My Long Overdue Review of The Creation Museum

I finally went to The Creation Museum today. I had to go if for no other reason than I have a policy against forming an official opinion on anything until I’ve experienced it for myself (with some exceptions… like murder)

First Thoughts
I have to say, I was a tad disappointed. Having seen it for myself, I completely understand why critics perceive it to be an attempt at brainwashing. From the moment you walk in the door the entire tone of everything you see is couched as a choice of whether to accept or reject God’s word. The first thing you see when you walk into in the main exhibit is a contrast between what God’s Word says against what “Human Reason” says. It presents the two as diametrically opposed and then takes you through a series of exhibits showing the history of man’s rejection of God’s Word and the disastrous effects that has caused. It was clear that the entire point of the museum was: You have to choose whether to believe God’s Word or Man’s Reason. Choose to believe God’s Word, because when you reject God’s Word, bad things happen. It was entirely a Faith vs. Reason mindset.

My Critique
While I do not disagree with their conclusions on any particular point, I do not agree with their philosophical approach nor would I have set the museum up in this way. Perhaps this is because I was expecting a science or natural history museum, and it was clear that this is neither. It’s a religious museum. As such, it is extremely well done. It very clearly lays out the Biblical worldview and includes some science.

The entire thing is oriented around their 7 C’s which is simply their way of walking through the Biblical account of Redemptive History. All good Biblical expositions have to alliterate, don’t they? Their 7 C’s were: Creation, Corruption (the fall), Catastrophe (the flood), Confusion (Babel), Christ, Cross and Consummation (End Times). They had very well done and beautiful displays of the Garden of Eden, of the Serpent, of the post fall world, Cain and Able, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel.

They had an exhibit on the issue of the reliability of Scripture. They had a whole series of displays related to the flood including some examples of what Noah’s craftsmanship might have looked like, or ways they might have dealt with some of the problems that would have arisen (like having to water so many animals). They had a nice little computer simulation of one possible scenario for the geological phenomena that could have been involved in the flood.

That all was very interesting.

However, what I found disturbingly lacking was the science. They made reference a few times to holes in evolutionary theory and inserted a few things here and there, but they never extrapolated on any of them. Their planetarium exhibit was the one exception. It brought up two great arguments for a young universe: blue stars and non-diffused spiral galaxies. However, their main exhibit had hardly any of this. Oh and they had an “FX” presentation that did include some scientific evidence (like helium trapped in rocks and soft tissue found in T-Rex bones), but that was pretty much the extent of it. As I said, I was sorely disappointed.

Missed Opportunity
I don’t think there’s always value in being reactionary in the way we approach the world. Christians should be true to the Scriptures, committed to their church community, involved in discipleship and let their love for God and their neighbors be their witness. Winning the creation versus evolution debate is not the prescribed strategy for building the church and winning the lost. However, at the same time, there is a large and growing perception that Christians are a bunch of closed minded bigots who refuse to think or open their eyes and hold tenaciously to an obviously farcical fairy tale. This museum has perhaps a golden opportunity to discuss at length and in a very scientifically credible way why there are problems with evolution and why believing in the Bible does not contradict any proven science. However, they did not take this approach.

I would have set the museum up centering it around the scientific research that is being done that raises questions about evolutionary theory. Walk through the places where evolutionary theory has to make assumptions to reach the conclusions they are claiming are proven. Raise the tough questions. Show things like the soft tissue from the T-Rex or blue stars. Then at the end offer the explanation from the Biblical World view. By that point anyone who is a skeptic and is trying to keep an open mind will be force to agree that there’s at least value in thinking on this further. However, when you simply ask them to check their reason at the door, you’re not inviting them to participate at all. It’s all or nothing then.

