Creation Museum: a $27 million response to evolution

On May 28 in Petersburg, Ky., a new museum will open with the express purpose of wowing audiences into creationism. According to the Creation Museum website, the museum offers a “walk though history” which “brings the pages of the Bible to life.” The museum combines state-of-the-art design with your run-of-the-mill fundamentalism to create a $27 million spectacle in which visitors can see life-size dinosaur animatronics side-by-side with the Garden of Eden, Noah’s ark, Moses and Paul teaching the masses, and even Martin Luther scolding Germans for their lack of knowledge of the Bible. The anachronisms aside, it appears to be a rather bewildering amalgamation of religion and science, the likes of which have never been seen before. The intention is clear: to show the secular, atheist evolutionists that fundamentalists are not only just as serious about their museums as they are, but also just as serious about their beliefs.

The New York times review of Creation Museum is generous and fair. Edward Rothstein notes the impressiveness of the museum’s technology and design, concluding: “For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.” I wish to use this opportunity to explain why I think this museum is a great mistake, and thereby address creationism itself as one of the greatest blunders in modern Christian history.

1. A museum replaces hard science with eye candy. Creationism is not taken seriously because it is incapable of explaining the vast majority of scientific evidence for (1) an old earth/universe and (2) evolution. Answers in Genesis (AiG), the group responsible for Creation Museum, has made the smart but telling move of building a museum instead of trying to defend its position. It’s smart because museums appeal to the masses, and the masses do not care about scientific evidence (or theology, for that matter). It’s telling because it is just another indication that creationism is built upon shallow “science” and shallow “theology,” depending instead upon special effects, animatronics, and life-like exhibits.

2. The wedding of religion and “science” in Creation Museum demonstrates that AiG has a lot more than scientific findings at stake in this debate. The new museum seamlessly weaves together exhibits on dinosaurs and Mt. St. Helens with displays of Eden, Moses, Paul, and Luther. On one level, this demonstrates that these are definitely fundamentalist Christians. But on another level, it shows what undergirds this whole mess. Creationists are so ardent about creationism because, in their minds, their faith depends upon it. It is not a reading of the scientific evidence that they are defending; it is in fact their entire belief-system which depends upon this unity of religion and science. If science can disprove the first few chapters of Genesis, then the entire house of cards falls to the ground, since the authority of Genesis is made to rest upon its scientific historicity. The motto of AiG makes this scientific source of authority very clear: “Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse.” When the authority of Scripture and the basis of Christianity itself is made to rest upon scientific confirmation, the only option then is for science to prove the account in Genesis as scientifically accurate. And when so much is at stake, a person will go to any length to ensure that their position cannot be undermined. That is why, in the end, I trust the atheist-evolutionist-with-an-agenda more the creationist-with-an-agenda. At least the evolutionist does not think the reliability of God depends upon her research.

3. The wedding of religion and “science” in Creation Museum demonstrates that AiG has a confused understanding of the relation between Scripture and science. Of course, this whole house of cards depends upon the prior assumption that the biblical text is a scientific text—in other words, that the source of the Bible’s authority is found in the correspondence between text and scientific history, between the words on the page and the reality established by modern science. It’s not enough to say that the Bible is a historical text. Christianity is a historical faith, and without the affirmation of at least one particular historical reality—viz. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—the entire faith would be meaningless. But there is a qualitative distinction between the historicity of Christianity propounded universally by the church and the scientific historicity propounded by creationists.

Creationism thus rests upon a strange relation between Scripture and science, in which Scripture pre-determines the conclusions of science (since the Bible is inerrant in all matters, including modern science), but science confirms the authority of Scripture. Of course, since the Bible is assumed to be authoritative in all matters, science has no choice but to confirm the biblical texts. Science and Scripture are viewed as entirely complementary, in which no contradiction can possibly exist between the two, since Scripture is inerrant on all matters. On one hand, creationists believe that the Bible is the arbiter of what is true; that the Bible trumps any and all scientific evidence; that the Bible is the primary determination of all human knowledge. And yet, on the other hand, by elevating Scripture so highly—so high that it becomes an idol—creationists have in the end determined the Bible rather than allowed the Bible to determine them. Instead of letting the narrative of the gospel become their narrative, creationists have possessed and manipulated the biblical text so that it is now a scientific text. It is no longer the gospel of Jesus Christ but rather the scientific historicity of the biblical narratives which undergirds the Christian faith. Fundamentalism is thus a foundationalist faith: a faith whose foundation is Enlightenment scientism, not the love and grace of the triune God.

