Answers In Genesis Creation Museum
Creationist Christians have brought to America's roadsides a number of unique tourist attractions. The Answers In Genesis Creation Museum is the most opulent of all -- an umpty-million-dollar effort to make biblical creationism look like just any other modern science museum. But is that really the best approach? No one seems to be asking the key question: is this place fun?
We got headaches when we visited, but that was more from the acoustics than from any message being broadcast from its countless signs and loudspeakers. We also can't recall an attraction as packed with visitors as the Answers In Genesis Creation Museum, with private troopers in Smokey Bear hats stationed at choke points to keep the crowd moving. It makes the end of the tour, in the blissfully quiet and spacious gift shop, seem heavenly.
So, to answer our own question: yes, fun is here, but it will come mostly from your ability to appreciate slick, matter-of-fact exhibits that assert, for example, that dinosaurs were passengers on Noah's Ark, and that weeds are a byproduct of Eve tempting Adam.
We passed through the turnstiles, decided to skip the planetarium show and the "Men in White" (angels, get it?) 4-D movie, and plunged right into the "walk-thru experience." This begins with a diorama of an animatromic cave-girl feeding a carrot to a rabbit while two vegetarian raptors (more on this in a minute) walk nonchalantly past -- and too far out of range to be included in a casual snapshot (more on this, too). The "7 C's in God's Eternal Plan" are outlined, and the mass of tourists bottlenecks as it passes through a mini-replica of the Grand Canyon, which, according to sign, The Flood carved lickity-split out of soft rock.
The first immersive display, "Starting Points," depicts two paleontologist dummies squatting next to a dinosaur skeleton. One looks friendly and wise, like Santa Claus, and he appears on an overhead video monitor to explain that he's a "creation scientist" while his pal, the one not wearing the spotless white jacket, is an evolutionist. Evolution is a belief just like creationism, says Santa, so it's perfectly fair to say that evolution and creationism begin at the same starting point -- except, of course, that evolution is built on Man's fallible ideas and opinions, while creationism is built on the Bible, which is the infallible Word of God....
A telescoped tour through history comes next, recording a long list of "attacks" against biblical literalism, and the assertion that "God's Word has TRIUMPHED against every Attack." The philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment are condemned, and so is the ACLU and the movie Inherit the Wind, which "portrayed Christians as close-minded bigots, suppressing the truth."
"The latest attack: Question Biblical Time," reads another sign, tying this all together.
There's a section on the Scopes monkey trial, and references to Time magazine's infamous 1966 "Is God Dead?" cover. The museum's chronology is obviously building to something. We round a corner, passing a painting of a cemetery at night (with the tombstones of Genesis, God's Word, Truth, and "God is Dead"). Suddenly, we're in.
It's a dark, terrifying passage of splintered wood and graffiti-sprayed bricks plastered with grim newspaper headlines, as well as fake garbage and at least one fake rat. A neon XXX sign blinks through a greasy window. "Scripture Abandoned in the Culture leads to Relative Morality, Hopelessness, and Meaninglessness," reads a sign. This is another tourist choke point, and its bad-side-of-town lighting leads one wheelchair-bound visitor to scream in fright when she mistakes one of us for a dummy (admittedly, standing very still and wielding a video camera like a member of the heathen Media).
We emerge into a small gallery depicting the Modern World. "Today Man Decides Truth. Whatever." On one side, a giant wrecking ball labeled "Millions of Years" smashes into a church while a scientist figure gleefully carts away the bricks. On the other, the exterior of a suburban home has video monitors for windows. Inside, a kid wearing a spiked dog collar plays a violent video game (we hear continuous screams of agony) while his older brother breaks out a bag of marijuana and surfs the Web for porn. "This is an art," he says, staring at a screen that we cannot see. "You have to have talent to be able to do that." In another room, a teenage sister laments to a girlfriend over the phone that she's pregnant.
We wait for one of the kids to tie their sad lives to a belief in evolution, but before they can make the connection we are pushed forward by the crowd into the second half of the tour, which starts with a widescreen theater video of the beginning of the universe (Sorry, no photos allowed).
The crowd exits into the Garden of Eden, where a large dinosaur is eating a papaya. "Before man's Fall, animals were vegetarians ... there were no carnivores," explains a sign. The museum unsurprisingly follows the diorama tradition of sparing visitors from the nudity of Adam and Eve before the Fall. Adam cuddles a lamb as a modesty shield, or uses the scenery as pants; in scenes of our primordial parents, Eve's long hair always covers her bare front (no reason for prurient elements at this stage of the story anyway....). There are also no opportunities for postcard-caliber, biblical-humans-bonding-with-dinosaurs snapshots, which was apparently a deliberate exhibit design decision.
The far-reaching consequences of the Forbidden Fruit are depicted in a gallery that includes over-sized iconic 20th century photos of a Biafran baby, a mushroom cloud, a woman screaming in childbirth, and a junkie mainlining heroin. A diorama shows a sad, pregnant Eve and an equally glum Adam hoeing a garden -- because the misery of pregnancy and "burdensome work" are also a result of The Fall, as are venom, disease, weeds, thorns, and "Cosmic Pain," the museum's euphemism for entropy. Next to this, an animatronic raptor, now carnivorous, stands over a half-chewed fellow dinosaur. This was a popular spot on our tour for visitors to have their picture snapped with their cell phones.
In the next gallery, a babbling, animatronic Methuselah sits outside of a walk-through reproduction of the interior of the construction of Noah's Ark. Large as it is, a sign notes that it's a mere 1 percent of the boat described in the Bible. Further along, a series of miniature dioramas show tiny dinosaurs making their way up the Ark ramp (following a pair of tiny giraffes). As the Ark floats away, a few dozen people and two forlorn tigers wail fruitlessly from the last mountaintops.
"How did Dinosaurs fit on Noah's Ark?" asks a sign. "Most dinosaurs were reasonably small -- the size of a sheep or pony, on average. Even large sauropods, as young adults, were not overly large. So Noah's Ark had plenty of room for all...." The signs go on to explain that dinosaurs, like dogs, rapidly developed into different "varieties" after The Flood, which explains why so many different kinds of dinosaur fossils are found today.
And why did the dinosaurs die and the dogs didn't? The museum doesn't say, and it doesn't have to. Dinosaurs lived until after Genesis, according to the creation science timeline. Other, less lavish creation museums ascribe their extinction to hungry cavemen -- but we think that we'll wait for an Answers In Exodus Creation Museum to tell us the truth.