Recently, the Creation Museum of Louisville, Kentucky logged its one millionth visitor, and its fourth year in business.
Dan Phelps, of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, said, "We're depressed, I think."
So am I, Dan, so am I.
The level of bad science that the Creation Museum presents as fact is staggering. To take the most famous example, this museum features exhibits illustrating humans cohabiting with dinosaurs. A placard states further that prior to Adam's fall, all dinosaurs were peaceful herbivores. Evidently all the big nasty pointy teeth in the Velociraptor were used for nothing more dangerous than munching carrots, and we can only assume that Adam and Eve rode around on a Triceratops when they weren't having conversations with talking snakes. A recent guest speaker, Dr. Gary Parker (the museum's website doesn't say what Dr. Parker's Ph.D. is in; I assume it's nothing to do with science), states that he became a creationist after examining the bible, then examining evolutionary theory, and deciding that compared with the biblical account, "it was evolution that had holes in it."
This statement would be funny if I weren't absolutely convinced that he's dead serious. He has apparently carefully studied the account in Genesis, and finds it more plausible than the past 150 years of scientific research. I can only regard such a stance as so completely mystifying to me that I can almost not comprehend it.
Now, my question is: why should I really be concerned? If a few people (or even a million) believe that the earth is 7000 years old (give or take), why should I care? People believe in all sorts of weird stuff -- crystal energies, auras, homeopathy, fairies, astrology -- and honestly, it doesn't really bother me all that much. This one, however, gets under my skin. Why? What's the harm?
Well, first, my background is in evolutionary biology. I care because it's a fundamental denial of a subject I've spent many years studying and in which I am passionately interested. But I think it's more than that. To me, the central problem is the determination with which certain creationists try to push their mythology into public schools, and these same people's hatred of anyone who tries to present a cogent case for the opposite viewpoint. I am a high school biology teacher in a relatively liberal village in upstate New York, and I have gotten death threats because I am "twisting children's minds." (This is a direct quote from a note that was left in my mailbox three years ago.) I have been the target of harrassing letters, and even once had someone show up at my doorstep and tell me that I was going to be meeting god face-to-face "soon," and boy, then I'd be one sorry so-and-so. (I'm paraphrasing.) I doubt that any refusal by our physics teacher to teach astrology, or by our chemistry teacher to teach alchemy, would elicit such a strong reaction.
So the homeopaths and the crystal-energy people are wrong, but at the same time, they're not going around threatening people who don't agree with them. While I'm not exactly expecting that I'm one day going to be assassinated by some nutjob creationist who happens to own a gun, it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility -- given what's already happened.
I don't, however, think that somehow the Creation Museum should be forced to close. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, and if these folks believe that there are no more dinosaurs because they missed getting on the ark, then that's certainly their right. (I do wonder how the creationists explain how polar bears, kangaroos, and penguins showed up in Palestine in time to get on the ark, however, and how afterwards they got back to the Arctic, Australia, and the Antarctic, respectively. But I digress.) Everyone is entitled to believe whatever (s)he wants to, even if it is contradicted by a veritable Mount Everest of evidence.
It does, however, sadden me to see the number of children who are being indoctrinated to believe that this twaddle is on a par with peer-reviewed science. There is little that anyone can do about it -- parents will of course teach their children whatever version of reality they themselves believe to be true. But I don't have to be happy about it.
A friend of mine once sent me a bumper sticker that said, "We have the fossils. We win." If only it were that simple.