Kentucky was my 5th new state and 30th overall. Our main plan for Kentucky had been to go to the Louisville Mega Cavern, created from a limestone quarry, and do their zip line and rope challenges (or spectate others doing them in my case). However, given we now had a kid with a broken arm, a change of plans was required. Having just read an article about it a few weeks earlier, Mr Pict suggested the Creation Museum. It proved to be the most random and bonkers thing we did on our road trip.
Now I am going to be absolutely up front and frank here. I am a life long atheist and I believe in the scientific theory of evolution. I am also a tolerant and respectful person and fully support the rights of others to believe differently, to subscribe to and practice their beliefs and faiths. My husband and I consciously choose not to impose our own beliefs on our children (values, yes, but not beliefs) and therefore do our best to find ways to expose them to the beliefs and practices of major faith groups. A few years ago, for instance, I undertook a comparative religion project with my kids, focusing on holidays and festivals. From friends who are both scientifically minded and people of faith, I also understand that evolution and religious belief do not have to be mutually exclusive. For example, the act of Creation can be science’s Big Bang and evidence of evolution can be ascribed to the concept of Intelligent Design. Those are positions I can appreciate and respect even while they are not ones that I personally share.
However – and here is my caveat and trigger warning – while I get the concept of old earth creationism, “young earth creationism” was something I have just not been able to fathom. A visit to the Creation Museum – whose founders are proponents of young earth creationism – was therefore an opportunity for me to learn about a different perspective and try to comprehend its arguments. Eager to be respectful and inoffensive at all times, we decided it was necessary to restrict our conversations about what we were learning inside the museum. Ahead of our visit, therefore, we devised a code word to signal that we needed to halt that conversation for the time being and resume it in private, perhaps ask that question later. We explained to the kids that they would no doubt be generating lots of thoughts and lots of opinions and feeling compelled to ask lots of questions but if either parent said the word “treehouse” then that was to be muted for the time being and raised once we were in a private space so as to not upset any fellow visitors. This blog is on a public forum so I will be mindful of that in my writing but it is also, after all, my blog which expresses my views so I don’t intend to be totally “treehouse” with my opinions either. Clear? OK. Let’s proceed into the Creation Museum.
The ticket (and we bought the combined ticket for the Museum and Ark) is pretty extortionate but we looked on it like buying a theme park entry for a day and an opportunity to do something unique. We knew it was going to be unique even in the reception area where displays about mythological dragons explained that these myths were actually distorted memories of dinosaurs who had survived the Flood. And then there was the life size diorama of children playing with dinosaurs. That was an immediate “treehouse” moment for the kids.
The Museum – as one would expect given its focus on Creation – essentially aims to place science in the context of the Biblical book of Genesis. The stall is set out right at the beginning where a diorama depicts two paleontologists uncovering a fossil dinosaur. One believes that the creature drowned in a flood millions of years ago whereas one believes that it died in the Great Flood thousands of years ago so we had scientific methods of dating being placed in opposition to a literal interpretation of the timeline of the Bible. The importance of literalism is then underlined by a room in which mannequins of Old Testament prophets and Paul are used to demonstrate that their words are truth and not open to interpretation, that the word of God has more weight than human reason. We definitely needed to “treehouse” our way around that Museum, that much was clear.
One display I found really interesting was their model of Lucy, the three million year old fossil. Holograms of the fossil finds were projected onto the three dimensional model which I found to be fascinating and a great way to present an incomplete fossil find. Of course, the point of the holograms was to demonstrate how the very incompleteness of Lucy left her open to interpretation. The argument was that those who reconstruct the Lucy specimen bring their scientific bias to the interpretation and, therefore, choose to see her as more human whereas someone with a Biblical bias would chose to reconstruct her as more apelike. I thought that was actually an interesting interrogation of how biases influence concepts and thought there was a chance that would set the tenor of the discussion in the museum, a dialogue between different stances.
Nope. We found ourselves in a massively didactic section all about how the loss of the Bible in homes had led to an erosion in values. As an atheist, this prejudiced belief that those without faith somehow have no moral compass makes my blood boil. I also felt that this section was out of keeping with the rest of the ethos of the museum. It was shrill, sanctimonious, and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, their presentation on the loss of values meant playing videos about such subjects as drug abuse and pornography. Despite my alleged lack of values, I determined that I did not need my children to be exposed to such material so I whisked them quickly through and into the next section. I was feeling all the “treehouse” thoughts right then.
Luckily we were spat out into the lush and relaxing Garden of Eden. This was a beautifully presented diorama. The kids loved spotting all of the animals among the verdant vegetation. Penguins, jaguars and dinosaurs played side by side as Adam named them. The dinosaurs were a big hit with the youngest Picts, especially the animatronic ones. The Creation Museum is rather obsessed with dinosaurs. They were everywhere. The idea of this whole section – mannequins, dioramas, videos – was to present the book of Genesis as a series of Cs: creation, corruption (the Fall), catastrophe (Flood), confusion (think Babel), Christ, cross, and consummation. It was all incredibly well presented, immaculate and polished stuff. There was a good flow around the museum and no single section out stayed its welcome so it managed to find that balance between being engaging but keeping things moving along. Many mainstream museums could learn a thing or two from the Creation Museum about apt deployment of multimedia and pacing.
