What the Hell: Visiting The Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY
Enroute to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, I stopped at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and learned that the world came into existence some 13.7 billion years ago, that life evolved on the planet through a process known as natural selection, and that climate change is a matter of grave concern. Then I went to The Creation Museum and learned that all of that is a lie.
The Creation Museum, just outside of Cincinnati, is a fundamentalist Christian museum, devoted to a literal reading of the Bible. Put another way, they believe that every word in the Bible is literally true, no poetry, no allegory, no nuance. What the Bible says happened, actually happened – without question.
Even when the Bible traffics in obvious contradictions, as it often does, they have their own interpretation of what was meant, which is the only possible interpretation, according to them, which makes it “the truth”, and beyond contradiction. Pretty neat trick, wouldn’t you say?
Disneyland of the Apocalypse
Now you may think that an institution put together to promote such a shaky version of reality would be a ramshackle affair thrown together by hucksters and hillbillies, but the Creation Museum is a state-of-the-art facility with sleek architecture, interactive exhibits, 3-D movies, surround-sound, animatronics and live presentations. This is Disneyland for the apocalyptic crowd. And woe unto you should you disagree.
There’s a sign on the door of The Creation Museum warning any smart-alecks showing disrespect that they can be ejected at the discretion of the management. This has clearly been a problem, warranting such a sign. I saw no such sign outside the Planetarium in Chicago. Apparently science is not so thin-skinned. And that’s precisely the problem The Creation Museum is seeking to rectify. Science, they will have you know, is no more legitimate than fundamentalist Christianity. Both are equally valid, so you must start from a place where you are open-minded to that proposition, and then you can come in. From there, they have some persuasive arguments for you, not to mention some ridiculing of their own to do.
A Matter of Opinion
The main hall of The Creation Museum (once you get past the gift shop and the food court, which, judging by the crowds, are the most popular attractions) features giant animatronic dinosaurs, calculated to enthrall eight-year-olds and idiots. If you are not impressed by them, you may be startled to discover that the animatronic cavemen interacting with the dinos are meant to convey the idea that human beings and dinosaurs occupied the planet at the same time, an obvious necessity if the earth is only 6,000 years old, which a literal reading of the Bible would support.
But if you’ve ever read a science textbook, or seen a documentary, or taken a class, you might wonder about radioisotope dating? Doesn’t it tell a different story? Not so much.
In the next exhibit hall you are presented with a life-sized diorama depicting paleontologists on a dig. The video monitors above the display show an earnest looking scientist explaining that when paleontologists date the age of dinosaur bones, it is strictly a matter of opinion. While “some” scientists insist they are millions of years old, others, like him, are sure they are only about 4,300 years old and date back to Noah’s flood.
Yep, that’s how dinosaurs became extinct; they didn’t make it onto the ark and perished in the flood.
“Hold on there”, you might say. Even if we accept that rather stunning assertion, don’t we know that geological evidence shows the earth is about 4 billion years old? Heck, what about the Grand Canyon. It’s millions of years old all by itself.
Uh, not really, say the folks at The Creation Museum.
Soft Rock of Ages
Think you know something about geology? Think again. The Creation Museum points out that canyons were formed in the soft mud flows of Mount St. Helen in a mere four hours when it erupted in 1980. Since canyons were formed quickly at Mount St. Helens, the Grand Canyon probably formed more quickly than geologists would have us believe.
Anyone who cares to think about it can see that this is a faulty comparison, since the so-called “soft rock” of Mount St. Helens is an obvious reference to lava and the Grand Canyon is not made of lava. As you stand there, shaking your head at the audacity of all this, it occurs that you are engaged in an intellectual battle with the people who designed this place. They are using their museum, with all of its state-of-the-art technology, to try to convince you of their worldview.
After awhile, I started to feel a little depressed, walking through The Creation Museum. There’s an underlying current of defensiveness throughout. It’s as if, in designing the museum, they carefully considered the intellectual objections and decided to confront them head on. At every turn propagandist techniques are deployed to trick, provoke and confuse the visitor.
Take that reference to the “soft rock” of Mount St. Helens as evidence that the Grand Canyon is younger than it is. You can call that faulty logic, or you can recognize it for what it is: a False Analogy, a well-known propaganda technique where two things that may or may not be similar are portrayed as being similar.
In any case, I thought it was sloppy of them to omit reference to radioisotope dating. Lying by Omission is another well-worn propaganda technique. But then they surprised me.
From Millionths of Seconds to Billions of Years
In the film called “Men in White”, a slick presentation in a 3-D interactive theater where two wise-cracking angels come to the earth to convince a college-educated skeptic of the error of her ways, one of the angels tells us that radioisotope dating is “not the truth” and is “based on flawed assumptions”.
Huh? That was news to me, and in my research afterwards I saw no controversy surrounding the method. But then telling the “Big Lie” is another effective propaganda technique made all the more effective when the person telling it appears to be above reproach, like an angel.
But lest you think The Creation Museum is all about Biblical flights of fancy like cavemen frolicking with dinosaurs and angels dancing around your head, they do have a Planetarium, in which they present their take on cosmology.
In an I-Max-like theatre you are dazzled by a flight through the stars as you learn that the planets are not billions of years old, light years are measures of distance, not time, and that the time it takes for light to travel to us from deep in space can be explained by other factors like gravitational time dilation.
I was stumped by this. Gravitational time dilation? It certainly sounded impressive. So I looked it up. Gravitational time dilation is part of Einstein’s theory of relativity and refers to minute differentials in time (millionths of seconds) as recorded by extremely precise atomic clocks and cannot be extrapolated to discrepancies of billions of years as a way to explain a universe that appears to be billions of years old but is actually only 6,000 years old and was created in one day.
