MUSEUM OF EARTH HISTORY

ANOTHER BIBLE ATTRACTION IN EUREKA SPRINGS

Home of the Museum of Earth HistoryThis round domed building houses the Museum of Earth History on the grounds of the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs. Unlike many of the other Sacred Projects in town, this building is not a replica of any particular building, but the design elements are typical features of Christian churches in the Middle East. This used to be an actual church, but now it has been converted into a creationist natural history museum. Here you can find instruction in the literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis.

For example, do you know what killed the dinosaurs? You've probably been taught that it was a sudden global climate change or even a catastrophic impact by a giant comet. Well, according to this museum, the culprit is original sin -- man's fall from grace, before which there was no death. Scholars for this point of view have also determined that there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark. They figure Noah must have gathered juveniles to save space, but there were dinos on the Ark nonetheless.

For the price of admission you put on a set of radio headphones and listen to a professional narrative of the biblical story of creation expanded to include scientific facts like dinosaurs and ice ages. You're accompanied by a guide who locates for you by flashlight parts of the display which relate to the recorded narrative.

On the plus side for the pagans like myself, the museum is home to about a dozen museum quality resin casts of some of the best dino skeletons ever found, and you're right up nose to nose with them. The presentation falls short in that it's strictly timed by the recording, and you can't linger over written placards fronting the displays and covering the walls. So unless you're ignoring the tour itself, you'll miss some of the more sensational claims like those of partially fossilized T-rex bones found in 10,000 year old sediments and dinosaurs being on Noah's Ark. They don't encourage the visitor to linger and study the claims in detail. That makes me think they know their case is weak.

These exhibits really focus the mind on the current battleground between science and religion. Science and religion have always been in conflict in some arena or other, and it's always been about authoritative truth.

The core of Christian fundamentalism is that the Bible is authoritative, not any Pope or preacher or Sanhedrin. The Bible says what it means and it is perfect and complete. If a verse is not clearly stated to be a parable or allegory, then the meaning is literal, because God doesn't trick the faithful. It's that slippery dude Satan with his multivalent interpretations and complicated theories who dilutes the word of God and corrupts the Body of the church.

For the fundamentalists, truth is found not with any church or ministry, but with the Bible. They see Evolution as a contradiction of the Genesis creation. If the Genesis story is proven false, then that strikes at the very foundation of their belief that the Bible is a literal factual account from cover to cover. They also believe that really good truth is eternal and unchanging, that science makes constant adjustments to the theory of evolution the way a lying child changes his story. "Did I say catastrophism? No, I meant gradualism. Actually, neither. No, actually, sort of both. Kind of punctuated equilibria like. Yeah, that's the ticket."

The Bible doesn't say much about spectral analysis or subatomic theory, so there's not much conflict there. Evolution has become the bone of contention (hyuk hyuk) because the Bible has a creation story in it that may be compared to scientifically derived theories. Forget the differences for a moment. Amazing to me is how much agreement there is in the two versions. Look at the order of appearance of various things. First there's a flash of light, maybe even a big bang to go along with the big flash. Then comes matter, then the dividing into firmament and planet, then dividing the planet into land and water. Then comes life in the water, followed by life on land and in the air and finally humans.

To think that some goober wandering in the desert six thousand years ago could come up with that much and be in such close accord with the scientific standards of the 21st century is enough to boggle the mind. The creation story is an extraordinary piece of extrapolar reasoning, considering its history as a campfire story told by shepherds. Even if you don't think the story is divinely inspired, you've got to admit the coincidences are way cool. The disagreement occurs when fundamentalists insist on the accuracy of the details. For instance, all this happened in 144 hours. Also for instance, God made all the species at once and no new ones have arisen since creation. In short, no evolution. God made birds. They did not evolve from small dinosaurs.

Those are the two hard points where the special creation advocates build their bastions. (1) Young earth and (2) no evolution.

A few years ago I attended a debate at the Heritage Christian School between a professional Intelligent Design debator and a UALR associate professor of physical anthropolgy.

In the world of professional smarts, an Associate Professor is really a temp worker with a PhD. He's either an entry level teacher of freshmen and non-majors or he's filling in for a tenured professor on sabbatical. The job of walking into the lion's den was palmed off on him because the heavy hitters in the department didn't want the gig. Doing a proper job would require ten or twenty hours of preparation, which wouldn't pay off because they figure everyone attending the debate is completely brainwashed anyway. The associate professor of physical anthropology didn't do any preparation that was evident other than renting a copy of "Inherit the Wind." Quotes from the movie drew guffaws from the crowd. I'm guessing they'd heard it before.

The AP hadn't heard any of the objections about the peppered moth, the objection to the notion of recapitulation, none of the claims that dinosaur bones had been found in recent geological strata. Looking up all of that stuff would have taken him away from his professional studies, so he didn't do his homework. He figured he'd just go in and shoot from the hip, and as far as I could tell the broad sides of all barns are yet unmarked. The result is that the Intelligent Design guy made the Associate Professor look like a boob, and science looked wrong. The scientist could not defend his science.

This tended to reinforce what the creationists in the audience already believed. They gave a scientist their attention. They said, "Tell us why you think the world is millions of years old," and the guy quotes from a Hollywood movie. How is that better than a quote from the Bible? If evolution is so well-established, why can't you explain where those ideas came from? If you say dinosaurs turned into chickens by natural means, well, here's a barnyard full of chickens. Show us one turning into something else.

The AP only knew the present state of his science. He didn't know how the present theories of the earth had developed. For instance didn't mention Benoit de Maillet, who first asked how did those seashells get way up on the mountains, and how long ago must it have been when the ocean was way up there? That was really when people first started to extend the age of the earth past the customary six thousand years.

The AP could have been even more direct than that. If he had wanted to prove the age of the earth beyond six thousand years he could have mentioned the tens of thousands of annual layers of ice piled up in Greenland. That would have been like showing the audience a tree with fifty thousand rings. That wouldn't prove the earth was billions of years old, but it would break the ten thousand year barrier.

He made no mention of Antoine Lavoisier, who demonstrated in popular lectures (the guy was a science rock star of the enlightenment) that the mastadon bones represented a separate, extinct species and was not merely a degenerate elephant. The AP made no mention of the miners of Saxony who first noticed from this layer down there are no bird bones but lots of animal bones; and from this layer up there are lots of bird bones mixed with animal bones. Was gibt's? Well, scientists concluded that birds did not exist prior to a certain time, that they had appeared some time long after the appearance of land animals.

The theory of evolution gets laid on Darwin, and that's just not right. It was Lamarck in 1809 who first proposed that animal species can change over time, and it was Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation published in 1844 that popularized the idea. Darwin's publisher had Origin of Species rushed to press to capitalize on the public's thirst for books about natural history. By that time, most educated people believed that evolution happened, that species appeared and diverged and went extinct over time. Darwin's contribution was to propose the mechanism he called natural selection and to offer carefully compiled evidence showing that this mechanism was still working on species.

So there, that's off my chest. I hope I've accurately represented both sides of the argument. I know the topic is a hot potato.

Whatever side of the question you're on, the display is impressive and worth a visit if you're interested in this kind of stuff. Here's a link to their website. And by the way, there's a Bible museum in the basement of the same building.

RTJ--10/17/2005

SOURCE: The Teaching Company sells recorded lectures of college courses. The course from which I took some of this material is titled The History of Science: 1700 -1900 by Professor Frederick Gregory of the University of Florida. The Teaching Company sell courses in religious philosophy as well as in science.


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