Creating a Truth
Welcome to the anti-natural history museum. Please check science at the door.
In 1807, Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and amateur paleontologist, sent William Clark to dig for fossils at a place in Kentucky called Big Bone Lick. Exactly 200 years later I’m stopping to see the fossils at Big Bone Lick, which is now a state park commemorating the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology.
It's a hot, white-sky day and the park is full of picnickers, fishermen, and campers. There used to be mineral springs here and, before they dried up, Big Bone Lick was a destination for those seeking their medicinal value. Today, the parking lot is full of minivans. A dad is angry because someone spilled soda in the back seat; another one yells at everyone to stop fooling around and get back inside the car already.
The park’s small visitor center is lined with fossils of the animals that roamed the area during the last Ice Age; behind it is an outdoor diorama with a full-size, plastic mastodon, mammoth, and giant sloth stuck in a small grassy pit, just as they may have looked thousands of years ago. Many years after Clark sent fossils from Big Bone Lick back to Jefferson, scientists proved that they were more than 15,000 years old. This knowledge would likely have satisfied Jefferson who — though he died believing the mastodon still existed — would’ve been pleased, at least, to be proven wrong by true scientific inquiry. If he were alive today, Jefferson would surely agree with the long-established scientific fact that the earth is billions of years old. And the founding father might be displeased that so many of his compatriots — about half of all Americans, in fact — do not accept this scientific fact.
I’m standing in Big Bone Lick’s crowded visitor center, idly trying to figure out which half of this crowd believes in evolution, and which half are creationists. It’s a question that’s on my mind. In an hour or so, I will drive 15 minutes north to Petersburg, where I will visit the brand new $27-million Creation Museum, built to educate nonbelievers in the creationists’ notion that, among other things, the earth is only 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs walked with humans, and that the universe was literally made in six days.
A woman working the front desk tells a disappointed family that, no, there aren't any more reservations available for the season, but that other parks nearby should have some. I ask her what she thinks of the new Creation Museum. She throws up her hands. "Hey, I work here, we dig, things happen,” she says as she trades places with a co-worker to take a break. "I believe in God, he believes in me. And other than that, I don't know."
Leah Cridlin, who’s camping in the park, overhears us talking about the Creation Museum and tells me about a small road I can take to Petersburg to get a great view of the Ohio River, and about how I should stop in Rabbit Hash, where the general store sells "Coke, in glass bottles!"
Leah is from Hebron, just beyond the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and is here with her husband and children and an aunt, Gayle. We all walk together down a dry dirt road to see the buffalo kept here as a nod to their long (though diminished) presence in the area. We look at the newest buffalo, just a few days old, and Gayle shows me how to pull the nectar from a honeysuckle flower.
As we walk back, I ask Gayle what she thinks of the Creation Museum. She tells me that she hasn't been, but as a Christian who believes in a literal Genesis, she's interested. I ask her what, then, she makes of the information on display here at Big Bone Lick.
She shrugs. "Man can come up with almost anything. If you have faith, you don't have to worry about these things, about evidence."
We part in the parking lot after she makes sure I know how to get to Rabbit Hash. As I walk away she calls after me. "God bless you in your writings."
Petersburg is a small, unassuming town just a few miles off an interstate that leaves Cincinnati and continues into the quiet, rolling countryside of Kentucky’s northwestern corner. Not all that much happens here. There's a Vacation Bible Camp and some church picnics. There’s a concrete boat ramp at the bank of the Ohio River, and a few picnic tables that overlook the water. The population of Boone County has more than doubled to 110,000 in just over 15 years. But Petersburg, tucked in a bridgeless stretch of the river, hasn't changed much at all.
Here, at a bend on Bullittsburg Church Road, the entrance to the Creation Museum is marked by a black gate and creamy stone columns topped with sculptures of Stegosaurus.
You might think the museum’s proximity to Big Bone Lick would have been a problem for Answers in Genesis (AiG), the evangelical ministry that constructed it. But rather than shy away from the presence of a landmark in the history of science and evolution, AiG embraces it. In fact, the group's original plan was to build across from Big Bone Lick in an attempt to more strongly contrast what the ministry calls its “science” with that of the park's.
