New creationist strategy: throw everyone in a deep hole in the ground, then recite dogma at them

This is funny, in a sad, pathetic kind of way: Helmut visited the Skyline Caverns in Virginia, and once the tour group was 200 feet down, the guide played a canned religious message at them. I’m not sure how I would react to such an occurrence, but I’m sure you’d all wish you could be there, with a camera.

I think I’d give an impromptu counter-lecture. I guess it would depend on the details of what the foolish sermon said.


  1. Steve_C says

    I’d put on my iPod earphones and start singing to Black Sabbath.

    Alright now!
    Won’t you listen?

    When I first met you, didn’t realize
    I can’t forget you or your surprise
    You introduced me to my mind
    And left me wanting you and your kind

    I love you. Oh you know it.

    My life was empty forever on a down
    Until you took me, showed me around
    My life is free now, my life is clear
    I love you sweet leaf – though you can’t hear,

    Come on now – try it out

    Straight people don’t know what you’re about
    They put you down and shut you out
    You gave to me a new belief
    And soon the world will love you sweet leaf.

  2. PaulC says

    That’s warped. The website gives no indication that it’s a religious tour as far as I can tell. I did a google search and found these customer comments that corroborate Helmut’s experience:

    Are there any grounds for legal action? It’s a little like false advertising in that people implicitly expect a presentation about nature. But I suppose they could counter that they would have disclosed the religious nature if asked (that would be a test case; to see if they will disclose it before you pay).

  3. QrazyQat says

    We finally went on a Wisoconsin Ducks ride in the Dells a few years ago, and along the trail on the way back they stopped and tried to sell souvenirs. The kids doing the tours, and selling, seemed pretty apologetic about it, but at least they were trying to make up the shortfall from their low pay. (They should just pay them properly and up the price upfront like honest people.)

    But far better that than cops berating citizens and holding them for an hour or so to harangue them about abortion and rightwing religious views thereon (remember that one from a couple years back?) or these yokels in the cave. And Skyline Caverns was the first cave I was ever in, as a kid born in DC, maybe 3-4 years old…

  4. says

    Yeah, I don’t think you can do anything about it: it looks like it’s a private outfit, and you can’t expect them to tell you ahead of time everything they’ll tell you in the cave so you can decide if you want to go. It’s their right to prattle Christian hogwash at their audience. It’s also our right to spread the news that it’s a fundie front, so people can choose not to go.

  5. Dave says

    A couple of years ago we toured (with a guide from the USGS) a spectacular dinosaur trackway near LaJunta Colorado. It is a stunning site; there are sauropod tracks that you could use for a bathtub. The guide (Babette) informed us that scientists thought the tracks were 150 million years old, but “if you were not an evolutionist”, they were only 5000-6000 years old…

    I was so taken aback that I could only snort in disgust and walk away. But this was a gummint employee, babbling bullshit at us.

  6. MYOB says

    Technically they could claim that the event was a scam meant to proselytize them and demanded their money back amongst others. They could demand that their efforts at evangelism be clearly identified on all pamplets and signs so that people are not forced into uncomfortable situations by being bamboozled into this beforehand.
    As far as I am concerned something like this could be grounds for a lawsuit, albeit a non-monetary one. Something meant to demand that they either stop or advertise that the tour is a religious one.


  7. j says

    On the bright side, the website did say this about the cave:

    “In 1937, geologists around the world stood in awe of Walter S. Amos when he discovered Skyline Caverns. He carefully examined the surface topography, exposing a secret that had lain beneath the earth’s surface for 60 million years.”

    60,000,000 is greater than 6,000.

    So at least they’re not young-earth creationists.

  8. brightmoon says

    that’s actually scary ….some of the hallmarks of brainwashing is physical isolation and perceived vulnerability ……yes you should definitely sue to have it stopped …before it gets worse

  9. MYOB says

    Just last month I am some family members were at the mammoth caves in Kentucky. We took the frozen waterfalls tour and for us the highlight of the tour was simply walking down the steep set of stairs at least 200 feet. The tour guide was an ex drill instructor and I honestly think he was quite effective. But never once could anyone make the claim that the caves were designed. Einstein said that god doesn’t play dice, but as an engineer who has written subroutines that employ random number generators there is a place for unplanned randomness and as someone who doesn’t believe in this shit I think it is even harder to think that ‘god’ would design an underground cave than assume that he simply put into place the equations that formed the world and if some random phenomena like underground caves formed, then so be it.


