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Natural history, Bible-style

Kentucky's Creation Museum, opening May 28, puts dinosaurs in the garden with Adam and Eve.

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 24, 2007

Petersburg, Ky.

For natural history museums, the awesome dinosaur is a star attraction for drawing wide-eyed children and their families. It's surprising, though, to be welcomed at the gate of the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky by two stegosauruses. After all, this brand-new museum is designed to disprove evolution, including the millions of years that science says dinosaurs walked the earth.

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For Bible-defending "creationists," God created Earth and all its creatures between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. But they know a drawing card when they see one, and this museum has more than its share of animatronic (moving, teeth-baring, roaring) specimens. In fact, dinosaurs play a big role in this "biblical history": They live not 65 million years ago, but with humans – in the Garden of Eden and on Noah's Ark.

"Dinosaurs are one of the icons of evolution, but we believe they lived at the same time as people," says Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the fundamentalist Christian ministry that built the facility. "The Bible talks about dragons. We believe dragon legends had a basis in truth."

The $27 million museum set on 50 acres opens on Memorial Day, and AiG hopes for 250,000 visitors a year. Mr. Ham, a former science teacher in Australia, is direct about the museum's purpose: to restore the Bible to its "rightful authority" in society.

For many scientists, however, it's distressing. Some 700 scientists at educational institutions in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana have signed a statement deploring the "scientifically inaccurate" exhibits and warning that students who accept them are "unlikely to succeed in science courses."

Erroneous, with 'great flash and dash'

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, says, "This is freedom of speech, but it's unfortunate the public is going to be exposed to erroneous science presented with great flash and dash ... in an authoritative way. This is going to be detrimental to science literacy."

No doubt, AiG knew how to create an appealing experience, choosing a designer of amusement parks who created the Jaws and King Kong exhibits at Florida's Universal Studios. In a special-effects theater, the seats shake and visitors are sprinkled with water. There's a lush Garden of Eden, a partial re-creation of Noah's Ark, a slice of the Grand Canyon, lots of videos on plasma TVs, and a planetarium for exploring the universe. At Noah's Cafe, kids can saddle up on a triceratops.

Yet the main mission isn't entertainment; it's presenting a particular "biblical worldview" in which Genesis stands as literal history and true science.

"Genesis gives an account of the history of all basic entities ... from the One who knows everything," Ham says. "If you don't know everything, there could always be evidence that will lead to wrong conclusions."

And wrong conclusions is what AiG claims is behind evolution. Dividing science into "observational science" and "historical science," its theme is that the latter is simply interpretation based on one's presuppositions. In one exhibit, for instance, two paleontologists (a creationist and an evolutionist) are digging up a dinosaur skeleton, but they have two different interpretations – one from a perspective of thousands of years and the other, millions of years.

"Fossils don't have labels," Ham says. "You have different interpretations because you have different starting points – one starts with God's Word, one with human reason."