There was local opposition, as there inevitably is whenever creationists push for a change in school curriculum or, say, propose a 60,000-square foot Biblical interpretation of the fossil record, and the county refused to rezone that property. But in the ongoing battle between creationists and evolutionists, it turns out that there is one practical concern more important than winning the debate: If you’re trying to create a creationism museum, you first need a site to build one. So AiG shrugged its collective shoulders and shifted focus from Big Bone Lick to Petersburg.
The museum here isn't the first devoted to a literal interpretation of the Bible’s opening book. There's also the 7 Wonders Creation Museum near Mt. St. Helens, the Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the Institute for Creation Research's Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee, California. This summer, the Big Valley Creation Science Museum opened to less fanfare in a small, vinyl-sided building in Alberta, Canada.
AiG’s museum in Petersburg, however, is the biggest creationist museum in the country and, AiG boasts, the most “professional.” The ministry brought in Patrick Marsh, the designer behind Universal Studios’ Jaws and King Kong attractions. At Universal, Marsh used special effects to build a fear of killer sharks and giant gorillas. In Petersburg, he’s used the same tools to build a fear of God.
The Creation Museum also draws the most on the conventions of traditional natural history museums, including the rush for interactivity and entertainment as a means of reaching young minds. Qualities like these led believers to pony up the entire $27 million in construction costs, leaving the museum debt-free, according to its builders. They’re also what AiG hopes will attract 250,000 people every year to this sleepy corner of Kentucky.
There is a planetarium here, and just like those in science museums it has padded seats that recline and provide a simulated view of the cosmos. Unlike other planetariums, this one displays outer space and the scale of solar bodies as proof of a Creator: Life as we know it exists on Earth because of the planet's distance from the sun; move it a smidge either way, and life dies. This simply can't be due to chance, the museum asserts.
There are traditional, somewhat creepy wax figures. They’re used in a walk-through scene that demonstrates the scale of Noah’s Ark. Miniature dioramas tell the story of the flood. One shows pairs of animals marching to the ark, dinosaurs among the giraffes and elephants. Another shows half-inch high humans clinging to the last bit of dry land as floodwaters raise the Ark but sweep away most of mankind. Here, the big flood question — where’d all that water come from? — is answered: There’s more than enough water to cover the Earth, so long as it’s completely flat. This is complemented by a video that shows water rushing from the hidden side of the planet to the front, the land unchanging.
In another hall there's an animatronic dinosaur crouched just feet away from a smiling, dark-skinned animatronic girl who holds a carrot. One room is lined with black and white photos depicting the world’s pain: a growling wolf, a starving child, a mushroom cloud, piles of bones, and a woman suffering the agony of birth. Culture in Crisis is a dark alley, trash-filled and graffiti-covered; on the walls are magazine stories on the Terry Shiavo case, gay teens, Columbine, Muslim suicide bombers and the Atlanta Olympics attack — examples of what happens when society turns from Christianity. Further down the hall, videos show scenes of a young man looking at pornography online, a young girl discussing abortion with a friend, and what seems to be a teenager popping pills in church.
This hall also has traditional museum signs that, instead of explaining a scientific point, suggest additional pitfalls. One says that over half of all women have sex outside of marriage, and that one in three pregnancies will end in abortion. Another says that "the Christian Church in this country will be dead and buried within 40 years," according to an unnamed 2003 British report on church attendance.
The rest of the museum is based on a model AiG calls "The Seven C's of History." There's creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, cross, and consummation. But despite billing itself as a "museum of natural and spiritual history," the only real natural history (AiG's version of natural history, that is), comes in the first C, creation. There's a diorama of two paleontologists working at one dig site. A video says that they're looking at the same evidence from two different perspectives: One is using the Bible, the other isn't. Another video questions whether years of river erosion are required for canyons to form, or if the process couldn't have happened much faster.
