Troubles beset Kentucky’s Creation Museum

On 21 Aug 2013, at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio), an employee was struck by lightning, as he was clearing guests away from the museum’s zip line, in the wake of an approaching thunderstorm. Fortunately, the employee was not seriously injured and was quickly released from a nearby hospital.

But according to a commentary in Slate by Mark Joseph Stern, other troubles are brewing for the museum, which is operated by Answers in Genesis, a leading creationist organization headed by Ken Ham.

The Creation Museum, according to its official website, features 70,000 square feet of display space that “brings the pages of the Bible to life.” Since it opened in 2007, the museum has attracted over 1,200,000 visitors (as of May 2011).

The museum adamantly insists that the earth is just a few thousand years old, most certainly not billions of years old as taught by more than 99% of qualified scientists in geology, biology and related fields. Instead of the conventional geologic eras spanning many millions of years, the museum teaches that a global flood inundated the earth in 2350 BC and deposited all fossil layers at that time. The museum depicts children playing together with dinosaurs, whereas scientists have determined that the first humans and the last dinosaurs were separated by 65 million years.

It should be emphasized that even most scientists who are religious believers reject Ham’s form of young-earth creationism. As Francisco Ayala, recipient of the National Medal of Science (and a former Dominican Priest), explains,

The overwhelming majority of biologists accept evolution. Those who know professionally the evidence for evolution cannot deny it. Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of animals and plants is a scientific conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. The evidence is compelling and all-encompassing because it comes from all biological disciplines including those that did not exist in Darwin’s time.

The Creation Museum presents more than creation scenes. One mural includes photos of a nuclear explosion, a collection of skulls from the Holocaust, and what may be a photo of a woman undergoing an abortion. Another, named “Graffiti Alley,” displays news clips about birth control, abortion, divorce, mass murder, stem cells and war. The museum’s message is clear: these social maladies are fruits of science in general and evolution in particular.

The lightning incident did raise the question of why the museum is operating a zip line. Evidently the reason is that after three or four years of initial growth, more recently its attendance has been declining, and the museum is seeking ways to attract new visitors. In the 2011 fiscal year, the museum reported 280,000 visitors, as compared with 404,000 in 2007.

In December 2010, the Answers in Genesis organization, which operates the Creation Museum, announced that it has purchased a nearby site to construct an even larger museum named “Ark Encounter,” which will depict not just Noah’s Ark, but also Moses and the 10 plagues, with a ride through the Red Sea as it parts.

Initially the organization hoped to break ground in 2011, financing the construction in good measure from proceeds from the Creation Museum. But in the wake of the disappointing attendance at the museum the past three years, combined with the general recession and lower-than-expected levels of donation, these plans have been put on hold. As one official complained, “Fundraising is really tough.”

In his Slate commentary, Mark Joseph Stern wonders if Ken Ham’s creationist empire is decaying — in other words, perhaps “Americans are rejecting his false choice” between faith and science. Unfortunately there are still plenty of supporters of Ham’s discredited worldview. According to a Gallup poll, 46% of Americans believe that God created the earth and humans in their present form all within the last 10,000 years.

So hold the celebration; there is much work to do.

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