Protestant evangelicals, like every decent reader of Scripture, allow their reading of the Bible to be controlled by prior theological commitments. No one is free from this; no one reads the Bible with completely new eyes unaffected by confessional commitments. If anyone says that he or she is reading the Bible without any baggage getting in the way, they are lying. Protestant evangelicals read John 6 and the Synoptic institutions of the Lord’s Supper in light of a prior theological rejection of Catholic transubstantiation, even those evangelicals who have no idea what transubstantiation is; they are still reading Scripture as part of an interpretive community, i.e., within a particular tradition of interpretation. Similarly, evangelical fundamentalists read Gen. 1-3 in light of a prior theological rejection of modern liberal theology and scientific atheism—the former is represented well by a person like Rudolf Bultmann and the latter by someone like Richard Dawkins; the former says that science forces us to re-interpret or discard certain passages while the latter says that science forces us to discard religion altogether. Creationists try to respond to these two threats by subordinating science to the Bible such that the Bible determines what must be true, and science is then brought on the scene in order to corroborate what they “find” in Scripture.

A couple things are worth pointing out here. First, the three general positions—modern liberalism, scientific atheism, and fundamentalism—all share one basic commitment to Enlightenment scientific rationality. Modern liberalism thinks that we can “de-mythologize” on the basis of modern science; scientific atheism thinks that we can bury God once and for all on the basis of modern science; and fundamentalism thinks that we can confirm and support Christian faith on the basis of modern science. All three of these positions share faith in a particular god: the god of scientism, the god of Enlightenment rationality.

Second, creationism has the ironic effect of subordinating the Bible to science even while trying to subordinate science to the Bible. By making science the necessary means of ratifying the truth of Scripture, science becomes the master of the text instead of its servant. In the end, fundamentalism commits two major errors, which seem to be contradictory but end up being complementary: (1) manipulating science according to the biblical text (so that science does not have the freedom to differ from the Bible), and (2) manipulating the Bible according to science (so that the authority of the Bible rests upon the confirmation of modern science, but of course this science has already been pre-determined by the biblical text).

Fundamentalism thus establishes a vicious circle that denies the freedom of science and Scripture to stand over against one another. Science is not free to confirm evolution, nor is Scripture free to disaffirm scientism. The reason for this wedding of science and religion is not because the text affirms this wedding (no one can possibly find modern science prefigured in the pages of the Bible), but because fundamentalism depends upon this wedding. In face of the challenges of modern liberalism and scientific atheism, fundamentalism felt and feels a real threat to its faith. In response, fundamentalism decided to fight fire with fire—viz. to fight the fire of atheistic modern science with the fire of a “biblical” modern science.

It’s worth noting that Catholicism felt the same threat in the late 19th century, and the First Vatican Council was a loud denunciation of modernism. Whereas Catholicism, at the time at least, rejected modernism altogether, fundamentalism responded to the same threats as Vatican I by using modernism to confirm a pre-modern Christianity. Catholicism at Vat I rejected modernity; evangelical fundamentalism, however, is deeply modern through and through, not only because Protestantism itself is a modern form of Christianity, but because fundamentalism accepts the basic modern priority of Enlightenment rationality which Catholicism was keen to denounce (though it was also mistaken in going the opposite direction, creating a pre-modern enclave within a decidedly modern world). Fundamentalism is thus cut from the same cloth as liberalism and atheism; they are all modern, rooted in modern science, but fundamentalism intends to uphold the faith through modernism whereas the other two either radically qualify it or discard it altogether.