One room, Wonders of Creation, is simply a collection of nature photography with basic labels that read, "Bacteria: Magical Complexity," "Eyes: Exquisitely Designed Windows to the World," and "Creatures of the Sea: Designed to Swim."
The purpose or meaning of all this is not entirely clear.
"First rate!" and "world class!" and "so high quality!" and "so state-of-the-art!” That’s how the Creation Museum’s creators and supporters describe it.
“The response has been, ‘Wow, this place is so professional, so first-class,’” said Ken Ham, the bearded, thin-eyed Australian who founded Answers in Genesis in 1994. "Christians are stereotyped as having second-rate quality in the things they do. I hope we're setting a new standard."
It’s hard to say whether the Biblical exhibits are actually “first rate” and “world class,” since there isn’t a whole lot to compare them to. But they don’t look cheap. The wax figures are as professional as those in Madame Tussaud’s. Adam and Eve are the most represented. The real Adam, ashamed as he’s said to have been, would probably be mortified by the muscled yet strangely round belly designers gave him. Eve, however, is spared: Though Genesis says they were created nude, no delicate areas are visible. Still, there’s something strangely erotic in the two canoodling under the trees as a dinosaur watches with what looks like a knowing half-smile. When they’re bathing together in a pool, the sound of a waterfall strong in the background, lily pads cover their lower halves. The water level is as low as it can be, though. Suggestion makes the scene more titillating than if AiG had gone ahead and shown everything. After all, traditional museums show penises and breasts, and nobody walks away from Neanderthal exhibits hot under the collar.
The museum’s gift shop is the Dragon Hall Bookstore. The name might surprise anyone who’s heard Christian protests of Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons. But it makes sense if you see the film Dinosaurs and Dragons in the museum’s basement. Ancient dragon myths, it claims, are proof that dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans. They only died out after Noah’s flood, when the limited number of plants diminished their numbers to the point at which humans could finish them off. Further creationism education is available in Dragon Hall. Its book titles include Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, One Small Speck to Man: The Evolution Myth, and Darwin's Demise: Why Evolution Can't Take the Heat. DVDs include Inherently Wind: A Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial, It Doesn't Take a Ph.D. and Lucy: She's no Lady.
A museum centerpiece is the special effects theater. When I’m waiting for the show to begin I meet a couple, Michael and Judy Call, who've driven up from Tampa for the opening. Michael uses AiG's materials in his Sunday School classes. They haven't seen much yet, but are already impressed by the museum. They both concur: “High quality.”
"In order to capture the attention of young people, you've got to be whiz-bang," Michael tells me.
Judy nods. “We know how important the whiz-bang is — we're from Florida and Disney.”
The show we see is called Men in White. In the theater, we watch as Wendy, an animatronic girl, stares at a desolate, nighttime Western landscape projected across three screens, contemplating life and its meaning.
"Does anyone even know I'm here? Is there any kind of meaning? Did God create all this or did we just invent God?" Wendy asks. She's not addressing anyone, but two angels appear to answer. These are not the harp-playing angels of yesterday. They're dressed in white, sure, but seem to have sprung from a middle-aged adult’s idea of what is young, hip, and now. In this case, that’s dark sunglasses and a dated surfer accent. The angels, Gabe and Mike, tell Wendy that, no, we didn't create God; God, instead, created everything.
One scene takes place in a school, Enlightenment High. The science teacher here is the enemy, his students the victims. Unlike Gabe and Mike, he’s a bookish square who supports evolution unquestionably, even though he lacks proof. The teacher is flustered when Gabe and Mike question his science with hazy arguments that say scientific dating methods are inaccurate; that Noah’s flood created the Grand Canyon; that single cell organisms are just way too complex to have simply developed on their own. "Your chair didn't just glue itself together!" one says — all that’s missing is a long “Duuuuuuuh!”
As if Gabe and Mike’s coolness wasn’t enough to win visitors over, the show’s interactified with seats that vibrate whenever a dinosaur walks by on the screen and jets of water that spray faces during the story of the Ark — a feature not popular with the older set in the row behind me, who use their hands to cover the nozzles in front of them.
