Why would I go to a creation museum?
I don’t believe in a special creation, to put it bluntly. I have no question that evolution by natural selection is fact as well as solidly grounded theory. I find the whole concept of a 27 million dollar facility pushing a narrow interpretation of a creation myth to be offensive, when one could have sent those millions to, say, upgrade the facilities of a teaching hospital in Africa, or fund clinics in the slums of central America, or promote polio vaccination programs worldwide… the list of real charitable projects would go on and on and on. And if you would prefer those dollars be used for US charities, try Habitat for Humanity or the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity, or the Secular Students Alliance (more on this group in a post to come).
Why? Because my students come from varied backgrounds and with this “museum” only a 90 minute drive from home, some will have visited this place. While I am familiar with most of the claims of creationists of many stripes, thanks to TalkOrigins and The Counter Creationist Handbook (which I am holding above, and if you are a science educator, you should own this book and keep it in your office or classroom), it is always best to see these claims firsthand so that you can see their claims firsthand, how they are presented, etc so that you can be better prepared to respond.
Also, because there was a large group going, I didn’t have to pay $22 to get in, just ten. I’ll be offsetting that with donations and dues payments to a variety of pro science education groups or skeptical organizations, such as the NCSE, CSI and SSA, among others. Consider it Idiocy Offset Credits, sort of like offset credits of the carbon type.
Finally, PZ Myers, lord of the squid, was going, and I wanted to get a chance to see if fire really did shoot from his eyes and if bats darkened the skies with their leathery wings above him, blotting out the sun. Sadly, his reputation in this manner has been greatly exaggerated.
My tie has the periodic table on it. I was ready to teach the controversy between four elements and all those hundred or so elements that scientists keep adding to every now and then. PZ’s tie, on the other hand is one of two crocoducks, the other belonging to Richard Dawkins.
What did I find?
It looked like a museum, at least on the surface. But like any gilded turd, scratch the surface and the stench becomes clear.
It boiled down to a false dichotomy, based on circular reasoning and appeals to authority, appeals to ancient knowledge, appeals to fear, straw men, half truths and bald faced lies all wrapped up in post hoc reasoning so thick that the light of reason would be hard pressed to penetrate. If you go and have any questions in your faith, I think it would actually drive towards doubt and disbelief, instead of reinforcing your wavering philosophy, especially when you get home and do some fact-checking.
The false dichotomy was between “man’s reason” and “God’s Word.” Simply put, you have a choice between accepting an evidence based conclusion based on experiment and observation or Ken Ham’s interpretation of Genesis. Believe in theistic evolution, deism, intelligent design, or anything but Profit Prophet Ken Ham’s version, and you are in trouble, whether you self identify as Christian or not.
I really am not concerned with what religion you happen to follow, or none at all for that matter, as long as you are honest and willing to accept evidence when it contradicts faith. Prophet Ham may be honest in his beliefs, or maybe he has found that lying about the evidence is comforting and pays off well. He certainly isn’t willing to accept any level of evidence that he might be incorrect and goes to great lengths to dismiss it in the most dishonest way possible. Also, rather than respond to PZ by name, he is just “that professor.” Real mature.
The circular reasoning was present in a simple formula. The bible is true because it is God’s word, and it says it is true, which one would expect from any religion. Fine, many believe this. But again, the only acceptable interpretation of that truth was Prophet Ham’s version of a literal interpretation. This was backed up with an appeal to authority, namely God’s authority, on loan to Prophet Ham. If you doubt Ham’s interpretation of God’s word, you are responsible for all that is wrong in the world.
This would be a surprise to many scientists who are Christians. This wasn’t a museum, but instead, a church with animatronic dinosaurs, theaters, petting zoo. It was an amusement church, as I heard at least one person call it by the end of the day.
The appeals to fear were hard and heavy. If you don’t believe Prophet Ham’s view, culture heads towards a second fall, complete with war, genocide, murder, family strife, divorce, disease, stem cell medicine, lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The straw man was present everywhere, but only in one incarnation. “This is the opinion of human (fallible) scientists.” No scientific evidence to support anything was offered on either side of the discussion, just a list of claims and some pretty pictures. Of course, had evidence been given, it would have been very one sided, and Ham wouldn’t allow that. Attacking such a strawman would be easy as pie. Or it should have been. The attacks were made with half truths and flat out lies, such as mutations are always negative, with antibiotic resistance used as their example. (I apologize for the lighting issues in many of these photos. The lighting was OK, but there were poorly placed floods all over, making it difficult to get a picture without glare, and I don’t have a polarizing filter on my wide angle lens.)
Yes. Antibiotic resistance, in the view of Prophet Ham is not an example of evidence of evolution, because as soon as the antibiotics are gone, the resistant bacteria die off. If that were true, we wouldn’t be worried about the problem of antibiotic resistance, and frantically trying to develop new antibiotics to treat diseases like TB. In some types of antibiotic resistance, the resistant strains are less fit in the absence of the antibiotic, as they have to produce resistance factors, an expensive investment. In this case, the resistant strain will, over time, make up a smaller percentage of the bacteria present, but not all of them die out.
