Attack of the Missionary Lizards
Once in a while, someone comes along who makes you reevaluate everything you thought you knew about the universe, science, religion, and the nature of life. Folks like Copernicus, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Galileo... Ken Ham.
...Wait a second, who's Ken Ham?
He's an Australian ex-biology teacher, a Christian speaker, and an accomplished author and radio talk show host. Ham is also a creationist, believing God created the Universe in six days only 6000 years ago, a claim he says he can support with verifiable scientific evidence.
In 1994, he founded Answers in Genesis, a religious organization whose members believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. According to them, the Bible is an historic record of actual events. From Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel to burning bushes and Noah's Flood.
And they're coming soon... Boone County, to be precise - where they plan to construct a hotly-contested Creation museum.
"I call myself a revelationist," Ham says resolutely. "A Biblical revelationist. I believe that God has revealed Himself to me through His word and given us a revelation of history."
Ham wants to share his revelation of history, choosing to locate in Burlington, Kentucky because it is within a one-day drive for 165 million people, he says, drawing particularly from the metro triangle of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington.
Jurassic Lizard Park
Answers in Genesis disputes evolution believing instead that God created all animals, including dinosaurs, on the sixth day of Genesis. Ham calls dinosaurs "missionary lizards." He believes they were on Noah's Ark alongside other animals and were probably around at the same time as Jesus. And he wants to use them to spread God's word.
No really, he's serious.
The group has recently overcome four years of legal disputes, securing the purchase of 47 acres of land in rural Burlington for the purposes of constructing a Creation museum and education center. The project will house the largest collection of life-size dinosaur models, or "missionary lizards," in the United States.
A rural town a few miles up the road from here in northern Kentucky, it has a distinct small-town rhythm. Driving along Burlington Pike, if you blink, you'll miss it. If you pass Earl's Barbershop and the tow-truck company offering 23 1/2-hour services, you've already gone too far.
The dinosaur ranks are currently sheltered nearby in a musty warehouse. A Velociraptor stands alongside a Pleisiosaur and a Triceratops. Missionary lizards. A stuffed gorilla stares blankly across the warehouse floor and Pterodactyl wings lay on a shelf above scattered replica mastodon bones. These and many other models will be housed in the museum and education center when it opens in late summer of 2002.
The dinosaurs, at least 70 of them, are what will make the Creation museum a unique experience for many visitors. "Dinosaurs are probably used more than any other thing to teach kids about evolution," says Mike Zovath, general manager of Answers in Genesis. "We want to show people that dinosaurs fit in with what the Bible has to say." The group believes dinosaur fossils found today are a result of the many deaths that occurred during a catastrophic flood depicted in the Bible and that many others were saved by Noah and carried to dry land in the Ark.
Many of the museum's other exhibits were obtained at auction last year when a Baltimore museum went out of business. Items purchased include a 54-foot-long hollow sea bass model that visitors will be able to walk through, a 14-foot by 26-foot model of a human cell and a DNA and chromosome exhibit.
The 'Theory' of Evolution
"Not even one instance of evolution has ever been confirmed," Ham says. "The thrust of our organization is really that we do believe the Bible is true, we do believe it is the word of God."
Dr. Jim Krupa, an assistant professor of biology at UK, challenges that assertion. "Scientific theory is a very powerful thing," he said. "Evolution isn't a theory, it's a fact. We actually understand evolution better than we understand gravity." He dismisses the view creationists advance of "scientific theory" as an educated guess or strong hunch.
Though he has no problem with the proposed museum. "I'm in favor of it," he said. "I wish they'd put it right next to campus so I could take my class over to visit. I wish they'd put up the Bogeyman Natural History Museum right next to it, and we'll visit that as well."
Ham is optimistic the education center will explain such complex scientific concepts as DNA, natural selection, continental drift and the fossil record from a Biblical perspective. "I would say we're Biblical scientists," he says. "We're really focused on the accurate, authoritative history that Genesis presents."
Krupa has a different perspective, and challenges the notion that people can't believe in God and evolution at the same time. "[America] is the only Christian nation opposed to evolution," he says.
He contends that it's good and fine to believe that God has a part in evolution. "I don't try to teach that you have to believe in one or the other," he says. "The Pope himself says that there is overwhelming evidence for evolution."
Ham has no problem extrapolating a little from his literal conception of the Bible. "The Bible is not an exhaustive truth on anything," Ham acknowledges. "It doesn't tell you how to build a motor car, it doesn't tell you how to build a computer."
But according to him, the Bible touches on biology, geology and astronomy-not only on morality and salvation.
"In other words, if you can't trust the Bible on biology, geology and astronomy, how can you trust it on morality and salvation? We're saying you can trust the Bible where it talks on biology, geology and astronomy so you can trust it where it talks about morality and salvation."
