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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Creationism and popular culture: A friend visits Kentucky's Creation Museum

The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, be it noted, has denounced the recently opened Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky:
Dr. Catherine Badgley, a professor at the University of Michigan and president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, remarked, “according to the Creation Museum, the history of life is short, sin-ridden, and laden with moralizing imperatives. In contrast, the real fossil record shows that this long history is brimming with discoveries of new kinds of animals, plants, and environments, inviting people to use their unusual minds to question, to reason, and to wonder at life’s remarkable variety.”

Unusual minds? Interesting choice of words. But what on earth has happened to the Society for Invertebrate Paleontology? Why aren't they chiming in? Maybe next month. Never mind. The Creation Museum has just recorded its 100, 000th visitor, so it won't need the additional puff for a while ...

A thoughtful lawyer friend visited the Museum, following in the steps of a perceptive New York culture critic. He kindly sent me some thoughts:
I just visited the museum on Saturday. It was a zoo. We got there at 2:00 pm and were turned away for a lack of available parking. We finally got in around 2:30 and spent a good part of our time standing in long lines. The exhibits are very well done and have been designed for children and uneducated adults. The placards that describe the exhibits consist of very short sentences that make the points clearly and succinctly. The movies are first class with not only sound effects but vibration effects in seats and water sprinkling during the clip that explains the world wide flood.

My friend, who is well versed in issues around evolution and disagrees with most of the Museum's key interpretations of Earth's history, is particularly interested in issues of bias. He explains,
What I found interesting about the new Creation museum is that it very clearly explains the preconception used and makes no attempt to assert that its presentation is unbiased. It is an honest statement of an effort to reconcile biblical explanations with the observed data. You will never find this candor in the evolution museums. An observer knows up front that this interpretation is based specifically on a religious text. The museum also addresses the moral implications of a world guided by human reason rather than the moral and ethical principles and wisdom found in the Bible. This take home message is riveting.

He contrasts that with the assumption of materialism that underlies the taxpayer-funded museums - an assumption not shared by most museum-goers in the United States:
Glaring omissions render evolution museums that are popping up around the country extraordinarily misleading. Misinformation and deception is based primarily on omission rather than explicit misrepresentation. Most of what is said in the evolution museums is probably true. It is just misleading because of an extraordinary body of relevant information that is not included.

What I would like to see is an origins museum that simply presents a complete set of the material evidence relative to the issue of origins that is necessary for a reasonable member of the public to make an informed decision about the matter. So far, I am not aware of any museum that does this.

I am glad that my friend is a patient man. I expect he will wait a long time. So far, the publicly funded museums' response has been to give docents (guides) training in dealing with the objections of visitors and to develop new exhibits promoting their view, sometimes with a hard sell.

This should not be surprising, because as historian Michael Ruse (himself a Darwinist) notes,
Evolution after Darwin had set itself up to be something more than science. It was a popular science, the science of the marketplace and the museum, and it was a religion—whether this be purely secular or blended in with a form of liberal Christianity … When believers in other religions turned around and scratched, you may regret the action but you can understand it—and your sympathy for the victim is attenuated. (Michael Ruse, The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000), p. 114.)

It's worth noting that the Creation Museum was built with private, not public, funds. We are in an interesting phase in popular cultural history, to be sure: American museum goers are compelled by law to fund the Darwinists' side of the story, however dodgy. Those who dissent respond by building - at their own expense - a museum to tell their side, do the public a service by making their religious agenda clear to all.

Museum not particularly friendly to intelligent design

Also from my friend's report, the Creation Museum:
... is not particularly friendly to ID. I saw no evidence of the bacterial flagellum or of the work of [key intelligent design theorists] Michael Behe or Bill Dembski. I had to go through the entire book store to find an ID video and finally stumbled on Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

Let's see, Unlocking was published in 2002, and was soon overshadowed by the controversy surrounding its stable mates, Privileged Planet and the clearly religion-directed Case for a Creator . Obviously, the Creation Museum isn't going to any trouble to stock ID materials if it missed the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) Privileged Planet.

Thus, an interesting pattern is shaping up: The paleontologists greatly help the Creation Museum by denouncing it - making far more sympathizers aware of it than Answers in Genesis could afford to reach from its own resources. Then the creationists in turn help the ID theorists by making clear what creationism is and what it is not. Creationism is about the BIBLE, see? It's not about intelligent design theories like Behe's* Edge of Evolution or Dembski's design inference.

Anyway, here is a series of private photos taken by an unsympathetic source that give you some idea what's inside.

Would I go to the Museum, given the opportunity? Of course. In a heartbeat. Just as I would go to a Museum of the Medieval Worldview and a Museum of the Materialist Worldview. I love cultural history. ANd I think the Cration Museum is valuable for clearly distinguishing what creationism is and what culture sustains it, separating it from the broader question of intelligent design of the universe or life forms.

*Behe, for what it is worth, is not in any sense a creationist. For example, in Edge of Evolution, he argues for common descent of humans and chimpanzees. (But note his key point: Common descent does NOT necessarily mean that we can go from goo to zoo to you by the means that Darwin and his heirs put so much faith in - in fact, the evidence is actually against that. His is a very unpopular finding among Darwinists, to be sure, but it is not evidence for the creationism promoted by the Creation Museum my friend visited.

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