Let’s put it another way. Can you drink milk? I can. That is a mutation, and it is a good one for humans to have. Most mammals are lactose intolerant by the time they reach adulthood. Making the enzyme lactase is expensive in terms of amino acids and energy. If you don’t need it, it is better to shut it off, stop making lactase. But if you have access to milk from herd animals, it’s good to keep the lactase gene turned on. You can enjoy a useful supply of food that isn’t available to others without the mutation. You and any of your offspring that carry the mutant gene will be more likely to thrive than those non-mutants. This mutation occurred independently in several different parts of the world and continues to thrive. That is natural selection. That is evolution. If you don’t have milk, do you waste away and die? Not unless milk and milk products are a primary and indispensible part of your diet. But outside of those circumstances, there is no longer a pressure that reduces the fitness of individuals without the mutation, or those who have mutated back to normal (can’t use lactose as adults). Instead of dominating the population, you would see a slow drift back to not being able to break down lactose or being able to thrive in the presence of antibiotics.
Ken Ham would prefer to pretend that natural selection is not evolution, and that evolution is simultaneously biblical and heresy. All cats are one group, and a few thousand years ago, lions, tigers, leopards, etc all evolved from one very small population of ark riders. Horses did the same, all the ponies, zebras, donkeys, onagers, etc. Whales are separate yet again, but please ignore the well established fossil record of whale evolution. But humans are special, never change, and have no relatives. All fossil hominids are either human or ape, but none are a transition between the two. Its all very creative, very imaginative, but not based on science. For all intents and purposes, until humans could measure rates of mutation, or were paying attention to speciation, God had the mutability factor on DNA polymerases dialed up to 11.
You see, no matter what transitional form, feature or fossil you offer to Ham and his followers, none of them are real. They are either misinterpreted or fraudulent. Or they fit into a history of Earth close to one million fold too fast, and sped up in the wrong places.
Some of the exhibits at the Creation “Museum” were simply ridiculous. Here are a few of the dinosaurs, which I understood were sculpted by a staff artist.
Notice anything from their display plaques? Cenozoic, Jurassic, etc, all are from just a few thousand years ago, all when the catastrophic flood is supposed to have taken place. All of the fossils date to that time. Never mind radiometric dating, the geologic column, age of the universe and distance to remote stars. Those don’t fit in with the 6000 year window of acceptable time. They have to throw that “Man’s evidence” out. Also, check the diet listing. “Diet after the fall.” Of course, with no death, meat eaters would have been vegetarians, including such obligate carnivores as cats, so the diet has to be defined as “after the fall.”
Here is another.
No aquatic dinosaurs? Actually, this is correct. Amazingly, I did learn something at this place! Mosasaurs, ichthiosaurs, and the like don’t fall into the archosaur clade that dinosaurs are found in. More on clades in a bit… We often mistakenly lump these in with the dinos. The dinos have the following features; socketed teeth, terrestrial (land dwelling, so that rules out the aquatic ones by definition alone) with specific fenestrae on their skulls (open spaces that reduce weight, see below), a specific bone attachment point on their femurs, and they carry their limbs in line with their bodies.
Clades are a means of grouping species by defining characteristics. All mammals have hair and mammary glands, including the duckbill platypus and echidna, which are egg layers. We cut them out in the next clade, where egg layers are separated from mammals that bear live young and nurture their fetal young by placenta. We break the mammals up once again between marsupials, which give birth to young very early, which then are raised in a pouch, and the eutherian, or true placental mammals, which give birth to much more mature young. Here is another stunner.
Did you know that your mother nursed you in your womb? That would be quite a feat. Maybe Ham is simply unaware of human female anatomy… Yeah, that’s probably it. Marsupials evolved first, which based on the evidence, would be the rational explanation. But rational explanations are for sinners. Apparently, marsupials spread out first and so, the flood got them first. That makes no sense at all to me, especially in light of their explanation of the geologic column (coming soon).
OK, back to the aquatic dinos. Mososaurs are classified as being more closely related to snakes, having a flexible skull and jointed mandibles. They still count as reptiles, but not dinosaurs. Plesiosaurs are often placed as being most closely related to modern turtles, and ichthyosaurs probably have no surviving modern group to fit in, but again, not dinos. These are yet another branch that split off from the reptiles and adapted to the water.
The real problem I have with this is that all of the aquatic groups lived at the same time as dinosaurs, died out at the same time as dinosaurs (KT event) and their fossils are found in sediments dating to the same time as dinosaurs. Prophet Ham suggests that aquatic life should have survived the flood, but really, think about this for a second. If you need truly fresh or salty water, you will be out of luck. If you try to live in the wrong type of water without adaptations to regulate salt uptake or loss, you won’t survive, that eliminates most fish. Next, give up on those animals who need wetlands, or feed in shallow water, coral reefs and kelp forests, or have reproductive cycles where they have to seek out shallows to lay their eggs, and need to do this in less than 5 months. Ham and the Creation “Museum” are all wet.