Deception by mislabeling or misnaming things is another common propaganda technique.
Science vs Faith
However, by far the most effective (and maddening) propaganda technique used by The Creation Museum is Projection. Projection is a psychological technique where the user accuses his opponent of the very same flaws and shortcomings of which he himself is guilty. The beauty of this technique is that it puts the opponent on the defensive and swipes from him the one weapon he can use most effectively in refutation. For if the opponent uses that weapon, since he has already been accused of the same flaws and shortcomings, it appears that he is being petty and unimaginative.
As I made my way through The Creation Museum, growing increasingly dismayed by what I was seeing, I attempted to comfort myself, as I often do, by remembering that religion is all about faith, and that faith, by its nature, begins with a conclusion, an assumption of truth, and then cherry picks the facts to support it.
Science, on the other hand, operates in precisely the opposite manner. It starts with the facts and then examines them carefully to arrive at the truth, or more precisely what appears to be the truth, until other facts can be introduced to modify the conclusion.
The palpable frustration that fundamentalists have with science is that, by this method, science blithely arrives at a rock solid truth that flies directly in the face of a literal reading of the Bible.
Only two ways exist to confront this outrage. Either the fundamentalist must embrace the infallibility of faith, accepting that genuine faith withstands all challenges regardless of their apparent legitimacy, or he seeks to delegitimize science by whatever means at his disposal.
After seeing paleontology, geology and cosmology shredded by The Creation Museum, I was treated to their take on the biggest outrage of all, the goad that is to a creationist what a chew toy is to a Rottweiler puppy, namely evolution.
Hell in a Hand Basket
When it comes to evolution, The Creation Museum shows it hand and reveals the bitterness behind its cheerful façade. In a theater presentation called “The Lie” they demonstrate the proper use of the Projection technique by asserting that people who believe in evolution start with a belief and then bend the facts to support it. They assert that evolutionary scientists reject anything that doesn’t fit their conclusion. What they do here is as impressive as it is unsettling; they transform the science of evolution into a faith and then accuse it of the very same flaws and shortcomings of which they are guilty.
I found this irksome, and where, up until now, I had been willing to accept their ethically questionable and mean spirited agenda in defense of that good, old time religion, now they were beginning to get under my skin.
My annoyance deepened as I proceeded through a section of the museum devoted to promoting the idea that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that the cause of all of this is a lack of faith, brought on by too much science. As a student of history, I reject the notion that the world is more violent and depraved today than it’s ever been before. As a matter of statistics, that’s simply wrong. But to the fearful and the ignorant it sounds about right.
And then I got really angry as I sat watching their global warming film, prefaced with this apparently benign invitation: “Got Questions? Get Answers.”
Killing the Messenger
This earnest film features “experts” from Christian universities who want you to believe that all environmentalists are dangerous anti-Christians because they seek to reduce carbon dioxide by limiting the burning of coal and oil, which, they point out, will hurt the economies of developing countries and thrust them back into poverty. In other words, environmentalists want to hurt poor people.
What’s more, since environmentalists question mankind’s stewardship of the planet, they implicitly reject God’s command to develop the natural world. In other words environmentalists are godless heathens.
I knew I was in deep when this film about global warming started out with what amounted to an ad hominem attack against environmentalists. But then it got worse.
The film went on to assert that good Christians should only care about the environment because they care about the creator, and since the creator clearly favors capitalism as an economic system, Christians should not associate themselves with environmentalists because environmentalists are anti-capitalist.
The upshot of all this? Regardless of whether global warming is real or not, Christians should be careful of the unintended consequences of legitimizing godless environmentalists. And as for the planet being slowly destroyed by human activity, we need not be overly concerned because the earth is “self-maintaining” and God has given us dominion over it.
What the hell!
The Road to Perdition
As I was leaving The Creation Museum I saw a young family coming in, a mother, father, two eight-year-old boys and a baby in a stroller. It occurred to me that these youngsters were going to be brought up with this biased worldview, that for them, the strength of their faith was not going to be enough, that they were going to be schooled to be anti-science, to disdain paleontology, cosmology, and geology, to reject with rancor evolution, to hate and fear environmentalists, and to equate economics with the unquestioning endorsement of capitalism.
I’m not the sort of person who begrudges anyone their faith, but this is not, strictly speaking, a faith. This is an anti-science political agenda designed to tear down 400 years of human progress and thrust us back into a condition of weakness and fear for which the only solution is a clergyman at a pulpit with a Bible. A great arrangement if you happen to be a clergyman. But for the rest of us just a return to a more primitive state.
Without meaning to overstate the threat, I would suggest that we all have something to fear from creationists, whose deft use of propaganda and technology is being deployed to sow ignorance and hatred. If these people succeed in getting Creationism taught in public schools, we will all be in trouble.
And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a person of another faith. Even other Christians come in for a good scolding at The Creation Museum, where anything other than a literal reading of the Bible is viewed as part of the problem – a problem that desperately needs solving by whatever means possible. In a world designed and administered by Creationists, you would be silenced—all of you.
But if you happen to be traveling in the vicinity of Cincinnati, I highly recommend a visit to The Creation Museum. Most museums are designed to open your eyes to the world. The Creation Museum is designed to close them. As a template for how to do that under the guise of being an educational institution, The Creation Museum is fascinating.
Check it out…
2800 Bullittsburg Church Road
Petersburg, KY 41080