  10. Great White Wonder says

    Consider the following scenario:

    Private group runs a cave attraction where folks are carried 200 feet down into the earth and subjected to the following message: “Christianity is a bunch of baloney. The Bible is filled with made-up fairy tales. Nobody knows what happens to you after you die except that your body falls apart a little bit faster than it does when you are alive. Fundamentalist religious groups are the scourge of rational discourse.”

    What do you suppose is the likely outcome of such a stunt?

  11. says


    We visited it some six years ago–were living in Arlington at the time, had also checked out nearby Luray caverns. The Skyline people weren’t all the way to really overt creationism in the tour yet–or at least not for ours–nor was there a warning about the content, but there was a distinct overtone, slightly more of the ‘God’s wonders’ boilerplate than I’d say is usual in such presentations. And there was this rock formation they’d lit, and pointed out as resembling a Madonna and child. My wife and I both noticed the tackiness of it, the preachiness of it.

    I really hate this sort of thing aesthetically. There’s a cheesy quality about the whole dumb ‘Gawd’s wonders’ approach, which, in my ever so humble opinion, cheapens the whole thing, constrains genuine wonders within such a shallow, narrow appreciation. There’s something trite and unimaginitive about taking a fascinating geological formation, the unusual fauna within (believe there was a beetle species unique to one of those cavern series), and using it to preach a hoary ole’ myth penned by a coupla bronze age shysters who would only have found a blind beetle useful as a really misleading metaphor arguing why you should tithe more or some damned thing. I remember thinking so at the time even given their more veiled references. Sounds like they’ve really tackied it up, now.

  12. MYOB says

    “What do you suppose is the likely outcome of such a stunt?
    Posted by: Great White Wonder | July 12, 2006 06:44 PM ”

    To the people running this cave that’s probably what they think is going on when or if you used geology and evolution to explain it.


  13. says

    Private group runs a cave attraction where folks are carried 200 feet down into the earth and subjected to the following message: “Christianity is a bunch of baloney.”

    So, this would be just like Hell House in reverse? Cool.

    (What would happen? The religious would whine about it. Not much else.)

  14. QrazyQat says

    Oh yeah, it was Luray Caverns that was my first. Thanks, AJ, for mentioning it. No real reason to mention it; just good to file something in the brain correctly. :)

  15. Marin says

    I don’t think I’d be able to resist sticking my fingers in my ears and singing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” at the top of my lungs. That or just “Bullshit” over and over again to the tune of “Ode to Joy.” But then, I was the type of kid who’d poke sticks at an anthill to see what they’d do.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson says

    “Einstein said that god doesn’t play dice”

    Einstein didn’t like the message of quantum mechanics, but not only does it play dice, it has adverticed randomness all over the sky. (The randomness in the CMBR.)

  17. Mena says

    This reminds me- I haven’t been back to the Mark Twain or Cameron Caves in probably 10 years because of a gift store full of mammy figurines. Granted this is Missouri we are talking about but c’mon!

  18. MikeM says

    I had to think about this, and I gotta say, this is just a really deceitful practice. It’s incredible to me. You know, this would be in the headlines if, given all the other hints (NONE!) this group throws out there, if they forced folks to listen to a Wiccan tape or an Islam tape at the bottom; you may very well find that some customers are receptive, while others would go away if they knew what was waiting for them at the bottom.

    In my opinion, one set of superstitious beliefs is the same as the next. I want to know what’s in store for me at the bottom before I go there. If this was a Buddhist group or an Amway group, I’d say the same thing.

    (Can you imagine getting some MLM spiel at the bottom? I guess I partially take it back; I’d rather recite the Lord’s Prayer down there than get an Amway pitch.)

  19. minimalist says

    What do you suppose is the likely outcome of such a stunt?

    I’d laugh my ass off, and the gift shop would probably be burned down within a week.

    And the Skyway Cavern people would completely fail to see the correlation with their own proselytizing.

