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The first thing you notice about the Creation Museum is the friendship between dinosaurs and ancient peoples. Dinosaurs peer at the prehistoric man drinking water from a pool, at the man sanding a block of wood. They are not distant from the crew building an ark. They occupy their own rooms full of signs explaining how the evolutionary sciences got it wrong about their age.
The second thing you notice is the picture this place represents of the world as seen by state senator and Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and his fellow far-right elected officials. If you want to see the founding imagery of the Christian battle narrative, look no further than this.
They aren’t laughing
The Creation Museum is quite serious that dinosaurs and humans lived together some few thousand years ago, just as it insists that Adam and Eve, real people, lived in a garden called Eden, in a world and universe created in six 24-hour days.
Better-informed members of the public might sneer, but consider the hordes of visitors to the Petersburg, Kentucky, facility, all of whom are emphatically not sneering: vets in wheelchairs, old people with canes, capped and long-dressed Mennonite women with toddlers in homemade suspenders. It’s not surprising that these people have found affirmation: the tenets of Creationism are well expressed here to a ready market.
My friend Jill and I found ourselves there after a recent bike trip to Louisville, far from our respective homes of Cleveland and South Jersey. Travel teaches you plenty. We learned that when a great flood submerged the continents just a few thousand years ago (helpfully illustrated by animation) plants were buried in mud which made them fossilized.
We learned that Noah built a giant wooden ship basically by himself, and filled it with a stupendous number of animals. The museum says this took about 60 years.
We saw, in a splendid diorama layout, an idyllic Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve living happily among wild beasts, and a coiled serpent in the forbidden tree.
The exhibits give time to opposing views of this picture—for example, the scientific view that humans and apes shared a common ancestor, that planetary catastrophes caused extinction events, that species evolved through the operation of randomness.
Question and answer
These arguments are presented more or less fairly, but they always find answers—refutations—from the “science” of Creationism. And the idea behind every answer is the same: because the Bible says so.
Much of the signage is devoted to questions and answers: Why did the dinosaurs not survive the flood? How did fossils come to be? How did Noah fit all the animals in the ark?
I had other questions: how does a museum with a long string of regular donors and a huge customer base get away with charging 45 bucks for a single adult ticket, not including parking? Where does the money go?
The answer of course is that among the prohibitions of the Genesis ethos, there is no stricture placed against amassing huge piles of money. Christians are happy at least in this, that alongside the tribulations Adam brought into the world by his disobedience, there is the possible consolation of a really swell house.
I haven’t even discussed the new related attraction, Ark Encounter, featuring a life-sized wooden ark more than 500 feet long and 80 feet wide which represents the closest physical approximation to the ark found in Genesis. It resides in its own swirl of biblically themed clamor 40 miles south of the Creation Museum. Admission price is of course separate.
Amid all the animatronic figures and dinosaurs, though, I found the most disturbing exhibit to be the fake 80s-era arcade game with painted-on control buttons, whose ongoing video provides the key message.
Two castles, one representing the biblical view and the other representing the secular view of the world, pound away at each other with cannons. Sometimes the biblical view turns its cannons on itself, to depict mainstream Christianity’s neglect of Genesis truth.
A nearby plaque explains that the secular and biblical views are at war with each other, which can only end when one is destroyed. And it hits you at this point that this god, this literal, vituperative, blow-you-out-of-the-water God is the entity behind the Christian Right’s current awakening.
“Be encouraged and equipped by one of our great speakers as they present the truth of God’s Word,” says a free tract given out at the museum’s exit.
Pennsylvania’s Christian battle
It’s not too much to say that Pennsylvania is equipping itself for battle this November. A progressive Democrat runs against a Republican at the far right of his primary field, an insurgent at the attempted coup at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the face of an even bigger rightward lurch. The battles began long ago and continue, most recently in the Supreme Court decisions designed to manifest exactly the “biblical worldview” so evident at the Creation Museum.
“With God at my helm and my wife Rebbie by my side, I will rebuild family rights, putting decisions back in your hands,” says Mastriano’s website. That is, except for the decision whether or not to have a family, and how, and when, and how large, and with whom—Mastriano promises to put these family decisions in the hands of the state.
I take this lesson: if the biblical worldview wins, Democrats and women of sense ought to start building their own ark.
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