Journey to the Center of the Creation Museum
Recently, reports came out that Florida Adventure Land, a Christian dinosaur theme park in Pensacola, Florida, was shut down for tax fraud. Apparently the owner contended that he was working for God, not the federal government, and so was not required to pay taxes. But let’s back up: what on earth do dinosaurs have to do with Christianity?
Kent Hovind, the evangelist behind Dinosaur Adventure Land, is not alone in using paleontological wonders as a tool for religious outreach. Last October, I visited the Creation Museum in Bullittsburg, Kentucky, a 27-million-dollar pseudo-scientific complex built in 2006 by a group called Answers in Genesis to promote young-earth creationism. Dinosaurs were everywhere, animatronic jaws opening and closing, letting out pre-recorded elephant-like roars on a constant loop. They were hanging out with Adam and Eve in the lush recreation of the Garden of Eden, marching two by two onto Noah’s Ark.
I was confused. Wouldn’t an organization that wants us to believe the earth has only been around for 6,000 years want to distance itself from creatures which have been proven to be millions of years old?
Young-earth creationists have been around forever, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that they had 27 million dollars to throw around on dinosaurs. In the 1980s, what had been an obscure, retiring religious movement began to emerge into the limelight as a political faction, led by Jerry Falwell and others. They advanced, Rip-van-Winkle-like, back into a world of carbon dating, genome mapping, and dinosaurs.
It’s not that the mere existence of dinosaur fossils necessarily vanquished belief in a God-designed planet. In fact, the scientist credited with coining the word “dinosaur”—British Museum director Richard Owen, in 1842—did so entirely convinced that the creatures had been created, and “neither derived from improvement of a lower, nor lost progressive development into a higher type.”
But dinosaurs, along with meteors and early-hominid remains, became some of science’s most compelling discoveries–real, physical evidence of other worlds and other times. So their co-option by fundamentalist religion struck a particularly sour note. On the fundamentalists’ part, borrowing science’s headline act for pseudo-science was a savvy decision. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Nature’s mysterious giants would bring people, particular 10-year-old boys, into the fold like never before. Dinosaurs were, after all, too big to ignore. Beyond that, dinosaurs proved that this was a modern movement.
By 2006, fundamentalists had amassed so many converts and so much revenue that they had the confidence to create new theology on the fly, without batting an eye. They simply worked backwards: the Bible says (according to their reading) that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Dinosaurs existed. So naturally, they can’t be more than 6,000 years old.
The Museum’s cheerful placards matter-of-factly conclude that dinosaurs co-existed with humans. As a visual aid, a tiny animatronic velociraptor stands next to a giggling caveman child, a benevolent prehistoric pet. By rewriting the ancient past, Answers in Genesis could show that it was in the here and now. And rewrite they did. There were so many dinosaurs at the Creation Museum that I started to wonder whether they would appear with Christ on the cross.
The theological move is so new that the dinosaur details haven’t been ironed out. Dinosaur Adventure Land contends that the dinosaurs were all killed by Noah’s Flood, neatly explaining their extinction. The Creation Museum posits that dinosaurs did make it onto Noah’s Ark, and were saved. So why aren’t they around today? Past the food court and the gift shop, a plush-seated movie theater showed a 10-minute documentary that claims to prove that dinosaurs actually survived the Great Flood—as dragons. Which are of course real. (How else would Saint George have converted people to Christianity?) A few individual survivors—like the Loch Ness Monster, and the Komodo dragons—were still around centuries later.
It’s unclear what religious purpose this could serve…
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