There was a section on the building of the Ark that presumably predates the Museum’s construction of its own separate, dedicated Ark exhibit. Again, this was beautifully presented and I actually found some of it a bit informative (such as construction technologies used by ancient cultures). What the kids loved, however, were all the little models in glass cases, from the wicked clinging to rocks in a tumultuous ocean to Noah’s wife descending the stairs to go and feed the dinosaurs their lunch. Dinosaurs on the Ark. Told you it was an obsession.
After a quick bite to eat on a lovely veranda overlooking the stunning and spacious grounds, we headed back into the Museum to complete a few other sections. One of these was all about insects. The Museum has a fabulous collection of insects and butterflies and we spent some time studying all the specimens, from elaborate stick insects to massive dragonflies, to metallic and iridescent beetles. Then there was inevitably a dinosaur section dedicated to displaying genuine fossils alongside model dinosaurs.
The two youngest Picts were adamant that they wanted to visit the on-site petting zoo so we left the sanctuary of the air conditioned building to brave the broiling humidity and see some real life animals. There was a zonkey and a zorse named Cletus and Zoe, a jersey bull named Norman, wallabies, and an albino peacock among other beasties. My 9 year old was permitted to feed lettuce to a camel named Gomer and all the kids had a cuddle with a diminutive goat.
It transpired that the Ark was a 40 minute drive from the Museum. This was not welcome news on a day that was 94 degrees and felt like 106 when humidity was factored in. The car journey did permit us to get some of our “treehouse” discussions out of the way, a bit of decompression before we boarded the Ark and had to zip up the thoughts all over again. The Ark was worth the extra hassle, however.
We had known it was a full-size replica but we still were not prepared for how colossal it was. It loomed on the horizon as we pulled up into the car park and boarded the bus to take us out to the site. In addition to the scale of the enterprise, it was also incredibly well constructed, with breathtakingly skillful craftsmanship, and beautifully finished detailing. It struck me that the money invested in both the Creation Museum and the Ark was astonishing and how much mainstream museums would benefit from such a cash injection.
Every detail had been considered. As we wandered the three decks, we loved studying all the intricate details, peeking into the cages to see what they held, and reading the explanations for how things were presented. For example, we were informed that the unicorns of the Bible were what we know as rhinos. There were also short necked giraffes and dwarf brontosauruses to explain how large scale creatures could be accommodated on board. The organisation was also keen to impress on us the idea that Noah saved “kinds” of animals, not species, by way of explaining why the Ark would have been able to house all the critters. So, for example, there was one kind of bear pair on board and these then gave rise, post-Flood, to all the different species of bears we have in modern times. This teetering on a line between evolution and rapid speciation was something I found both confounding and fascinating. I was definitely learning a lot about young earth creationism on this excursion.
Then, of course, there were the dinosaurs. My kids noted – in an almost “treehouse” moment – that Noah had apparently been more keen on saving kinds of dinosaurs than kinds of birds or insects or amphibians or reptiles. It seemed like half the cages were devoted to dinosaurs. We saw one of Noah’s daughters-in-law feeding some small dinosaurs, there was a cage containing a pteranodon, and loads more dinosaur enclosures besides.
We also visited a section all about pre-Flood wickedness, including men hunting for triceratops horns and a scene of debauchery while a woman walked past with her pet dinosaur. I confess that all this focus on humans and dinosaurs interacting was making me hum ‘The Flinstones’ theme tune in my head. We also saw the human living quarters and a section all about how the story of the Flood has been turned into a fairy tale and corrupted by children’s books and toys. There was a display case full of such items and a seriously creepy soundtrack of cackling that made my skin crawl, the idea being that infantilising the story has been one of the causes of people not reading the Bible as literal truth and the descent into sin.
The Ark, even more so than the Museum, was absolutely incredible. Between the two locations, we spent over five hours there. I was glad to have visited because I really did feel like I came away from the experience with a better understanding of how young earth creationists contort the facts to conform to their beliefs. I admit, however, that I felt a bit ethically queasy about our visit, the fact that we had essentially donated a chunk of change to an organisation who are teaching only their theories while presenting it as fact and debunking scientific evidence. Fundamentally it was not a museum. Again, I just felt such pity that mainstream museums with actual core educational content do not have the same resources and financing. I definitely think museum curators elsewhere would benefit from a visit to learn how to better present their materials and holdings.
And then, after a long day, extra exhausting because of the heat and the need to suppress ourselves, just when we were really looking forward to getting to the hotel and decompressing, an email arrived. Our hotel for the night confirmed that we had booked one room with one bed and a pull out to fit four or five people. Having had it up to the eyeballs with accommodation screw ups and woes, we were fuming. Mr Pict placed a hone call and was told they had no alternative rooms. When presented with the email confirmation stating that we had in fact booked a room with two beds and a pull out to accommodate six, suddenly they found a room. It is best not to provoke tired and sticky hot folks who have had to button up their thoughts and feelings all day.