A couple of weeks ago, senior editor Jim Stump and I road-tripped our way southward to Bullittsburg, Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum. Seeing as the origins debate is now our professional work, we decided that a trip to the Mecca of young-earth creationism needed to happen at some point. As the host venue of the famous Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate and the headquarters of the influential ministry Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum has quickly become the central symbol of conservative Christian resistance to mainstream science since it opened in 2007.
If the Museum had been open in the nineties, this probably would not have been my first trip. Growing up in a conservative Christian homeschooled family, I eagerly consumed young-earth creationist materials, captivated by images of dinosaurs living alongside humans and a global flood moving mountains and carving canyons. Neither my family nor my church was particularly dogmatic about their interpretation of Genesis, but in the world of Christian homeschooling, your curriculum choices are slim. If we had made this hypothetical trip to Kentucky, two things are certain. First, my 8-year-old self would have absolutely loved the museum. The place is packed full of dinosaurs, whether skeletal or wax or animatronic, and what young boy doesn’t love dinosaurs? Secondly, my family would have fit very well among the Museum attendees. The place was also packed full with large families, many of whom probably homeschool their children (as a former homeschooled kid, I have radar for these sorts of things).
But I wasn’t a young boy anymore when I rolled past the stegosaurus silhouette at the gate of the museum. My life since elementary school, as detailed before on this blog, has been a messy journey in and out of many perspectives on Genesis and science. My experience at the Museum was a compelling reminder why young-earth creationism captured my imagination in the past—as well as why I’m glad to have left it behind.
One of the most controversial claims of the young-earth creationist movement is that dinosaurs and humans lived alongside one another, and the Creation Museum wastes no time defending that claim. Indeed, upon entering the museum’s main hall, one of the first sights is two fur-clad figures alongside several small dinosaurs. But the primary goal of the museum, as we quickly learned, is not simply to defend dinosaur/human co-habitation or the young age of the Earth or even a literal interpretation of Genesis. That’s a significant part of the museum’s presentations, but it is couched inside of a wider goal: providing a comprehensive worldview built around a view of the Bible as an authoritative answer book. Put differently, the ministry of Answers of Genesis is not first and foremost about Genesis—it’s about Answers.
All this is immediately clear as you enter the main exhibits of the museum. Before getting to the days of creation and the Garden of Eden and such, the Museum takes visitors step-by-step through the basis of its worldview. I quickly lost count of the occurrences of the phrase “Man’s Word vs. God’s Word”, applied liberally as a way of explaining how young-earth creationist scientists come to such radically different conclusions than all other scientists outside the movement. Evidence and reason, as the exhibits explain over and over, are not nearly as important as one’s presuppositions and biases—particularly related to how scientists view the Bible in reference to natural history. From there the history of the Bible is expansively portrayed, from its inspired origins to modern “attacks” on its authority (with the list of attackers including Galileo and conservative theologian B.B. Warfield). The ills of contemporary society are all explained by modern culture’s abandonment of God’s Word, in a part of the Museum made to look like a dilapidated inner-city alleyway—complete with graffiti and broken windows.
Before moving on to Genesis, the Museum invites visitors into the first of two large gift shops and bookstores, filled to the brim with materials on an expansive range of subjects, including education, spiritual warfare, politics, and “biblical homemaking”, mostly written by Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis colleagues. Once you’ve navigated your way past the book tables, you reach the main event. A panoply of visuals and videos usher visitors into the Genesis creation week, from the creation of the universe to plants and animals and finally people. The garden of Eden sprawls before visitors, full of lush plants, lions, dinosaurs, penguins, and—of course—Adam and Eve. The perfection of Eden turns into the chaos of the post-Fall world, where an animatronic velociraptor messily devours the carcass of a young dinosaur. Then Cain kills Abel, humanity grows more corrupt, Noah builds an ark, the Flood destroys almost all life, and so on. At every step, carefully-worded panels answer every conceivable question about the young-earth creationist interpretation of Genesis:
- How did Adam name all the animals in the course of one afternoon? (Apparently, he just named some of the animals, despite the obvious and plain reading of Genesis 2:19)
- If there was no death before the Fall, what did vultures eat? (They were made with the capability to eat dead things, but God only revealed that knowledge to them after the Fall)
- Did Adam and Eve’s kids marry each other? (Yes, but even Abraham married his half-sister so it must not be that bad)
- If the continents shifted as a result of the Flood, how did animals like kangaroos get from the Ark to Australia? (They floated there on uprooted trees, driven by ocean currents)
As Jim and I made the long drive back to northern Indiana, we agreed that the most striking feature of the Museum is its insistence on answering everything. Every possible question or mystery is defeated by a clear, simple presentation of the Bible’s message. Over and over, the Museum is insistent that the worldview presented by Answers in Genesis can answer all of life’s questions with different combinations of the same short, snappy, unassailable one-liners.
