By Ben Chapman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 14, 2009
This year marks the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose theories of evolution are taught in schools and inform scientific thought worldwide. And it's the second anniversary of the Creation Museum, a $35 million monument to a different theory: the one found in the Bible.
Curious minds who want to learn about Darwin's discoveries can travel to the Galapagos Islands, one of his outdoor labs or his home outside London, where he researched and wrote "On the Origin of Species."
Teachings on creationism can be found much closer, 20 miles south of Cincinnati, a location chosen because it was within a day's drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population.
Built on a 49-acre parcel in rural Boone County, Ky., the low-slung, glass-and-concrete building contains about 70,000 square feet of exhibit space surrounded by seven acres of Bible-theme gardens and a petting zoo.
Since opening, about 720,000 people have visited the museum, built by Answers in Genesis, a nonprofit group led by Ken Ham, a born-again Christian who in 1987 moved to the United States from Australia to pursue an evangelical career. Attendance is not quite in the same league as, that of, say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, which draws 500,000 visitors each year. But that doesn't keep the Creation Museum from its explicit mission: "We're taking Genesis as history," said Ham, 57. "We believe God created the world in six ordinary, 24-hour days, approximately 6,000 years ago."
The museum offers many ways to immerse yourself in the Bible. Even before I paid for my ticket I learned that I could have my picture taken and digitally rendered in a scene of a biblical flood, or with dinosaurs, for just $15. Not a bad price, but I was still smarting from the steep $21.95 admission fee. Next I was offered a souvenir guide that the docent told me would provide a thorough explanation of the place, but, at $5, I decided to wing it. I figured I could refer to the Bible back at the hotel if I needed an extra tutorial.
It turned out the guidebook wasn't necessary. The museum unreels its theories in a logical manner through a Christian history of the world. Total running time: a half-mile.
Answers in Genesis's literal interpretation of the Bible are brought to life through 55 animatronic and static figures arranged along the museum's main walk. One of the first exhibits is a re-creation of paleontologists digging up dinosaur bones, with an explanation of the museum's view that dinosaurs existed at the same time as early humans but, like lots of animals, have become extinct.
From there, I strolled to the Garden of Eden dioramas, where life-size versions of Adam and Eve, naked but shielded by foliage, loll under trees and frolic in a swimming hole. The exhibits painted a bucolic scene, but a few scattered families pushing mewling toddlers in strollers reminded me that I was not in Paradise.
When Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, things turned spooky. I entered a dark hall filled with images of suffering (poverty, drug addiction, violence); I wanted to run back and tell Eve to drop that darned fruit. But the tone lightened with Noah's ark, designed according to the specs laid out in the Old Testament. Visitors stood in a true-scale version of a section of the ark, and smaller models held miniature figures, including dinosaurs, showing how Noah and his family cared for the animals while they were all afloat.
"It's a really thought-provoking place to visit for us and our kids," said Kipp Peterson, a 45-year-old computer programmer from Ohio, who was visiting with his wife and two young daughters. "The little ones were a little scared of the dinosaurs."
The trail led to a theater, where a video told the story of Jesus in a 28-minute video. Then it was time to eat (maybe a burrito in Palm Plaza?) and shop, if you were in the market for books, videos and toys compatible with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Creation Museum, 2800 Bullittsburg Church Rd., Petersburg, Ky., 888-582-4253, http://www.creationmuseum.org. The museum is about seven miles west of the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. Admission is $21.95, $16.95 seniors, $11.95 children.