  20. George says

    Hopefully the canned message will not be running when I get there: this is to be my hideout when the Rapture comes. It would be nice if you all would stop spreading anymore information about this prime Post-Rapture shelter.

  21. RCP says

    Wow. I live maybe fifteen miles away from there. I’ve been there before when I was a kid, and I don’t remember any sort of religious message. I’ll have to go there sometime soon to see what the exact speech is.

  22. up2orbit says

    I don’t think I’d be able to resist sticking my fingers in my ears and singing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” at the top of my lungs. That or just “Bullshit” over and over again to the tune of “Ode to Joy.”

    Ha! I totally should have done that when I was there a few months ago. It was a very long message. My girlfriend and I were trapped there in the dark with a dozen or so other people. We resorted to excessive coughing, clearing our throats, and making subtle comments from the back of the cavern. We left lengthy negative reviews in the comment box once the tour was over.

  23. says

    Helmut here, said victim of the fundamentalization.

    The tour mostly uses regular geological years and timeframes for explaining the few interesting features in the caves. There’s also a lot of “doesn’t this formation look like a nativity scene?” or “Snow White,” whatever. I can handle that. It’s part of living in the US.

    The thing that’s particularly nefarious is that there’s really no way out when they give you the option of leaving. You can only make it out with the guide, but the guide can’t leave the 20 or so other people alone at 200 feet. They then wartm you up by shutting off all the lights before the message begins.

    The message itself is a combination of typical fundie stuff with a bit of Marcuse’s critique of modernity/technology and then a visceral lesson of what Plato’s cave would be like.

  24. says

    Isn’t there something in the Geneva convention about this?

    Not that the sort of people carrying it out are likely to care.

  25. Stogoe says

    They turned the lights off on the tour when I visited Jewel Cave in the Black Hills last March, but the spiel was “this cavern existed in total darkness like this for millions of years before we humans stumbled upon it”, rather than “Only Gawd can save you from the creepy Darkness”.

  26. says

    Can you imagine getting some MLM spiel at the bottom? I guess I partially take it back; I’d rather recite the Lord’s Prayer down there than get an Amway pitch.

    In 2006, they wouldn’t try to get you to sell Amway. They’d want you to buy a timeshare.

  27. Jim in Chicago says

    Jeebus… That’s quite a set of brass ones these ghawd swarglers have. You’re 200 feet down and then you’re given the opportunity to leave if you don’t like the message?

    Do you get your money back? Or does Jeebus get to keep that?

  28. moioci says

    “New creationist strategy: throw everyone in a deep hole in the ground, then recite dogma at them”

    Geez, PZ, you say that like it’s a BAD thing…

  29. craig says

    In 2006, they wouldn’t try to get you to sell Amway. They’d want you to buy a timeshare.

    Naww, that’s too late-80s.
    These days they would try to get you into selling their special “Cavefruit Juice” that cures everything.

  30. Azkyroth says

    Yet another reason I’m glad I always carry a flashlight.

    Granted, it’s a midgy LED thing, but…

  31. WhackJob says

    I feel sorry for you all. I feel sorry that your lives can’t be enriched by god and by his creations. You look at his marvels but do not understand the care he put in to creating them for us. These people are trying to educate you so called ‘educated’ about what the Lord has done for you and you should admire and revere him. As for dinosaurs I don’t deny the existence of them but they were too created by god and left in the ground for us to find and enjoy. There is no other reasonable explanation. Evolution!!!! Do you really think we came from dinosaurs!!!!

    I will pray for you all.


  32. Azkyroth says

    The creepy thing is, I had to stop and consider whether the last fellow was kidding.

  33. Teresa says

    “The creepy thing is, I had to stop and consider whether the last fellow was kidding.”

    I think he has to be kidding. He signed it “Whackjob”. The Realy Whackjobs don’t know that they are whackjobs, and therefor would not sign off as such.

    But you are right. He sounds completely like a legit whackjob right up until then.

  34. kmarissa says

    At the Natural Bridge in Virginia, they do a similar thing. You pay for your ticket to enter, and your ticket price also covers an evening presentation of “The Drama of Creation”:
    “When darkness comes, symphonic music fills the ancient walls. Colored lights spread a canopy of soft hues across the great stone arch, while a voice from far overhead tells the Biblical story of the dawn of the world.”