They could have made an entire museum out of the findings at Mount St. Helen’s, but it got a very tiny portion of the exhibit. They could have had a deep and in depth discussion of natural selection (speciation) verses Macro-evolution (“molecules to man”.) They made mention of God creating creatures “after their kinds” and used this and natural selection as an answer to “how did Noah get all the animals on the ark?”, but the only further study they had on that was tucked into a back corner off the main route of the exhibit. Unfortunately, that is a huge and ground breaking scientific discussion that could have been at the forefront and a cornerstone of their presentation. In natural selection, you always lose genetic information. In order for emergence to happen you have to gain genetic information. This has never been observed and cannot be reproduced in a lab. To claim that such a thing has ever or could ever happen is therefore not scientific. Unfortunately, it got very little press. They could have shown models discussing the distant starlight problem and brought out the issues of spiral galaxies and blue stars, but no.

Some Real Problems
I’ve already mentioned that the first part of the exhibit was their faith versus reason bit. This was expected, but the level they to which they based their entire presentation on it was frustrating. They made reason diametrically opposed to faith which first of all voluntarily gives away all credibility. “If you are a thinking person, you disagree with us. If you want to agree with us, turn off your brain.” I can hope that this was not their intended message, but I attempted to assume the position of a skeptic in my evaluation of the museum and had I been an actual skeptic, this would have turned me off right away. The next bit that would have turned me off is that they showed a timeline of the history of how biblical authority has been challenged since the reformation. On this timeline, they had Galileo as one of the “bad guys”. To someone who knows anything about church and scientific history, this is a complete falsehood. An atheist or agnostic who was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt would walk out of the building upon seeing that. It really forced me to take their credibility down a few notches.

For the uninitiated, Galileo did have a scientific dispute with the Church. But the issue was not about Biblical authority, it was about the authority of the Pope, who dogmatically claimed that the sun goes around the Earth (which is not claimed anywhere in Scripture). Galileo simply had evidence from his new telescope, and the Pope, being a man full of pride, didn’t like it. To say that Galileo was trying to reject God’s word is utterly incomprehensible.

They had an exhibit on the Scopes Monkey trial, which was not surprising, but in this, they condemned the movie “Inherit the Wind” as being intentionally targeted toward making Christians look like ignorant bigots. What’s funny is that this wasn’t entirely unfair to William Jennings Bryant who was in fact a bit of an ignorant bigot. He supported prohibition after all. But this movie was not intended to make Christians look like ignorant bigots. It was intended to give a bit of a landmark to an historic event and to explore such ideas as due process of law, freedom of thought, whether one can safely betray conscience, and whether one’s religious beliefs justify political and legal crusades. It is an excellent movie to watch in light of the religious right’s attempts to legislate morality in terms of homosexuality. As a libertarian, I love Inherit the Wind. I was astonished that the museum oversimplified the movie in this way.

Assessment: Religion: A+; Science: D
All in all, I was not surprised. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I’m familiar enough with AiG and Ken Ham to know that this is par for their course, but I was hoping for better. I really wish that it had been such a good science and natural history museum that just had Biblical interpretations of the unanswered questions but had science that was so good that any scientist that walked through there would have to come away saying, “Well, I disagree with this or that or the other interpretation or whatever, but the science in there is really phenomenal.” I think that would have brought to light the fact that Christians are not just a bunch of closed minded idiots who believe a fairy tale and that there are some legitimate questions of the theory of Evolution. But the science at this museum was very minimal

What’s Wrong with Faith vs. Reason?
Here are several reasons why I think Answers in Genesis’ faith vs. reason mindset, and their setup of the museum are so dangerous:

1. It Reinforces the Stereotype.
Christians carry the stereotype of “check your brain at the door,” with them. Premising their entire presentation by placing God’s Word in opposition to Reason does nothing but reinforce this stereotype.

2. Indoctrination.
This is more of a cautionary tale to parents and educators who want to use this museum as a tool to teach their children (of whom I am one, by the way, but perhaps not for entirely the same reasons). Bringing students here and telling them this is a scientific museum and telling them that anyone who rejects God’s word is just flat out diametrically wrong and not teaching them to think through the issues critically will only create a generation of students who are less prepared to participate in any meaningful apologetics. It would be better for them to be taught how to think critically about what is and what isn’t actually scientific about evolution and creation and to help them be able to understand that origins of any kind are not scientific, but are rather religious and philosophical in nature. Which is no to say they are not reason issues, but that they are not scientific.