All this is to say, the three options of liberalism, atheism, and fundamentalism are all wrong, and more or less for the same reason: each subordinates the Bible to modernity, to Enlightenment rationality, to the scientistic god of the “present evil age” (to use Paul’s phrase). Creationists think they are supporting Christian faith, but they are in fact undermining it, manipulating and conforming it to the mold of modernism. They think they are preserving and affirming the biblical text, but they are in fact perverting it. They think they are challenging the gods of this age, but they are in fact bowing down and worshiping them. They think they are denouncing the Babylonian captivity of the academy, but they are in fact encouraging the Babylonian captivity of the church.

4. Finally, the Creation Museum is a poor witness to the gospel. Inevitably, people are going to ask why people who claim to be Bible-believing Christians felt justified in spending $27 million when that money could have gone a long way in providing food, medicine, and clothing for many people around the world. Certainly, that is a question that should be aimed at Christians all over the world, and not simply to AiG. But the Creation Museum is a rather ostentatious display that intends to attract attention, so it seems only fair to direct the ethical question toward these fundamentalists who apparently think that defending their form of pseudo-science is worth the expense. Regardless of its technological merits, I cannot shake the conclusion that this museum is an ethical as well as intellectual failure on all counts.

Update: See the Salon article, “Inside the Creation Museum,” for more about this fascinating new tourist trap. H/T to Johnny Ramirez


Shane said…
I think it was Cardinal Foscarini, a confidant of Galileo's, who said it best, "The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

Well done, David.

kim fabricius said…
And Calvin, an enthusiastic student of astronomy, and a scathing critic of those who, ignorant of contemporary science and of the observations of classical naturalists like Aristotle and Pliny, would shoehorn nature into scripture, said: "He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere [than the Bible]."

But that museum - which sounds very "intelligently designed" - conjures up some surreal possibilities - like how about a couple of statues at the entrance, one of Michael smiting a tyrannosaurus eating the creationist fish (cf. Revelation 12:7ff.), the other of Jesus tweaking Darwin's beard?

By the way, a couple of years ago a mathematician friend here at Swansea University proposed that we do a book together contra creationism (he'd provide the science, I'd provide the theology). Not least because the book would have no audience in the UK - creationism is not a going concern here - I declined the offer. But even your splendid polemic, David - with the likes of Shane and me, and no doubt all your other interlocutors at F&R, you are preaching to the choir, while the people who could use the sermon would rather cut off their ears than listen. It is an extremely frustrating situation, not least because behind the convoluted arguments of the fundies lies a pathology to which we do not yet have the cure.
Bibliomike said…
You hit the nail on the head regarding the internal paradox at the heart of Creationism. Thanks for putting it so well.

My 5-year-old was exposed to this "dinosaurs in Eden" nonsense at his private kindergarten -- at an age when any supposed conflicts between science and religion are not even supposed to be an issue. Nyeh, very frustrating.

Yours is the second PTS student blog I've discovered in recent days. As a PTS alum myself, I am interested in reading more of your comments. Blessings!
R.O. Flyer said…
I really want to check this museum out. Wow, thanks for pointing this out and thanks for your insightful criticisms.I want to take a field trip!
D.W. Congdon said…

Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you found the blog, and if you want to check out other excellent PTS blogs, see Drulogion, Der Evangelische Theologe, Disruptive Grace, Millinerd, and Historical Theology.
seeker said…
While seeing luther in a science museum is out of place, i think your criticism is way to harsh and misses the point.

First, evolutionists have created unscientific, even anti-scientific eye-candy for years, and where was your complaint? Remember the evolution of the horse? The fact is, museums of science have their place, and I think an alternative to the evolutionary myth presentation of the fossil record is worth it, not as the sole approach, but one in a multi-pronged approach.

I agree that creationism is a lot less scientifically defendable than the historical Jesus, but to say that YEC is inconsistent with science is to fail to admit that there are many unknowns in origins science, and YEC science may be just as viable as OEC or evolutionary suppositions.

creationism has the ironic effect of subordinating the Bible to science even while trying to subordinate science to the Bible. By making science the necessary means of ratifying the truth of Scripture, science becomes the master of the text instead of its servant.

