Creation Museum surpassing expectations

PETERSBURG, Ky. (BP)--Eight months after it opened, the Creation Museum near Cincinnati still has its secular detractors, but its success in attendance is erasing any doubts it can succeed.

Officials with the museum say they surpassed the one-year attendance goal in only seven months, drawing 290,000 visitors through the end of 2007. When the museum opened on Memorial Day with protesters outside, Creation Museum officials said their 12-month goal in attendance was 250,000. They passed the 300,000 mark Jan. 9.

Located in Petersburg, Ky., the high-tech, $27 million, 60,000-square-foot museum and planetarium present a scientific view of the biblical creation account -- in essence, a creationist answer to popular natural history museums. In fact, one of the goals of the museum -- which is a product of the ministry Answers in Genesis -- was to rival the artistic elements of natural history museums. The Creation Museum says the earth is thousands, not millions, of years old.

"It's something that has been desired for a long time," said Kurt Wise, who was a consultant for the museum and currently serves as professor of science and theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "A lot of Christians who are creationists want an alternative to the fabulous museums that we have -- the Field Museum [in Chicago] and the Smithsonian and so on. They like taking their kids to those places, but they want to see the creation model presented, and that's especially true for homeschool groups.

"It's filled a void that probably never had been filled."

Media attention -- even though it hasn't been all positive -- has helped get the word out about the museum. Mark Looy, a vice president for Answers in Genesis, said 200 media outlets -- including four Swiss ones -- have either visited the museum or conducted telephone interviews.

The museum has grown since it opened and continues to do so:

-- Some 600 parking spaces will be added in the coming months to accommodate the large crowds the museum has during the summer, particularly on weekends. Additionally, traffic flow will be improved.

-- A 4,500-square-foot, two-story "Dinosaur Den" opened in the museum last summer, several weeks after the grand opening. It features sculpted dinosaurs and dinosaur bones and shows where creationists believe dinosaurs fit in the Genesis account.

-- A fourth planetarium program will be added this year, bringing the total number of such programs to four. One of those programs is shown only around Christmas.

Additionally, the museum now is holding lectures by Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham and other staff. The lectures are held in part to draw more visitors on specific days of the week the museum has lower attendance.

The museum's success has focused more attention on the ministry's website -- AnswersInGenesis.org -- which offers answers to frequently asked questions and is one of the most visited religious websites in the U.S., Looy said. The ministry recently launched an online peer-reviewed research journal (at AnswersInGenesis.org/arj).

The museum's success comes at the same time an unaffiliated Texas-based creationist research ministry, Institute for Creation Research, seeks to get approval for an online master's degree in science education. A Texas state advisory group gave the group preliminary approval, and now the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board must give it the final OK. Some scientists are urging the board not to approve the degree.

"The latest round of so-called creation science truly scares me and all of my colleagues here at UT Southwestern Medical Center," Alfred Gilman, dean of UT Southwestern's medical school and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, wrote to the board, according to The Dallas Morning News. "Approval of this sort of nonsense as science in Texas will have a significant negative impact on our ability to attract the best minds to the state. How can Texas simultaneously launch a war on cancer and approve educational platforms that submit that the universe is 10,000 years old?"

Wise said the museum has contributed a great deal to the young earth creationist movement.

"The museum is really a phenomenal step forward in young age creationism," Wise said. "... It moved creation science forward. It brings [creation science] up to date and even on the edge in some places."

The museum, Wise said, takes what he considers a new tactic in that it is less of an anti-evolution museum and more of a pro-creationism one.

"It changed an emphasis in creationism," he said. "Most young age creationism has been [seen as] attacking evolution and attacking the concept of millions of years, but this [museum] was explicitly a creation museum, so it's a presentation of the creation model and as much as possible a positive presentation."

The museum (online at CreationMuseum.org) does tackle some of the tougher objections to creationism, such as how the speed of light and the size of the universe fit in a young earth model. The museum -- which during construction had the services of a former designer of Universal Studios theme parks rides -- has roaring animatronic dinosaurs, more than 50 educational videos and a special effects theater complete with three screens, vibrating seats, simulated wind and mist.


Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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