provided by microscopes that convinced Darwin of ‘his’ theory. Rather, it was the darkness of distrust and doubt of the account of creation within God’s Word that made Darwin what he was.” On the same page as the masthead, you’ll find a mission statement that concludes, “The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.”
“We make no apology about the fact that we start from the Bible,” says Ham. “It claims to be The Word of God. It claims to be a revelation from one who was there. It says, ‘Here are the events of history that explain the world, that explain the universe.’ We’re saying, OK, let’s accept that that claim is true. Because no other book in the world does what the Bible does. No other book gives an account of the origin of all the basic energies of life and the universe. And so we’re saying, OK, if that claim is true, let’s accept that as our axiom. Let’s build our thinking and go out and interpret the evidence.”
Ham concedes he can’t prove God exists. But the way he sees it, all of science has bought in to an equally limiting, prejudicial, and no less proven point of view: that God doesn’t exist. In an aside on one of Ham’s DVDs, Genesis: The Key to Reclaiming the Culture, he calls the United Kingdom’s Natural History Museum “a church—a church of atheism.” To him the scientific establishment is not about empiricism or the search for truth, but rather part of a secular conspiracy to do away with God.
Such theoretical dueling quickly devolves to the rhetorical equivalent of “IS SO!” “IS NOT!” The scientific establishment says things like “science is not a democracy,” and “there are no scientists who dispute the fact of evolution,” while Creationists say otherwise—and that they’d love to argue the point and see their ideas subjected to rigorous examination, if only the courts and humanists and science journal editors and Christian-haters would give them a fair chance. Citing Thomas Kuhn’s famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, AiG argues that evolutionists are simply blinded by their paradigm.
“[Evolutionary biologist] Richard Dawkins is an atheist,” Ham says. “How can he even allow the option of, could God create?” But there are myriad ways the paradigm could shift (and has shifted) without ending up at, The world is 6,000 years old and every word that’s in the Bible is a scientific and historic fact.
As one Creation Museum brochure says, “Stories about the past are just that—stories.” Except in this instance they’re not referring to the Bible, they’re talking about the fact that disciplines like paleontology seek to explain and recreate things that were not observed first-hand.
“Those who believe in evolution, they weren’t there to observe the Big Bang,” says Ham. “They weren’t there to observe matter forming into life. So how do they know those things happened? Well, they don’t. They have a belief about the past. It’s not based on revelation.”
No matter what the subject—flaws in radiometric dating, inconsistencies in fossil records, the recent discovery of soft tissue in a 70 million-year-old T. Rex bone—AiG’s research always ends up at “the Bible says it’s true, therefore it’s true.” It’s an either/or world: God or No God, with no mystery or paradox. What’s anomalous and not fully explained is proof that science is wrong and they are right—instead of just proof that life is anomalous and may never quite be fully explained. This seems less like flawed science than bad theology.
I’d a sight rather have some heathen a laughin’ at me than to have my sons a laughin’ at my Bible.
—Inherit the Wind
Remember the episode of Gilligan’s Island where the castaways were cavemen? How about the Looney Tunes where Bugs meets up with an “aboriginally”? To AiG vice president of ministry relations Carl Kerby, they’re both attacks on Christianity. Casual talk of evolution and “millions of years” is an affront to AiG’s morality as sure as Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple.
The list of suspects is long and unusual. Ziggy? The schlubby comic strip character has mentioned evolution (he was probably having a bad day). The Little Golden Book series? Their Biblical retelling mentions “long, long years.” Animal Planet? “Fantastic…if you turn the audio down,” Kerby says. And don’t get him started on Fantasia, with its Big Bang and primordial ooze, or just about any contemporary cartoon. “You can’t fight evolution, I was built for speed!” the Ellen DeGeneres–voiced Dory taunts in Finding Nemo.
“Disney’s not your friend,” Kerby warns the faithful at Dayton’s Christian Life Center one Monday in late February.
