Thursday, July 28, 2011

A standard mid-summer roadtrip...or not!

A few readers may have noticed that I posted photos of the Creation Museum on Facebook a few days ago, and I figured that, at the very least, in conjunction with my previous blog posts, that the trip's timing may suggest that trip was an "ironic" one, meant to mock religious fundamentalists and Christianity at large. Not so! Here's the whole story:

I worked behind-the-scenes at the Creation Museum years before it was finished during a missions trip in 2001 (I think). I don't remember much; they housed us like campers - I slept in the top bunk. We spent the days scrubbing steel I-beams and the nights having Bible study sessions. Beyond that, I remember thinking that AiG was fighting an important battle to save the lost, and they had a model of a triceratops WITH A SADDLE. Somewhere there are a bunch of photos of me, snapped with a disposable camera, posing awkwardly on a saddled dinosaur.


Fast forward to 2011: my belief system has become sophisticated enough to consider individuals beyond my sphere and politics are becoming increasingly testy due to the conflation of conservative Christianity and conservative political ideologies. Since AiG is something of a leader for the conservative/fundamentalist Christian movement (or at the very least, a vocal arm of it), I was curious to see the rationale behind their beliefs.

That said, I will admit (gladly!) that I accepted evolution and dismissed the idea of interpreting the Bible literally while still in high school. For me, the idea of a young-Earth creation was just baffling, even then. What about every rock, fossil, and particle that has been dated, archived, and put on display in every museum I've ever visited? They must be wrong, according to Ken Ham et al. What about the fact that we see visible light from stars millions of lightyears away? I came to the conclusion that the Bible is a very, very old book written almost entirely by men about things that, for the greater part, weren't directly applicable to my day to day life. The words of Jesus I held near and dear, but I didn't so much like the mass murdering, genocidal, spiteful bits.

I was quick to see that the two just didn't mix. One party just had to be wrong. While I have been content the past 8 years with the understanding that science is not part of a giant conspiracy to undermine religion, I am still curious as to how those beliefs are/were rationalized. Like anything, you have to check things out, observe it and examine it for yourself, and then see if the thing holds water. And that's exactly what the roadtrip was about: taking a look for ourselves.

I had decently high expectations for the Creation Museum; I wanted to be shown evidence that I had not yet considered, perhaps a study or a scientific finding that might point to a created universe.

Instead, we encountered an inordinate amount of Guilt, Emotional Manipulation, and Misinformation. On shiny plaques. 70,000 square feet of it. I left the museum thinking that the CM only enforces what its attendees already believe; that will be its ultimate downfall. Unfortunately, skeptics and critical thinkers of any race, creed, or ideology will not be impressed by animatronic dinosaurs or flashy interactive displays. We can see through your Guilt, Emotional Manipulation, and Misinformation.

We're not five years old. We want facts. You can deceive a child with neat movies and pretty pictures (there was plenty of that going on), but a 30-year-old is a little tougher to persuade.

There's a reason this museum is designed for children. They are the only ones who will buy into it.

First off, ticket prices. General admission for adults is $25, plus $8 for the Planetarium exhibit. We decided to spring for the Planetarium because...well, heck, we decided we hadn't been to one since we were kids, and we had fond memories. That's reason enough, right? And it was fun.

At any rate, for Bryan and I the total was a whopping $66; we arrived around 11:00 a.m. and left around 2:00 p.m. For only three or so hours, it was an expensive museum. We didn't exhaust everything the museum had to offer, but the only things we didn't do were a) go to the petting zoo and b) walk around the grounds. Since neither of those things really had much to do with our purpose for going, we decided it was ok to skip.

No bones about it; this was a pretty steep ticket price for a pretty short experience. In addition, since we could get kicked out for just about anything, we were paranoid from the start. The back of the ticket said:

"Any loud, disrespectful, destructive, obscene, or abusive behavior, or inappropriate dress will not be tolerated and will result in your removal from the premises without refund."

Yikes. Talk about being put on the defensive! I had to make sure Daniel kept the baby-eating to a minimum while we were there.

The first thing we did was the Planetarium (no photos taken for obvious reasons); it was a half hour show called "Created Cosmos" mostly devoted to exploring what we know about the size of our universe. It was incredible! The video was pretty cool, and it's always fascinating to imagine the scale of objects that scientists and researchers are examining. Simply the vast scale of our galaxy alone is amazing; the video was a great reminder of that, in a slick package to boot. The only problem was when the video deviated to how the size of the universe proves the existence of God (it does not...this line of thinking is called "God of the Gaps"). Simply because we do not know of everything that exists in the universe or how it came to be is NOT proof of God's existence. It certainly doesn't prove that the Christian God created the universe.

The video spent the majority of it's time with cool graphics and depictions of galaxies, and then suddenly threw in a few very scientific-sounding terms about spiral galaxies and quantum physics at the end. These concepts weren't explained or even defined; I wish I could have remembered the terms in order to research them myself, but unfortunately I was reclining quite extremely in a pitch-black theater and note-taking was quite limited.

On, to "Why Genesis Matters", a talk given by Dr. Tommy Mitchell concerning the relevance of Genesis for today's world. He attested that Genesis is the necessary foundation of all Christian truth, and that you must believe in a literal account of creation in order to believe in Jesus. He stated, though, that accepting creation would not get you to heaven; that something more fundamental was required.

On the whole, though, his talk was shot full of logical fallacies and misinterpretations of groups and individuals outside of Christian culture. He created a false dichotomy between creationists and "evolutionists" and used dangerous, war-like terminology. (I've said, in previous posts, that I am not a fan of using war metaphors for religious purposes. It inserts violence and aggression where it's not acceptable or necessary as well as demonizing the "opposition".) Attesting that secular science is out for Christian blood is just preposterous and silly, not to mention unfair to the professionals that participate in it. Mitchell was emphatic that "secular" science essentially exists to attempt to disprove the truth of creation and to create a world where morality is just based on "what anybody wants".

