PETERSBURG, Ky. (BP)–Ten-year-old Rachael Mosley smiled as she walked out of the newly opened Creation Museum, equipped with the answers about the Bible, evolution and science she had been seeking.
Her parents had brought her and her two siblings to the museum located just outside of Cincinnati on opening week. On this particular day, the Mosleys, from Bloomington, Ind., were part of the 1,000-plus people who passed through the gates of the museum that sets forth a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account.
It opened Memorial Day with more than 4,000 visitors and cars from more than 30 states in the parking lot and is the largest museum of its kind in the world.
“We thought it was fantastic,” her mother, Chere, said. “[Rachael’s] going into the sixth grade and there’s a lot of talk about evolution. … She gets mad when she watches the videos and they say ‘millions of years ago.’ She wanted to have more facts.”
It’s that type of reaction museum officials are wanting. The $27 million, 60,000-square-foot museum — located in Petersburg, Ky., just a few miles south of the Ohio border and a quick drive from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport — is a high tech answer to other natural history museums, where evolution is viewed as, well, gospel. A product of the apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis, the museum doesn’t ridicule evolutionary theory, although it does punch enough holes in it that visitors, it is hoped, are left at least scratching their heads. A few exhibits even explain evolution, comparing it side by side with creationism.
Museum officials have made every effort to achieve a world-class museum, and it shows. There are roaring animatronic dinosaurs, more than 50 educational videos, a planetarium and what likely is the highlight for many visitors: a special effects theater that boasts three screens, vibrating seats, simulated wind and mist. Along the way, visitors hear a few things they won’t learn at other museums:
— The earth is thousands, and not millions, of years old.
— Dinosaurs once walked the earth alongside humans, were on Noah’s Ark and are found in the Bible (“behemoth” in Job 40 and “leviathan” in Job 41).
— A flood once covered the entire planet, resulting in dramatic changes to the landscape — including the carving of the Grand Canyon.
— The teaching of Darwinian evolution in schools, and in particular the idea that man evolved from primates, has had a devastating negative impact on society’s morality.
Science, the museum asserts, affirms a literal reading of Genesis. Although many secular scientists scoff at such a notion, the museum’s beliefs are more mainstream than evolutionists probably wish was the case. A March Newsweek poll found that 48 percent of American adults believe God made humans “pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
The museum is the culmination of a lifelong dream of Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham, who was born in Australia and taught in its public schools before moving to the United States in 1987. In 1993 he and two men, Mark Looy and Mike Zovath, launched the ministry, which now has approximately 300 employees.
“[The idea for a museum] really started when I was a high school teacher in Australia, and kids would say, ‘How can you believe the Bible, when it says God made Adam and Eve? We know that’s not true in light of what we’re taught in textbooks regarding evolution,'” Ham said. “So, I saw evolution as being a stumbling block to these kids even thinking they could trust the Bible. And as I took them to museums I saw evolution presented as fact and millions of years presented as fact. I thought, why can’t somebody present a biblical view to them and show them that you can use mainstream science to confirm that view?”
Ham and other creationists view all science through a biblical lens — a point that is made throughout the museum. One exhibit focuses solely on the history and authority of the Bible. Another exhibit shows two paleontologists, side by side, digging for dinosaur bones. They look at the same evidence, visitors are told, but interpret their findings differently. The creationist views his findings through the Genesis account; the other paleontologist does not.
The argument by Ham and other creationists is fairly simple: Genesis is to be trusted because it was written by God, an eyewitness and the sole participant in creation. A man in one of the museum’s videos makes that point: “This [Bible] was written by someone who was actually there.” Several museum displays assert that the debate over the origins of man comes down to a choice between human reason and God’s Word. Some museum exhibits make mostly scientific arguments (for instance, visitors are told that most dinosaur fossils today are a result of a sudden burial, explained by the worldwide flood). Other exhibits, though, make purely theological ones (for example, one exhibit asserts that since Scripture teaches death entered the world through Adam, dinosaurs could not have died out before Adam existed).
“What I say to evolutionists is, ‘Come on, be honest,’” Ham said. “Their starting point is that there is no God. They’ve redesigned science. … Everybody has a starting point, and everyone needs to admit their starting point, and their starting points determine how they interpret the evidence.”
