Some of my extended family came from out of town recently to visit the Creation Museum in Kentucky. You probably have heard of it. The founders of the museum believe in the history of the Earth as recorded in the book of Genesis. And not only Genesis with its story of creation, but also that of the Great Flood and everything else that is recorded in the other books of the Bible. Based on the Bible, they reject the theory that humans descended from apes, and apes from more primitive creatures, and insist that creatures today are more or less in the form in which God created them. You may have seen their television commercials showing humans and dinosaurs living together. The people behind the museum are sometimes called “young Earth creationists” as they believe Earth and life on Earth have been around for about 6 thousand years, but not hundreds of millions. This is all very different from what is taught in schools and in other museums. As someone who has subscribed to the magazine Scientific American for over 35 years and who is naturally curious, I wanted to see how the Creation Museum handled all of this and joined my family at the museum.
In brief, the museum’s presentations are very well done. The museum does a good job of explaining what they believe and why. They also offer how conventional datings may be going astray, and I’ll have more on that later. They present an unabashedly traditional Protestant Christian view of the world (I saw a phrase in one exhibit about not trusting popes and councils since they have often erred), and probably every visitor at the museum knew that beforehand. It is a museum with many re-creations of scenes and lots of signs. They do not just give a dry recitation of natural events, but also include human behavior. Although children often love dinosaur exhibits and this museum has some, young ones may get bored before the end because of all the things to read. There is a petting zoo outside which the children in my family really liked. We were there before 10:00 on a Saturday morning, and the museum was already starting to get full. There were several busses in the parking lot, and judging from the license plates people had driven from as far away as Texas, Minnesota, Georgia, and Alabama. I will make a few comments about how science is taught outside the museum at the end of this article.
I am a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World and its various movie incarnations. Could a few dinosaurs possibly have survived into relatively modern times? As one enters the lobby there are several signs talking about dragons in legends around the world, asking could these possibly be survivors of dinosaurs? The evidence is pretty thin, but I do like to speculate about this. In the center of the lobby there is a skeleton of a mastodon, actually a replica from bones found in Newark, Ohio in 1989. Also in the lobby is a diorama of a girl with a couple dinosaurs nearby, not bothered in the slightest by them.
The museum divides the history of the earth into 7 different stages – Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, and Consummation (i.e., the end of this world and a “New Heaven and a New Earth”). One of the things that struck me is that the museum was holistic in that it encompassed human behavior and how we should act towards one another. I saw a condemnation of racism as strong as any I have ever seen on one of the signs. As the museum puts it, we are all descended from Adam and Eve and are therefore of “one blood.” Biological differences between the races are only superficial. Contrast this with the conventional teaching of evolution which implies that differences in races which arose later are probably advantageous to survival, and people of those races are somehow more fit.
The museum stresses starting from the accounts given in the Bible and not from science. If one ignores what the Bible says, scientists will be led astray. The way the museum puts it, they use the same facts as conventional science does but interpret them differently because the two use different starting points. The museum claims that archaeology has repeatedly confirmed that historical details in the Bible are accurate, therefore we can use it as a basis for such things as the Creation and Great Flood. And it is true that archaeology has confirmed many of the details, mostly in the later books but also some details in the earlier ones.
The museum stresses that natural selection can cause variations, but not whole new kinds. An example is seen in Darwin’s finches which are similar but different islands have different beaks, evolved to handle the foods on each island. When it came for Noah to building an ark for the different animals, he had to have room for the different kinds of animals, not for all the different species. One kind of finch would have sufficed. As for dinosaurs – and there is a small scale diorama showing a section of the ark with dinosaurs – there needed to be room for only about 30 different kinds. As for the gigantic dinosaurs, the museum points out that Noah could have taken young dinosaurs. There is nothing in the Bible that says the animals were fully grown.
The Great Flood, which the Bible says covered the whole Earth, was responsible for many of the large scale features of the planet that conventional geologists claim took tens or hundreds of millions of years, such as the Grand Canyon. The museum points to such things as the mud flows from the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens, in which much smaller canyons were formed. The museum says that the present offers hints as to what happened in the past but is not sufficient to show exactly what did because the Great Flood was orders of magnitude greater than anything that has happened since then. (By the way, the Ark Encounter with its full-size wooden ark replica is not on the same grounds as the Creation Museum, although they are both run by the same group.)