For example, one of the most shocking bits in the speech was a sentence or two around the abortion issue. Mitchell claimed that, without God, morals are so transient and "arbitrary" that non-Christians believe that abortion should be legal 28 days after the baby is born and that "if you can kill off a baby, why not Grandma? After all, we're all just animals according to their worldview."

This. Argument. Is so stupid. We aren't all degenerate baby-killing machines; Mitchell insults himself by suggesting it in the first place. I wonder, if he needs God that badly, what Mitchell would do without him?

Humans are not simply animals. No person of any religious inclination would suggest that we are purely animal, sent here to eat, poop, and copulate all our live-long days. Mitchell may have missed it, but we are required to live here on Earth with a finite amount of square footage. Together. All of us. And I think all of us would rather make it a pleasant place, together, rather than the dog-eat-dog, amoral landscape that Mitchell painted. Apparently, this is a man who has never even heard of the country of Sweden.

One of the most damaging and harmful pieces in the talk was the combination of vilifying scientists and non-Christians and then the militant disregard for the separation of church and State. He attested that atheists/scientists/humanists are out to get Christians and undermine their faith by teaching evolution in schools (and expanding it to include an entire ideology that evolution does not speak to at all), and are therefore at WAR with these individuals. Mitchell noted that many Christian teens/20somethings leave the church because their questions about science and the creation of the universe weren't being answered thoughtfully or at all by members of the church. However, he kind of shoots himself in the foot by making up answers instead of thoughtfully considering scientific evidence. Mitchell dumps a truckload of guilt onto parents to answer their children's questions (which is a valid and important point! ) by insinuating that it is the fault of the parent that children question and move away from religion later in life. Essentially, he stated that it is a moral imperative to train children while they are still young and impressionable by using the shaky-at-best "evidence" that the rest of the museum had to offer.

There was a lot more to the talk, but I think I'll just throw up a few photos taken through the walking tour illustrating some of the problematic aspects of the museum.

All three of these "clues" have to do with theology and nothing at all about the actual fossil. Apparently, dating fossils and rocks has nothing to do with the fossil or rock itself! The foregone conclusions in the museum are also painfully obvious in this photo (as well as the fact that this is obviously directed at small children).

Again, no actual evidence here, as well as absolute misinformation. There is no way of knowing whether or not the "original words" of the Bible have been preserved, as we do not know what versions we will uncover in the future.

There was also no evidence presented as to the historical details the Bible has proven true.

Hyberbolic language and abuse of "ghetto" stereotypes. This part of the museum was intended to illustrate how the Fall of Man has affected our world today; a godless, immoral, graffiti-filled world, apparently.

Also, never once in the museum was the idea of universal morality, the idea that certain things like lying, cheating, and stealing are considered immoral regardless of religious opinions, given credence. In essence, ever negative aspect of society was presented as a direct result of the lack of Christian influence. More dramatically seen later.

Another example of using/abusing scare tactics. What is the logical basis upon which this would be an exhibit in the museum? For us, this seemed a little silly (along with the huge, blown-up black and white images of a person doing heroin, a mushroom cloud, a bunch of gravestones), but to a child, this would solidify ideas that the outside world is a terrifying place filled with immoral people.

"All humans are related" would also justify incest, would it not? Bendy/twisty logic here.

"God shut Noah's family into the Ark. This ended any opportunity for people outside the Ark to be saved."

Let me make this clear: it was God who condemned an entire population of people that He did not have patience for. The God that you worship. The very idea that a God would condemn his own creation to an eternity of torment without giving them a chance is unfathomably cruel to me.

The last, majestic moments of the Great Flood covering the Earth. Beings who have, allegedly, no power at all in view of God's infinite power, were drowned to death in view of the Ark that could have saved them.

Also, they had to deal with tigers who were also about to drowned. Hungry, man-eating tigers.

This should have been at the BEGINNING of the museum, because that was all it was. And that's why this museum will fail, over and over again, to convince non-believers. Many, many individuals do not care in the slightest what your holy book has to say; we want observable fact.

And not a scrap of it was presented at the Creation Museum. The only justification was, over and over, the supposed absolute inerrancy of the Bible.

This sign suggested that all of the horrible things illustrated in the photo come from human reason. In another room just down the hall, a recording was playing a verse from Jesus talking about how a person should treat others with dignity, including "lepers and slaves".

The thing that makes me angry about this particular poster is that it completely ignores some of the less-than-savory bits of Christian history. If I remember correctly, there are a rather militant group of conservative Christians in funny hats that played a big part in public lynchings. The KKK has existed since 1865. And nobody told Ken Ham.

So, all in all, an utter disappointment from Answers in Genesis ministries. Although I appreciate the efforts to fully believe in the religious text at hand, the methodology and manipulations used was totally wrong and misleading.

Last bit of food for thought: while the three of us in attendance left the museum mystified and troubled, we also recognized the legitimacy of the work that AiG does. Really, in the lens of the religion, they are doing absolutely no wrong by interpreting the Bible literally (even though that requires that they forfeit the right to all human logic and scientific progress). On the AiG website, in the Statement of Faith section that all employees must agree to, I found this quote:

"By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information."

While I fail to see how human beings could agree to such logic, I also fail to see how moderate Christians could respond to this. Is AiG not simply following the imperatives that the Bible suggests? By the CM logic, either the Bible is all right or it's all wrong.

I agree with them wholeheartedly on that point, and with that I will conclude.

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