Friday, June 29, 2007

Should we worry about the Creation museum in Kentucky?


The new Creationism museum has opened in Kentucky with full media coverage. Despite its $27 million price tag, I never thought that it would be a serious cause to worry. While wrong in its conclusions, Intelligent Design movement at least raises interesting "God of the gaps" arguments, that are also areas of intense scientific research. But a 6000 year old Earth? An ark full of all representative species? Dinosaurs living with humans? Really...?? This is what it has come down to? Apparently quite a large number of people take this seriously and the museum has been getting 10,000 visitors a week since its opening on Memorial Day. The museum is built by an Australian Biblical literalist, Ken Ham, who is also the founder of Answers in Genesis. If you have any doubt about his nuttiness, check out this video of his lecture. It is tricky to talk about him and his museum. Any criticism is free publicity for him and he acknowledges that openly. Furthermore, this sort of criticism (i.e. appealing to science and reason) really doesn't impact his target audience, and perhaps bolster his support even more. Here is a New Yorker article that looks at this museum beyond simple amusement: Dystopia in Kentucky

The Creation Museum takes the usual trajectory of science education and turns it upside down: the Enlightenment initiated the dark ages, and only the discovery of Biblical truth can lead us out of it. There’s very little attempt to persuade visitors with even spurious scientific argument. The truth is asserted within a hermetically closed system of belief. For example, the explanation of the fossil record:

Views about fossils have come and gone. But fossils themselves do not tell us where these creatures come from or how they died. Fortunately we have another source of factual data—the first book of the Bible, Genesis. This book makes it obvious that carnivory, disease, and death, as seen in the fossil record, came after sin. So the fossil record had to be formed after sin entered the world.
It hardly matters that the Creation Museum is bound to appall secular visitors. They are not its audience. It exists to tell Christianist families that they are right and the future is theirs.
...and the museum exhibits are directed toward kids. Thus parallel views of the natural world are being created quite successfully. I appreciate George Packer's stance on this in the New Yorker and his broader take on the museum:
Most of the families—overwhelmingly white, mainly blond, and about the most pleasant, cheerful collection of tourists imaginable—seemed to accept what they heard and read as they were coaxed along the explanatory trail, with the children delighted by the cleverly designed animal displays. This expensive frolic through a sinister fairy tale was made for the young.

Many of the quarter of a million people expected to visit the Creation Museum by the end of the year will be children. They will be indoctrinated into an ideology that systematically warps their understanding of the physical world and fills them with hostility toward the facts and concepts of modernity. As we have learned over the past few years, this doesn’t mean that they’ll be outcasts and failures. A great political party has largely abased itself before their world view and offered them unprecedented access to government power. The Creation Museum, a combination of a natural-history museum and a Communist Party propaganda center, will help to arm and arouse the next generation of Christianists in the ongoing war against secular and scientific America.
and his own experience at the museum:
My experience was different: I had the sense of being a dissident surrounded by the lies of a totalitarian state, and I kept my reactions to myself. As I was driving away, I realized what the barrage of falsehoods written on slick signboards reminded me of. It was the telescreens in “1984.”
I don't know how to approach this topic without giving unnecessary publicity to Ken Ham and his brand of creationism - perhaps evoking dystopian imagery is the only way to go.

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