I studied science in college, but I still leave a little confused. Not by whether or not I agree with the show's points, but by what those points actually were. A lot of scientific-sounding facts are thrown out, followed by general statements of how this, then, proves that evolution can't be true. Murky claims included: If the Earth is really billions of years old, there should be a heck of a lot more helium in the atmosphere! Single-cell organisms? They’re not as simple as everyone says they are! And those rocks from Mt. St. Helen’s? They prove that the Earth doesn’t have to be billions of years old!
The Calls, however, are impressed. As we walk out, I hear more "first-rate" and "world class." I ask Michael and Judy why they think scientists, like the teacher in the show, are so resistant to the idea of creationism.
"It's as simple as, if there is a creator, then somehow they are accountable," Michael tells me. "It removes the question of who makes laws — God or humans."
They don't talk much about the science in the show, but say that they plan on coming back soon with their children. They’ve donated to the museum; it was not much, they say, but enough to feel that they have a part in sharing the message.
Like Men in White, most of the museum’s attempts to present a scientific basis for the creationist argument aren't all that scientific. But that doesn't seem to matter much to the visitors, some of whom have come wearing T-shirts with witty Crucifixion puns like "A blood donor saved my life," "I owe my life to body piercing," and "Jesus loves you (and I'm trying)."
Later, I’m looking in a glass case at finches, birds that have become the iconic animal representatives of evolution. Darwin's observations of their variety on the Galapagos Islands, specifically the specialization of each species' beak, helped him develop the theory AiG is trying to debunk. The museum, though, has its own explanation for speciation, as signs next to the case reveal: "In spite of all their variety, many species of finches can still breed with each other. This can be possible only if all finches are related." It continues, "Scientists are puzzled how so many finch species could arise, displaying such a vast array of traits. The Bible provides explanation. In the beginning of the earth, 6,000 years ago, God created every kind of bird, including the finch kind, and He gave them the ability to 'multiply upon the earth'."
As I read this, a woman standing next to me points out an animatronic dinosaur looming over our heads to her daughter, who's sitting in a stroller. Her name's Ann Posey; she's from Hebron, just a few miles away, and she’s come with a friend from Memphis. I ask her what she thinks of the museum. "It's so state-of-the-art," she tells me.
Posey waited in line to be among the first in. "I came because of the idea that this could be for Christ, a place to see and learn," she says.
That doesn’t mean she won’t visit traditional natural history museums, like the one just a few miles away in Cincinnati. "We're actually members of the Cincinnati museum," she tells me.
I ask her what she makes, then, of the scientific facts put forth there.
"Oh, we just don't agree with it. We just look at the things, but don't agree with the dating."
After my first visit to the Creation Museum, I drive 20 miles back to Cincinnati to visit the city’s natural history museum.
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the Earth is billions of years old and that species evolve, almost half of the country’s population believes a designer created humans and other animals in their current forms just thousands of years ago. But natural history museums remain popular, symbols of so many grade school field trips and rainy weekend afternoons. These institutions also remain steadfast in their defense of evolution, and are perhaps more so now as creationists like the ones in Petersburg increasingly co-opt their conventions. The American Museum of Natural History in New York opened a new Hall of Human of Human Origins in April. (It’s located on the museum’s first floor, about as far as possible from the dinosaur hall on the fourth floor.) “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” is open at Chicago’s Field Museum through September, the traveling “Darwin” until January.
Cincinnati’s Art Deco Union Terminal is home to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science. Five lines once came through here, but now the only trains come at 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning. Along with the natural history museum, an IMAX theater, a history museum, and a children’s museum have taken the place of ticket offices and porters.
Cincinnati’s museum is much smaller than its big-city cousins, the kind of place to spend an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable afternoon. In fact, it's a hot early-summer Sunday and attendance is light. But even here, evolution — or at least an understanding that the world is more than 6,000 years old — pervades almost every exhibit. The museum's official line, one employee tells me, is, "We teach evolution."