Actually, I think that shows intellectual honesty and rigor. Rather than taking either as gospel (their understanding of science or the bible), they are attempting to square their understanding of scripture with science. The problem is that science is not to be taken uncrticially, because it too can be influenced by forces that want to pervert it (see Separation of Science and State). If we hold that both disciplines reflect the truth, than we should make an effort to harmonize them. There is always the danger of allowing a misunderstanding in one to incorrectly affect the other, but welcome to real life.

You call this logical approach a "vicious circle." So what do you propose, that we treat these as separate disciplines? I say that is an intellectual and logical mistake, because all truth is connected, and by disconnecting them you lose the benefit of cross-checking. Despite the fact that the bible may be a book of history and phenomenology and not science, this does not remove the value of allowing these two disciplines of truth (theology and science) to temper one another.

In fact, this theological isolationism which you seem to be proposing (sorry, don't mean to create a straw man) has been the theological problem of the fundamentalists that led to Christians withdrawing from culture, politics, art, and science, because faith was merely a personal discipline. Thankfully, that theology is behind us.

Finally, regarding the cost of the museum, in today's dollars, $27M is a thrifty amount to spend on such a facility. And because ideas have consequences, it may have a larger impact on people than you think. While we are to be smart with our resources, your utilitarian monetary measurement may seem wise in man's eyes, but perhaps in light of eternal purposes, it was well spent.
D.W. Congdon said…
Seeker: Thanks for the comment. I will give you the point about the $27 million expense. Certainly in today’s terms it is not a lot of money. But it’s only a worthwhile expense if it is spent on something worthwhile, which is not the case with the Creation Museum, in my opinion.

Now it seems to me that the substance of your argument is more or less the same as that of the creationists: Scripture and science are both concerned with truth, and thus we can and must harmonize the two. This sounds appealing, except that it commits a form of the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle term, which goes as follows:

1. All A’s are C’s.
2. All B’s are C’s.
3. Ergo, all A’s are B’s.

The problem with this fallacy is quite clear when we point out that just because all cats have four legs and all dogs have four legs does not mean all cats are dogs. In your case, I would modify the syllogism just slightly, but the fallacy is still evident:

1. All Scripture is concerned with truth.
2. All science is concerned with truth.
3. Ergo, all Scripture is concerned with science, or at least Scripture and science are concerned about the same thing—viz. truth.

The problem with your argument is that truth is an undistributed middle. The argument obscures the fact that truth does not apply to Scripture in the same way that it applies to science. Just because cats and dogs both have four legs does not mean they can be “harmonized.” Cats have four cat legs and dogs have four dog legs. Similarly, Scripture has scriptural truth and science has scientific truth. Truth is particular to each term.

The question we must ask is, what kind of truth is scriptural truth? What does the Bible tell us? What does Scripture communicate? You said that treating them as separate is “an intellectual and logical mistake, because all truth is connected.” This is an assertion. Can you back it up? Can you show me how all truth is connected, or is this just presupposed?

I am inclined to agree that truth is interconnected at least somewhat. Certainly I do not wish to establish any intellectual ghettoes that cannot be challenged. But it is not self-evident to me that science and Scripture are talking about the same truth. In fact, abstracting and reifying the notion of truth obscures the fact that truth is a complex and varied reality. Just because the cosmos is interconnected does not mean that each investigation into the truth is concerned with the same object. There has historically been a conflict between theology and philosophy, because both disciplines have (at least in the past) wanted to speak about metaphysical realities. Science has no interest in metaphysics; it doesn’t care who made the world, only how it was made. Certainly there is a connection between the realms of theology and science (both might deal with the human person from different perspectives), but one cannot assume that they are speaking about the same thing just because truth is in question.

