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Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Sunday, 14 June 2009 07:53 UK

Who goes to a creationist museum?

The Creation Museum in Kentucky
Just some of the 49 acres in which the Creation Museum is set

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

While celebrations are on-going this year to mark Charles Darwin's bicentenary, there's at least one place that won't be toasting his memory - a creationist museum in Kentucky, US.

There are tail-wagging animatronic dinosaurs, a special effects cinema, a planetarium and a petting zoo. As museums go, the Creation Museum in Petersburg is not short on attractions.

And it doesn't want for space either. Set in 49 acres of well-groomed grounds - that's 35 more than London's Natural History Museum - this is the biggest creationist museum in the United States.

Behind it all is a Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis, committed to spreading its belief that the universe was created by direct acts of God over six days, less than 10,000 years ago. The museum, which cost $27m (£17m) to build, opened two years ago.

And while millions of people the world over will spend 2009 celebrating Charles Darwin's memory - it's 200 years since he was born and 150 years since his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, which set out his theory of evolution, was published - many others will side with this museum's theme: "Life doesn't evolve around Darwin."

Robert Mailloux
Why is Darwin buried with kings at Westminster Abbey? He's not a king
Robert Mailloux

The Creation Museum is the uncompromising vision of Australian-born evangelical Ken Ham, who aims to "expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas" and "enable Christians to defend their faith".

The ministry he founded also distances itself from "intelligent design", the theory that creatures exist of such complexity they could not have evolved as a result of natural selection. To Mr Ham, that theory provides "good scientific arguments to challenge the idea life could evolve by chance" but ultimately does not question evolution or promote creation "as the Bible teaches".

Answers In Genesis is not alone in rejecting evolution - creationism has its supporters in the UK. A 2006 survey for the BBC's Horizon programme, found a fifth of people polled were convinced by the creationist argument and just less than half accepted evolution as the best description for the development of life.

'Creationist in training'

And Britain has its own creationist museum, in Portsmouth, Hampshire. But its size and popularity is dwarfed by that of its Kentucky counterpart. The former claims 50,000 visitors in nine years, compared with the latter's 700,000 in less than two.

So who goes to America's biggest and best attended creationist museum and why?

Dan Schoonmaker
Dan Schoonmaker, 26, drove 11 hours from Alabama with his family after his wife Kristy heard about the museum in a Bible class. The Army helicopter pilot (who as a member of the military gets in free) described himself as a "creationist in training", admitting it needed "a lot of faith". "I personally don't know, but natural selection seems to be the only thing people go on. It should be more open," he says. "There are sometimes better explanations for things, I mean people thought the earth was flat." Theories other than evolutionary science should be given more prominence and there should be an option to study creationism in schools, with parents given the choice, he believes. "I'm a creationist in training, I don't really go to church but I'm curious about Genesis."

Robert Mailloux
Robert Mailloux, 68, flew 1,200 miles from his home in Colorado Springs just to visit the museum. The retired businessman dismisses Darwin's theory as "not even a low grade hypothesis" and said it had "no substantial science" in it. "The Bible says God created the Earth in six days and we flat believe that. There are over 100 ways science is able to look at the Earth and 90 say it is thousands of years old - only 10 say it's real old." He adds: "The way liberals and evolutionists win an argument is to outlaw freedom of speech... they won't let us in. Why is Darwin buried with kings at Westminster Abbey? He's not a king. He's the king of the atheists' movement, of people who don't want to deal with the guilt that's put on them by sin... it's a weight and a bondage, they become their own God."

Laurie Geesey
Laurie Geesey, 57, made the 560-mile trip from Wisconsin the night before with her husband Richard. The former high school teacher, who says she believes God created "everything visible and invisible", feels people look down on her views "especially under the current [White House] administration". "It interferes with their lifestyle, you know 'If it feels good go ahead and do it' - the Bible doesn't teach that," she says. In fact, she's not sure Darwin believed his own theory. Husband Richard Geesey, 67, a retired university professor, says he was "very impressed" by the museum and liked the fact that scriptures backed up the exhibits. "I believe in a lot of this and wanted to see how accurate it was," he says. "I believe the Earth is around 5,500 years old. If you don't believe in Genesis, you don't believe in anything else."

Scott Rubin
Scott Rubin, 42, says he turned to God late in life. The father-of-three, from Chicago, was a business consultant when he "had an encounter with Jesus" and became a youth pastor. "Evolution is a good theory, I don't believe in it, but parts of it are sensible and parts of creationism are sensible," he says. "When it comes down to it, how can you know for sure? What I do know is God's changed my life. I believe God created the world in six days, I do believe that." Mr Rubin, who is visiting the museum ahead of a baseball game in his home town of Cincinnati, says he grew up in the church but did not pay much attention to it. "I never intended to be the church guy. It makes sense why people believe in evolution, especially if they've not had the encounter with Jesus I've had."

Mr Rubin's sign-off sentiments could be taken as a conciliatory gesture to those who would beg to differ with his views. But what do creationists make of the scientific evidence that claims to undermine their theories?

The most recent such finding, a "47-million-year-old fossil" of a primate, called Ida, may have given scientists a "fresh insight" into evolution - but followers of Answers In Genesis are having none of it.

President and founder Ken Ham stayed resolutely silent about the fossil, called Darwinius masillae, which scientists believe was linked to an early human ancestor.

Meanwhile, the ministry's website stated: "Because the fossil is similar to a modern lemur, it's unlikely creationists need any interpretation of the 'missing link' other than it was a small, tailed, probably tree-climbing, and now extinct primate from a kind created on Day Six of Creation Week."

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