Righting America at the Creation Museum (John Hopkins University Press, 2016) by Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr. takes the reader on a tour of The Creation Museum without ever leaving the comforts of home. The museum offers exhibits on Judeo-Christian topics ranging from the Garden of Eden to the modern temptations of the present. In this excerpt from the introduction the Trollingers explain how the museum came to be and the history of creation science.
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Interestingly, when people in the early twenty-first century use the word “creationism,” they generally do not mean the “creationism” of William Jennings Bryan and other early fundamentalists. That is to say, what passes as “creationism” in much of fundamentalism and evangelicalism has changed. Oddly enough, this change has its origins far outside American evangelicalism and fundamentalism, in Seventh-day Adventism (SDA). In 1864 Ellen C. White, prophet and (along with her husband, James) SDA founder, had a vision in which she witnessed God’s creation of the world in six days (God rested on the seventh, an important point for the fledgling organization because of its focus on the importance of the seventh day as the Sabbath). Not only did White confirm that the Earth was approximately six thousand years old, but she declared that Noah’s Flood had reconfigured the Earth’s surface and produced the fossil record. No one outside of Adventism seems to have attended to White’s proclamations regarding the creation of the Earth until the early twentieth century, when SDA convert George McCready Price embarked on a writing career devoted to explaining and publicizing White’s pronouncements. In books such as Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science (1902), The Fundamentals of Geology (1916), and (most important) The New Geology (1923), Price attacked evolution while providing the “scientific” evidence for an understanding of the Earth’s past that confirmed Ellen White’s vision of a catastrophic global flood. As Price saw it, his “flood geology” not only explained the fossil record but also resolved all questions raised by modern science about the Genesis account of creation.
At the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan referred to Price as one of two scientists he respected when it came to the history of the Earth. But Bryan and almost all early fundamentalists were old Earth creationists who had made their peace with mainstream geology. They either interpreted the days in Genesis 1 as allowing for a gap of time between the creative act of Genesis 1:1 and the remainder of the creation process, or they understood the word “day” as not a day of twenty-four hours, but as an “age,” that is, a large but unspecified amount of time. Bryan held to the latter “day-age” understanding of Genesis, a point he made clear at the trial under Clarence Darrow’s interrogation.
Bryan’s betrayal (which is how Price understood it) notwithstanding, Price’s flood geology made inroads among American fundamentalists in the first few decades after the Scopes trial. Then, in 1961, John C. Whitcomb Jr., a theologian and professor of Old Testament at Grace Seminary in Indiana, joined forces with Henry M. Morris, a PhD in hydraulic engineering and chair of the civil engineering department at Virginia Tech, to write The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Borrowing heavily from Price (while significantly downplaying their indebtedness to this Seventh-day Adventist, in order not to alienate their fundamentalist and evangelical audience), Morris and Whitcomb claimed — as indicated in the book’s title — a “twofold purpose” for The Genesis Flood. First, convinced as they were of the “complete divine inspiration,” “verbal inerrancy,” and “perspicuity of Scripture,” they sought “to ascertain exactly what the Scriptures say concerning the Flood and related topics.” Second, they sought to delineate the “scientific implications of the Biblical record of the Flood, seeking if possible to orient the data of these sciences within this Biblical framework.” In 489 pages they made their case: the Bible asserts that Noah’s Flood, a global event, lasted one year; science confirms that this global flood produced the geological strata that can be seen today; ergo, Morris and Whitcomb demolished the case for evolution and an old Earth. While all of this did little more than reiterate Price’s flood geology (albeit reworked for an evangelical and fundamentalist audience), Whitcomb and Morris did go beyond the Adventists in one important detail: they claimed that God created not simply the Earth in six twenty-four hour days, but, instead, the entire universe, which “must have had an ‘appearance of age’ at the moment of creation.”
Morris and Whitcomb produced one of the most important books in twentieth-century American religious history. Like the Scofield Reference Bible before it, The Genesis Flood and the ideas it promoted swept through conservative Protestantism with extraordinary speed. Vast numbers of American evangelicals and fundamentalists enthusiastically accepted the notion that a commitment to reading the Bible “literally” necessarily required a commitment to a six twenty-four-hour day creation; they were reinforced in their commitment by the apparent scientific apparatus of The Genesis Flood (which was replete with footnotes, photographs, and even the occasional mathematical equation). A host of organizations popped up to spread the young Earth creationist word throughout the United States and beyond. Among the most important were two organizations with which Morris had direct ties: the Creation Research Society (CRS), established in 1963, and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), founded in 1972. While these organizations conducted very little in the way of scientific “research,” they argued that “creation science,” a legitimate endeavor, deserved equal status with evolutionary science.
