Inside Kentucky's Young Earth Creationism "Museums"
DANIEL J. PHELPS (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of the Kentucky Paleontological Soceity, Lexington, KY
Most Earth science teachers are aware that young earth creationism (YEC) claims that Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that most of the geological record can be ascribed to Noah's Flood. However, many may not be aware of two Kentucky tourism sites that are devoted to promoting YEC. These YEC tourist sites are: the Creation Museum (near Hebron) and the Ark Encounter (in Williamstown). Both of these attractions are run by Answers in Genesis (AiG), a ministry devoted to promoting YEC and a rather militant biblical literalism. Millions of people have visited these attractions. Other creationist museums exist, but most are rather small and poorly funded in contrast to the Creation Museum which cost at least $27 million to construct and the Ark Encounter which may have cost more than $100 million. The Ark is especially problematic because it is subsidized in part by a Kentucky tax incentive program that sees it gets back up to $1.8 million per year in sales tax receipts until 2026, all the while discriminating against anyone who will not sign AiG's statement of faith and provide information on where they attend church (see: http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article73971147.html and https://answersingenesis.org/about/job/?gnk=job&gni=8a78842b5da186cf015da8579dca5f56).
To assist students in overcoming misconceptions from what they may have encountered at such locations, it is helpful to know what is being asserted. I have reviewed both of these attractions in detail for the National Center for Science Education website (see Phelps, 2007 and 2016). I briefly discuss here a few of the claims presented by the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, with links given below to provide the actual science on some of the topics. Many of the more common creationist claims are dealt with in Isaak (2007).
- In addition to promoting YEC and the Flood, displays at both sites claim that dinosaurs and humans lived together after the creation week (all theropods originally being vegetarian in Eden until Eve sinned), and juvenile dinosaurs were taken on the Ark to save space. A diorama at the Ark shows people fighting pre-Flood giants and a Carnotaurus dinosaur in an antediluvian arena death match [Editor: see photo below, by Daniel Phelps]. The Creation Museum promotes that some dinosaurs breathed fire, resulting in dragon legends. The Old English saga Beowulf is taken as evidence of dinosaur and human interaction in at least one exhibit. (For an analysis of creationist discussions on Beowulf: https:// www.csicop.org/si/show/monsters_and_dragons_and_dinosaurs_oh_my_creationist_interpretations_of_beo.
- Exhibits dealing specifically with geology are particularly problematic and in most cases can only be classified as bizarre.
- A display in the Ark's Flood Geology section accuses geologists of being part of a massive anti-Biblical conspiracy when it states: "The rejection of the biblical Flood is often due to evolutionary biases rather than the actual evidence. In fact, it is not a stretch to think that nearly every geologist would appeal to a global flood to explain many of Earth's features if the Bible had never mentioned such an event."
- Considerable effort is even spent attacking "liberal" Christians who accept that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. These claims are especially troublesome, as most Christians and other religious people have reconciled their personal beliefs with modern science. An excellent book in which geologists who also happen to be evangelical Christians debunk YEC claims about geology and the Grand Canyon is Hill et al. (2016). Accurate information on the age of the earth and geologic time can be found in Dalrymple (2004) and at http://www.pubs.usgs.gov/gip/geotime/age.html.
- The formation of the Grand Canyon is claimed to have been rapid because unconsolidated volcanic ash at Mt. St. Helens quickly eroded to form deep ravines. See Beus and Morales (2003) for an in-depth look at most aspects of Grand Canyon geology.
- Most of plate tectonics is said to have occurred in the Flood year (no one bothers to calculate how much heat is released by this whiplash-speed tectonics). Numerous online sources for information on plate tectonics exist, including http://www.pubs.usgs.gov/gip/ dynamic/dynamic.html.
- Ancient environments are attributed to the Flood successively covering the earth, with various animals outrunning the encroaching Flood. (Northern Kentucky, including the area beneath Ark Park, has at least a mile of sedimentary rocks between igneous and metamorphic rocks and the surface, not one human was buried in the Paleozoic strata alongside trilobites, and none of the dinosaurs, for example, ended up in Paleozoic or Cenozoic deposits. Furthermore, plants, including spores and pollen, show what looks like an evolutionary succession in the rock record although plants would not be capable of outrunning the rising Flood waters.)