One hall explores the five mass extinctions that occurred over 550 million years. Images of cave paintings date the originals to somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 years ago. One area is a tour of Ice Age animal models. An exhibit of photos from Walden Woods begins with a video on Thoreau and how Darwin's thinking influenced the transcendentalist's work on forest succession and seed dispersion. A sculpted, walk-through cave meant to simulate the real thing — with live bats, dripping water, and a few passages too narrow for an adult to pass through — contains a jaguar skeleton 10,000 years old. At the cave's entrance is a small tank holding two blind cavefish, snow white and fast as they circle their tiny home. A single photocopied article from Seed magazine is taped next to the tank, exploring how things like eyeless fish or flightless birds evolve.
I sit in on a bat demonstration just outside the cave. The bat’s handler tells those of us gathered how bats fly, hunt, and mate. She describes the bat's body as "remarkably like a human," with four fingers and a thumb, and knuckles, just like us. "Because we all come from, you know, the same ancestor with the five-finger plan," she says.
When the others leave, I stay behind. She can't give her name; she says that the opening of AiG’s museum has raised media interest in this museum as well, and the staff isn't really supposed to be talking to reporters. She has a cousin who's a charter member of the Creation Museum, and considers herself to be a person "of faith," but doesn't understand why evolution and religion need to be opposed.
"It bothers scientists and educators if you take a bunch of kids and tell them the earth's 6,000 years old, instead of the theory of evolution, and by theory, I mean fact," she says.
But even in a science museum, it's difficult to see how much science actually matters to visitors. I follow two couples and their four children as they rush though the hall of dinosaurs, looking at the skeletons. They stop to take a picture in front of the skeleton of a giant fish. They don’t really linger until the end, where the parents can sit on benches while the kids ignore a video on fossil hunting and jump on pillows.
There's a Q&A display with questions printed on wood blocks that can be flipped to reveal the answer. "Did humans hunt the dinosaurs to extinction?" one asks. "No, dinosaurs were extinct for more than 64 million years before humans appeared," reads the answer. But nobody's looking. The parents sit silently. The children play with models of a brontosaurus and T. rex.
I'm guilty of this myself. I want this to be a place to celebrate science, and to celebrate it myself. But these days, I’m as superficial in my interest as I was when I settled on my college major. At that time, I thought that, well, since I enjoyed the outdoors, I’d also enjoy biology.
At an interactive display where visitors push buttons corresponding to those animals they think survived the Permian extinction, I hit every button until I “win” with the cockroach. I know this because, instead of a loud buzz, “La Cucaracha” plays. At a model of Jefferson's ground sloth, I spend more time noting just how dusty the thing is than I do reading about its diet or habitat. I wonder how one actually goes about dusting a dinosaur. In a room exploring glacial formations, my first stop is a small pool in the center. Here I can spin dials to control the flow of water and learn how different flows form different geologic features. But I just spin one after the other, captivated. A boy about 10 years old is on the other side, doing the same.
"This water smells like pretzels," he says. "It smells like moldy pretzels." I agree, and we both continue to spin the dials.
At a bend in Bullittsburg Church Road in Petersburg, in front of the Creation Museum, stands a patch of weeds that, until today, were knee-high. Stuck between a farmer’s field and a narrow, dead-end access road, there are only a few uses for a small plot like this.
A protest is one of them, and that’s happening today. The area’s been mown and roped off with caution tape, and opponents of the Creation Museum have gathered on opening day as part of what they're calling the Rally for Reason.
I'm standing by the side of the road with Carly Nichols, one of the event's organizers, as cars pass, most driven by the museum’s supporters. Nichols and those with her are holding signs with messages like, "Support Science Not Superstition," "Religion Is the Root Cause of All Terrorism/All Terrorists Are Religious People, None Are Atheists," and "Creationism is one of the Vilest Forms of Child Abuse."
Carly has been an atheist for about 10 years now. She considered herself a Christian for a long time before that but never really questioned the faith. It wasn't until she actually read the Bible that she began to doubt it. "If God is all-powerful, why create temptation?” she says. “It doesn't seem like a loving thing to do."
