Monday, July 28, 2014

That one time I visited a creation museum

Creationism is kind of a funny thing.

It seems like it's been in the news a lot lately; especially since actual scientists like Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson have begun to raise awareness of the ideology's creeping encroachment into our schools, government, and other public places it probably doesn't belong. It's these worries that led to the infamous debate between Nye and Ken Hamm of AnswersInGenesis, as well as to Seth MacFarlane's most recent television reboot. I'm talking of course, about the uber-successful relaunch of Cosmos.

And not the decidedly more creation-friendly Flinstones reboot, which we were luckily spared.
 Are people like Tyson, MacFarlane, and Nye correct in their assumption that creationism is slowly becoming a major American problem? It might be a bit of an exaggeration. Most of the country's institutions besides Congress are fairly science friendly, and also not run by psychopaths. But in certain, more conservative corners of the country, it carries a defined prevalence. 

Case in point: Lakeside, San Diego County. California. America. Earth. It's a place I visit often because I have a good friend in the area who I like to hug, feed, and ride. And no, it's not a woman; it's my horse, Cocoa Puffs. Have I told you about Cocoa Puffs?

Anyway, we hang out a lot because I've always felt you don't need a woman in your life as long as you have a disturbing relationship with an animal. However, because Puffs is an adult now and refuses to get off his ass and get a job at Pavillions, we keep him in kind of a shitty area. Well, it's cool for a horse; the stable's awesome and the trails are great. But for people, Lakeside is kind of like white person Compton; and by far it's most noticeable offering is the Institute for Creation Research located right next to the freeway. I've visited several times, but rarely have the balls to actually go in; until one day a few weeks ago, after a long ride, whence I gathered up my courage, and stepped inside.

So a bit of background; for those of you who don't follow these things. Young-earth creationism, or creationist theory, is a belief in the origin of the planet, universe, and, most importantly, species, that comes from a philosophy of biblical literalism. In other words, they come from the perspective that the creation of the planet followed a narrative similar, if not identical, to the story of Genesis. This means that the entire universe was created in a period of six days, with the holy, all-powerful creator god resting on the seventh to watch the game. As a result, everything that exists in the natural universe; everything from stars and planets to human beings and dinosaurs, all came into existence at the same time. Which is usually stated to be about 6,000 years ago following the biblical model.
Photo credit:

Anyway, I parked next to the building and my made my way to the entrance; where I was greeted by a large T-Rex in the front, complete with a plaque explaining to me that this was, in fact, a T-Rex; and not in fact his lookalike cousins Tarbosaurus or Albertasaurus.

My lookalike cousin's name is Sevie.

 So far, so good. And, like any natural history museum/accredited science facility/X-Men movie worth it's salt; the museum knew it's target audience: ten year olds boys and the occasional 22-year old man. Granted, natural history museums, accredited science facilities, and X-Men movies all have a better grasp of evolution than the average creation museum, but I digress.

You see, I had a few rules during my visit; the first and foremost being that I would not be an asshole. For many of you, that seems like it should be a given. You must not have read my film reviews. The thing is, I don't actually think creationists, at least not all of them, are stupid, or manipulative, or hate paleontology.

All of those things describe Transformers: Age of Extinction

You see, I have a problem with beliefs being forced on me when they have no rational basis behind them; e.g. in a school. However, this was not a school; it's a privately funded institution in the middle of buttfuck, North County San Diego, that cost $7 to get in. The very act of being there requires one to go out of one's way, so I had no excuse to complain about having views forced upon me. It also doesn't hurt that any motive I had to leave dissipated when I discovered they had air conditioning, as it was the middle of June. I also decided I was going to be as respectful as I could to the information given to me, read as much of it as I could, and keep as open a mind as I could have. Mostly because I paid $7 to get in, so damn it I was getting my money's worth.

However, even I have my limits.