3. It’s Bad Stewardship.
We were given minds. We were commanded to love God with our minds. To say faith and reason are opposed is to cut off a portion of what makes us human and made in God’s image. This is to violate the very nature of who we are. It would be no more safe to stop thinking than to stop breathing.

4. It’s Completely Unnecessary.
At the heart of faith vs. reason is a rejection of the notion that all truth is God’s truth. At the heart of it is a fear that if enough science is done, the Bible will somehow be disproved, so we need to prepare ourselves to believe the Bible no matter what. However, I have no such fear. Science is a great tool for exploring God’s creation, and I have no problem with scientists using evolutionary theory to do it, so long as they are doing good science. This is simply because I don’t have a misunderstanding of what science is. Science is not some philosophy or religion. Oh, sure there are philosophies and religions that use Science as their sacred text (Secular Humanism), but science in and of itself is simply the observation of the natural order of things and the process by which you try to understand what happens and why. I have complete faith that no scientific discovery will ever disprove what is true about God, no matter how much it challenges my current understanding of his Word. I don’t hold myself up to be infallible. Rather than pulling away from science and dismissing all evolutionary theory as a rejection of God’s word, AiG should be involved in doing good science on their own and providing a peer review to other scientists which helps keep them honest to not blur the lines between what is really science and what is philosophy, speculation and assumption. They would be a valuable voice independent of the group think of evolutionists and a bit of salt and light in this dark field. Christians need to reclaim the sciences. Unfortunately, AiG seems to have pulled themselves away from the sciences.

Conclusion
I would actually recommend a visit to the Creation Museum to anyone. I would, however, try to prepare you for what you’re going to see. If you do not believe in Creation and find you don’t fully understand the position, this would be a great way to find out what the Biblical Worldview is. If you are a Christian parent or teacher and you want your students to be familiar with the Biblical account, pick up a Bible. After you’ve read through that, bring them here.

No matter who you are and why you come, try to keep and open, but inquisitive and questioning mind. Don’t just accept anything at face value, question everything and use those God given minds, but do recognize that your human reason is subject to the fall (psst… so is our ability to interpret Scripture…).

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “My Long Overdue Review of The Creation Museum

  1. Greetings. There is much we can write about this museum review, but first and foremost this observation: when a writer has an evidentialist approach to biblical apologetics and not a presuppositional one, then we are not surprised to read such a critique.

    Regarding the museum’s “Starting Points” room you disparaged, you declared that we believe human reason is diametrically opposed to the Bible. However, we clearly state in that room that human reason is God’s gift to us. (I will send you the photo of the display if you wish.)

    We don’t hide the fact that we take visitors on a walk through biblical history and also present the biblical worldview, and thus we are not strictly a science museum. As such, this is not predominantly an anti-evolution museum (which would bore most visitors anyway). Our message is a positive one: proclaiming biblical authority. At the same time, there are hundreds of specimens inside. Did you somehow miss: cases upon cases of fossils (e.g., dinosaurs bones/eggs), a meteorite display, a superb collection of minerals both upstairs and downstairs, an insect collection, a large teaching garden, a major exhibit on how natural selection is not evolution, over a dozen videos on design in nature, etc.?

    By the way, museum critics who don’t accept our view of the historicity of Genesis have been impressed by the quality of our science displays. Even a New York Times critic wrote glowingly of our fossil collection, especially our nautiloids. Earlier this year, a writer for a travel magazine stated the following about the museum: “ … the display design and educational content in this museum stand up to other major natural history museums in the U.S. … with displays that will please both casual visitors and those seeking scientific answers. … The quality of the museum and its exhibits … are thorough, compelling and well-presented, [and] they engender a real dialogue about the origins of our universe.”

    We employ several full-time staff with earned doctorates in fields like astronomy, geology, biology, molecular genetics, medicine, and the history of science. If we are supposedly pulling ourselves away from the sciences as you contend (and rejecting reason), why do we employ such brainpower?