As we talk, a van drives by with a sign in its rear window that says, “Why go APE over a museum? History is HIS story.” A few minutes later, a Corvette drives past and a passenger shouts out of his window: "Why don't you all go home and leave these people alone?" A few kids in backseats flip the protestors off, but beyond that there haven't been any real confrontations.
Carly has four daughters, ages one through nine, and is here because she’s afraid of what this museum could mean for their education. “We don't want a repeat of Kansas," she says, referring to that state's board of education. It has in the past attempted to remove evolution from the curriculum. It’s also tried to replace it with a teaching of intelligent design — the relatively new form of creationism that suggests life's complexity is evidence of an unnamed designer.
Like most of the other protesters, Carly says she's here to oppose what they see as a threat to the science and, through that, to the proper education of children. "We don't have the power or the right to try to shut it down," Carly says. "We're not silly enough to think we could."
But as much as they want to focus on science, religion is never far from their minds. At a meeting held the night before the rally, supporters gathered in a conference room of the Hilton Cincinnati Airport for a pep talk. The speakers included American Atheist's national legal director, as well as American Atheist's directors for Michigan and Alabama, the president of the Secular Coalition for America, and the pastor of the United Church of Christ in Cincinnati.
Frank Zindler, editor of the American Atheist Press, gave the keynote speech, "Don't Let the Dark Ages Come Again," in which he railed (for close to 20 minutes) against the spread of religion into what this group considers secular areas of society. He criticized the very existence of the Creation Museum. "Today another shadow falls across the path of science,” he said, “as another attempt is made to shutter shut a window to the world, as once again benighted minions of an evil god seek to bring to naught three centuries of progress, discovery, and learning.” He later read an original poem that described the protestors as “guardians of the torch of learning,” and compared their world with that of the museum’s supporters: “Though bought with brains and blood, it rivals not the fantasies of Faith — that specter which, when sense submits, draws shut thick curtains o’er the mind and lets an inner play proceed.”
A physician, Dr. Gretchen Mann, spoke later. "My name is Gretchen Mann, and I'm coming out today. I'm an atheist!” she said. “To be silent any longer would be to be complacent in the ruination of our country."
During the Rally for Reason, I walk around the protest site on Bullittsburg Church Road with Fran Welte, a plump, middle-aged woman with a kind face. Fran, who's from the Cincinnati suburb of Loveland, says she's always been an atheist. Her father was raised Catholic but, after fighting in World War II, asked his priest how he could justify having killed someone. The priest told Fran's father that the act was justifiable since it was done for his country; the conversation marked the end of her father’s relationship with religion.
I ask Fran if it isn't dangerous to be protesting a private creationism museum under the banner of atheism. Don’t they risk pitting the religious against the non-religious? She admits that yes, some of her fellow atheists have confused the issue by simply equating an opposition to creationism with atheism.
I also wonder whether being here today, either as atheists or not, will in any way validate the museum. Fran says she knows that any kind of protest is going to draw more attention to the museum but isn’t worried. "I'd rather give them business so that in the long run it'll be better for scientific thinking, for critical thinking," she says.
A van full of protesters arrives and Fran directs them to where they should protest. As she does, she tells me about a woman she met earlier that morning. At a fast food restaurant, the drive-thru cashier saw Rally for Reason soaped on Fran’s van window. She told Fran that the two of them are opposites, that she's a Christian and can't wait to go to heaven.
Fran stops directing for a moment and turns to me. Her face tightens into an expression of both confusion and sympathy. "Why is it so clear for me,” she says, “and so hard for them?"
On the atheists’ side of the road are dozens of protestors, two portable toilets, three tents, and a band. They hold signs high while Fran Welte reminds everyone to "smile and wave, smile and wave" as cars pass.
Martha Heil stands on the other side of the road, alone on the muddy, unmown shoulder.