Certainly, the truth that hydrogen and oxygen combine to form H2O is not connected with the truth that Jesus died and rose again for our sins. The former is an empirical truth arrived at by investigating nature; the latter is a scriptural truth arrived at by hearing the revealed Word of God. The latter category includes the truth that God created the world. Of course, the world created by God is the same world investigated by science, but the truth that God created this world is not a scientific truth.

It comes down to this then: does the Bible concern itself with scientific truth? Is the creation account intended to be a scientific account of the universe’s origin? If so, then creationism is no longer a scientific question but a biblical-theological question regarding the texts themselves. If not, then we must be content with the Bible and science explaining their own truths. We must recognize that the Bible and science both come from the God of all Truth, but that they are not necessarily connected and capable of harmonization.
We, the undersigned Kentucky residents, whether atheistic evolutionists or theistic evolutionists, whether scientists or persons of faith or both, do solemnly and urgently petition the "Creation Museum" to move elsewhere. Dayton, Tennessee comes quickly to mind.

How embarrassing.
seeker said…
But it's only a worthwhile expense if it is spent on something worthwhile, which is not the case with the Creation Museum, in my opinion.

How do you measure what is worthwhile? By souls saved? By number of visitors? By some cultural shift that you could measure and attribute to the museum? Do you think all museums are a waste of time? The creators of this musesum think it an important contribution to our approach to science and history - it's a world-view challenge to the atheist, materialist, evolutionist view.

As I wrote in Is Creationism a Barrier to Faith?, "for those who are seeking, the existence of a well developed world view may actually remove their mental barriers to faith, rather than creating them, so we must continue to develop and teach them."

The question we must ask is, what kind of truth is scriptural truth?

I alluded to this when i mentioned the phenomenological and historical, vs. empirical nature of scripture. However, let me say that it is much simpler than you make out, syllogisms aside ;) Scripture is recording true historic events. Though they are phenomenologically recorded, that does not mean that we can not make educated guesses (interpretations) to harmonize these with science. There is a risk there, since science often changes it's mind. However, that's why we sometimes will take the bible as authoritative over the current scientific conclusions, at least for the sake of argument, in order to find possible new and better theories that describe reality.

The argument obscures the fact that truth does not apply to Scripture in the same way that it applies to science.

Historical truth (which is what the creation debate is largely about) is the perview of both science and scripture, so I see no undistributed middle problem. Both deal with the same objective reality, so both ought to agree, to the extent that they apply (i.e. some things, like claims of meaning or purpose, are outside of science).

You said that treating them as separate is "an intellectual and logical mistake, because all truth is connected." This is an assertion. Can you back it up? Can you show me how all truth is connected, or is this just presupposed?

I take this as a presupposition, but it rests on this idea - all of reality is objective real, so all disciplines that try to describe reality must agree in the points where they overlap. If they do not, then we do not fully understand that area yet.

the truth that God created this world is not a scientific truth.

Yes, but creationism is not just about establishing God as the author of creation. It is about establishing the biblical chronology and Noahic flood, and the view that all things appeared fully formed in their current complexity, and have *deteriorated* over time, not increased in complexity, as evolution claims. These are scientific claims which can be examined. And there are many other scientific claims that flow from the special creation and noahic stories that can be scientifically examined.

does the Bible concern itself with scientific truth?

I think that is the wrong question, in that it is misleading and too narrow. A better set of questions would be:

- Does the bible describe historic events which science can confirm?

- When scripture says that God created life, does it mean that he did it de novo or can we accept other mechanisms such as evolution? Do the genesis passages exclude evolution?

- If scripture describes real events pheonomelogically (e.g. the sun "rises"), how do we square that with science? If we know that the sun doesn't actually rise, do we conclude scripture wrong? And if we accept such as harmonizable, do we now look upon other passages and interpret them with the same flexibility?

The bottom line for me is that I believe that scripture records real historical events, from the creation on down. I expect that such objective reality can be confirmed by science. But because both the interpretation of scripture and scientific data are subject to our gaps in knowledge, it is worthwhile to bang them up against one another to see what can harmonize them.

