Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Mixing science with creationism
Mixing science with creationism

A new museum presents evolution from a biblical perspective, showing
Adam and Eve living in harmony with dinosaurs.

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By Paul Harris

May 24, 2005 | EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. -- The razor-toothed
Tyrannosaurus rex, jaws agape, loomed ominously over the gentle
Thescelosaurus, looking for plants to eat. Admiring the museum diorama
were old and young visitors, listening on headphones to a stentorian
voice describing the primeval scene. But the Museum of Earth History is
a museum with a controversial difference. To one side, peering through
the bushes, are Adam and Eve. The display is not an image of the
Cretaceous. It is Paradise. "They lived together without fear, for
there was no death yet," the voice intoned about man and dinosaur.

Nestled deep in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, in the heart of
America's Bible Belt, this is the first dinosaur museum to take a
creationist perspective. Already thousands of people have flocked to
its top-quality exhibits, which mix high science with fundamentalist
theology that few serious scientists accept.

The museum is riding a wave of creationist influence in America.
Creationism, which holds that the Earth is just a few thousand years
old and that the biblical account of Genesis is fact, is central to a
rash of furious arguments across America. From school boards in Kansas
to elections in Pennsylvania, the "debate" between creationism and
evolution has become a political hot potato.

Even as America's scientists make advances in paleontology, astronomy
and physics that appear to disprove creationism, Gallup surveys have
shown that about 45 percent of Americans believe the Earth was created
by God within the past 10,000 years. It's not just creationism, either.
Last week, NBC's "Dateline" program investigated some miracles and
concluded some could be real. It is hard to imagine Jeremy Paxman on
BBC's "Newsnight" taking this stance.

That wellspring of popular belief, and the political clout that comes
with it, are the inspiration behind the museum. It is not interested in
debating with mainstream science. It simply wants to represent the view
of a significant slice of America. "We want people to see that finally
they have something that addresses their beliefs, to show that we do
have a voice," said Thomas Sharp, business director of Creation Truth,
the religious group that co-founded the museum.

No expense was spared. The fossil casts, which range from a Triceratops
skull to an 18-foot-long Albertosaurus (a relative to T. rex), could
easily grace London's Natural History Museum. Plans for a much bigger
museum in Dallas are being considered. And "we would love to open in
the United Kingdom if the right partner showed up," Sharp said.

The museum forms part of a Bible-based theme park in Eureka Springs.
The parking lot is full of cars and coaches from all over the country.
To enter the museum is to explore a surrealistic parallel world.
Biblical quotes appear on displays. The first has dinosaurs, alongside
Adam and Eve, living in harmony. The ferociously fanged T. rex is
likely to be a vegetarian. Then comes the "Fall of Man" and an ugly
world where dinosaurs prey on one another and the first extinctions
occur. The destruction of the dinosaurs is explained, not by a comet
striking the Earth 65 million years ago, but by the Flood. This, the
museum says, wiped out most of the dinosaurs still alive and created
the Grand Canyon and huge layers of sedimentary rock seen around the

Some dinosaurs survived on Noah's Ark. One poster explains that Noah
would have chosen juvenile dinosaurs to save space. An illustration
shows two green sauropods in the ark alongside more conventional
elephants and lions. The final exhibit depicts the Ice Age, where the
last dinosaurs existed with woolly mammoths until the cold and hunting
by cavemen caused them to die out.

Scientists dismiss such claims as on a par with believing in Atlantis.
Yet the museum is unlikely to be seen as a major threat to mainstream
science. It was put in the heart of an area where Christian attractions
are a mainstay of the local economy.

It was built in cooperation with the "New Holy Land" theme park, which
re-creates the biblical Middle East in the Ozarks. A huge statue of
Christ, the largest in North America, looms over Eureka Springs. The
site is the setting for "The Great Passion Play," where each night, in
a 4,500-strong arena, the last days of Christ are acted out. The play
has attracted more than 7.2 million people.

But creationism is seeking to become more influential in other parts of
the country. In Kansas the state school board recently held public
hearings on the validity of evolution and the teaching of "intelligent
design" in classrooms. The hearings were boycotted by scientists who
believed they were rigged against evolutionists. The theory of
intelligent design holds that the world is so complex it must have been
created, and has been dubbed "creationism lite" by its critics. Kansas
is now expected to recommend that schools include
intelligent-design-friendly material in its science courses this

In Pennsylvania, the issue dominated an election in the town of Dover
after the school board decided to include mention of intelligent design
in its science classes. A vote last week between anti-evolution and
pro-evolution candidates ended in an electoral tie.

Creationism has found one high-level voice. President George W. Bush
famously proclaimed: "The jury is still out on evolution." And a CBS
survey late last year showed that 45 percent of Bush voters wanted
creationism taught in schools instead of evolution, compared with 24
percent of voters for John Kerry. "Under the Bush presidency, we are
clearly able to get a lot more done," Sharp said.

The Museum of Earth History may be the first dinosaur museum of its
kind. It is not likely to be the last.