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The Anti-Museum: An overview and review of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum (NCSE)

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On May 28, 2007, the Creation Museum and Family Discovery Center opened its doors to the public for the first time. Three days later, Daniel Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society (KPS), visited the museum. He wrote a review[1] of the museum, and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) published it on-line on July 6, 2007.

The below is a review of a review. For information on the museum itself and what it actually features, see the main article. For our own internal review of the museum itself, see Opinion:A Godly Museum of Natural History.

WARNING: The article under review contains certain words and turns of phrase that some parents might find unacceptably vulgar or even obscene. Parental judgment and discretion are advised before following the link to the article itself.

Credentials and Affiliations of the Author

Oddly, Web-hosted data on Mr. Phelps' actual academic credentials are lacking. The only credentials that one might readily discern from a Web search or a visit to the KPS site are these:

  1. He is President of the KPS and has evidently held that office since its founding.
  2. He is a contributor to the NCSE.

Structure of the Article

Mr. Phelps (so cited because, as discussed above, whether he actually holds, or does not hold, a doctorate is unclear) provides a brief introduction, a history of Answers in Genesis and the planning of the museum from his own perspective, and a description of his visit. That description constitutes the bulk of his article and includes an assessment of the museum's staff of volunteers, the numbers and demographics of his fellow visitors, a brief description of the building itself, and a narrative of his experiences. He finishes with a relatively brief discussion that includes his own lists of "reasons" to, or not to, visit the museum. He concludes that the museum does not threaten "science" (however he defines it) but might hamper "science education" (presumably within the meaning that the NCSE uses in its own name).

Quality of the Evidence

Mr. Phelps has researched his subject thoroughly. He begins with Ken Ham's history with the Institute for Creation Research, his book The Lie:Evolution,[2] and his ultimate decision to found AiG and to build a museum of creation. Phelps continues with AiG's initial efforts to locate their museum near Big Bone Lick State Park, their ultimate acquisition of the museum's eventual Petersburg, Kentucky site, the raising of the $27 million (US) required for construction and infrastructure building, and the actual construction.

He also, to his credit, has taken the full tour and visited most of the key non-tour exhibits. These include the planetarium, the special-effects theater, and the bookstore. He illustrates his article with a generous gallery of photographs—and with regard to these last. Mr. Phelps' research even includes examining the application form for joining the volunteer staff. (He did not, by his own admission, examine the paying-job application.)

Depth of Logic

His article suffers greatly from the superficial treatment of the evidence he presents. He casually dismisses as "outrageous and remarkable pseudoscience" virtually any exhibit or finding that contradicts the current evolutionary paradigm. To be fair, he did disclaim from the outset any attempt at a systematic refutation of creation science; he preferred instead to leave that "job" to other "authorities," including Talk.Origins and, of course, Eugenie Scott. Still, his utter failure to discuss any creationist claims in depth leaves the reader with little or nothing to refute. Indeed one can conclude little beyond the obvious: he came, he saw, and he didn't like (and probably had made up his mind not to like, before he even got into his automobile to drive to the museum).

Worse yet, he at times misses completely the implications of much of what he saw. When he describes the "Culture in Crisis" exhibit (or the "Men in White" show in the special-effects theater), he betrays his utter lack of realization of how damning the materials in that exhibit are for anyone who shares his worldview. Perhaps he believes that the scenes, including one that he photographed, are simply not real. But the museum staff could probably have given him ample attestation of the veracity of such scenes, had he bothered to ask.

Style

Mr. Phelps obviously wants no one to doubt his dislike for the Creation Museum project, the Answers in Genesis ministry, and creationism and creation science generally. Sadly, much of his prose is highly tendentious and juvenile, and includes occasional vulgar words that would not be part of polite conversation, and certainly not in mixed company. This style overshadows the occasional praises he offers for some of the exhibits (for example, he says that the planetarium show has surprisingly high-quality effects for such a small projection installation). The one finding that he said was news to him (that "the abundance of Blue Supergiants in the arms of distant spiral galaxies" show that those distant galaxies must also be young, since otherwise they all would have exploded into supernovae) was barely noticeable in his presentation. This might be as much a fault of poor organization as of his generally dismissive attitude. Finally, many of his criticisms are of distinctly minor alleged flaws in the exhibits or the materials behind them, when they don't completely miss the point of those materials.

Specific criticisms

Alleged misuse of a US government symbol

Mr. Phelps makes one apparent allegation of plagiarism: he suggests that the museum is misusing its likeness of the sign at the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Specifically:

Oddly, this area features a large exact replica sign of a Grand Canyon National Park sign complete with a National Park Service, Department of the Interior "Arrowhead"-shaped seal. Considering some of the recent controversy with the National Park Service denying that they promote creationism at the Grand Canyon, it is strange that they would grant permission for their sign and insignia to be reproduced in this setting. Perhaps AIG is using this without the National Park Service's permission.
[3]

That's a very serious allegation--but perhaps Mr. Phelps has not read or has misread the National Park Service' specific directive[4] governing the use of the arrowhead symbol. The directive mainly concerns the use of the symbol as a souvenir of some kind. The NPS makes the following verbatim statement concerning prohibited uses of the arrowhead:

Under no circumstances is the arrowhead symbol to be employed in any manner which would malign or denigrate the NPS or its employees. No reproduction of the symbol is permitted which in any way changes the wording or design elements found therein. The re-sale by employees of any garment, piece of equipment, commemorative item or other object acquired under any authority contained herein is prohibited. The use of the symbol on souvenirs or other items of merchandise presented for sale to the public by private enterprise operating either within or outside of areas of the National Park System is prohibited.

