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C is for Creationism

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In my Year of Living Biblically, one of the more fascinating and surprising pilgrimages was to the new Creation Museum in Kentucky. This is the $25 million museum for those who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. It's the Louvre of the young earth movement.

And whatever I may think of creationism, I have to admit that the museum is spectacularly well done. There is a scale model of the ark. There are animatronic cave people and dinosaurs. There is a movie theater with sprinklers in the ceiling that go off during the flood scenes.

Here are five things I learned from my visit:

Dinosaurs on the ark, Biblical Astronomers, and why Inherit the Wind is unfair to Creationists, all after the jump...

  1. Creationists are not idiots: If I had to guess, I'd say there's no IQ difference between your average creationist and your average evolutionist. It's just that the creationists' faith is so strong, they'll distort data to fit their literal view of Genesis.
  2. The ark had baby dinosaurs?: The creationists I met had put a remarkable amount of thought into the logistics of Noah's Ark. I bought a book called Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study, which spends 300 pages outlining the engineering. There are chapters on the ventilation system, on-board exercise for the animals and the myth of explosive manure gases. And how did they fit all those animals on the ark? The head of the museum told me that many of the big ones "“ like the dinosaurs "“ went on when they were younger to save room.
  3. Moderation is a relative term: I thought that creationism was about as far to the literal fringe as I could go. Not so. Consider this: When I was at the Creation Museum, I met their resident astrophysicist.

    He told me about a group of people called Biblical Astronomers whom he considers an embarrassment to the creationist movement.

    The Biblical Astronomers believe the earth is the center of the universe and remains stationary because it says in Psalm 93:1 that the earth "shall never be moved." The mainstream creationists believe the earth is young "“ but it does revolve around the sun.

  4. There is an unexpected beauty and dignity in the creationist worldview. I'll never abandon evolution "“ even if they found Noah's page-a-day calendar on a pristinely preserved ark. But I did a thought experiment one day: I imagined what it would be like to be a creationist. I put myself in the mind of someone who believes the earth was formed 6000 years ago.And it was an amazing experience. Most notably, I felt more connected. If everyone on earth is descended from two identifiable people "“ Adam and Eve "“ then the "family of man" isn't just a vague cliche. It's true. The guy who sells me bananas at the deli on 81st street "“ he's my cousin. The creationist mindset made me feel closer to my fellow humans. It made me want to invite strangers over to dinner. My goal is to keep that "˜we're-all-family' mindset without having to adopt the six-day-creation POV.
  5. Inherit the Wind is kinda unfair to creationists. I heard this time and again from the creationists I met. They said the famous play-turned-Spencer-Tracy movie portrayed them unfairly. I rented it. And I have to say, they've got a point.William Jennings Bryan "“ a deeply religious three-time Democratic presidential nominee who was the prosecuting attorney for the anti-evolution folks "“ was turned into a total buffoon named Matthew Harrison Brady, played by Frederic March. Brady is a pot-bellied glutton. In one scene, he's gorging on fried chicken out of a basket"¦in the courtroom. The film recreates the famous showdown over the Bible between the Bryan and the brilliant Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow. It's a good scene. But if you read the court transcript, it was actually a more interesting and subtle confrontation.

For instance, here's the dialogue from the movie:

Darrow: Do you believe every word of the Bible is true?
Bryan: Yes. Every word is literally true.
And here's the corresponding real exchange:

Darrow: Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
Bryan: I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there. Some of the Bible is given illustratively; for instance, "Ye are the salt of the earth." I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people.

Like creationists today, he admits there is some figurative language in the Bible, even if most of it should be taken as literally true. Yes, I know there's artistic license and all that. But it does seem odd to me that this movie "“ which is supposed to be a champion for the truth "“ distorted the truth so much. Why do that? Especially when you have reality on your side.

Like this column? Check out AJ's terrific posts on Biblical Trivia and on hanging out with the Amish. Or just buy his new book here.

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Art
Two Unknown Paintings by Raphael Discovered on the Vatican's Walls

The Vatican Museums are home to numerous famous art treasures, created by masters like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Now, artnet News reports, the galleries can add two previously unattributed paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael to their list.

Inside the Palace of the Vatican is a suite of four frescoed rooms called Raphael's Rooms. During the early 16th century, they served as Pope Julius II's apartments. The Pope commissioned Raphael and his pupils to paint the rooms, and they adorned each one with a different theme.

Three of the rooms contain paintings by the master himself. But experts didn't think that the fourth—and largest—chamber, called the Room of Constantine, bore Raphael's personal handiwork.

The Room of Constantine depicts four significant moments in the life of Emperor Constantine I, who's credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. Experts had always believed that Raphael had sketched plans for the frescoes, and his pupils finished them after Raphael's sudden death on April 6, 1520. But new restoration efforts prompted experts to take a closer look, and they noticed that two allegorical figures in the frescoes appear to have been painted by Raphael.

One fresco depicts the Vision of the Cross, the moment Emperor Constantine claimed to have seen an image of a holy cross in the sky before a decisive battle. At the edge of the large-scale painting floats a woman who represents Friendship, Smithsonian reports. A second scene, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his pagan brother-in-law Maxentius, shows the figure of Justice. Experts now say that Raphael painted both images.

Italian newspaper La Stampa was the first to break the news, which they reportedly received from a YouTube video released by the Vatican’s press office.

"By analyzing the painting, we realized that it is certainly by the great master Raphael," said restorer Fabio Piacentini, according to a translation provided by artnet News. "He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique. The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master."

"We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died," added art historian Arnold Nesselrath, who serves as the Vatican Museums' technical and scientific research head. "According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them."

"Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different," Nesselrath continued. "When he understood how something worked, he sought a fresh challenge. And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master."

[h/t artnet News]

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