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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 April 2007, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Creationist museum challenges evolution
By Martin Redfern
BBC News, Kentucky, USA

For some a battle between science and religion is being fought for the soul of America. The Creationists argue God created the world in six days and want their beliefs given equal status to evolutionary science.

Eugenie Scott and Ken Ham
Across the divide - evolutionist Scott with creationist Ham
Petersburg, Kentucky, is in the middle of North America. It is supposedly within a day's drive of two-thirds of the US population.

For the rest, it is just 10 minutes from Cincinnati International Airport. That is why it was picked as the site for a new museum, due to open in a couple of months.

We enter the landscaped grounds through gates flanked by wrought iron stegosaurs.

The lobby is modelled on a cliff in the Grand Canyon. But this is no ordinary museum of science and geology.

It is the dream of Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian ministry that promotes the idea that the Biblical book of Genesis should be taken literally in describing the creation of the world, life and humans as carried out by God over a six-day period a few thousand years ago.

We get as far as the museum bookshop - already well-stocked with creationist titles - but no further.

Officials tell us that state regulations forbid it. It is still under construction and closed to visitors.

In the card game of creationism, the Bible trumps science every time
Eugenie Scott
Is this, I wonder, because I am accompanied by Eugenie Scott, director of the National Centre for Science Education and a polite but determined campaigner against attempts to teach creationism alongside evolution in American school science classes.

Sharp teeth

So, it is round the back to the offices, to receive Ken Ham's crushingly sincere handshake.

He came to the US from Australia 20 years ago, founded Answers in Genesis and never left.

He lectures or broadcasts almost daily and clearly has the charisma to raise $27m (14m) for this ambitious museum.

He is also not afraid to show us what is inside, and turns on the animatronic dinosaurs.

Tyrannosaurus - picture from BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs
Creationists say T. rex and the humans co-habited Earth
On a rocky ledge, there is a pair of small theropods - young T. rex individuals, we're told. And near to them ("hold onto your hat", says Ken, anticipating our disbelief) there are two human children playing by a stream.

Most geologists would say humans and dinosaurs were separated by more than 60 million years. And those dinosaurs have very sharp teeth!

"So do bears", says Ken, "but they eat nuts and berries! Remember, before the sin of Adam, the world was perfect. All creatures were vegetarian." One of the dinosaurs lets out a rather contradictory roar.

Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but what annoys Eugenie Scott is the way in which the received wisdom of Genesis is given equal or higher status to scientific evidence; and the way in which the latter is used selectively.

"In the card game of creationism, the Bible trumps science every time," she says.

But in her game, science is dealt a hand that is purely materialistic. Ideas of a supernatural being belong in a different game, be it philosophy or theology.

A panda glove puppet
"Steve Steve" the panda is intended as a parody
As we prepare to leave, Eugenie Scott quietly slips a panda glove puppet from her handbag and photographs it among the dinosaurs.

It is introduced to me as Professor Steve Steve. Creationists are fond of lists of "scientists who doubt Darwin".

Many thousands more support evolution, but rather than play the same game, Eugenie has parodied the lists by concentrating on scientists named Steve (Stephanies are also eligible).

So far, more than 700 have signed up. Their mascot is a panda because of a notorious creationist text entitled "Of Pandas and People".

Steve was picked in honour of the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J Gould. Steve Steve because - well, all pandas have double names.

Noah's Ark

Much of the Creation Museum in Kentucky is still under construction and we were not able to go on to see the section through Noah's Ark or the model of the Grand Canyon.

Instead, we visited the real thing - the Canyon, not the Ark!

For the creationists, Noah's flood IS science
Grand Canyon park guides will tell you that the canyon took more than a million years to form and cuts through rocks that span more than a billion years.

Not so, say "Young Earth" creationists. All those rocks were deposited by flood waters at the time of Noah.

Though the Bible does not mention them directly, Ken Ham thinks there is no reason to suppose that dinosaurs were not still around at the time of the flood.

Indeed, he speculates that two of each may have been taken aboard the Ark (newly hatched dinosaurs are quite small so fitting them in would not have been a problem).

And what about the animals from other continents? Did Noah sail to Australia to drop off the kangaroos?

No, the flood waters lubricated a process called runaway subduction in which the continents subsequently drifted apart at a sprint!

Challenged with this scenario, a uniformed park guide says that, while everyone is entitled to their belief, he prefers to stick to accepted science.

For the creationists, Noah's flood IS science.

For them, the Canyon is a gash in the surface of the Earth left by that flood, representing the wrath of God against the sins of mankind.

Here at least, sin and anger have turned into something surprisingly beautiful!

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 14 April, 2007 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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