And regarding the museum, I don't see it as some terrible evangelical mistake - it's an honest effort to present creationism (which i think is scientifically valid) and archaological history from a different, perhaps biblical viewpoint. Did they do a good job? I don't know, but I do think it's worth trying to challenge people's assumptions about the fossil record and the geological strata, becasue a lot of people have a strong but unfounded faith in the evolutionary interpretation of such, and many use that as an excuse to reject God. Let us challenge this pillar of atheism as best we can.

And thanks for your pleasant tone, i appreciate it, since I was the nay sayer ;)
D.W. Congdon said…
Seeker: I only think that the museum is a waste of money because I disagree with what it pushes. Certainly, from AiG’s perspective it is not a waste of money.

I would like to challenge the notion (1) that creationism is a “well-developed worldview” and (2) that the term “worldview” is something that Christianity supports in any way. The second point takes us off topic (though you should read Clifford Anderson’s essay in Cultural Encounters 2:2 [2006], 61-80). The first point depends on whether you think creationism intellectually holds together. I don’t think it does, but that also leads me astray from what I wish to discuss.

It seems that your argument is this:

1. Scripture narrates historical truth.
2. Science investigates historical truth.
3. Scripture narrates what science investigates, and vice versa.

In other words, Scripture and science “both deal with the same objective reality, so both ought to agree, to the extent that they apply.” While I fully respect this position, I believe it rests upon a very narrow—and fundamentally incorrect—notion of Scripture as a phenomenological recorder of objective reality. Scripture is like a literary video camera which simply takes in the events of history; it records the phenomena, but without the scientific sophistication gained from the Enlightenment.

I argue that this understanding of Scripture is still fundamentally modern. But it quickly runs into some problems, viz. the very problems with which any inerrant account of Scripture must contend. For example, where the history recorded in 2 Samuel-2 Kings differs from 1-2 Chronicles, which version of the events are we to accept? Where Joshua and Judges contradict each other, which version of the events are we to accept? (We might add to the mix the two creation narratives or the two flood narratives.) If the whole Bible is dealing with the same objective reality, then how do you account for contradictions in the text, of which there are plenty (e.g., 2 Sam. 24:1 vs. 1 Chron. 21:1)?

Of course, one can always find a way to explain issues in a text. The bigger and more important question is whether the point of the “historical” passages is the history. In other words, is the point of Genesis to give an accurate historical account of the events which took place in a particular ancient family? Is the point of Exodus to give an accurate historical account of the events which took place in northern Egypt thousands of years ago? Do these narratives have much if anything invested in their historicity? If I had to boil down my argument in a nutshell, it would be this: Is the Bible a history book? Is there anything at stake in whether or not events recorded in the OT actually happened or not?

I want to affirm that the Bible is historical in some sense. But I do not want to say that the Bible is a history book. The Jews know better than to call the early books “history” as opposed to the later books. The divisions in the Hebrew Bible are law, prophets, and writings. Genesis is thus not a “history” book as we understand history; it is a book of theo-centric stories concerned with a theological reality, viz. the establishment of the basis for God’s covenant with Israel, fleshed out in the following books. There is no history per se in the OT; there is no objective recording of the facts like we would expect from a history textbook in a social studies course. Fundamentalists are like secular academics in that they turn the Bible into a history book like any other, but they are unlike secular academics in that they believe the Bible comes from the hand of God.

The bottom line for me is that I believe that scripture records real historical events, from the creation on down. I expect that such objective reality can be confirmed by science.

In the end, I disagree with this point. Certainly, I think Scripture has grounding in real historical events, but I do not think that the Bible is a book which simply records these events. This is far too much of a modern, Enlightened view of the biblical text; it fails to account for the textual variances which attest to the Bible’s humanity, its rootedness in particular times and places where history qua history did not exist. The emphasis on objective history overlooks the subjective humanity of the text, one which is written by human authors in response to divine revelation. The Bible is a witness to this revelation, and thus in its narratives, it witnesses to the living God of the covenant. The Bible’s focus is not on the events but on the living God to whom the historical realities bear witness.

Thanks for the engaging dialogue.