Yesterday, I visited the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas with a group of non-believers. On our way back to Dallas, we discussed whether or not the museum’s staff believed in the “evidence” presented to visitors, the carved human footprints among purported dinosaur tracks, the bits of pareidolia and coincidence. The consensus was that if they do believe in their evidence, it has to be that they can look past their doubts because they are doing “God’s Work.” But we weren’t sure whether they do believe in their evidence. Looking back on the experience as a whole now, I don’t think they can believe it. What looks like really bad “science” at first glance might just be part of a performance designed to undermine science.
The emphasis on the importance of science is present throughout the museum. Documents verifying the origins of artifacts from ancient Israel accompany those artifacts. Contemporary neuroscientists are quoted in support of the museum’s stance on the human mind. Elaborate explanations are given for the antediluvian conditions in the hyperbaric biosphere, an experiment happening right on premises. (Look! Science! Right there!)
Dr. Carl Baugh, the museum’s director, gave a lecture in which he presented evidence that the geological structure of earth was caused by a world-wide flood using “scientific” language. His evidence was supported by the staff’s geologist and anthropologist (who were also taking tickets and selling merchandise). Dr. Baugh made a point to note an example of a counterfeit human footprint discovered along with a dinosaur track, which allowed one of the scientists on hand to mention the importance of falsifiability in science.
From the beginning of the lecture, though, there was tension between secular form and religious content. The performance opened with a song: the melody, a 19th century Italian tune originally set with secular lyrics; the words, those of a Christian hymn. For all the sciencey language it was packaged in, the information presented in the lecture was twisted to fit the Judeo-Christian creation story. There were references to dubious math and the “fact” that nothing could be more than 10,000 years old. The purpose of the museum is not to give visitors a view of a set of facts as objectively gathered by scientists, but to use the framework of science to tell a religious story with the director as its narrator.
Once its emphasis shifts from presenting facts to presenting a narrative, the museum becomes open to criticism as a narrative. The story goes as follows: science is unreliable, because the conclusions it draws go against the creation of the universe as it is presented in the Bible. And yet, the museum insists it presents scientific evidence in the guise of fake human footprints and the fossilized finger that is probably nothing more than the rocky equivalent of Jesus appearing on toast. The museum becomes a sort of performance, acting out a parody of science while emphasizing the creation story. The need for (in this case, unconvincing) science fades away, and what remains is the Bible verses, the Israeli history, and the word of an authority figure. No matter what human-found or generated scientific evidence is presented, the story goes, it cannot best Biblical evidence.
If no science is worth believing in, what are we left with but faith?
(Faith, and also, a 12-foot statue of Tom Landry, hovering over a white mannequin in Native American dress, recalling old western movies in which right prevails. This is Texas, after all.)