Reports of the National Center for Science Education
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Volume
29
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No.
5
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Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum

Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum
Reviewed by
Raymond A Eve

I recently made my way through the Answers in
Genesis Creation Museum on a Sunday morning. Driving to the
museum, I was inclined to give AiG
the benefit of the doubt — I supposed
they were well-meaning and devout, but just did not have a
good grasp of the basic science
involved. Now, I am less sure about
the innocence of their motives,
and much more inclined to believe
that this is a pretty cynical effort to
separate the gullible from some
coin of the realm, and to build
membership for a social movement
(which, not coincidentally, is
probably good for their acquisition
of even more coins).

At the entrance, I was surprised
to find several uniformed police
directing traffic (complete with
imposingly decked-out and very
military-looking Hummers). The
effect was not unlike dealing with
post 9-11 airport security and
served to create a vague feeling of
imminent danger. In contrast, there
was some comfort to be found in
the form of a display of a ski boat
just outside the main doors, complete
with an ad for a local boat
dealership. Apparently weekends
at the lake with family or beer buddies
are an important element of
godliness to AiG adherents.

My very first impression was,
"Wow, this museum cost cubic
money!" (estimates vary, but $27
million is the most common). I was
to decide at the end of my visit that
Hollywood and Disney would be
proud of the level of presentation.
My immediate first impressions
were quickly followed by the
inevitable theme-park–style photographer
who took everyone's picture so visitors would have the
privilege of buying some copies on
the way out. Then there was a "4-D"
(multimedia, plus fake rainfall)
movie that all were encouraged to
take in at the very beginning of
their visits.

Prominently featured were two
"everyman" type of actors. Maybe I
should say "everybody" because
even though apparently about thirty
years of age, they cast an ambience
of white-hot sarcasm towards
the teachers and professors who
were depicted in the presentation
as hopelessly dogmatic ignoramuses
intent on foisting off the great lie
of evolution. But these guys were
clearly too smart for them, and
intended to demonstrate it in the
extreme. Strange, but I rather suspect
that even for the believers in
the audience these two must have
come off as overgrown juvenile
delinquents with mannerisms they
would prefer to assign to unsocialized
nabobs of negativism (as Vice-President Spiro Agnew liked to say)
of the followers of the 60s New
Left. They seemed to me to come
off as some sort of part-time longhaul
truck drivers, on way too
much speed, but who just happened
to have an in-depth knowledge
of evolution, biochemistry,
and the like that would be the envy
of 99% of the PhDs at work in the
relevant academic fields of study.
Ultimately, what it all reminded me
of is the recent emphasis by the
creationist "intelligent design" supporters
on having believers in the
classroom confront their professors
as militantly as possible —
with disrespect as the tool with
which to prosecute their case. I
found myself wondering what kind
of a world this would all lead to if
we were all to become so intensely
proud of our materially unsupportable
viewpoints?

I really began to feel as if I had
fallen down the Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole where
facts are no longer a problem for
the construction of reality. I felt
seriously unnerved as I saw how
the fairly large number of patrons
in the museum were buying into
the "see, creationism is really scientific"
aspect. Funny, but the same
people did not seem to notice that
about half of the "scientific displays"
were merely scenes from the Bible — most of which told an
obvious morality tale. But this aspect of the place was actually the touching part. It was so clear
that so many of those present felt
adrift, if not outright lost, in the
current world. Many seemed to me
to suffer from a sense of being trapped in a world of moral normlessness
— at least as seen from their own viewpoint. They seemed
desperately to want to believe that a recommitment to biblical literalism
would bring a "return" to a world with less anomie and less suffering.

My own work on creationism and "intelligent design" stresses
how much of the controversy is
really not driven by science at all,
but instead represents "a struggle
for the means of cultural reproduction"
(see Eve and Harrold 1992, especially chapter 6). With this latter
in mind, I could not help but
notice that there were no minority
persons (at least not any readily
identifiable ones) in attendance
among a fairly large number of
viewers. Indeed, there were not
many people in their 30s through
their 50s.

What I did see was a lot of
white folks with gray hair,and grayhaired
folks taking their grandchildren
through (most without their
parents). This latter might be related
to the fact that I found more
than one book in the bookshop
that stressed the belief that the
current generation of parents is
already "lost to the Lord." And without
intervention by the grandparents,
presumably, the grandchildren
would naturally follow the
errant road of their parents.

Creationism Perspectives

So I left with three powerful
impressions clanking around in my
skull. One was outrage that such
lurid disinformation could be so
sincerely presented. That led to the
second clanging thought: most
attendees were indeed going to
buy the pseudoscience as totally
legit because of their own lack of
understanding of even basic science.
Certainly the museum had used a plethora of elaborate
iconography of science, albeit
where the symbols were disconnected from their actual referents
— enough so to make any postmodernist proud.

This striking array of scientific
evidence "in favor of" creationism
perhaps reflects the ambivalent
attitude of creationists toward the
new "great legitimator" (religious
doctrine is the old one, science the
newer one). Many anti-evolution
organizations are quick to embrace
"scientific" creationism and "intelligent
design" as "proof" that their
religious positions are correct:
"look at all this scientific evidence
that supports us." (Of course, there
are some real fringe groups, such
as Jehovah's Witnesses who would
typically just flatly say "God said it,
I believe it. Who cares what scientists
think?").