None of the above appears at first glance to apply to the Grand Canyon Park sign replica in the Creation Museum. Arguably, the sign itself is a work of the US federal government and therefore constitutes a public domain work. Equally arguably, the sign replica is a fair use of the sign-and-symbol combination to illustrate a venue for some scientific findings. Nothing in the display can legitimately construe as to imply an endorsement of the museum or its mission by the National Park Service, nor does Answers in Genesis mean so to suggest.

Disputed interpretations of evidence

Mr. Phelps appears to have grasped an often-overlooked fact about the creation-evolution debate: namely that the interpretation of observed facts, and not the facts themselves, are most often in dispute. He demonstrates this understanding most clearly in his criticism of the Utahraptor display. Here he describes accurately the difference between the evolution and creation models for fossilization. But, as is typical of his style, he adduces virtually no evidence to refute the creationist model or to support the evolution model that he prefers. This omission implies that he considers the resolution of the debate to be somehow self-evident.

In that same section, he reproves the Creation Museum staff for being "too lazy to copy phylogenetic trees out of a science book." This is a truly remarkable criticism in light of his earlier accusation of plagiaristic misuse of a government symbol.

In his description of the "Men in White" show, he references four specific TalkOrigins "rebuttals to creationist claims." CreationWiki has an answer to each one:

  1. Earth's magnetic field is decaying, indicating a young earth (Talk.Origins)
  2. Evidence of blood in a Tyrannosaurus bone indicates recent burial (Talk.Origins)
  3. Oceans haven't enough dissolved minerals for an old earth (Talk.Origins)
  4. Zircons retain too much helium for an old earth (Talk.Origins)

Straining at gnats

Most of the rest of Phelps' criticisms fall under the logically fallacious categories of circular reasoning and your theory does not work under my theory, so your theory must be wrong. His treatment of the catastrophic plate-tectonic theory is a case in point.

He also makes multiple criticisms of alleged flaws that, if they are real, are distinctly minor and, in some cases, temporary. A case in point is his repeated mention of how little time he had to wait between one tour stop and the next. He seems to intend this last as a criticism, and hence he assumes without warrant that the museum is not as well attended as its staff might desire. That the museum might simply have the blessing of an excellent design that makes real and perceived wait times shorter than those at other museums that draw crowds of comparable size, never seems to have occurred to him.

One other point he makes would be funny were it not so sad:

Races apparently begin with Noah's sons and are dispersed after the Confusion of Tongues at the Tower of Babel. After Babel, Ham's descendants go to Africa, Shem's to Arabia and Asia, and Japheth's go to Europe. This is basically insane, outdated 19th Century quack anthropology, but no one else seemed to notice.

In the first place, his recollection must be incomplete. Classically, the descendants of Japheth went to India and to Europe. In the second, he offers no alternative model for the development of the perception of "race." One cannot tell whether he means to assert that race began earlier than did recorded history, or much more recently than the Babel Incident would have taken place.

Alleged threats to science education

Mr. Phelps states in his conclusion that the Creation Museum might pose a threat to science education. (By "science education" is meant "the teaching of evolution in school," as one can gather from the subheading on the NCSE Web site where his article appears.) Yet in his own discussion session, he downplays the threat by saying that whatever effects it might have, are already occurring. That might or might not be true today, but says nothing about the future. In addition, he boasts of the wealth of "scientifically accurate" (meaning pro-evolution) material "in books and on the Internet." He ignores the comparable wealth of creationist material, and the simple distinction that the Bible holds as the All-time Best-selling Book now or ever in print.

Conclusion

Mr. Phelps could have presented a far more serious challenge to the mission and materials of the Creation Museum and Family Discovery Center than he actually did. Much of his research was extensive and frankly intriguing. Yet his superficial treatment of his subject and his often vulgar tone relegate it to the already-long list of critiques of creation science that fall far short of being worthy challenges, if for no other reason than that they miss the point.

Related References

  1. Phelps, Daniel, "The Anti-Museum: An overview and review of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum," National Center for Science Education. Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  2. Ham, Ken. The Lie:Evolution. Available for free download from AiG for non-commercial use. Accessed October 29, 2007.
  3. The "controversy" to which Mr. Phelps refers arose from a challenge that the Institute for Creation Research made to the conventional, uniformitarian model for the formation of the Canyon, and ICR's application to present a display showing a creationist or catastrophist model.
  4. Kennedy, Roger G., and Reynolds, John J. Special Directive 93-07: Use of the NPS Arrowhead Symbol, National Park Service, November 3, 1995. Retrieved October 29, 2007.

Related Links

See Also