ICR’s likely greatest long-term contribution to the creationist cause can be found in the fact that it provided the auspices under which Ken Ham made his American debut. Born in 1951 in Cairns, Australia, Ham’s father (Mervyn) was a school principal who served at various institutions throughout Queensland, and who inculcated Ham and his siblings in the conviction that the Bible (including the book of Genesis) had to be read literally. Armed with this knowledge, Ham secured a bachelor’s degree in applied science from the Queensland Institute of Technology and a diploma in education from the University of Queensland. In 1975 he began work as a science teacher in the town of Dalby, where he later reported to have been appalled by the fact that some of his students assumed their textbooks that taught evolutionary science successfully proved the Bible to be untrue. According to Ham, this experience “put a ‘fire in my bones’ to do something about the influence that evolutionary thinking was having on students and the public as a whole.” Having just read The Genesis Flood, which thrilled him, Ham began delivering well-received talks to local churches in behalf of young Earth creationism.
In 1977 Ham moved to a school in Brisbane, where he continued his presentations on young Earth creationism. Soon he joined with another teacher who shared his young Earth creationist views, John Mackay, to begin selling creation science materials to Queensland public schools, which by law taught both evolution and creationism. In 1979, Ham left his job to found with Mackay what eventually became known (after merging in 1980 with the Creation Science Association, a similar group from South Australia headed by Carl Wieland) as the Creation Science Foundation (CSF). The CSF ministry of spreading the young Earth creationist gospel expanded rapidly in Australia; it even ventured into the United States, in the form of speaking tours. In January 1987, Ham moved to the United States to work with Henry Morris and ICR as a traveling creation science evangelist. The next month an extraordinarily strange conflict erupted between Ham (who was still a co-director of CSF) and Mackay. The latter accused Ham’s personal secretary, Margaret Buchanan, of being a “broomstick-riding, cauldron-stirring witch,” a “frequent attender of seances and satanic orgies” who engaged in “necrophilia.” In response to a request for evidence, Mackay claimed that he had received divinely inspired “spiritual discernment.” CSF eventually pushed Mackay out of the organization, and (after a few months with CSF scientist Andrew Snelling as temporary manager) Wieland replaced Mackay as the organization’s co-director (and later married Buchanan). Despite all of this, Mackay eventually resumed work with Ken Ham.
Ham remained in America, working in behalf of ICR as an evangelist for young Earth creationism, touring the nation and delivering his popular “Back to Genesis” seminars. Unlike ICR, which sought to develop and publicize a “creation science,” Ham bypassed research and instead concentrated on reaching Christian laypersons with a simple, three-pronged message. He argued that evolutionary teaching was evil and had produced almost unspeakable cultural decadence; the first eleven chapters of Genesis, read literally, revealed both the truth of the origins of the universe and a guidebook for the proper organization of society; and, finally, true Christians should join the culture war against the forces of atheistic humanism. This message proved to be wildly popular with evangelicals and fundamentalists. In contrast with the generally paltry crowds that attended ICR presentations, people flocked to hear the charismatic Australian creationist. In the wake of his remarkable success, and with Morris’s blessing, Ham and a few colleagues left ICR in 1994 to establish Answers in Genesis (AiG) as an outreach of CSF. In 1997 CSF itself became Answers in Genesis, reflecting both the success of the American organization and a commitment to emphasizing biblical creationism. In 2005, Ham and Wieland not-so-amicably parted ways over, to quote AiG’s official history, “organizational and philosophical differences” (and not over “doctrinal issues”). Ham retained control of AiG activities in the United States and United Kingdom, while Wieland remained in charge of what was now called Creation Ministries International in Australia, with connections to ministries elsewhere in the English-speaking world.
According to AiG, its purpose is “to provide seminars, lectures, debates, books, along with other forms of media, museums, facilities, and exhibitions that uphold the authority and inerrancy of the Bible as it relates to origins and history.” Its website (www.answersingenesis.org), which it launched in 1995, forms the center of all this activity; the popularity of the website (in 2014 it received 14.4 million visits and 43.9 million “pageviews”) gives credence to the organization’s claim to be “the world’s largest apologetics organization.”
The website14 has links to a number of online AiG magazines, including Answers (a quarterly magazine started in 2006 for which there is also a print version), which seeks “to illustrate the importance of Genesis in building a creation-based worldview, and to equip readers with practical answers so they can confidently communicate the gospel and biblical authority with accuracy and graciousness,” and Answers in Depth, also started in 2006, which “provides Christians with powerful apologetic answers, careful critiques, and close examinations of the world around them.” One also finds on the AiG website links to various AiG blogs, with Ken Ham’s most prominent. Under “Media” visitors can find a link to Answers with Ken, the daily sixty-second radio program that Ham started in 1994, which, according to AiG, “is now heard on more than 700 stations.” Also under “Media” are: Answers Conversation, weekly fifteen-minute podcasts that discuss “the objective propositional truth revealed to us by God through . . . His infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word”; Answers Mini-Dramas, sixty-second radio plays on topics such as “Aliens and the Bible,” “Dad: Spiritual Leader,” and “Halloween Evangelism”; video clips of various lengths on topics such as “Age of the Earth,” “Evolution,” and “Worldview”; and, a plethora of creationist cartoons attacking (to mention just a few targets) evolution and its social effects, the idea of global warming, and the myth of liberal tolerance. Under “Outreach,” one finds a list of conferences and activities (including “Embrace: Answers for Women 2015,” “Answers Mega Conference,” “Dealing with Compromise: Answers for Pastors,” “Children’s Ministry Conference,” and “Grand Canyon Raft Trips”) plus a calendar of large and small conferences and a roster of more than thirty speakers (including some in the United Kingdom) who are available for those seeking to organize an Answers in Genesis event. Finally, a link to the AiG “Store,” offers an abundant supply of creationist apparel, books, curricular material, digital downloads, DVDs, and more.