This led us to wonder why the young-earth perspective has to be presented this way. Instead of admitting that faithful Christians have come to different interpretations of the complex and mysterious Genesis text, Answers in Genesis insistently defends its interpretation as clear, plain, and simple—and labels any dissenters as “compromisers” of God’s Word. Instead of allowing any level of mystery in the question of death and suffering, they absolve God of all responsibility for human suffering with a single event in a primordial garden. Instead of acknowledging the mountain of scientific evidence against their young-earth, anti-evolutionary position, they confidently proclaim that “there is no evidence for evolution” (a direct quote from an AiG speaker we heard while there) and “today, geology confirms that many rock layers were deposited catastrophically” (as if the old age of the Earth is based on now-discredited science).
As young-earth creationist Todd Wood once notably mused, it does no credit to the movement to be so openly allergic to seeing their perspective as anything other than slam-dunk, black-and-white truth. In fact, it substantially weakens the cause. It allows young-earth creationism to be falsified not only by evidence against it, but simply by the complexity of the world outside of the movement! If kids raised on Answers in Genesis (AiG) materials go to public high schools or colleges (at least, non-AiG approved colleges), their faith is guaranteed to be shaken by their freshman science classes. Guaranteed. This isn’t because they will be immediately convinced that young-earth creationism is wrong (although that might happen), but because they will likely meet smart, polite, thoughtful individuals who present actual evidence for common descent of all life and the old age of the Earth and universe What will happen to these kids? Will they meet thoughtful and gracious Christians like Francis Collins (like I did in college) who will help them see science and Scripture in a new light, or will they just abandon their faith? Either way, we’re likely to see no end of the letters we regularly receive at BioLogos from confused kids who don’t know how to reconcile their faith with the clear conclusions of modern science (and aren’t given any help by their faith community beyond young-earth one-liners).
One of the goals of the Creation Museum is to convince Christians that a responsible engagement with our modern times involves addressing the tough issues related to science and faith. I heartily agree. Modern scientific discoveries raise serious and difficult challenges for the Christian faith, and far too many people have lost faith in God (and continue to lose faith) as a result of science. Answers in Genesis and BioLogos are both dedicated to addressing this crucial problem from the perspective of Christian faith, and I deeply respect the piety and passion reflected in the Creation Museum.
Yet the difference between BioLogos and AiG—beyond the obvious contrasts between what we think about science and Bible—is that BioLogos does not think that the tough questions related to science and faith can be neatly solved by broad generalizations or simple dichotomies. We don’t think that our perspective should be titled “God’s Word” and all others labeled “Man’s Word”. We don’t think that science can be neatly divided into “observational” vs. “historical”. We don’t believe that the problem of evil and suffering can be solved by dividing history into “pre-fall” and “post-fall”. And we don’t think that anything is gained by insinuating that the perspectives we disagree with are blind fabrications. These sorts of answers appear on the surface to tie the world together neatly, but they do not pass the test of deeper scrutiny. Even more disturbingly, those raised under the Answers in Genesis worldview are discouraged from questioning the validity of the answers, which suggests that the movement is far more fragile than its massive popularity would indicate.
Does BioLogos have its own “one-liners”? Absolutely. One of our most frequently used is that we search for truth in both God’s Word and God’s World, expecting to find harmony. But as we make a point of explaining, “harmony” does not mean that the points of mystery and tension disappear. On many questions, we respond, “we don’t know.” Those seeking neat and clear ways in which Scripture and science merge at every point are likely to be disappointed by our perspective. But we’re OK with this. BioLogos is made up of individuals who have been redeemed by Christ, worship our great Creator God, and humbly seek God’s truth in Scripture and nature. All of us—our brothers and sisters at AiG included—see through a glass darkly, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, and we know that there are many things that will evade our human understanding until the full revealing of God’s new and restored creation. But in the matters we can understand by God’s provision and grace—such as scientific study of God’s creation, past and present—we have a responsibility to speak honestly and carefully. May God give us all grace to do so as we seek to serve him.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/my-trip-to-the-creation-museum