Paleontologists visit Creation Museum

PETERSBURG, Ky. (AP) — In a dimly lit corner of the controversial Creation Museum stands a replica of a wrecking ball demolishing a brick church.

The wrecking ball is labeled with the words, “Millions of Years,” but for the more than six dozen paleontologists who made the trek to the museum Wednesday while in the area for a conference, it might as well have read “Science.”

Since the northern Kentucky museum’s opening two years ago, the field trip marked one of the largest gatherings of critics to date. Paleontologists spend their careers studying evolution, but here they were visiting a place where nearly every room is dedicated to disproving it.

This trip was less about fact-finding and more about understanding the marketing strategy from the other side of one of the most fiercely debated human questions: How did life begin, and when?

“The real purpose of the museum visit is to give some of my colleagues an opportunity to sense how they’re being portrayed,” said Arnold Miller, a professor of paleontology at the University of Cincinnati, which is hosting the conference. “They’re being demonized, I feel, in this museum as people who are responsible for all the ills of society.”

Though the wrecking ball display makes that point most vividly, Miller and other paleontologists object to numerous other aspects of the museum they say imply science is doing more harm than good.

For example, multiple rooms are devoted to the great flood, which a strict biblical interpretation might explain was a rebuke for questioning God. The implication, some of the paleontologists say, is that their studies concluding Earth is millions of years old — not thousands as creationists claim — must pose a similar threat to mankind.

Scientists also disagree with the depiction of Noah’s ark itself. Inside a miniature ark is a compartment holding two small dinosaurs, living alongside the monkeys, cows and other animals.

“It’s like a theme park, but the problem is it masquerades as truth,” said Derek Briggs, Yale paleontology professor.

David Menton, a cell-biology professor and researcher with Answers In Genesis, which founded the museum, makes no apologies that the museum’s teachings are rooted in the Old Testament. He insists they rely on largely the same facts scientists use, just with a starting point millions of years later. Anything before that can’t really be proven by science anyway, he says.

“I’ve spent enough of my professional life in science that I know science being compatible with religion is not the sort of thing that keeps scientists up at night,” Menton said. “There’s a lot of scientists out there that rather applaud that idea.”

He even defends the displays that argue people and dinosaurs are contemporaries, including one at the museum entrance that show replicas of two young girls playing in a field not far from a dinosaur.

“I’m not saying dinosaurs and man frequently hobnobbed,” Menton said. “I live on Earth at the same time as grizzly bears, but if I could stay as far away from grizzly bears, that suits me fine.”

The critique of scientists even extends to the gift shop, where among the DVDs for sale is one titled, “The Cure for a Culture in Crisis: It doesn’t take a Ph.D.”

“Faith is one thing, but when it comes to their science statements, they’re completely off the wall,” said Mark Terry, a high-school science teacher from Seattle. “If they called it the Christian faith museum it wouldn’t be nearly as controversial, but that’s what it is. There’s almost no science in there, just a lot of science talk.”

Christine Janis, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University, said most of the arguments addressed at the museum she’s heard countless times before. What she found most troubling was the crowd.

More than 750,000 people have visited in two years, and Janis is concerned the Creation Museum’s version of human history is the only one they’re getting.

“They’re out-breeding us, that’s for sure,” Janis said.

The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.