Much conventional dating is based on radioactive decay and assessing the ratio of original radioactive elements still remaining to their decayed products. The museum claims that there is an assumption built into the radioactive dating method and they are right, and it is a big one. It is that the decay rates we measure now are assumed to be constant with time. Radioactive decay is assumed to be the same rate even in the remote past. If the radioactive decay rates happened much, much faster in the past, then all the dates would be off by tremendous amounts. Another assumption that science always makes is that logic has anything to do with the universe in the first place. The museum did not point this out; however, others such as C.S. Lewis have explored this assumption.
What else supports their case? The museum says that red blood cells were found in the femur of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1997. Because these were actual cells, and not fossilized cells, they should have decayed tens of millions of years ago according to conventional dating and theories. This is all true, and is something of a mystery. Even Scientific American reported on it. Many other examples have been found since then. For what it’s worth, the tissues show similarities with bird tissue, which accords with the theory that birds are closely related to dinosaurs. Best guess right now is that something naturally occurring in dinosaur blood preserved the dinosaur soft tissue.
What wasn’t addressed, or I didn’t get a chance to see? There are other dating methods used by conventional scientists such as ice core dating, which go back hundreds of thousands of years. I did not see this type of dating addressed in museum. Different layers of rock have very different fossils, presumably because the oldest rock shows that life had very different forms than more recent. Dinosaur bones, for instance, are found only in certain layers. (Alas, the limestone in the Cincinnati area is not one of those layers.) If the museum discussed these, I missed it. Astronomy offers a way to look back in time many millions of years due to the extreme remoteness of the farthest galaxies. There was a presentation in their planetarium which was to address this aspect, but I didn’t get a chance to see it. I also didn’t see any discussion about what is sometimes called “old Earth creationism,” which is more closely aligned with conventional dating. Old Earth creationists argue that the word translated as “day” in the opening of the book of Genesis may not have meant a 24-hour period since the sun and moon were not created until the fourth “day.”
I have long worried about the quality of science and technical education in this country. There are isolated bright spots, but in general there are not even many good job opportunities for science graduates. And there seems to be a misunderstanding about what science is and how one makes logical arguments and deductions. It is annoying that defenders of evolution always point to such examples of Darwin’s finches as some kind of proof. This is a clear example of one side of an issue talking completely past the other side, not even doing the courtesy of listening to what the other side is saying.
Another issue I have is that some proponents of science take this to mean there is no God, which is a completely different proposition. The magazine Scientific American is quite bad in this regard. Almost every month there is an editorial (one cannot call it a reasoned article) on why God does not, or probably does not, exist. In the September issue, the writer asserts that once one understands the fundamental laws of nature, one can extrapolate to the whole universe and conclude that God – or anything that is beyond the material universe — probably does not exist. And this is from a leading science magazine. By the way, for what it is worth, we do not understand the fundamental laws. There is no real understanding of gravity, or of human consciousness, and quantum mechanics seems to evade normal rules of logic. Scientists evoke “virtual particles” to explain how forces can act at a distance, much as many religious people evoke angels.
Apparently the editors are not even certain what science is, or how to make a logical argument. I still subscribe to Scientific American, but I fear this blatant propagandizing does degrade the magazine. Hopefully it does not affect the other articles.
Myself, I do not see a contradiction between science and religion. Those who believe in a creator God accept that science is a wonderful system for categorizing and finding patterns within that creation, and sometimes even using those patterns (often fancifully called “laws”) to deduce other patterns. But getting behind those laws, how they arose in the first place, is another question. A God who teaches us how to live with one another is also quite different than the lessons we take from nature, which is normally described as “survival of the fittest.” If you survive and are able to pass along your genes to the next generation, and they do the same and so on, that is its own justification. How you did it – even if it was through lies, force, and exploitation of others, does not matter. That is what everything else in nature does, and without regret, either. Sometimes people say that morality is defined by the majority, and in practice it often is, but what if the majority decides that slavery is moral? We have done that in the past, after all. Or what if a dictator decides what is moral? How can one complain that one’s rights were violated if there are no inherent rights to begin with? Our ability to reason and use logic can be applied to both religion and science, and we need to keep in mind where each should be used.