Creation Museum worries scientists

The Creation Museum that opens in northern Kentucky next weekend is built on this belief: God created heaven and Earth and all living things in six consecutive 24-hour days 6,000 years ago.

Which leads to this belief: Floodwaters carved out the Grand Canyon in a matter of days or weeks.

And then to this: Dinosaurs and humans once co-existed. Indeed, museum exhibits will show them sharing space on Noah’s Ark.

To believe anything else undermines biblical authority, say supporters of Answers in Genesis. And so the nonprofit, nondenominational ministry has constructed the $27 million museum to save souls and persuade people to embrace its literal interpretation of the Bible.

The ministry’s claims that its views are backed by “real science” put the museum — the largest of its kind in the world — in the center of a controversy that cuts across scientific and religious lines.

“Everything science has taught us over the course of the last 200 years teaches us that this kind of literal, biblical, creationist notion is misguided at best, and just plain false at worst,” said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The world’s largest general scientific society, it serves 10 million scientists and publishes the journal Science.

“I believe in free speech,” he says, “(but) I believe that people who go into the public education business — and that’s what museums do — have an obligation to convey the most up-to-date and accurate information that they can, not to try to persuade people to (accept) a particular ideological belief.”

Group rejects evolution

Ken Ham, the Australian-born leader of Answers in Genesis, arrived in northern Kentucky in 1994 with dreams of building a Creation Museum. “We admit that in this place, our bias, our starting point, is the Bible,” he said. The Bible, he added, “is the word of God, who knows everything.”

Because the biblical text says creation occurred over six days, Answers in Genesis rejects one of the cornerstones of modern science — the theory of evolution. One of evolution’s key tenets is that all life on Earth descended from a common ancestor, a process that happened over billions of years.

Answers in Genesis establishes the Earth’s age at 6,000 years by tracing the genealogies in the first book of the Bible. The ministry says the biblical text can never be reinterpreted, no matter what scientific evidence is produced. It says any contradictions that come from science are due to man’s fallible theories.

“We’re going to show you that using geology, biology, astronomy and so on, in the present, confirms that (biblical) interpretation,” Ham said, “and (we will) challenge the evolutionary interpretation.”

Museum uses technology

Scientists, theologians and other observers view the museum with alarm, dismay, ambivalence or admiration, depending on their perspective.

“It’s not just bad science; it’s bad Bible reading,” said Arthur Dewey, a Xavier University theology professor. “They’re assuming the world that they know (now) is exactly what the world was then. That’s an enormous assumption.”

Many mainline Christian denominations embrace a view known as theistic evolution; that is, evolution occurred over millions or billions of years, but was guided by God’s hand.

It’s uncertain how popular the museum will be, but clearly it will find favor among fundamentalists.

Scientists might be inclined to simply ignore the Creation Museum if it were some carnival-like road show. But its message comes slickly packaged with cutting-edge technology. Portions of it will have the look and feel of a mainstream science museum.

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This post was last updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 at 11:05 AM, Central European Time (CET)