The museum doesn’t ignore tough questions that critics of creationism have long been asking: Where did Cain get his wife? How did dinosaurs fit on the ark? If dinosaurs did survive the flood, then why aren’t they still around today?
Although the museum cost approximately $27 million, the price tag would have been much higher if not for the assistance of hundreds of volunteers and the aid of likeminded companies who either donated items or sold them at a reduced rate. The project also was blessed with the services of Patrick Marsh, who was the scenic designer for the Jaws and King Kong rides at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. A creationist himself, Marsh joined Answers in Genesis in 2001 and designed the museum, which features recreations of the Garden of Eden and a section of Noah’s Ark. Ham calls it a “walk through” biblical history.
“If you were to build it just by contracting everything out, it probably would have cost you around $100 million,” he said. “But this is unique. It’s the first of its kind in the world. People wanted to be a part of this. Someone would sell us equipment that would have cost us $2 million for $1.5 million. It was that sort of thing.”
Frank Monroe, who traveled from West Chester, Ohio, to visit the museum, was impressed.
“It’s very well done. It’s very high caliber,” he said. “The quality is as you would find at any major amusement park or museum — the artwork, the signage, the displays, the sculptures are all top-notch. I’m a graphic artist, so I really appreciate the quality of the artwork.”
It takes a full day to visit the museum at a leisurely pace, and museum officials apparently had that in mind. The premises include a cafeteria (dubbed “Noah’s Café”) as well as two miles of nature trails — with a few life-size dinosaur figures along the way — surrounding a three-acre lake. In the coming months officials hope to open an indoor children’s play area.
Critics already are calling the museum anti-science — an objection Ham dismisses. He is quick to note that five Ph.D. scientists are on staff.
“The point we make to people is [that] the origins issue is different from empirical science that built Space Shuttles or put man on the moon,” he said. “The origins issue is an issue regarding history — and you don’t have the history; you only have the present. We want people to distinguish those two things. If I wanted to illustrate gravity, I stand here, I hold a pen, and you watch it drop. You can’t deny that that happens. But if said to you, ‘Show me that hundreds of millions of years ago life arose from non-life,’ you can’t show me that. All you can do is look at the evidence in the present and try to interpret it in relation to the past.”
Contrary to what some have assumed, Ham believes an evolutionist can be a Christian and vice versa. But he also asserts that evolution “absolutely” can hinder a person’s faith. One of the museum’s highlights — a film in the special effects theater called “Men in White” — follows the story of a teenage girl who is struggling with her belief in God in view of what she is taught about evolution at school. The museum also recounts the story of Charles Templeton, a former evangelist and friend of Billy Graham who rejected Christianity and became a self-described agnostic in part because he believed science had disproved Genesis. Ham says the Answers in Genesis ministry has “files full” of similar stories.
“I remember one time I was in the second floor of the London Natural History Museum and saw a man with his son looking at the ape ancestor display of man,” Ham said. “He was saying to his son, ‘That was your ancestor. You were just an animal.’ When kids are taught they are just an animal, who determines right and wrong? Who determines good and bad?”
Ham hopes the museum serves to equip Christians and to evangelize unbelievers. The “Dragon Hall Bookstore” has dozens of creationism DVDs and books — as well as a number of dinosaur toys. But creationism — which is different from Intelligent Design, which leaves the designer unnamed — isn’t the sole focus of the museum. A film at the end of the museum tour focuses less on creationism than on Christ, and ends with a Gospel invitation.
“What we’ve lost from this culture is biblical authority,” Ham said. “We want to engage the culture and engage the church to make a statement. We can do it in a way in which we use the latest technology, professional exhibits and good scientists. We see [the museum] as a place to equip the church with answers and to challenge the non-Christians concerning the Gospel message and the authority of God’s Word.”
For more information, visit www.creationmuseum.org or www.answersingenesis.org. Admission is $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for seniors, $9.95 for children 5-12 and free for children under 5. Adults can receive $5 off an adult ticket by filling out a coupon on the museum’s website. Planetarium admission is $5 additional. Group rates, annual passes and lifetime memberships are available.