Sunday, November 30, 2008
My visit to the Creation Museum
So this happened quite a while ago, but I haven't gotten around to writing it up (in part because I kept putting it off until I got the pictures off my phone, and in part because I knew it would be long). I went to the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky with the Elderberries, the 60+ crowd from VCC. The Creation Museum is an offshoot of Answers in Genesis and the work done by their founder, Ken Hamm.
It was bizarre. I felt like I was in some alternate universe. I'm a Christian, I'm kind of a big fan of the Bible, and I believe it's theologically and scientifically acceptable to read Genesis 1-11 from a "young earth" perspective (although I myself do not). I've done a TON of reading on both sides of the issue, I'm more than a little familiar with the talking points, and in a one-on-one conversation I'll tend to take the opposite side from whoever I talk to. I don't want to give my whole creation/evolution backstory here (although I may do that in another post), but I can't imagine that the Creation Museum could have a more receptive "unbeliever" (in their particular story, at least) than me. I figured that while I wouldn't agree with the AIG folks' perspective on everything, I wouldn't see anything that would surprise me.
Wow, was I wrong. The diplomatic way of describing the visit would be to say that they're good folks who love Jesus and love the Bible, and they're willing to die on some hills that I'm not willing to die on. And by "some" I mean "lots."
First, let me say good things. The facility was beautiful. And not beautiful in an ostentatious "we threw a ridiculous amount of money at this thing" way, but in a "we really thought about this and wanted to do our very best to make it a good experience" way. The people were delightful... from the security guard to the ticket lady to the tour guides to the animal handler to the dude selling ice cream. They obviously really cared about what they were doing, and it showed. Christians should be the best in customer service, and these folks were.
As soon as you start in, though, you're faced with an either/or choice that framed the rest of the visit. We were told, in big letters and repeated signs, that one could either start with "Man's Reason" or "God's Word." Man's reason would lead you to believe that the evil evolutionists were right, whereas "God's Word" would show that the earth was young (really young) and that Noah's flood took place 4,937 years ago.
This is problematic for me on several levels. First, I believe God has revealed himself to us through the 66 books of the Bible. But I also believe (and I think the Bible is pretty clear on this) that he's also revealed himself to us through the natural order. "Nature itself" teaches us about God's attributes, and the heavens themselves declare his character. So it should be possible to study nature without the Bible and learn something about God, and it shouldn't be in conflict with what God explicitly tells us.
On a more fundamental level, though, everything in the place was a testament to "Man's Reason" as we've struggled to understand what the Bible tells us. On a really fundamental level, I don't see "God's Word" and "Man's Reason" as conflicting. Rodney Stark wrote an amazing book called "The Victory of Reason" where he argued that something like the Enlightenment is only possible in a monotheistic culture where a belief in a Creator leads to a belief in a created order, which in turn leads to the possibility of an orderly set of observations about the world that we today call "Science."
So as I walked through the Creation Museum, I saw exhibit after exhibit that tried really hard to tell one side of the story, and to be honest they did a pretty fair job. But there's something deeply disconcerting about seeing an exhibit on, for example, "A Biblical Model of Coal Formation" or "Biblical Model of Tectonic Plate Activity" or whatever and seeing them labeled as "God's Word." Because when I read the Bible, I don't remember reading much about coal formation or tectonic plates or anything like that.
What they've done is decided ahead of time what the answer is, and then gone back and looked for a theory that works towards that answer. And that's actually somewhat ok... there's a time and a place for that. The difficulty is that any theory of coal formation is a theory that's built on Man's Reason, since the Bible says nothing about that topic. And so because they're committed to a super-young-earth model of Creation, the AIG folks end up dismissing a ton of actual scientific and historical evidence (like the fact that we have more than 4,937 years of after-Flood history) that's really a deal-breaker for anyone who really wants to sit down and think this through. And they get into ridiculous side-discussions (like proving Adam hung with dinosaurs) that don't really prove their point.
The point to this post (there is one, I promise) is that the real problem for me isn't their views of the Creation account. I get how you could open up the Bible at Genesis 1 and come out at Genesis 11 with something very like their understanding. And I certainly get how you could listen to the pabulum shoveled out in your average high school biology class and think "That's a load of feces, and no more reasonable (or scientific) than my beliefs." But when you make this a deal-breaker, you have a problem. When you say that if you don't buy the official AIG understanding of Genesis 1-11, that you're not a real Christian... well then we have problems. Because what happens, again and again and again, is people listen to that logic, look at both sides of the issue, and say "Well then I guess I'm not a real Christian."
And that's tragic. Because a Christian is simply a follower of Christ. And the more pieces you try to add to that simple truth, the weaker your position becomes. My engineering friends would say it has "multiple points of failure." If your Christianity is the same as your politics or your economics or your favorite music or even your theology, then you've missed the boat entirely. And that's a scary scary thing.