Part 1: Space and Matter

The early portions of the museum were split into six "days", one for each day of creation. I began in a long hallway that explained to me how, on the first day, God said "let there be light", and in a bright flash, the Universe came into being. Not in a bang though, because that sounds like the big bang, and the museum was very clear that that doesn't make any sense. What does make sense is how God was able to create light as a concept, and then split the dark from the light, and that was the first day.

A heathen would call that illogical; as the concept of day and night do not exist in space, and are relative to life on earth; which had not been made yet. That occurred on the second day, where "God separated the water from the firmament" was somehow skewed to mean "God created matter and planets now" So far, not so good, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't vaguely intrigued.

On the third day, God creates the plants, which use his recently-created light to photosynthesize. Where is this light coming from? Hard to say; God doesn't create the stars or the sun until the fourth day, when he creates the other celestial bodies. I would imagine the earth is also a celestial body, so how it was around up until this point is anyone's guess.
The Big Bang Theory is full of shit apparently. I've been telling people this for years, but they watch the damn show anyway.

Now, the stuff about space is important, so it got its own room, and I have to say it was one of the only rooms in the building that genuinely irritated me. This was mainly because I was actually somewhat curious in what their alternative to the big-bang theory and the reason for the existence of other planets was, but I was distracted by what seemed like an audio track reminding me how "Jesus Christ is lord", which I didn't think had that much to do with planets. Among the arguments presented was how the big bang theory violated the theory of conservation of energy and matter; neither of which existed before the bang (and also doesn't the biblical account do the same thing?) and the law of increasing entropy somehow.

Keep in mind, I'm still being kind of an asshole. A lot of the gripes I have with the claims of the museum had explanations, occasionally interesting ones. The problem is none of them had any evidence behind them. It seemed like the point was to disprove scientific theory in any way possible by poking holes in it's logic. This tactic isn't always unfair; one poster reminds that the big bang theory cannot account for the dark matter that makes up 90% of the universe and is mostly a mystery to scientists. The problem is the alternatives offered by the museum don't offer any evidence besides the bible. It's sort of like that one episode of Arthur, where DW says that common notions of evolution are wrong, and that snakes came from lizards who lost their legs running from dinosaurs. When her noseless, aardvark brother points out (in so many words) that this is obviously bullshit, her excuse is that he cannot prove his ideas of evolution because he doesn't have several million years to spare. Therefore, her completely nonsensical idea is every bit as valid as his is.

Poking holes in the other guy's argument doesn't make yours right.

Part 2: Animals are awesome and it's your fault they're dead

Its red because it's bad.

This was more what I was looking for, and I'm sure I'm not alone; the part where animals are introduced, and where we learn how dinosaurs coexisted with men, dogs, and wooly mammoths. And all in the same climate too. I am introduced to what is essentially a small zoo filled with birds and reptiles, including a few snakes. I was careful not to listen to what they had to say. Immediately adjacent was a section detailing the fall of man and about how death entered the world because a guy ate a fruit I guess.

Part 3: Noah's Ark and Dinosaurs

Now, here's where it got interesting. There are essentially two schools of creationist thought regarding what happened to the dinosaurs. The most commonly accepted one is that they all died during the flood. How this accounts for the destruction of the incredible diversity of prehistoric sea life that should have survived is that you're a sinner and you're going to hell. The other school of thought asserts that Noah saved the dinosaurs on his boat, which is more in line with the biblical assertion that Noah saved all the animals. Once again, explanations were offered for the common gripes about how every animal on the planet could not have fit on the ark, by offering that they were all babies you see. How they didn't all die by being nearby their natural prey and predators in conditions that may not have been perfectly suited to their individual specifications is another question they may have answered when I wasn't paying attention. Again, these people aren't stupid, they've taken the criticisms into mind. The problem is, once again, they have no reason for their alternatives besides "it happened in the bible". There are a lot of explanations on the wall for possible evidence of the Ark's existence, most notably a bunch of wood found on Mt. Ararat. Sure, if the Ark exists, that would be a good place to look, but science isn't about drawing conclusions and looking for the evidence, it's supposed to be the other way around.
Evidence=Pictures of where something from mythology could have been.
Now, this part is closer to my heart than a lot of what I found in the place, because, at the end of the day, paleontology is and always has been my deal. I have my assured suppositions that most of the claims about physics and biology I found in the museum were wrong; but I'm positive the people there knew next to nothing about paleontology. Among my favorite claims made about dinosaurs was an attempt to discredit the commonly accepted belief that they evolved into birds by pointing out that none of them had hollow bones or feathers; a claim that ignores just about everything we now know about Dromeosaurids (aka Raptors), which had both. But, again, no other explanation for what happened to dinosaurs is offered, just that they might have been the dragons that pop up in regional mythologies. "Might have been" being the phrase that once again raises its unwelcome head.