"I've been concerned with this development... a lot of us have been," says Dave Meyer, a professor of geology at the nearby University of Cincinnati who is familiar with the group's activities and finds some of their assertions "absurd." He characterizes the group as "a small splinter of Christians. They're a small minority of what you'd call Fundamentalists."
"You just can't change the way these guys think," he says, "but they're trying to make it look like they have real geological evidence of a catastrophic flood and a young Earth history.
Scientists believe the age of the Universe is probably closer to 4.6 billion years. Meyer says the accuracy of dating techniques is very reliable. "These are not theories, these are established facts, tested by nuclear physics. We know that these things are valid clocks that can be read from the rocks."
He adds, "There's many ways to converge on the great antiquity of the Earth. It just totally overwhelms any of the issues."
He believes creation scientists associated with Answers in Genesis accept any data that seem to support their theories but discard anything that conflicts with them. Many people are fooled, he says, by the ministry's use of scientific terminology.
"You can credit the creationists for doing their homework and being knowledgeable," Meyer says. "But there's a lot of crackpots. I just think they're looking for a lot of publicity."
Follow the Money
The project is expected to cost about $10 million, generated by private donations.
Support will not be a problem for the group, which has a mailing list 65,000 members strong and has additional offices in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. According to recent press reports, the ministry has already received over $1 million in donations and will begin a capital funding campaign when $3 million to $4 million has been raised.
The museum will be built on a 95,000-square-foot complex and, in addition to lots of dinosaur models, will present a walk-through history of the Bible starting with Genesis 1:1 and ending with Revelation. If Ham's plans are realized, the center will be divided into the seven Cs of Biblical history: Creation, the events of Genesis; Corruption, sin in the garden of Eden; Catastrophe, Noah's Flood and the repopulation of the world; Confusion, the Tower of Babel; Christ, the life of Jesus; Cross, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ; and Consummation, the conclusion of the story.
"I think it'll be a major center," says Ham. "It's going to provoke a lot of interest." He is hoping the museum will attract each year as many as 100,000 visitors eager to learn about all aspects of science from a Biblical perspective.
Many local residents oppose the Creation museum project, believing it will ruin the rural countryside that surrounds Burlington.
"It's all about making money," says Jennifer Warner, who owns a bed and breakfast guesthouse two miles from the proposed site. "They're masquerading behind this Creation museum because they can make more money when they claim religious discrimination. They've worked all the Baptist churches."
The Gospel According to Zoning
According to the Boone County Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, the site chosen for the Creation museum was to remain a rural estate until sometime after 2025.
In June 1998, Answers in Genesis applied to have the site rezoned from rural to industrial land. Boone County's Planning Commission recommended the application be denied, and it was subsequently turned down by its Fiscal Court.
The ministry applied again in February 1999 to rezone the land to a public facility site and the Planning Commission again recommended that it be denied.
According to the Planning Commission report, the land is unsuitable for a large-scale public facility because it lacks a public water supply or a sewage treatment system, and the ministry wasn't willing to pay the freight to build the infrastructure.
But in May 1999, the Boone County Fiscal Court met and voted to overturn the Planning Commission's recommendations.
Local opponents claim three members of the Fiscal Court, Judge-Executive Gary Moore and County Commissioners Robert Hay and Rob Arnold, had ties to the Answers in Genesis organization and their votes were biased.
Following the decision, a group of residents, including Warner, filed a lawsuit against Answers in Genesis and the Boone County Fiscal Court asking that County Commissioner Robert Hay recuse himself from the vote.
During court proceedings, Hay acknowledged that he had attended Answers in Genesis meetings, and that his children had volunteered for the ministry. Hay and his family even appeared on Answers in Genesis promotional leaflets.
"There's much about the ministry that I agree with," admits Commissioner Hay. "My ties with Ken [Ham] are on the record. I've been to his home once and he's been to my home once."
The lawsuit was still dismissed by a Kenton County judge in February 2000.
Hay says the Creation museum is in the best interest of the community and says the rezoning probably has protected the site from unwanted suburban development.
"The essence of my job as a County Commissioner is going to be controversial every time I make a planning and zoning decision."
Cathy Flaig, the only county commissioner to vote against rezoning the land, says the members of the Fiscal Court were newly elected. "Those people down there didn't want this," says Flaig, of the local opposition.
"I think there were some people in Fiscal Court that probably should have [recused] themselves from the issues," she adds.
Even fans of the project are conflicted. Pastor Will Stevens lives and works adjacent to the site of the Creation museum at the Bullittsburg Baptist Church and has friends who work for the Answers in Genesis ministry. "I support the theology behind the museum, I would agree with that 100 percent," says Pastor Stevens.
"The only part that I struggle with is that kind of development in Boone County because the County's Comprehensive Plan does limit that kind of growth out here right now."
