Stunning! Interactive! Engaging! Creationist!
That's how the Institute for Creation Research might describe a new facility it proposes to build near its headquarters in Dallas. The prospective Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History" would be the "culmination of decades of study and research" by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a group founded in 1970 by Henry Morris, co-author of the seminal "scientific creationism" book The Genesis Flood. When ICR talks about six days of creation and the flood of Noah, it means that as literal, factual, reliable history -- a history that includes people and non-avian dinosaurs living together.
The ICR is soliciting funds to build this edifice as a "legacy tool that would counter the evolutionary deception that permeates our children and grandchildren's education." In other words, the mission of this "museum" is to ensure that children are not influenced by science, especially those aspects of science (genetics, geology and radiometric dating, to name a few) that bolster evolution. ICR's advertising asked, "Isn't it about time we have a museum that shows how science confirms Biblical creation?" (No, actually, I'm not sure the time is quite right.)
One supporter described the proposed facility this way:
When visitors walk in the door they will be surprised at how different things are here. They will know, from the moment they walk in, that this is a museum that's going to talk about the glory of God as our creator.
Different indeed. I suspect the experience here will be quite distinct from what you get when you attend other museums. Visit the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and you are overawed by the history: Within one sweep of your eyes you see the Apollo 11 capsule, Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, and the Wright brothers' plane. Visit the Gem and Mineral Hall at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and you can see the giant, electric-blue Hope Diamond -- which for some reason everyone thinks the old lady threw in the ocean at the end of Titanic. Visit the Field Museum in Chicago, and you can see a T. Rex named Sue ("How do you do?"): the largest, most complete and best preserved member of the species in the world.
But you won't find these sorts of artifacts and specimens at the "Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History." That's because it's not going to be a real museum of science and natural history, a repository of artifacts and specimens of scientific importance and a site where scientific research is conducted. Instead, it's going to be a misleading parody of a real museum -- and a glorified advertisement for the narrow, sectarian and unscientific reading of the Bible that the ICR espouses.
A major part of the advertisement, of course, is going to be dinosaurs -- lots and lots of mockups of dinosaurs, because everyone knows dinosaurs are a great way to excite children of a certain age, whether to draw them toward science, as in the Field Museum, or away from it.
Children are a prime reason for the new "museum." ICR plans to use this facility to "reach tens of thousands of young lives each year." Presumably these young attendees will be brought there by their parents and not on official public school field trips, although you never know what might transpire when the place has such an innocuous name as the "Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History."
Some of these children attending will come from homeschooling households. One such parent expressed her approval this way:
As a homeschool mom, I had the hardest time coming up with resources that would teach my children the science and the faith. This is exciting to me because the kids can come here, they can touch and feel and experience science confirming what the Bible tells us.
Let that settle in for a moment... this mother claims that there is a shortage of science materials for her children. Not because there is a shortage of science resources, but because she's holding out for the rare kind that merges the Bible -- as she understands it -- with the findings of science.
But we shouldn't imagine that only homeschooled kids will romp around this "museum." Let's say a public-school-attending family visits. It's easy to imagine local or out-of-town parents looking for a fun science-y place to take their kids on a weekend and finding the "Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History" via Google. And when they make their way into the building, straight away the excited kids see fossils and a big DNA sculpture and dinosaurs, including a fearsome T. Rex. What's not to like, right?
That's the enticement. But like a glittering fishing lure, once the victim gets too close, the sharp hooks sink in.
What would such a family see? According to a map on the ICR website, visitors can expect to enter and purchase tickets in a large lobby that houses a planetarium, lecture hall and a display of a full-sized T. Rex. The entry path then leads, logically, into "Creation," the first exhibit, followed by "History of Science" (tagline: "To do science, you have to have absolutes." Geologists, on the other hand, know that vodka is not necessarily required; beer suffices just fine for doing science.) After taking in a mural depicting the origin of the universe, visitors meander through the Garden of Eden and a room with animals and a representation of Noah's Ark. Dinosaurs and an exhibit of the Grand Canyon (as depicted above) greet visitors next; while all hands are agreed that there aren't actually any dinosaur fossils in Grand Canyon rocks, ICR has been deeply involved in arguing for a creationist interpretation of Grand Canyon. Next are exhibits about fossils, ice ages (complete with a mammoth), and the Tower of Babel. Then, in what I am sure is an unintentional homage to the title of the Banksy documentary, visitors exit through the gift shop.
That's it. Not a great variety of exhibits. The layout seems pretty small, with a footprint of only 2870 m2, compared to the Sasquatch of creation displays, Kentucky's 5600 m2 "Creation Museum."
Is there a market for two such facilities in this country? Kentucky's "Creation Museum," less than a thousand miles away from Dallas, seeks to create a new Noah's Ark theme park, and that project is tapping into what must be a finite pool of potential donors. We will have to see if ICR can raise the fifteen million dollars it needs to get this "museum" going. ICR's president described the situation in a promotional video:
We have the facts. We have the property. We have the architects and the consultants. We need the funds.
Well, I am willing to believe that they have the property, the architects, and the consultants: no argument there. And I am sympathetic to the ICR's need. I, too, need the funds. As a wise man once said, "You can never be too thin or too rich -- unless, of course, you're Paris Hilton."
At Christmas time, I am often scolded that I am too negative (am I the only one who thinks it would have been funny if Ebenezer Scrooge had owned his dark side and behaved worse?). So in the spirit of the season, I'll concede some positive things about the ICR's proposed "museum": the plans have what appear to be ADA-compliant wheelchair ramps, and there are numerous stalls in the women's restroom. These are important, and I'll give them that. The former make it easier for the disabled visitors to flee, and the latter ensures that visitors have a chance to react appropriately to the exhibits.