    Lastly, because of your (wrong) presupposition about our views of science, you arrived at a wrong conclusion: that we portray Galileo in a negative light due to his battle with the Roman Catholic Church over heliocentricity. Your bias led to a misinterpretion of what you thought you saw in the museum.

    Thank you. — Mark Looy, Creation Museum

  2. Mark,

    Thank you for your well thought out and reasoned reply. I never in a million years thought my review would actually reach the attention of the Creation Museum. I don’t think I have quite enough readers!

    I confess that although I did see some fossils, I did not see the extensive nautiloid collection. Neither did I see the minerals, insects nor meteorites. I’m quite disappointed because these are the kinds of things that I was looking for. Either I just flat out missed them, or their not on the map, or they are obscured in some way. Were they perhaps in the “Wonders of Creation” section? My party seemed to rush through that part. We didn’t go through the museum quite as slowly as I would have liked on account of having two toddlers with us. It’s ironic because I remember going to museums with my dad when I was a kid and always wanting to move on while he was trying to read things! Now I get a dose of my own medicine! In any case, I suppose this would be a reason to visit again.

    Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time, and I plan to come back. I also hope that you can expand what you’re doing there, and that by taking a slightly more evidentialist approach, you can aruge both sides of the apologetical spectrum. I believe we need a balance of the two. And, I know that ICR has great scientific evidence. In fact, I read an outstanding article from ICR on Time Dilation as it relates to the Distant Starlight Problem with which I was so thoroughly impressed that I forwarded it to all my friends and posted it on Facebook. Knowing that ICR has such great science is particularly why I was so disappointed with the museum.

    I walked through your museum attempting to put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t believe the Bible in order to gauge how well it would work as an apologetical tool. This hypothetical person has a high view of evidence and reason and was trying to keep an open mind. I followed the map that I received at the front door. I visited the planetarium, walked through the main exhibit, watched the Men in White video, took my kids out to the petting zoo and walked through the botanical garden. As I mentioned before the planetarium was the best part of the entire museum. That alone was worth the trip. The zoo was fun and the botanical garden looked like it would be awesome in a few months. It was the rest that disappointed me.

    I did in fact see your displays on Mount St. Helens and on Natural Selection vs. Evolution. The content of these was good, but my concern was not their existence or content, but their thoroughness, placement and prominence, expectially with the Natural Selection exhibit which was tucked into a corner off the main route well into the museum. I had to look for it in order to see it.

    The reason I think this was a problem goes back to the root of what I think is wrong with this museum. The most telling statement of your comment was that you thought an anti-evolution museum would bore people. Have you set out to entertain or educate? Is your purpose apologetics or amusement? I think people have more intelligence than you give them credit for. I think unbelievers would be far more persuaded by evidence, and I think believers would be far more served by being equipped with evidential arguments.

    I already mentioned that I think we need a balance of evidential and presuppositional apologetics. It is because of this balance that I was hoping the Creation Museum would be evidentialist rather than presuppositional. There is a wealth of information and education out there in the chruch and in Christian schools and institutions on presuppositional apologetics. There is precious little evidential apologetics that is easily accessible to the average Christian. Where else will average Christians get the cutting edge scientific arguments if not from a scientific institution? Unfortunately, any evidence the Creation Museum showed was presented behind the curtain of presuppositionalism. Thus it was lost. I know you have an extensive collection of real scientific evidence. Why not make it more prominent? When we have real tangible evidence that argues very strongly that we’re not just a bunch of loonies, why would we hide that off in a corner? I think that bringing the science more to the fore would serve the dual purpose of apologetics and education more aptly. It would be far more effective in arguing for the reasonableness of our faith and equipping visitors to do the same.

    Moreover, while I understand the necessity for presuppositionalism (in balance with evidentialism), I don’t think starting with presuppositionalism is effective in persuasion. Starting with evidence is the best way to go. By showing evidence, you force the visitor to make a choice to believe your evidence or their own presuppositions. This is a powerful persuasion tool. At this point, the evidence has raised the issue of starting points.