In short, Answers in Genesis is a creationist juggernaut. Strikingly, a relatively small group of people (the same names repeatedly appear) produces a mind-boggling flood of print, media, and social media material. Such production testifies to the missionary zeal of this cadre of young Earth creationists and to the fact that this cadre is relentlessly “on message,” presenting the same set of propositions again and again. This is even true for the online Answers Research Journal (ARJ), which from its inception in 2008 has been edited by AiG’s director of research (and young Earth geologist), Andrew Snelling. ARJ advertises itself as “a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research” that produces “cutting-edge creation research.” Certainly the titles of many of the articles suggest that ARJ is not a typical research publication, for example, “Fungi from the Biblical Perspective,” “Where in the World Is the Tower of Babel?,” “An Initial Estimate toward Identifying and Numbering the Ark Turtle and Crocodile Kinds,” and “A Proposed Bible-Science Perspective on Global Warming,” which claims that “there is no reason either biblically or scientifically to fear the exaggerated and misguided claims of catastrophe as a result of increasing levels of man-made carbon dioxide.” Moreover, when one looks closely at ARJ, one notices that authors are often not identified in the table of contents, and just a few individuals contribute a large percentage of the articles. For example, in 2012, Callie Joubert, whose credentials are not provided, contributed almost 50 percent of the articles published that year, including one in which he uses philosopher of science Michael Ruse to make the point that “a fear of God and the afterlife play a major role in shaping the thinking and behavior of the so-called atheist.” In 2013, Joubert only contributed one article; however Simon Turpin, identified on the AiG website as having a “BA degree in theology and intercultural studies,” and Danny Faulkner, AiG’s resident young universe astronomer, combined to contribute eleven of the thirty articles published that year. The next year ARJ editor Snelling (five articles), Joubert (three articles), and Faulkner (six articles, including “Interpreting Craters in Terms of the Day Four Cratering Hypothesis”) produced 45 percent of the 2014 volume.
One explanation for the small number of contributors to the Answers Research Journal could be that, for the past half-century, “creation science” has produced meager results. But from the beginning Ken Ham and AiG focused not on scientific research but on making the case for biblical creationism. And this meant building a museum. According to Ham, this dream went back to his days in Australia: “standing near an ‘ape-man’ exhibit” in a “secular . . . museum,” he “overheard a father telling his young son, ‘This was your ancestor’ . . . My heart ached [and] my cry to the Lord was: ‘Why can’t we have a creation museum that teaches the truth?’” When Ham and his colleagues founded AiG in 1994, they set up shop just south of Cincinnati, a location “chosen because almost 2/3 of America’s population lives within 650 miles,” and thus perfect for the future Creation Museum. Despite local and national opposition, AiG succeeded in 1999 in getting a forty-seven-acre plot just west of the Cincinnati Airport rezoned for a museum, and then secured the final purchase of the land in May 2000. Just seven years later, the $27 million museum was finished, funded by donations and AiG funds, and without need for a mortgage.
Within a year of its opening, 404,000 visitors had toured the museum. On April 26, 2010, less than three years after opening, the Creation Museum welcomed its one-millionth guest; by the summer of 2015 2.4 million people had visited the museum. The average visitor had a “college or advanced degree,” a “household income of $67, 500,” and had traveled over 250 miles to get to the museum. With these admission numbers and the museum’s ticket prices—as of 2015 adults paid $29.95 for a one-day admission ticket, with an additional $7.95 for a ticket to the Stargazer’s Planetarium—the Creation Museum has generated significant tax-free revenues (tax free because AiG is a religious nonprofit and tax-exempt organization). As indicated by AiG’s 2013 tax return, the Creation Museum generated nearly $4.8 million in total revenue during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013. Visitors keep arriving at the Creation Museum, and AiG expects their numbers to increase by 50 percent annually once the organization’s latest project, the construction of a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark (the Ark Encounter project), comes to completion at a location just forty-five minutes away from the Creation Museum.
The above excerpt is taken from Righting America at the Creation Museum by Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press © 2016. Reprinted by permission of the publisher