Dinosaurs on the Ark
The first thing you see when you arrive at the $35m museum is very large toy dinosaur, right outside the main entrance. Inside, there are many more. Dinosaurs are a bit of a theme here. My guide, Mark Looy, one of the co-founders of the Museum (with Ken Ham and Mike Zovath) explains that dinosaurs were chosen as a key focus of the museum because they attract such intense media attention, interest children and young people, and illustrate some of the decisions about global history that need to be made by biblical Christians. And there hasn't been much of global history according the museum's young earth creationists: in essence, they agree with James Ussher, the 17th century Archbishop of Armagh, that the world was created just six thousand years ago (Ussher was more precise: 23 October, 4004BC). Which means that dinosaurs existed alongside human beings -- and they entered Noah's Ark two-by-two. (Maybe that's why one of the dinosaurs is wearing a saddle; visiting children can have their photograph taken sitting on its back.)
You can't have an Ark without a Flood. The Museum makes much of the biblical flood and offers this as an explanation for the Grand Canyon's famous stratification -- and for the fossil record and a great deal more. In a few years, visitors may even be able to see what Noah's Ark looked like. Answers in Genesis has begun a project to build a full-scale replica of the Ark on an 800-acre plot of land they've purchased some miles away from the Museum. The land alone cost more than $5m, and it'll take another $40m before construction can begin. But Mark Looy seems confident that wealthy funders and ordinary supporters will come forward.
While ten full-time staff continue to work on the Ark project, more than 250 full-time staff are employed by Answers in Genesis in its various ministries, including the museum. Some of these are speakers and demonstrators, travelling to churches and schools across America (and sometimes across the world) to spread the young earth message.
Professional scientists, as you might expect, regard the whole thing as baloney: the Creation "Museum" is a pseudo-scientific theme park and the young earth theory is as far-fetched as astrology. But that dismissive attitude only seems to re-energise those working here in Petersburg: after all, the Bible they read tells them to expect the contempt of the world.
What struck me most about my visit to the Creation Museum was not the science (or pseudo-science, depending on your point of view), but the moral vision of this organisation. Part of the exhibit includes an alleyway covered in graffiti -- an image of a world that's lost its way. The narrative linking these exhibits tells a moral story: a world without the Bible will be plunged into moral chaos. In order to restore the world, the narrative tells us, we need to return to the Bible. And that Prodigal-like return involves us in a hermeneutical decision: do we take the Bible seriously (by which, they mean "literally") or not? Young earth creationists start with that commitment to read the Bible literally, as the inerrant Word of God; they then accommodate "science" to that a priori assumption.
When I talked to one of the Museum's educators, it wasn't long before she was linking their work to culture wars about abortion and homosexuality. This isn't surprising. Young earth creationists believe both are examples of the moral decay that results from an abandonment of biblical values. They fear a world in which non-biblical or post-biblical values might hold sway. That's why they resist modern evolutionary science so much: because it appears (to them) both to threaten the coherence and integrity of the biblical worldview and to devalue the explanatory power of the Bible in their hands. Since their faith is so fundamentally grounded in an inerrantist reading of the Bible, such a significant challenge to the Bible represents an existential and moral assault.