Monday, August 28, 2023

The Bible Is Not a Book of Natural History: At the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter

 As I toured the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, and as I read the AiG guidebooks for these two creationist theme parks, I asked myself, Is this Young Earth creationist history of the Earth the clear teaching of the Bible?  Again and again the answer was No.


The first thing one notices outside the entrance to the Creation Museum is a large replica of a dinosaur.  As soon as one enters the Museum, you see the Dragon Legends exhibit, which teaches that the many dragon legends from around the world must be evidence that ancient people fought against dinosaurs, because the dragons look so much like dinosaurs.  In the Main Hall of the Museum, a large variety of dinosaur replicas are displayed.  This is supposed to teach visitors that "according to the Bible, man and dinosaur lived at the same time, and these marvelous creatures were originally created as vegetarians (Genesis 1:30)" (Journey Through the Creation Museaum [JCM], 15).  There are over 30 dinosaurs in the Creation Museum.  At the Ark Encounter, there are dinosaurs on the Ark to represent the 85 kinds of dinosaurs said to have been on the Ark (JCM, 71).

So what is it with dinosaurs?  This seems strange given that the Bible says nothing about dinosaurs!  According to Genesis 1:30, "to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."  AiG wants us to believe that "every beast of the earth" must include dinosaurs.  But it was not until 1842 that Richard Owen coined the word "dinosaur."  And although people had previously identified dinosaur fossils as "dragon bones," it has been only in the past 200 years that these fossils have been studied scientifically.

AiG quotes from Job 39--41 as describing Behemoth and Leviathan as giant animals that could have been dinosaurs (Creation Museum Signs [CMS], 6-7).  But this seems unlikely since Leviathan is identified as fire-breathing and as having multiple heads (Psalms 74:14).  At the "Dino Den" exhibit, AiG describes many genuses and species of dinosaurs, but all of this comes from modern science, and none of this is found in the Bible (CMS, 192-99).

AiG cannot deny the fossil evidence for the existence of dinosaurs, but it must deny the evidence that all non-avian dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, long before human beings emerged, because this would contradict what the Young Earth creationists say about the 6,000-year history of the earth and the creation of both the "beasts of the earth" and Adam on the sixth day of creation.  They have to argue that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, until the dinosaurs went extinct sometime after Noah's Flood (CMS, 13).  They do this without being able to cite any clear references to dinosaurs in the Bible.

Apparently, the Holy Spirit saw no need to convey any divinely revealed teaching about the natural history of dinosaurs.  


The "Starting Points" exhibit at the Creation Museum states the fundamental claim underlying both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter:  creationists and evolutionists observe the same evidence in the natural world, but they reach different conclusions from that evidence because they start with two different worldviews--the naturalistic evolutionist worldview and the biblical creationist worldview.  The evolutionist assumes that everything in the world emerged through a natural process of evolution, and then he interprets the evidence as supporting that conclusion.  The creationist assumes that the Bible is a divinely revealed teaching that tells the truth about God's creation of the world according to the literal history of creation in Genesis, and then he interprets the evidence as supporting that conclusion (CMS, 12-18).

According to AiG, there is no way to scientifically prove which worldview is true because of the distinction between observational science and historical science.  "Observational science deals with testing and verifying ideas in the present.  Chemistry experiments in a laboratory and the ongoing study of a medicine's effectiveness in treating a particular disease are examples of observational science.  Historical science involves the interpretation of evidence from the past that now exists in the present.  A paleontologist's narrative of a fossilized creature's habits and an astronomer's explanation of a star's formation are examples of historical science" (CMS, 20).  The "interpretation of evidence from the past" in historical science depends on one's choice of a worldview, which cannot be tested or verified through observational science.

Anyone who carefully studies the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter will see that they implicitly admit that the distinction between the two worldviews is a false dichotomy, because it falsely assumes that there is one and only one naturalistic evolutionist worldview and one and only one Biblical creationist worldview, and that there is no evolutionary creationist worldview.

Some of the exhibits recognize that "many Christians" have rejected Young Earth creationism in favor of Old Earth creationism or Theistic Evolution as more compatible with the Bible (CMS, 80, 83-84).  Ken Ham has even said that "most of the church" denies Young Earth creationism (Six Days, 29).  Now, of course, Ham and AiG say that these Christians are mistaken in their interpretation of the Bible.  But that's just the point: the Bible is open to different interpretations in the dispute over creation and evolution; and therefore, there are different Biblical creationist worldviews, and some of them support evolutionary science.


One of the most fundamental disagreements among Biblical creationists has been in the interpretation of created "kinds."  When the King James Bible speaks of God creating living creatures "after their kind" (Genesis 1:21), "kind" is an English translation of the Hebrew word min.  In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible--the Septuagint--min was translated by the Greek species, corresponding to the English word species.  This led most Biblical creationists, up to the middle of the 19th century, to assume that the Bible was teaching that God had specially created every species eternally fixed in its form so that it could not change, which denied that there could be any evolutionary development of species.  

But then, in 1859, with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, it appeared that Darwin had shown how his theory of natural selection could explain the natural evolution of species from ancestral species, and thus refuted the Biblical creationist doctrine of the created fixity of species.  Some creationists responded by suggesting that the Hebrew word min was "imprecise," and that it could be understood not as species but as equivalent to some higher level of taxonomic category--perhaps "family."  As I have previously indicated, creationist biologist Frank Marsh in 1941 coined the word baramin (combining the Hebrew words bara [create] and min [kind]) to denote "created kind."  One could then argue that what God created in Genesis 1 were "kinds" rather than "species," and that there can be evolutionary speciation within a kind, but there cannot be any evolutionary change of one kind into a new kind.  So, for example, the creationist can concede that Darwin correctly saw that the various species of finches in the Galapagos Islands had evolved by natural selection to be uniquely adapted to the Galapagos, but that all of these species were within the general "kind" of finches as created by God.