Next, how do plants survive all of this? Plants need oxygen and light, but the flood would have covered the earth in a tremendous amount of water, miles deep in places. Few seeds do well when waterlogged, especially in salty water.
Never fear, Ken Ham has the answer. Create an entirely new ecosystem, not seen anywhere on earth, and completely infeasible if given any thought. At least I think this is one of the things he is trying to do here.
Yeah. Forests that float on the ocean. Not mangrove swamps, not algal mats, but buoyant forests that float, apparently without any trouble of soil loss or production. If this seems odd to you, it should be. But Ham needs it in order to explain the geologic column. It helps him explain why organisms are found in specific chronological order and not intermixed, as one would expect from a catastrophic flood. Some of these floating forests, of course, didn’t make it through the flood, but sank, giving us some of the older sediment layers, or for Ham, buried before other, more recently evolved plant groups.
Prophet Ham holds out hope that human and dinosaur bones will be found together, along with a bit of crank magnetism (believe in one pseudoscience and you probably believe in others), thinking we might just find a dinosaur out there in the wild.
At least with the Pawlenty river footprint fossil, he doesn’t make the old claim that human and dino footprints can be found side by side. At least he has learned to not make some ridiculous claims.
But one very nasty specter raises its head, the story of Noah’s son Ham. After the flood, Noah got drunk and passed out. Ham poked his head in the tent, saw this and told his brothers. Brothers came in backwards (nobody wants to see their dad naked) and covered him up. When Noah found out what had happened, he cursed Ham’s progeny, not Ham. Nice family. The curse was that Ham’s children would be servants and slaves forever.
Included in an afternoon lecture was this beauty. It isn’t a photo, but rather a copy of a slide straight from the Answers in Genesis website, the parent company of this sick, sad place.
Feel insulted yet?
By some racist sleight of hand, Ham’s descendants were assumed to have ended up in Africa, and so, slavery of Africans was not only biblical, it was all but a moral imperative. Ken Ham’s bunch repeats this cultural myth, dropping the slavery part as though it never happened. Ken claims to have been completely unaware of this, deflecting any embarrassment he should be feeling onto those who would criticize him. Being an Australian and thus less aware of American biblical justifications for slavery (although it has been used several times, by several cultures throughout history), he may have an out, but that doesn’t excuse everybody else that works for him.
When it comes down to it, the Creation “Museum” is as much on our side as it is against it. In an age of the internet, where information is just a click away, if something doesn’t make sense to a kid (as much of this museum does not), they can quickly find out that the “Museum” is baloney. For every group that goes, some will figure this out, and the joy of finding things out is what makes science so enjoyable and rewarding a profession or hobby. Ham is grasping at the ghost of a passing age, already tenuous when Darwin and Wallace presented their theories. If he can’t hold onto his bronze age beliefs and what he believes is his moral center, he truly believes that he would descend into barbarism. That is what I think drives Ham into his ridiculous position and choice of evangelical outlet.
The rest of the museum not dealing with evolution, the garden of eden, the fall of man, building the ark, the flood and other pseudoscience focuses around a bit of church history and stories of some of the major players in the Old and New Testaments. I didn’t go into some of these, but if you want more skeptical views of the Creation “Museum,” here are the tales of the 300.
It is not a place I would take a kid for multiple reasons. First, the layout is long and winding, with few bathrooms and water fountains available. It isn’t like many museums where you can start in a central atrium and go to your choice of several halls, but is rather a long dull walk. Second, there are almost no interactive exhibits, just lots of manikins, models and wordy plaques. Third, unless they have read piles of dino books already and know baloney when they see it, teaching this malarkey to a kid will stunt their intellectual growth and set them up to do poorly in science classes all the way through college.
Poor kid is gonna be bored out of his gourd.
Also, it is handicap accessible, but not handicap friendly. If you use a power scooter or chair, good luck. Some of the exhibits are upstairs, and I don’t think I saw an elevator up to the dino hall. Wheelchairs might make it through, but strollers were a constant hazard and obstruction.
Another thing many of us noticed… There was nowhere to toss your bottles or cans for recycling. I guess they assume that Jesus is going to come soon to rapture them away, so why bother with taking care of things?
Go if you want, but not alone. You will need someone else to express your amusement, indignation and outrage to. Otherwise, you’ll go nuts. Also, pack a lunch and bring some bottles of water. Otherwise, you are going to have to pay them for overpriced food. There are no restaurants nearby, making you a captive customer.
All pictures were taken either by myself or by my wife unless otherwise credited. All links to creationist websites feature the rel=”nofollow” attribute in order to keep my post from increasing their google ranking.