Even if this is true, it does not address how they died out, why they are spaced so far apart in layers of sediment (some of them had trouble "getting to higher ground during the flood" is the explanation; which is curious considering Pterodactyls usually show up far underneath Argentinosaurus in the sediment), or why most of the humongous, nightmarish monsters that populated the ocean no longer show up to eat people or perform at SeaWorld.

Or both.

Part 4: Ice Age: The Meltdown

In the next part, I walked through a neat little mine shaft or whatever that explained to me how bats prove evolution isn't real because apparently convergent evolution isn't a thing, and how radiometric dating can't be trusted because different forms of dating produce different results. It bears mentioning, over millions of years of existence, bones can be irradiated at different times, and none of these measurements fall within "6,000 years." Then we learned that the Ice Age occurred after the flood as a result of falling temperature levels that came as a result of all the leftover water freezing and then disappearing into the aether. Or something. At this point I was starting to get a brain aneurysm.

Part 5: Other religions/cultures are clearly ridiculous

 I was becoming dangerously close to not being able to stand this shit anymore. My open mind and wild fascination with different opinions was quickly turning back into cynical frustration. And the next room did not help.

Here, I was introduced to human society after Noah's Ark and the Ice Age, which, in the few short centuries since every bloodline on the planet, save one, was wiped out, managed to repopulate itself into a diverse series of middle-eastern and european societies, which worked together to build the tower of babel; an astounding achievement of human peace, cooperation, and mutual respect among many different creeds with the combined interest of building a tower to reach god in the sky; despite the fact that we now know that's clearly not where he resides. Now that god's dream of a cooperative and peaceful world had been achieved, he seemed to take the tower as a challenge, destroyed it, and created languages and race so that nobody could ever work together again. The resulting inability for various cultures to understand one another is considered one of the prime examples for nearly every problem facing the world right now.

Ok, so the display was pretty cool.

Now, if there's one utmost important test of a museum's strange ideas; it's how it reacts to other strange ideas. In this room, I found the Christian creationist's impressions of the creation myths of other cultures, most notably the Egyptians. At one point, I was introduced to the creator god of Egyptian mythology, Ptah. The myth surrounding him and his creation of the universe was not expanded upon, however. This was because, and I swear to god I'm not shitting you, the Egyptian creation myth is "totally unacceptable to intelligent, thinking people."

After that, I was introduced to a long hallway, describing to me the major Enlightenment and Renaissance thinkers, inventors, scientists, and philosophers who were christian; and contrasted them with those who took issue with the notion of a creator god. Naturally, the description of the atheist thinkers was accompanied by a snarky comment about how they were racist or evil in some way. This all led up to a beautiful billboard describing how evolutionary theory (which is not a strictly atheist ideal, mind you) leads to the holocaust, abortion, racism, and, I assume, Girl Meets World. So now, believing in evolution not only makes you wrong, it makes you a bad person as well. By this point, I was almost completely checked out.

