This is a guest post by Matt Cowan. He is a junior at Indiana University and member of the Secular Alliance at Indiana University (SAIU).
When you come up to the gates of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, one of the first things you notice is a pair of dinosaur statues positioned on each side of the main gate. When you walk into the Creation Museum, one of the first things you see is a giant model of a flying dinosaur, perhaps a pterodactyl, hanging in the air, posing as if in mid-flight. [Pterodactyls, or "pterosaurs", are apparently not dinosaurs, but my inner child rejects this new scientific fact. Ed.] As you begin to walk through the exhibits, something sticks out: these people like dinosaurs. They really like dinosaurs.
There are animatronic dinosaurs, capable of moving around and making noises. In video presentations on the past, the narrators boast about the existence of dinosaurs. Replicas of fossils, colorful pictures, diagrams, and illustrations are scattered throughout each exhibit in the museum. The gift shop is filled with dinosaur toys and merchandise, from t-shirts to coloring books to anything else that a dinosaur can possibly be emblazoned upon.
The real reason for having such a strong focus on dinosaurs is obvious: it’s designed especially with kids in mind. Dinosaurs, being something that many kids are fascinated with at one point or another, are a prime way for the people behind this museum to connect with children. I loved dinosaurs as a kid. I read Jurassic Park, watched The Land Before Time about a thousand times (as I’m sure most of my generation did), and rushed to the dinosaur exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum (an actual museum) every time I visited.
Were I still young and easily impressionable, I might be swayed by all the focus put on these prehistoric beasts. At first glance, they’re attractive to people of all ages. Everyone still has that dinosaur-loving kid inside of them, waiting for the day when Jurassic Park is actually possible. But at a second glance, their presence is more sinister. The dinosaurs are there specifically to influence young children.
When I was at the Creation Museum, I noticed that almost every other group there had young children with them. Perhaps they were Christian youth groups or simply religious parents, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the people who visit are there bringing children to help convince them to go to church or otherwise reinforce a belief in Christianity and creationism. I don’t think the Creation Museum appeals much to people without children they want to “educate.” Hence the dinosaurs.
That appears to be the real goal behind the Creation Museum: convincing children of the truthfulness of the Bible and the legitimacy of creationism and pseudoscience. Chances are, if you’re not entirely sure of creationism one way or the other, you’re not going to travel all the way to some high-priced museum to find an answer. Because unlike 6- and 7-year-olds, you can probably find all the answers you’re looking for online, and don’t need help making up your mind. Oh, and now they want to add a theme park, funded by tax-payers, as well.
Another thing you notice as you walk through the museum and glance at the various exhibits is how these people seem to have an answer for everything. Why was incest OK back during the time of Adam and Eve but not OK now? How have places that would appear to have taken tens of thousands of years to form, such as the Grand Canyon, been formed in only a few thousand years? Why is carbon dating ineffective? In each case, they have a ready answer lined up. Their arguments have been honed by all the obvious objections. The museum even accepts ‘microevolution’ and limited natural selection. Rather than flatly denying these phenomena exist, they give a scientific veneer to their theology by twisting the theories to suit their liking.
But how do they arrive at these answers? By ignoring “human reason” (as they put it) and quoting Bible passages. It’s hard to find a graphic or display that doesn’t have Biblical verses somewhere on it. What’s worse, they selectively choose what questions to answer and what to ignore. Nowhere could I find anything about Neanderthals and other species of the Homo genus, nor about DNA. Although Charles Darwin was mentioned, the names of scientists like Gregor Mendel, James Watson, and Frances Crick were completely absent. They did have genealogical trees for humans as well as other species (including the aforementioned dinosaurs), but in the absence of DNA evidence, the trees seemed tied together only by scripture and guesswork.
But ironically, the biggest thing I am going to take away from the trip was something that reinforced my atheism. The museum had a miniature planetarium, a tiny theater that showed short films about God and the cosmos. I watched one of the shows the museum put on, and rather than convincing me of the glory of God and creation, it did the opposite.
I’ve had a fascination with space since I was a child. Evidently seeing Star Wars at age 5 left its mark. I tore through all the books I could find on the solar system, its planets and its sun. I can’t quite explain why I’m still filled with the same wonder I had when I was a kid, but it has something to do with the vastness of it all, the possibilities of what could be out there, the timelessness.
The film, which lasted about half an hour, talked about how small the Earth was compared to the rest of the known universe, and it mentioned just how far away our planet is from other stars, planets, and galaxies. The relative size of our planet and the universe, a la Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” speech, fascinates me endlessly — that famous picture happens to be my desktop background. The program made mention of star clusters, the sizes of different stars and the number of stars and galaxies that we know to exist. Thinking about the universe on a cosmic scale moved me, and I began to develop a new viewpoint about our universe and religion here on Earth.
The first major thought that struck me as I watched was how Earth-centric religion is, especially after being reminded of how there are an endless number of planets and stars. When I think about how minute and insignificant our planet is relative to the immensity of the cosmos, I have to question how conceivable it is that God made the entire, ever-expanding universe only for us. I find that view rather selfish — that God chose this planet over all others, that we somehow won a lottery whose odds were infinity to one.
I do understand that, when people were first trying to explain what they were seeing up in the sky, they had no idea of the boundless nature of what was up there. The Bible takes stock of space in one little verse (Genesis 1:16), but it seems to me that the vastness of the universe deserves more respect and acknowledgment than the five words, “He also made the stars.” That’s it. That’s really all it says about what’s out there. That’s all the evidence the presentation had with which to assure me, and the others in the audience, of the brilliance of God’s role in creating the cosmos.
There is practically nothing in the Bible about what is up there. Beyond the mention of stars and astrological concepts of the time, all we are supposed to make of it is what Psalm 19 says, “The heavens are recounting the honour of God, And the work of His hands The expanse is declaring.” Not very enlightening. Now, in an age where we are capable of space flight, there’s nothing in the Bible about how to approach the new information we have concerning our universe and the possibilities that lay before us when it comes to space travel and exploration. What’s a Christian to do now that one can travel to the stars? That’s a pretty big thing for God to leave out of the Bible.
And so, after viewing the presentation, I felt more secure in my atheism, and gained a new perspective about religion and the universe that I didn’t have before. When I look at my place in existence in relation to the universe, I get the sense that I am just a speck on a grain of sand that makes up an endless beach. And I am OK with that. To assume we have some greater or higher purpose in the universe at large is a rather selfish view. I think some people cannot come to terms with that concept, that we are insignificant. I still feel that I am a part of something, as small as that part is, that I have left a footprint on that beach. I feel that my existence alone has contributed and fulfilled something, and that is enough for me.