Pale and with long, straight, reddish-brown hair, she's standing silently and unsmiling with a large manila enveloped clutched to her chest. I walk over to see what she's doing by herself, to see if she's a museum supporter keeping an eye on the protesters, but she's not. Heil is the media coordinator for the American Institute of Physicists, as well as a blogger on her own sporadically-updated site Intelligent Design Watch. She's hoping desperately that some scientists will show up to stand with her. There are several on the other side, protesting with the atheists, but she’s hoping for those who will take a secular approach in their criticism. One eventually does show up, but the lack of a turnout on her side doesn’t come as a surprise, as she’ll later note on her blog: "The scientists who felt politically and were open to sharing their views were already across the road, and the shy ones who would rather get on with their science tended to stay at home.”
The debate's political nature is what's keeping her on this side of the road, alone. "This is not the scene we want to be in," she says. "We don't want to engage in partisan politics because science isn't partisan. You can take atomic energy and build a nuclear power plant or a nuclear weapon."
As we look across the street where a reporter from NPR and crews from PBS and Russian television are interviewing protestors, I ask Heil what she thinks of the coverage of this event, as well as that of the larger debate over creationism.
"The reason I'm on this side of the road is because the media sees religion versus the non-religious," she says. "It's not one versus the other."
Heil tells me she respects the protesters, that with "science under threat, there's a need to align yourself with anyone who will hold your hand."
"But,” she says, “I don't think it's a service to science to link it to atheism."
Back inside the Creation Museum, I'm sitting on a bench in the museum's final room. I've just seen The Last Adam, a dramatic video presentation of the last Cs — Christ, cross and consummation — and in a few minutes I’ll leave for the airport.
A man comes up and sits down next to me. His name is Wayne Caufield and he's a retired real estate broker who now raises sheep in South Carolina. Wayne came here with members of his church during construction of the museum. He’s now back helping out at the tour's end, where anyone with questions about what they've seen can speak to trained volunteers. Volunteers here must fill out an application but also sign a contract that requires a written, personal Christian testimony of salvation, and a position statement on creation. Volunteers must also agree with the Answers in Genesis Statement of Faith which says, among other things, that "The days of Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six  consecutive twenty-four  hour days of Creation" and "Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment, but believers enjoy eternal life with God."
Wayne is a believer and here, among the evidence that’s supposed to do the trick, he's trying to make me one, too. “Tell me, if you were to die today, are you 100 percent sure you’d get into heaven?” he asks me.
I tell him the truth, that I don't really know what I think about heaven. It’s true, but something about the way Wayne smiles and nods makes me nervous, and I try to change the subject. I ask him about the protesters' arguments that a literal read of Genesis means a literal read of everything in the Bible, including, say, a not-so-wholesome treatment of women.
“Well, I believe that yes, woman is the help-mate, but that doesn’t mean you can grab her by the hair,” he says.
Wayne pauses, then leans quietly in to me. "You know what this museum is about, right?" he asks.
I tell him that I think it's about science and spirituality, or at least is trying to be.
He shakes his head no. "This is an evangelical ministry. We hope to bring people to Jesus Christ."
Wayne takes me into a private room to share Bible verses that he believes will help me find God, including one on being reborn.
“Now of course this isn’t a literal rebirth,” he says. “It’s a metaphor.”
I'm about to confront him on the paradox of this statement, made in a place that extols the literal word of the Bible. But I don’t. I can see he's happy sharing this with me and, even if I don't agree with it, I can't imagine giving someone's kind, old grandfather such a hard time.
Even though he says he's not supposed to, Wayne gives me his personal telephone number. He hopes that I'll call to talk further. He tells me how, after 9/11, he traveled to New York and convinced 16 people to kneel down and say the Sinner's Prayer with him. He's hoping he can do the same with me.
I tell him that I should be going, that I have a long drive ahead of me. He pats me on the back before I get up. As I'm about to leave he stops me, telling me he has one more thing for me. I think he’ll give me a Bible, or at least some kind of religious pamphlet. But Wayne reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a coupon for a free soft drink in Noah's Café upstairs. He seems proud to be able to do this and smiles, hoping not just that I'll be convinced, but that I'll be saved. • 6 August 2007
All photos by Mike Bucher.
Jesse Smith is managing editor of The Smart Set.