By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
Published: May 24, 2007
PETERSBURG, Ky. "” The entrance gates here are topped with metallic Stegosauruses. The grounds include a giant tyrannosaur standing amid the trees, and a stone-lined lobby sports varied sauropods. It could be like any other natural history museum, luring families with the promise of immense fossils and dinosaur adventures.
But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.
What is this, then? A reproduction of a childhood fantasy in which dinosaurs are friends of inquisitive youngsters? The kind of fantasy that doesn't care that human beings and these prefossilized thunder-lizards are usually thought to have been separated by millions of years? No, this really is meant to be more like one of those literal dioramas of the traditional natural history museum, an imagining of a real habitat, with plant life and landscape reproduced in meticulous detail.
For here at the $27 million Creation Museum, which opens on May 28 (just a short drive from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport), this pastoral scene is a glimpse of the world just after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, in which dinosaurs are still apparently as herbivorous as humans, and all are enjoying a little calm in the days after the fall.
It also serves as a vivid introduction to the sheer weirdness and daring of this museum created by the Answers in Genesis ministry that combines displays of extraordinary nautilus shell fossils and biblical tableaus, celebrations of natural wonders and allusions to human sin. Evolution gets its continual comeuppance, while biblical revelations are treated as gospel.
Outside the museum scientists may assert that the universe is billions of years old, that fossils are the remains of animals living hundreds of millions of years ago, and that life's diversity is the result of evolution by natural selection. But inside the museum the Earth is barely 6,000 years old, dinosaurs were created on the sixth day, and Jesus is the savior who will one day repair the trauma of man's fall.
It is a measure of the museum's daring that dinosaurs and fossils "” once considered major challenges to belief in the Bible's creation story "” are here so central, appearing not as tests of faith, as one religious authority once surmised, but as creatures no different from the giraffes and cats that still walk the earth. Fossils, the museum teaches, are no older than Noah's flood; in fact dinosaurs were on the ark.
So dinosaur skeletons and brightly colored mineral crystals and images of the Grand Canyon are here, as are life-size dioramas showing paleontologists digging in mock earth, Moses and Paul teaching their doctrines, Martin Luther chastising the church to return to Scripture, Adam and Eve guiltily standing near skinned animals, covering their nakedness, and a supposedly full-size reproduction of a section of Noah's ark.
There are 52 videos in the museum, one showing how the transformations wrought by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 reveal how plausible it is that the waters of Noah's flood could have carved out the Grand Canyon within days. There is a special-effects theater complete with vibrating seats meant to evoke the flood, and a planetarium paying tribute to God's glory while exploring the nature of galaxies.
Whether you are willing to grant the premises of this museum almost becomes irrelevant as you are drawn into its mixture of spectacle and narrative. Its 60,000 square feet of exhibits are often stunningly designed by Patrick Marsh, who, like the entire museum staff, declares adherence to the ministry's views; he evidently also knows the lure of secular sensations, since he designed the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.
For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.