PETERSBURG, Ky. -- The guide, a soft-spoken fellow with a scholarly aspect, walks through the halls of this handsome, half-finished museum and points to the sculpture of a young velociraptor.
''We're placing this one in the hall that explains the post-Flood world," explains the guide, ''when dinosaurs lived with man."
A reporter has a question or two about this dinosaur-man business, but Mark Looy, the guide and a vice president at the museum, has walked over to the lifelike head of a T. rex, with its 3-inch teeth and carnivore's grin.
''We call him our 'missionary lizard,' " Looy said. ''When people realize the T. rex lived in Eden, it will lead us to a discussion of the Gospel. The T. rex once was a vegetarian, too."
The nation's largest museum devoted to biblical creation science is rising just outside Cincinnati. Set amid a park and 3-acre artificial lake, the 50,000-square-foot museum features animatronic dinosaurs, state-of-the-art models and graphics, and a half-dozen staff scientists. It holds that the world and the universe are but 6,000 years old and that baby dinosaurs rode in Noah's Ark.
The $25 million Creation Museum stands much of modern science on its head and might cause a paleontologist or three to rend their garments. But officials expect to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors when the museum opens in early 2007.
''Evolutionary Darwinists need to understand we are taking the dinosaurs back," said Kenneth Ham, president of Answers in Genesis-USA, which is building the museum. ''This is a battle cry to recognize the science in the revealed truth of God."
''Intelligent design," the theory that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand -- subtle or not -- of an intelligent creator, has stolen the media thunder of late. This week a trial continues in federal court in Pennsylvania in which 11 parents accuse the Dover school board of violating the separation of church and state by requiring high school biology teachers to read a statement in class that intelligent design is an alternative explanation of life's origins.
But by any measure, Young Earth Creationism -- which holds that the Bible is the literal word of God and that he created the universe in seven days -- has a more powerful hold on the beliefs of Americans than evolutionary theory or intelligent design. That grip grows stronger by the year.
In polls taken last year, 45 percent of those surveyed said they believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago (or less) and that man shares no common ancestor with the ape. Only 26 percent said they believed in the central tenet of evolution, that all life descended from a single ancestor.
In the early 20th century, many creationist thinkers viewed Genesis as metaphorical, accepting that the earth formed over hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. But creationist leaders have taken a more literal line.
''The creationists have been very successful in persuading conservative Christians to abandon any nonliteral interpretation of the Bible," said Ronald Numbers, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and author of ''The Creationists."
To drive past the stegosaurus silhouettes at the gate to the parking lot at the Creation Museum is to enter a creationist world in great ferment. Answers in Genesis is one of about a half-dozen creationist organizations and museums -- each with its own headquarters, radio studio, and website -- and scholarly and popular magazines.
Creationists believe man became mortal when God cast Adam and Eve out of Eden 6,000 years ago. Death did not exist before that.
''We admit we have an axiom: We have a book and it's the Bible and it's revealed history," said Ham. ''Where the Bible teaches on science, we can trust it as the word of God."