Part 6: Everything else

After that, I visited an exhibit on the human body that, surprisingly, didn't mention god at all. And was actually pretty interesting. Then there was a little room where a guy on television talked to me about how family is the building block of the country and the government wants to ruin it or something. Then the guy at the front, I guess sensing my skepticism, kindly told me that he had once found it odd as well, but came to see how the ideas in the museum made perfect sense. He seemed embarrassed. Then he was nice enough to show me a large theater that showed me a diorama of a Hebrew Tabernacle, complete with its very own Ark of the Covenant. No one was looking so I ran around inside the display. Then I left and went home.

Now, here's the thing. Again, I'm not here to try and call people stupid or anything. The fact is, it was an interesting experience. I was impressed by the museum's conviction in it's beliefs, and the effort it took to try and explain it's mythology. I don't have to believe something to be drawn in by it's interpretation of the facts. Otherwise I would have been offended when Fox's viral marketing campaign for the new X-Men movie says that Magneto killed JFK. Obviously that's false (he was scapegoated after attempting to rescue him, clearly), but the point is I can accept, even by drawn in by, someone trying to explain a story to me if I can respect the lengths they're going to sell it to me.

However, there are a few obvious differences between something theatrical and something "educational"; the main one being that the point here isn't to entertain, but indoctrinate. The thing is; entertainment and indoctrination both use an important technique; knowing your target audience. In the case of creation museums around the globe, this is usually based around an important premise to reel in the kids: dinosaurs are awesome, and they used to live with people! It's a cool idea, and it sounds a lot more fun than the scientifically-accepted theory that states that they all lived hundreds of millions of years from each other, let alone you. Not only that, but they could still be alive today. Once they've captured the children with this admittedly awesome prospect, they hit them with the shocking revelation: dinosaurs, and every other animal on the planet, suffered disease and death because of human error. Now the fear, and guilt, of god have been put into them, and bang! You've got a bunch of christian converts.

For adults, it's a bit more complicated. Kids don't have quite the attention span to read up on the museum's literature pertaining to radiometric dating, cosmology, or, of course, evolution. Those are for the parents to read; the sort of parents who are scientifically literate enough to understand the museum's precepts, but illiterate enough to fall for them (hint: the former does not have to apply for the latter to). Again, the trick here is simple; the museum does not exactly hide the fact that its ideas are rejected by mainstream science, confident in the fact that it's audience will not be deterred by this, but rejoice in it. Then, all these neat ideas (which you need only read the bible to understand) are perfectly legitimate; only "rejected" by those who are blinded by their own arrogance. I can't judge this mode of thought too harshly. The viewer is free to poke holes in the works of major scientists and get a smug satisfaction out of it. It's fun to think you are smarter than people who have worked, studied, and experimented harder than you ever will. Hell, it's the reason I have a blog!

But there's two problems with this. The first is that, most of these adults don't realize that the alternatives offered by the museum are not very sound themselves; assuming they offer an alternative at all. In many cases, the museum seems to feel that if evolution is sufficiently disproved (which it isn't), this validates creationist theory. In real life, if science fails, we turn to other science. But the museum seems to operate under the assumption that, in the failure of science, we turn to faith and religion. And we can't turn to non-Abrahamic creation myths, because those are all ridiculous!

The second, and larger problem, however, is how it not only tries to disprove other lines of thought, but criminalize them. The correlation of evolutionary theory with atheism is not a fair one to make, in the first place, and even if it was that doesn't allow for the idea that either of those are in any way bad.  But that's part of the indoctrination process; the message being that dinosaurs and god are both very real, but you killed them both, and if you disagree with either of those facts, then you're not just wrong; you're a bad person and you should be ashamed! It was, after all, the search for knowledge that put us in this position.

As a final note, I'd like the reemphasize that, again, the point is not to get all offended or angry at creationist theory. The point is to share my experience with others; my experience being that I went in somewhere and saw some weird shit. The museum does not take any tax money, as far as I know, and is privately-funded and operated, so there's nothing immoral about its existence. It's just sort of silly. Again, it's good to keep an open mind about these things and explore ideas that aren't your own. That doesn't mean you can't make fun of them later though.

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