Numerous college textbooks explain how geologists interpret ancient environments. These texts include Prothero and Schwab (2013). Unfortunately, popular treatments of the subject are difficult to find online. An interesting technical publication that documents more than a mile of sedimentary rocks in Kentucky beneath the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter can be found at: http://kgs.uky.edu/kgsweb/olops/pub/kgs/RI34_12.pdf
Coal is said to have formed by the submergence of "floating forests." For a scientific description of coal formation, see: http://www.uky.edu/KGS/coal/coal-form.php
- Folded strata are claimed to have been bent while still soft, supporting evidence of the recent Flood. Scientific information on rock deformation can be found at: https://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/eens1110/deform.htm
- Ice ages and glacial features are attributed to a cold period that lasted a couple of hundred years after the 2348 BC Flood (thus ice cores aren't good evidence for past climate change since the ice formed more rapidly than climatologists claim). For explanations of scientific data on ice cores and climate change: https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/publication/ice-cores-and-climate-change/
Other fields of science and history that contradict the version of biblical literalism promoted by AiG are also distorted and manipulated.
- Ancient Egyptian history is massively reworked with various dynasties presented as simultaneously occurring to accommodate the timing of the Flood (2348 BC). Even fields like linguistics are criticized and turned on end for not accepting the "confusion of tongues" at the Tower of Babel.
And so it goes... To the processes of science and the work of scientists, the contents of the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum pose no real threat, though AiG now has political connections at the highest levels in Kentucky and elsewhere. Indeed, the "Museum" and Ark are insulated in their own world, providing attacks on conventional science and history while not participating in either. However, they do represent an attack on science education. A tiny number of public school groups are known to have visited the Creation Museum and the Ark (see: http://www.lee.k12.ky.us/school_NewsArticle.aspx?artID=861&schoolID=16#sthash.kyqFIiJj.dpbs). Many more students have visited with parents and relatives. Teachers may, in turn, end up soft pedaling or totally omitting topics in science (and perhaps history) classes that might upset the parents of conservative Christian students. A poll reported in PLoS Biology revealed that 25% of high school biology teachers devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism and intelligent design creationism (Berkman et al., 2008). As many as one in six of the biology teachers surveyed indicated belief in YEC. How would the numbers for Earth science teachers compare?
What can science educators do about this situation? Long term, we can improve the way we teach the scientific method, evolution, and relevant sciences. Too often scientific method is discussed in introductory lectures, but not applied throughout the semester. Likewise, geologic time and evolutionary topics are sometimes discussed in single lectures, without being integrated into the whole course (Scott, 2010). Considering how many people have visited AiG's attractions, educators may consider indirectly countering YEC geological claims without explicitly mentioning them. Once we, as Earth science teachers, familiarize ourselves with the assertions of such exhibits as those at the Creation Museum and Ark Park, we can be more diligent in educating our students on the processes of science, critical thinking, and data analysis.
Berkman, M.B., Pacheco J.S., and Plutzer, E., 2008, Evolution and Creationism in America's classrooms: A national portrait, PLOS Biology 6(5):e124.
Beus, S. and M. Morales, eds., 2003, Grand Canyon Geology (2nd ed.): New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dalrymple, G., 2004, Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The Age of the Earth and Its Cosmic Surroundings: Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press.
Hill, C., Davidson, G., Helble, T., and W. Ranney, eds., 2016, The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 240 p.
Isaak, M., 2007, The Counter-Creationism Handbook: Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, University of California Press, 330 p.
Phelps, D.J., 2007, The Anti-museum, An overview of the Answers in Genesis Creation "Museum":
http://ncse.com/library-resource/anti-museumoverview-review-answers-genesis-creationmuseum (accessed February 2018).
Phelps, D. J., 2016, Kentucky gets an ark-shaped second creation "museum": http://ncse.com/library-resource/kentucky-gets-ark-shaped-second-creation-museum (accessed February 2018).
Prothero, D., and R. Schwab, 2013, Sedimentary Geology, 3rd ed.: New York, W. H. Freeman.
Scott, E.C., 2010, Dobzhansky was right: Let's tell the students. Bioessays v. 32, p. 372 – 374.