    In their “defense,” they do have a plaque with a paragraph about the bridge’s geological formation. I just wish my $7 or whatever hadn’t gone to telling the “biblical story of the dawn of the world,” but then you don’t really find out until after you’ve paid your entry.

  35. says

    Just about every commercial cave I’ve been in, from Pennsylvania to China, has had a section (where there were more than 3 stalagmites) called “Garden of the Gods.” Looking at the formations, especially in flickering light, can induce all sorts of fantastic images and illusions–maybe the guides at Skyline Caverns have been staring at the formations too long.
    Hmm..reminds me of “services” at Mt. Rushmore. The Flag, lit up, the audience receiting the prayer of allegiance or singing the “Star Spangled Banner”…and the scent of burning marijuana wafting through from somewhere.

  36. says

    You’re welcome, QrazyQat.


    It’s disconcerting when the opinions of the fundies are so completely crazy that it’s hard to distinguish them from sane people mocking them…

    In a company where I once worked, someone sent out a link to one of the ‘Objective Christian Ministries’ pages… think it was the ‘Macs are the tools of Satan’ page. I remember the lot of us looking at it trying to make up our minds: hoax or genuine fundy?

    Eventually it did become obvious–enough of the other pages on the site were over the top in just the right ways, you could work it out: hoax, presumably by the brilliant Landover Baptist crew. Same basic problem. Parody is difficult when the subject at hand is already absurd.

  37. The Bounder says

    Firstly, thanks Robyn B for the link. I hadn’t seen that one before (is it really true?). If so then its frightening.

    Secondly i have to confess to being “whackjob”; i couldn’t resist it. I remembered being at school (uk) in a debate about religion and someone suggested that’s what dinosaurs were.


  38. j says

    The Bounder,

    It’s The Onion.

    We’ve already had a lengthy discussion of this topic at Pete’s blog.

  39. Chris says

    Well, this is a little bit of a digression, but I didn’t even know if we came from dinosaurs or not until I looked it up. Turns out we don’t – the lineage leading to mammals split off from other reptiles before dinosaurs did.

    Of course, there are living animals today that *did* come from dinosaurs, but we mammals aren’t among them.

  40. kmarissa says

    Oh, except of course for the whole physical confinement thing. Obviously you don’t have to stay for the “Drama of Creation” presentation, you just have to pay for it.

  41. nate says

    I don’t know what it is about caverns, but I toured the Meramac Caverns in Missouri with some friends visiting from London and had a similar experience. At the end of the tour, we sat in front of this huge geologic formation that the tour guide explained was some number of millions of years old–it was actually very impressive and beautiful. All of the sudden, the lights went down, and they projected the American flag onto it and started playing various patriotic music. My friends and I just stared at each other, and I apologized to them for having to witness such a spectacle.

  42. Hawkeye says

    I think it is important to note that private caves and those administered by the National Park Service are “apples and oranges”. I have been to Jewel, Wind, and Mammoth Caves and Carlsbad Caverns. The NPS takes its role more seriously: no biblical crap. None. Keep in mind, too, names of formations are a glimpse into history. The names of these caves and the formations within them date back decades or even centuries. Changing the names now would be a shame. And if you change one, dammit, you might as well change them all! Fat Man’s Misery in Mammoth? Hardly PC….

  43. OniLink says

    First of all that presentation has been around for 50+ years, the guide told me personally.

    The second thing is that when the guide gives you the option of “leaveing” he doesn’t mean leave the cave but follow the guide as he “back tracks” through the cave and kills the lights. When you return to the group the presentation is over and you hear nothing at all.

    The third thing is that the guides have no say in what goes on in the cave, they’re only doing their jobs and hoping that no one bites their head off for something they have no control over. Give them a break!

    And finally I have to say this: Quit bitching you whiny sissies!!!

  44. Steve_C says

    Who’s bitching? The owners of the cave suck. The guides are puppets.

    What’s your excuse?

  45. louiswu says

    I took the tour at Skyline just about three hours ago and was shocked at the blatant preaching. I had the feeling something was up when the tour guide started listing the names of various formations as The Three Wise Men, Jesus & Mary, etc.