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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October 25, 2007 - 10:52am
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