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Creation Museum inspires belief

Darwinism faces challenge in new exhibit

An exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., shows Old Testament prophets and apostles at Christ's empty tomb. The $27 million museum will open tomorrow. (Michel du Cille/washington Post)

PETERSBURG, Ky. -- At the Creation Museum, a fanciful Eden rises from the void. Adam appears, bearded and handsome, if slightly waxen. Eve emerges from his rib with luxuriant hair and a kindly expression. Trees blossom and creatures frolic, evidence that all started well in God's perfect world.

Elsewhere, as the story develops, Cain stands over his slain brother, Abel; life-size workmen build a replica of Noah's ark, and Methuselah intones, "With each passing day, judgment draws nearer . . . I can tell you, whatever God says is true."

Despite the showmanship behind the $27 million museum opening tomorrow, the evangelists who put it together contend that none of the gleaming exhibits are allegorical. God did create the universe in six days, they say, and the earth is about 6,000 years old.

Biblical scenes are hardly a fresh phenomenon, either as expressions of faith or as missionary props.

What separates the Creation Museum from its Bible-boosting brethren is the promoters' assertion that they can prove through science that the book of Genesis is true. All of it.

But in this latest demonization of Darwinian evolution, there is a sticking point: For the biblical account to be accurate and the world to be so young, several hundred years of research in geology, physics, biology, paleontology, and astronomy would need to be very wrong.

"This may be fascinating, but this is nonsense," said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Case Western Reserve University and a vocal defender of evolutionary science. "It's fine for people to believe whatever they want. What's inappropriate is to then essentially lie and say science supports these notions."

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, calls the sparkling facility "the creationist Disneyland."

Tomorrow, when the museum opens for business not far from Cincinnati, protesters plan to gather at the gates in a "Rally for Reason."

The Creation Museum, a project of the socially conservative religious organization Answers in Genesis, mocks evolutionary science and invites visitors to find faith and truth in God. It welcomes its first paying guests -- $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for children, not counting discounts for joining a mailing list -- just weeks after three Republican presidential candidates said they do not believe in evolution.

Opinion polls suggest that about half of Americans agree. They dismiss the scientific theory that all beings have a common ancestor, believing instead that God created humans in one glorious stroke. Similar numbers say the world's age should be counted in the thousands of years, not billions, as established science would have it.

For the record, mainstream scientists currently estimate the age of the earth at about 4.5 billion years, but don't try telling that to Ken Ham, an Australian-born evangelist and former high school science teacher who heads Answers in Genesis. The busy ministry and its staff of 160 produce a daily radio show, a magazine, and 20 DVDs a year. Their offices are in the new museum, which has about 140 employees .

"When you're talking about origins, you're not talking about science," Ham said as charter members snapped photographs during an early walk-through. "You're talking about belief."

Museum exhibits suggesting that man coexisted with dinosaurs -- which fossils show became extinct millions of years before humans existed -- rely on the notion that the evidence is simply open to interpretation. One sign sets "Human Reason" against "God's Word." The backers of the concept of intelligent design, which posits that living beings are too complex to have evolved from a primordial soup, take a similar approach, widely discredited by scientists.

The Creation Museum is located for easy access near an interstate and an airport on 49 acres of rolling hills where woolly mammoth roamed until about 10,000 years ago. Designed to inspire Christian belief, the facility was built mostly with contributions of $100 or less, although three families gave at least $1 million each, said Mark Looy, an Answers in Genesis co founder.

To put together a museum with pizzazz, the planners recruited Patrick Marsh, the designer who created the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.

The exhibits, backed by dozens of professionally produced videos, keep the action lively, and the content coming -- "to create something of a 'Wow!' factor," said Looy, who expects 250,000 visitors the first year.

"We're going to blow people out of the water with how many people we'll get," Ham said.

"A lot of non-Christians will come. You couldn't blow them into church with a stick of dynamite, but they'll come to this," he said.

The overriding goal is to persuade visitors that the Book of Genesis is scientifically defensible, Ham said, for if Christians lose faith in the literal truth of Genesis, doubts about such matters as the virgin birth and Christ's resurrection, for example, will follow.

"You're then telling the next generation they can reinterpret the Bible. Then what we've lost is Christian morality. If there is no absolute authority and we're just animals, why not do what you want to do?" asked Ham, whose books include "Why Won't They Listen? The Powers of Creation Evangelism."

One of the museum's slogans is "Prepare to Believe." The charter members touring the building already do.

"This shows why the creationist view is so popular," marveled Bill Haney, a retired steel company worker from Ohio who values the museum as a counterpoint to public education and the certitude of mainstream scientists, about whom he said, "They don't know what happened. They might be right. They might be wrong."