Accuracy in Genesis: why I mean never to visit Ken Ham’s Creation Museum
Ever since I can remember, my fascination has been with the study of the social foundations of human intellectual life: namely, in antiquity, mythology, and the classical legends.
Having completed my Master’s in Critical Comparative Scriptures at the Department of Religious Studies at Claremont Graduate University, I still feel the need to pursue new heights, make novel discoveries, and explore that aspect of that literature, which has always fascinated me: namely, Mythological Studies. To claim total understanding of myth and ritual is presumptuous, but I believe the time is come to seek understanding of other definitive intellectual endeavors: religion’s equals in importance and influence upon the development of human behaviors, with which in most intellectual climates, the scholar must periodically contend.
With such a background, and as particularly an American student of myth, I might be expected to visit the Creation Museum in Kentucky; and yet, I never have, and have no plans to do so.
The reasons for this, are simple. At the time of this writing, I live in California; and it seems to me rather spendthrift, to travel cross-country to see an exhibit, and immediately come back. I have neither friends nor relations in Kentucky, and therefore nowhere to stay or anyone to meet. Secondly, the Creation Museum is expensive; even members must pay over $50 apiece to enter. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the Creation Museum is by no reasonable measure an instructive or accurate rendition of the mythology it purports to display.
Commonsensical though the first two points may be, the third requires a moderate amount of explanation. The subject purportedly on display in the Creation Museum, is the legend of the Garden of Eden: a Judeo-Christian origin-fable of human suffering, loosely based on Greek and Zoroastrian antecedents.
In this legend, the first human beings live undisturbed in a peaceful garden in present-day Mesopotamia, until persuaded by a ‘Serpent’ (Prometheus) to ingest the fruit of the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, which induces a moral sense, and a heightened cognizance of mortality. Fearful that they might then obtain the fruit of the ‘Tree of Life’ and become immortal, their Creator expels them from the garden into the wider world, and condemns them to suffer every manner of hardship.
The representation of this myth in the Creation Museum, is far from faithful, even to the syncretic and fragmentary present form, insofar as it tries to incorporate dinosaur paleontology, hominin evolution, and geological data into the myth, which originally acknowledged none of these. On principle, there is nothing wrong with this. Numerous Early Modern scientists, including Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Al-Haytham (Alhazen), Al-Petraj (Alpetragius), Omar Khayyám, and their successors Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, Hubble, Herschel, Bohr, Einstein, Polodsky, Rosen, etc., saw no contradiction between an honest study of the cosmos, and reverence for its mythical Creator. There is equally nothing wrong with alleging, as the Creation Museum does, that the discovery of fossiliferous rock at high altitudes, inspired the legend of the global Deluge. This legend is re-created at the Creation Museum, under the name of the Ark Encounter, after the mythical vessel in which the human protagonists of the story survived the disaster.
Archaeologically speaking, the legendary Deluge may be identified as any of several inundations in and around the ancient city of Uruk, in the Tigris-Euphrates river basin (present-day Iraq): the site, supposedly, of the Eden myth, and of most associated legendry. Nonetheless, it was far from ‘global’ or ‘universal’, except from the view of the protagonists in the story itself. As well: the attempt, at the Creation Museum, to incorporate dinosaurs into either Deluge or Garden, is incorrect both mythically and scientifically, insofar as both legends are set firmly in the anthropocene epoch, long after the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs. In that respect, the Creation Museum has committed at least one serious error, and ignored its own source-material.
As a representation of Judeo-Christian creation mythology, the Creation Museum has failed spectacularly. Paleontological imagery is basically irrelevant to a myth based loosely on Syro-Palestinian, and Mesopotamian sources, and set mostly in the Iron Age. Admittedly, confusion has arisen, because the principal text, known as the Book of Genesis, relates a legend of the beginning of the cosmos; but the same book, having done so, leaps immediately to the creation-myth of the human race, without reference to the intervening geological ages. The Creation Museum does attempt to correct this omission, by displays of the Big Bang and cosmological development; but these displays do not quite compensate for the mistake of incorporating prehistoric organisms into a display of historical fiction, supra.
All these data, combined, suffice to dissuade any serious scholar, and even interested lay visitor, from the Creation Museum. If that museum were ever rebuilt, into some form more faithful to its true subject of mythology, and its cost of entrance significantly lowered, perhaps more intellectuals would be inclined to join its audience; and possibly, myself among them.