    Speaking of Starting Points, I think the Starting Points and Culture in Crises rooms could be very powerful – if they were moved. If they were shown after the evidence was presented, then the skeptic or the non-believer with an open mind would have reason to listen to what those rooms are trying to say. Putting them first assaults the visitor’s intellect and tempts them to reject everything out of hand. Putting them last would raise the issue at a time when the visitor is forced by the evidence to question the beliefs they have held so deeply and are therefore now open to the suggestion that there are alternative explanations and that the alternative explanation we present is consistent with the evidence we’ve shown.

    For what it is, the Creation Museum is excellent. It is a Religious and Philosophical Museum and not a Science or Natural History Museum. However, I really think that there is great need for what the Creation Museum could be but chooses not to be. I wouldn’t call this a bad museum, but I’m disappointed because it could have been so much better!

    If my suggestions carry any weight at all, I would put in that your next expansion needs to be evidential in nature. Don’t change what you already have. Just open a new evidential wing and try to direct visitors there first and then send them through the presuppositional wing. I really enjoyed my time there, and I do plan to come back again.

    Thanks!

  3. Thank you for the irenic reply. Yes, it appears that during your Creation Museum visit you were distracted (you mentioned having some toddlers in tow) and thus you missed a lot of what we have on display. I should point out that the science exhibits I listed for you above are not out of view for visitors. We would not go to the effort and expense of creating an exhibit only to “obscure” it and make the display hard to find. Our natural selection exhibit that you say was not all that obvious has its own room right off the museum walkway because it deserved its own special exhibit space due to its important anti-evolution content. Two of our staff scientists, Dr. Georgia Purdom (PhD, molecular genetics) and Dr. David Menton (PhD, biology, from an Ivy League school), as well as others, worked on this exhibit.

    Also, the meteorites you missed are on display in the main hall (near the planetarium). The minerals and fossils are primarily found in the Palm Plaza area downstairs and also in several glass cases next to the Special Effects Theater upstairs; and there are some dinosaur fossils in the two-story Dinosaur Den. (I hope you saw those).

    So, yes, we actually do have many “tangible” items of scientific interest for visitors to view. Some photos of our science exhibits can be viewed in this article: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/03/27/failure-to-communicate/

    Even with your admitted distractions which kept you from seeing many of the science exhibits, I point out that critics would not write reviews of books, films or concerts if they did not take in the whole experience. Basing your lengthy review (with sweeping generalizations and wrong conclusions) after seeing only parts of our museum is just not fair.

    If I may be so bold, you are (unwittingly) proving our point about the importance of presuppositionalism. You came to the museum with an idea of what you would be seeing inside. You wrote that you were “not surprised” to see that we had little science content in our museum because you were already “familiar enough with AiG and Ken Ham to know that this is par for their course.” As we show in our “Starting Points” room, people’s biases (such as the one you held before you came here) can lead to false conclusions about what they think they experience. You “saw” what you expected to see at the museum, and came to a wrong conclusion. This unfortunate example only points out why we decided to have a “Starting Points” room at the beginning of the museum: to help visitors realize that an interpretation of evidence can be clouded by preconceptions and personal bias, and that evidence does not speak for itself. Now, we admit our presupposition: the Bible is historically accurate, and science–as we show in the museum–confirms that view.

    Lastly, may I offer the following unsolicited counsel? If you are to criticize something in a public way as you have done here on the internet (and for non-Christians to read, and which might now cause them not to visit the museum), please season your comments with grace (as well as be accurate). Will you, for example, reconsider the use of the term “brainwashing” (the word used at the outset of your review) in your characterization of the museum’s mission? (An unusual word choice since you also wrote in a follow-up posting that you “enjoyed” yourself at the museum and had “a great time.”) Please be aware that it is simply our goal to show people that God’s Word is true – and most of all, that the Bible’s gospel message is true. With the word “brainwash,” you make it sound as if we have some nefarious purpose.

    Maybe on a distraction-free visit to the museum, you will see that there are items on display here that you can find in most natural history museums–but presented without an evolutionary interpretation.

    Thank you.

    Mark, at the Creation Museum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s