A dynamic, self-deprecating, 44-year-old former air traffic controller who favors Hawaiian shirts when speaking on pop culture, Kerby is one of several AiG barnstormers who excel at spreading their message in a savvy, entertaining way. It helps that his life story’s such a doozy: Kerby grew up with a mostly absent father, the professional wrestler Luke “Big Boy” Brown (best-known as one half of the tag team “The Kentuckians”). There was a chance the teenage Kerby might have joined his father in that greedy, ugly business. Instead, his parents got divorced when Kerby was 13. Later, Grizzly Smith, the other half of The Kentuckians, brought his own son to the “sport”—none other than former World Wrestling Federation star Jake “The Snake” Roberts. At the Christian Life Center, Kerby shows clips from the documentary Beyond the Mat, which portray Jake as crack-addicted and estranged from family. The message, essentially, is There but for the grace of God go I.
Kerby notes how every Christian that he meets these days is bound to ask, “Have you seen ‘The Movie?’” Meaning, The Passion of the Christ. “That one movie has more power than 400,000 churches,” Kerby says. Which means all movies, most of which don’t spread a Godly message, have that power, too. He unspools a clip from Super Size Me to make a point about the kind of money McDonald’s spends to sell their product. In the scene, children are shown as being able to identify a picture of Ronald McDonald but not George Washington or—sharp intake of breath from scores of people in the Life Center—Jesus Christ.
Kerby often works in tandem with Buddy Davis, who is not only AiG’s resident singer-songwriter and children’s entertainer but also the guy who sculpts the museum’s dinosaurs. An amiable, bearded country boy of 55 who lives amid horse-and-buggy-crossing signs about an hour northeast of Columbus, Davis is a Navy vet and former oil field worker who once aspired to Nashville stardom. He even had an agency contract for a while in his early 20s, and was once booked for a gig in North Carolina, opening for Jerry Lee Lewis. The Killer didn’t show, but Buddy got a standing O.
The upbeat, often Appalachia-tinged songs that Davis sings today are a far cry from the generic pabulum one typically associates with Christian music, though the lyrics that he gets kids clapping and singing along to are unmistakably direct:
I don’t believe in evolution, I know creation’s true
I believe that God above created me and you
I didn’t crawl out of a pond or swing down from a tree
Adam is my ancestor, not a chimpanzee.
Davis also hosts a burgeoning video series featuring the “Creation Adventure Team.” In one episode, called A Jurassic Ark Mystery, Davis, his teenage sidekick, and a dude-like puppet dinosaur named Proto (“Awesome!”) debunk the goateed, bumbling, nerdy-glasses-wearing paleontologist Dr. Noah Tall. “Did you know that what he’s been taught is not a fact?” Davis says of Dr. Tall. “In fact, it’s just a belief.”
Elsewhere, Davis and the team pore over the “X-Tinct Files” (complete with a Fox Mulder-esque character), and look
at the world through “BR glasses”—BR stands for “Biblical Reality”—which is the only way to learn the truth about the universe. Or you can just dismiss evolution as a matter of common sense. “No one’s ever seen a scooter turn into a car, so how can a dinosaur turn into a bird?” Davis reasons on the tape.
Davis is also a taxidermist, and sculpting dinosaurs became his hobby many years ago. Time was, church groups would come out to his farm and cast a suspicious eye. “Like, ‘What is Buddy doing?’” Davis recalls. “‘Is he getting some type of evolution?’” On the contrary. But as he made his living exhibiting his dinosaurs around the country, he also had to hide his true beliefs. “I mean, in shopping malls I couldn’t be preaching Job, Chapter 40 verse 15, the Behemoth,” he says.
That’s another one of AiG’s arguments—that the word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented until 1841. So how do we know some of the creatures mentioned in the Bible weren’t T. Rexes or an Apatosaurus, rather than an elephant or hippopotamus? What about the “fiery flying serpent” in Isaiah 30:6? Or even dragon legends from the Middle Ages? “There’s a lot of good evidence that dragons were real creatures,” Davis says, unafraid to leave himself open to ridicule on such subjects. AiG is used to it.
