The May 28 opening of a $27 million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, drew about 4000 visitors, dozens of protestors, and attention from national and international media.
The museum promotes a literal interpretation of the Bible’s creation story, contradicting accepted scientific explanations of the origin of the universe, stars, Earth, and life.
Scientists from the region have signed petitions expressing their concern that the museum spreads lies about science and could confuse children.
The 60,000 square foot Creation Museum, located near Cincinnati, was built by the Answers in Genesis ministry, using funds from private donations.
Exhibits illustrate the biblical creation story, which claims that Earth is only 6,000 years old and was created by God in six 24-hour days. Adam and Eve are shown in the same scene as dinosaurs. The dinosaurs, according to the exhibits, were vegetarian before the fall. According to the museum, the Grand Canyon was created over the course of days, during the biblical flood. The museum’s planetarium presents a biblical version of astronomy.
People who have seen the museum say it resembles a natural history museum, with exhibits that are attractive and high-tech.
“It’s a very impressive-looking place,” said Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University and chair of the APS Forum on Physics and Society.
“The dinosaurs attract the youth; the clever exhibits entertain and have a polish that seems very scientific. They often look like NOVA specials,” said Bob Riehemann, a physics and math professor at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.
Riehemann toured the museum and took note of many examples of how the museum misrepresented science. “A constant theme is the idea that creation science accepts many of the regular physical mechanisms but finds ways to speed them up via catastrophic events,” he said.
The exhibits try to convince viewers that creationists and the scientists both start with the same facts, but interpret them differently. “They never talk about what science really is,” said Krauss.
The National Center for Science Education, an organization that promotes the teaching of evolution, has circulated a petition to scientists in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. By early June nearly 1000 scientists had signed the statement, which calls the museum scientifically inaccurate, and expresses the concern that “Students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level. These students will need remedial instruction in the nature of science, as well as in the specific areas of science misrepresented by Answers in Genesis.”
In addition, DefCon, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, an organization that aims to combat the influence of the religious right, has circulated a petition opposing Answers in Genesis’ “nefarious campaign to institutionalize a lie.” Nearly 25,000 concerned citizens and more than 4,000 educators signed the DefCon petition. DefCon also distributed a pamphlet developed by Krauss entitled, “Top 10 Reasons why the Universe, the Sun, Earth, and Life are not 6000 years old: A Primer.”
This museum may not change many people’s minds about science, since many of the visitors probably already believe the biblical creation story. “I’d say most of the people that go are going there for validation,” said Krauss.
However, Krauss and others worry that some people may visit the museum because they are just curious, and those people, especially children, may come away confused. “And that means we’ll have a harder job convincing them,” said Krauss.
Riehemann pointed out how confusing it would be to a typical visitor, who does not have the ability to evaluate the technical arguments used by Answers in Genesis. “If one looks through the technical matter in the bookstore, it is possible to find references to Calabi-Yau manifolds and the work of Witten and Strominger,” he said. “Most people are completely overwhelmed by this material–and very, very impressed by it.”
Scientists can help the public understand and evaluate the museum’s arguments, said Riehemann. “No one, to my knowledge, objects to the right of AIG to have a museum and present their views. However, in a population ill-equipped to distinguish the silliness of AIG science from the real thing, it is important that the scientific community acknowledge the museum, but also to comment on the low quality of the content in order to assist the public in its evaluation.”
The Creation Museum expects to attract about 250,000 visitors in its first year.
The Petersburg, KY Creation Museum is the largest, but not the only museum promoting the biblical creation story. Dozens of smaller creationist museums exist in the United States, and a $300,000 creation museum opened in the small town of Big Valley, in Alberta, Canada in early June.