The Genesis of a Debate
Creationist Students Take Field Trip to Hotbed of Evolution: The Smithsonian
Wednesday, March 11, 2009; Page A01
Every winter, David DeWitt takes his biology class to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, but for a purpose far different from that of other professors.
DeWitt brings his Advanced Creation Studies class (CRST 390, Origins) up from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., hoping to strengthen his students' belief in a biblical view of natural history, even in the lion's den of evolution.
His yearly visit to the Smithsonian is part of a wider movement by creationists to confront Darwinism in some of its most redoubtable secular strongholds. As scientists celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, his doubters are taking themselves on Genesis-based tours of natural history museums, aquariums, geologic sites and even dinosaur parks.
"There's nothing balanced here. It's completely, 100 percent evolution-based," said DeWitt, a professor of biology. "We come every year, because I don't hold anything back from the students."
Creationists, who take their view of natural history straight from the book of Genesis, believe that scientific data can be interpreted to support their idea that God made the first human, Adam, in an essentially modern form 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
A 2006 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 42 percent of Americans believe humans have always existed in their present form. At universities such as Liberty, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, those views inform the entire science curriculum.
Like the Liberty students, avowed creationists across the country are making a practice of challenging the conventional wisdom at zoos (questioning the evolutionary explanation of giraffe necks), the Grand Canyon (dating the rock layers in thousands, not millions, of years), and cave parks (describing the formations as evidence of rapid drainage after the Great Flood).
In the upcoming issue of Answers, a leading magazine of the young-Earth movement, the list of "creation vacations" includes the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, the New England Aquarium in Boston and London's Natural History Museum.
"Why should we be afraid to test our worldview against reality?" asked Bill Jack, a Christian leadership instructor who leads groups across the country for a company called Biblically Correct Tours. "If Christianity is true, it better be true in the natural history museums and in the zoos."
Creationists have been popping up in enough mainstream institutions that one museum has produced a creation-vs.-evolution primer to help volunteer docents handle their sometimes-pointed questions. When the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, N.Y., published its guide, more than 50 museums called looking for a copy, according to director Warren Allmon.
But creationists say the purpose of their visits to what some describe as "temples to evolution" is to train themselves to think critically, not to pick rhetorical fights with curators or other visitors.
"I'm not standing up and saying to everybody in the room, 'Gather around,' " Jack said. "That would be disruptive. But I'm speaking loudly enough for my people to hear and sometimes others join in."