It is important to note, however,
that the current conflict is not
always one between science and
religion, but often between an
older form of science and the
more recent form. In some ways
the controversy may be more a
matter of the differences between
19th-century science (Baconian
inductivism) and contemporary
deductivist science. We need to
remember that most scientists of
the 19th century were themselves
creationists — and as such felt
their only job would be to collect
enough data to show how the
divine plan had worked. For most
such scientists it came as a rude
shock when they found that some
of the data did not "fit" Scripture.
Most contemporary creationists
still fit into this category. That is to
say that they are not really so antiscience
that they will not happily
appeal to scientific authority when
they find what they believe to be
science that supports Scripture.

By contrast, the AiG museum
seems fully prepared to be outright
disingenuous in its presentation
of scientific evidence. At least
my own feeling was that the museum
was prepared at any cost to say
whatever needed to be said to convince
the groundlings of scientific
support for creationism. If the
truth was to be a frequent casualty
in such an effort then surely the
ends must justify the ends.
Machiavelli's Prince would be
proud indeed of the displays presented
throughout. Besides, such
an approach would (excuse me for
returning to an earlier theme) surely
lead to more coins in the coffer.
I was really saddened by the
third strong impression I formed
during my visit. It seemed to me
that so many were visiting the
museum because they feel so
unfulfilled and saddened by the wider world as they perceive it. It
is well-known in the sociology of
religion that people tend to join
cults after they decide that a
search for answers within mainstream
contemporary institutions
(the family, the local church, the
local psychiatrists, and so on) have
failed to give them what they
need. This certainly seemed to be a
paradigm that fit well on many of
those I saw. The difference, however,
is that this is not a movement of
the "new religions"; instead, it is a
"revitalization movement". The latter
term refers to movements
intended to restore a formerly
dominant set of persons and cultural practices after they have
been displaced by something new. In the revitalization movement the
constituents, the now displaced, seek to return things to the "normal"
way they used to be.

This is part of the struggle for the means of cultural reproduction
mentioned above. What I like to call cultural traditionalism has in
recent decades been replaced by cultural modernism and postmodernism.
The cultural traditionalists (a high percentage of whom are
creationist "intelligent design" supporters)
seek to return to a time when they were the dominant cultural
aggregate. The fist-fight over
evolution is really all about conflicting
heuristic rules for knowing the truth. Cultural traditionalists
use tradition, faith, authority, and
revelation as the acid tests for
assessing any given truth claim.
("God said it. I believe it. That settles
it"). Modernists tend to use
rational, empirical data for hypothesis
testing to arrive at their truths.
Postmodernists have no use for any of this, preferring to believe that truth is short-term, situational,
and internal to the person ("it feels right to me, dude").

This is why the conflict over origins
has no easy end. The different
cultural traditions have not agreed
on the rules for assessing the truth.
By their own standards, each type
feels that its own truth claims are
well supported and refuses to
accept any other method of assessing
the relevant evidence. All this
also helps to explain why the battle
is most frequently in the school
room, the courtroom, or the legislatures.
These are precisely the places that the factions mentioned above
struggle to try to control just which
one of the ways of knowing, and associated "facts," will be passed on
the next generation as legitimate. Hence the term "struggle for the means of cultural reproduction."

The Challenge for Science

Creationists are deeply alienated
from the "Official Reality" propagated
by mainstream institutions.
This is a trend with a long history
in the US. In some of my published
studies and papers (such as Eve
and others 1995), I examined a fairly
recent sample of creationists
who had attended a "Creationism
Fair" in Glen Rose, Texas. (The
event was put together by Carl
Baugh, progenitor and curator of
the first creationism museum —
the one in Glen Rose just outside
Dinosaur State Park, which is the
alleged home of the famous Paluxy
River "mantracks". Baugh's terminal
degree is from a small wooden
building in Dallas, but that's another
story for another day.) I compared
these creationism supporters
to a sample of Wiccans from a
"Magical Arts Convention" just outside
of Austin, Texas.

The two populations were diametrical
opposites on nearly every
question of fact and attitude —
with two exceptions. One was that
both samples scored very high on
alienation from big government,
big industry, and even mainstream
religion. The other thing they
agreed on was that for their own
(very different) worldviews and
moral judgments there was "plenty
of scientific evidence in support"
of their respective views. So, one
thing we all need to be doing is figuring
out just what they think science
actually is ... and whether
there is a better way to teach a
larger number of people valid science.

I do not think many creationists
will ever change their views simply
because someone tells them
they are wrong. Instead, they must
somehow come to know enough
current scientific method to
understand for themselves why
they are wrong. The task seems
hopeless in the short run. But I
would point out that in the long
run more Americans are scientifically
capable today than ever, and
most who are so schooled are
increasingly disinclined to accept
creationism. So the real field of
action needs to be the high school
and college classrooms.

In closing, let me just say that it
is easy to get wrapped up in the
science debate as one goes
through the museum, but it is also
important to keep one's eye out
for how much of that debate is
really driven by the social dynamics
described above. For my own
part, I found myself wishing I
knew how to stand out in the parking
lot as the folks left and then
divide up the loaves and fishes and
lay my hand on their heads and
relieve all that anomie and mental
anguish of contemporary life and
the future. But, I could not. Indeed,
I wondered who or what could?

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
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