“They always have somebody come on [TV shows about evolution] and say we’re a bunch of flat-Earthers,” Davis says. “And that really insults. I don’t know of a Creationist that ever, ever thought that the Earth was flat. The thing that I like to point out to people is, in the day, their scientists were saying the Earth was flat, and the Bible was saying the Earth was a sphere, [that] it hangs freely in space. It’s in the Book of Job. So we never thought that.”
As I listened to Davis, it seemed to me he was missing the larger metaphoric point, from both sides of the fence. Most critics say AiG adherents are the intellectual equivalent of flat-Earthers, not that they actually believe the Earth is flat. So AiG might get more mileage out of responding, Hey, we’re the scientific revolutionaries! We’re the ones being mocked and persecuted like Columbus and Magellan!
Then I remember: these people don’t do metaphors. I think of Kerby, commenting on that aforementioned Bugs Bunny cartoon, “The Pre-Hysterical Hare.”
“Is there any such thing as pre-historic according to the Word of God?,” he asked the crowd in Dayton. “No.”
You just want to say: Chill out, dude. Bugs Bunny’s a cartoon! Fiction. Art. Narrative. Allegory. Don’t take things so, errrr…literally.
Creationists don’t need to win debates with evolutionists. It is sufficient for them that the debate happens at all. —Richard Dawkins
Among the first few exhibits at the Creation Museum is one provisionally known as “Modern Mayhem.” Among other things it shows a family at home looking a lot like the family depicted at Disney World’s old “Carousel of Progress.” But instead of enjoying the promise of Tomorrowland technology, this family is adrift in the Godless, amoral universe Darwin has wrought.
“You’ve got what I call a typical Kentucky family,” says Patrick Marsh, the museum designer. “You’ve got a little boy playing a computer game, shooting down airplanes. Another little boy that’s looking at a porno website. You’ve got a girl that just received news that she’s pregnant. And a Mom and Dad that are completely oblivious to anything going on at all.”
In the center of the room is a big wrecking ball with “MILLIONS OF YEARS” stamped on it, which, when the museum is finished, will be pummeling at the foundation of a church. Then there’ll be a wheelbarrow full of bricks, signifying AiG’s rebuilding effort. As eager as the ministry may be to reach skeptics and fence-sitters, its primary target audience is fellow believers, born again or not, who think that evolution is a “side issue.” Think again, you “compromising Christians”!
“The idea of the universe being older than around 6,000 years is false teaching that challenges the very foundations of our faith,” writes David Catchpoole, an editor at AiG’s consumer magazine Creation. “The church is becoming increasingly irrelevant within, and compromising with, a culture ever more accepting of homosexual behavior, abortion, witchcraft, adultery, and seemingly every other evil under the sun. Many don’t yet see the connection between this and the age of the Earth issue.”
In reality, the only thing “the age of the Earth issue” really undermines is the narrowest possible interpretation of the Bible and the most dogmatically conservative brand of Christianity. It’s not an issue for most mainline Protestant denominations, and two popes in the modern era—Pius XII in 1950 and John Paul II in 1996—have acknowledged evolution. There are even so-called “Old Earth Creationists” who don’t believe the world was created in six 24-hour days, or that Adam’s punishment for sin was literal physical death. And what of the billions of non-Christians in the world?
But none of that matters if you live in the Land of Either/Or. “There is a culture war between what I call a Christian or Christianized world view, and a secular world view,” says Ken Ham. “One says there’s right and wrong, the other one says everything is relative.” He mentions an editorial cartoon he saw in The Cincinnati Enquirer recently: “It had people dressed as Pilgrims and a ship that landed in England, and the people coming off the ship said, ‘We’re coming from America to get away from Christian Orthodoxy.’
“I thought it was an intriguing cartoon,” he continues. “I mean, it’s having a go at Christians, and Christianity, but at the same time it’s showing where some of the culture is at. Sometimes I think the secular world understands the issues more than church leaders.”
Originally published in the June 2005 issue.
Photograph by Ryan Kurtz.