At the Creation Museaum and the Ark Encounter, the "baraminology" of Marsh is identified as the "updated view" of Biblical creationism as opposed to the "outdated view" of fixity of species (CMS, 19, 31, 33, 35, 95, 134-40; AE, 14-26).  But notice that they cannot cite any Biblical text that clearly endorses the "updated view" as correct.  Here, again, the Bible is not concerned with providing a precise science of natural history.

One reason that AiG has adopted the "updated view" of created kinds is that it helps them to answer the question, How could Noah fit all the animals on the Ark?  God told Noah: "Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth" (Genesis 7:2-3).  The meaning of "clean" versus "unclean" animals is unclear, but "clean" could refer to those animals considered appropriate for animal sacrifice.  In any case, if every "kind" means every "species," the number of animals from every species would be too great to fit on the Ark.  But if "kind" means "family," that drastically reduces the number of animals that had to be on the Ark.

Moreover, AiG assumes that most fish and invertebrates and most non-animals (such as plants and bacteria) could survive the Flood, and therefore they did not have to be taken onto the Ark.  AiG estimates that there are about 34,000 species of known, land-dependent vertebrates in the world today.  But among these land-dependent vertebrate species, there are fewer than 1,400 known living and extinct kinds (that is, families).  This allows AiG to estimate that Noah had to have fewer than 6,744 individual animals on the Ark.  Once these animals left the Ark, speciation by natural selection within kinds could create all the living and extinct species that we know today (AE, 28-33).  The Ark Encounter is designed to show how as many as 6,744 animals and 8 human beings (Noah and his extended family) could survive on the Ark for almost a year.

The human intelligence required to think through all of this is impressive.  Young Earth creationists are very clever people.  But notice that most of this is purely human speculation that has no clear support in the Bible.  AiG quietly admits this in a couple of the Ark Encounter exhibits that refer to their "Ark-Tistic License" or "Artistic Interpretation" in working through the details where the Bible says nothing.  (It is worth noting that these exhibits are not included in the Ark Signs guidebook.)


Another example of "artistic interpretation" in both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter is that they assume that the Earth is a spherical planet revolving on its axis while orbiting the Sun in a solar system with other planets orbiting the Sun (CMS, 120, 144-45; AE, 58-64, 119).  The Bible never teaches this. 

They say that the Bible "includes passages that imply a round earth" (AE, 119).  But they do not cite those passages.  In fact, while the Hebrew word for Earth in the Old Testament (eres) appears about 2,500 times, and the Greek word for Earth in the New Testament (ge) appears 250 times, never in these 2,750 instances is the Earth ever identified as spherical.

On the contrary, from the beginning of the Bible, the Earth is said to be a flat disk in a three-tiered cosmos, with the Sun, the Moon, and stars moving around the Earth, but with no planets and no moons other than the Earth's moon (Genesis 1:1-10).  Like the cosmology of ancient Near Eastern cultures, the cosmology of the Bible has the Earth in the middle, the heavens above, and the underworld beneath the Earth.  The Earth in the middle was a disk-shaped land mass surrounded by a sea.  The Sun, the Moon, and the stars were embedded on the surface of a "dome" or "firmament" that turned around the Earth; so that the Sun, Moon, and stars would rise above the Earth in the morning and sink below the Earth at night (Genesis 1:16-17).  Paul refers to this three-tiered cosmos when he said that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).  Remarkably, this verse is quoted at the Creation Museum, but without recognizing that it points to a three-tiered cosmos (CMS, 79).

Indeed, some creationists insist that a truly Biblical creationist worldview must be geocentric, and therefore must reject the heliocentric astronomy of Copernicus and Galileo as contrary to the Bible.  Gerardus Bouw, who has a Ph.D. in astronomy from Case Western Reserve University, is one of the leading creationist geocentrists.  Danny Faulkner, a creationist astronomer at AiG, has tried to refute Bouw's arguments for Biblical geocentrism.  But Bouw has responded by pointing out that Faulkner ignores those Biblical passages that clearly indicate that the Earth is at the center of the cosmos--the same passages quoted by the Catholic Inquisition in condemning Galileo for advancing a Copernican astronomy that denied the truth of the Bible.

In Joshua 10:13, God ordered the Sun and the Moon to stand still for a full day: "And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. . . . So the Sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."  Surely, the literal meaning of this verse is that the Sun moves around the Earth.  As Bouw pointed out to Faulkner, God could have said "And the Earth stopped turning so that the Sun appeared to stand still," but He didn't.  If we're going to say that the language of Joshua 10:13 is meant to be interpreted as figurative and not as literal truth, then why shouldn't we interpret the creation story in Genesis as figurative imagery that is not literal history?

In apologizing for the Catholic Church's condemnation of Galileo, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have admitted that Galileo was right to say that the Bible is not a scientific book of natural history because it teaches us "how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."  And adopting that Galilean principle of Biblical hermeneutics has allowed the Popes to accept a theistic evolution that sees no conflict between the Bible and evolutionary science.  

Why shouldn't the creationists at AiG follow the example of the Catholic Church and give up Young Earth creationism in favor of theistic evolution?

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