Turning the Other Cheek
In response to the lawsuit, Answers in Genesis filed a counterclaim against the residents. As part of the counterclaim, Warner was accused of making defamatory statements and false and dishonest allegations against the ministry, comparing Ken Ham to Adolf Hitler and Jim Jones.
Warner admits to making the statements but says they were responses to email messages from Answers in Genesis employees who were pestering her.
Flaig notes that she was verbally abused by Answers in Genesis members as she left the courthouse in May 1999. "They're just a zealous bunch of people that believe Man walked with dinosaurs," she says.
The judge advised the residents not to appeal the decision, allowing the museum project to proceed and, in exchange, advised the ministry to drop its counterclaim, says Zovath.
In the months since the counterclaim was dropped by Answers in Genesis, the museum project has continued unencumbered.
The ministry has hired engineers and architectural firm A.M. Kinney Associates, and the museum slowly begins to take shape alongside Interstate 275.
Ken Ham says the infrastructure will be in place by the time the museum opens. "That whole argument is a moot point because you've got to have the infrastructure or you can't open it," Ham says.
"It's as simple as that."
It's as simple as that.
Residents will just have to wait to see whether their town, with its population of 6000, will be affected by the museum when it opens in 2002.
Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world and develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meaning, and values - subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.
-Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould in Rocks of Ages
Meanwhile, Ken Ham will continue to ask some important questions. Why are we here? What do you believe? What do you want schools to teach your children?
But the Answers in Genesis organization has no interest in politics, says Ham. "Our aim is not to change the culture; it's to change people because people change cultures anyway," he says. "Our main reason for doing things is because we want to see people saved. We want to see people go to Heaven."
Krupa has a different take on such groups. "They [creationists] create phobia and fear, and that works well," he said. "My mission in life is to say you can believe in God and natural selection."
According to a May 24, 2000 Fox News/Opinions Dynamics poll, Americans consider scientists the most trusted of professionals, followed by teachers and then ministers. Many critics of scientific creationism believe creationists, and particularly Answers in Genesis, are taking advantage of this trust by claiming to prove their theories by using scientific techniques and misinterpreted scientific terminology.
Ultimately, to many, science and religion represent two very different realms that should remain separate.
But for now at least, life in Burlington can continue as it has for so long: its quiet streets and uneven sidewalks and rows of Federal-style buildings. At the end of another day, the store lights blink off one by one, each celebrated more loudly by the crickets, as night gathers and the missionary lizards gather more dust in their warehouse.
Research assistance by Steven Tweddell.
|.||Survival of the Fittest
Evolution is the root of atheism, of communism, Nazism, behaviorism, racism, economic imperialism, militarism, libertinism, anarchism, and all manner of anti-Christian systems of belief and practice.
-Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research and co-author of The Genesis Flood
When Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was first published in 1859 it was met with widespread criticism. To accept evolutionary theory was to acknowledge that humans had evolved from less complex animals over millions of years, a process for which God wasn't needed. This was big news.
Soon Darwin's principles were being blamed for the decline of traditional moral values and increased crime rates. By the early 1920s, conservative Christian evangelism had given rise to Fundamentalism, a movement characterized by its literal interpretation of the Bible. It signified the beginnings of a moral crusade in the growing United States that was equal parts fire and brimstone. In 1925, physics teacher John Scopes was charged with violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.
The landmark Scopes Monkey Trial made international headlines with the state of Tennessee prosecuting Scopes and the American Civil Liberties Union defending him.
The conviction and $100 fine, although later overturned, confirmed the influence of the Fundamentalist Christians, forcing 20 other states to debate the teaching of evolution in their schools.
Separating Church and State
In a post-Scopes monkey trial era, the 1960s book, The Genesis Flood , advanced the "scientific creationism," argument-gaining popularity among creationists and criticism from scientists who claimed that accepting Genesis as fact and then searching for support, as its authors had done, was not science at all.
It wasn't until 1987 that the Supreme Court finally agreed, overturning a 1982 law that required evolution and Creation to be afforded equal time in Louisiana schools and ruling that creation science was a religious belief not to be taught as science.
Many states since, including Kentucky, have tried to add creationism to the curriculum and/or remove evolution.
Last year, the Kansas Board of Education made headlines worldwide by passing laws to reduce the emphasis placed on evolution, no longer evaluating evolution or cosmology in statewide proficiency tests.
The August 1st school board primaries in Kansas brought re-election failure for two of the three school board candidates who implemented the anti-evolution laws last year.
Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, says he supports attempts by other states to remove evolution from the state science standards and will help if he is able. "If we can influence public school teachers and we can influence students we will by dissemination of information," he says.
HOME | THIS ISSUE | ACE ARCHIVES