Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ham's dino-follies

Next weekend, Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis Creation Museum is scheduled to open near Cincinnati. Ham expects the museum to be a big success and draw a quarter-million visitors the first year. That number might not be too far off since some tens of thousands are planning to check it out from sheer morbid curiosity. The second year's attendance will be the one to watch.

Ken Ham's version of Genesis appears to have been designed to appeal to second-graders. Not only are all of the neat stories in the beginning of Genesis literally true. In Adam and Eve's day all of the animals were friends. None of the carnivores ate meat, so they never hurt or scared the lambs or deer. Cats never chased mice and dogs never chased cats. Not only that, but people and dinosaurs lived together and were friends. The dinosaurs let people put dino-saddles on them and ride them around like ponies.

Despite--or perhaps because of--all of this promiscuous friendship, God decided to kill most of the people and animals. God decided to give the people and animals one last chance. He told Noah to build a big boat and take two, or maybe seven, of each animal to save them while He destroyed the world with a flood. Noah did as he was told and God did as he promised. Afterward, Noah let all of the animal couples go free to fill the world. Sadly, because the new world wasn't as nice as the old one, some of the animals became carnivores and started eating the others.

My tone might be disrespectful, but my facts are not inaccurate. This is the version of Biblical history that Ken ham is telling in his 60,000 foot, twenty-seven million dollar museum. This is no roadside attraction. The models and dioramas in Ham's museum have been built by some of the leading craftsmen in the field. But the story is still ridiculous.

Take the dinosaurs. After years of denying the reality of dinosaurs, most creationists have now accepted them and rearranged their theology to account for them. Ham has adopted a child-friendly dino-buddies in saddles narrative. The Bible says God commanded Noah to bring all of the animals onto the Ark and Noah was a righteous man, so there is no weaseling around and saying the dinosaurs went extinct in the flood. All species that have ever existed had to be on the Ark (although Ham's variety of creationists have some slick logic to reduce that number). Any extinction that has occurred had to have happened after the flood. Ham realizes that all of the dinosaurs couldn't have died the next day, so he says many must have lived into recent time, some might even be alive today. He basically endorses every monster and cryptozoological sighting in history as true in order to make room for his dinosaurs. Dragons? Real. Lake monsters? Real.

What about that sudden conversion to meat eating by all of the carnivores? That's a problem he doesn't talk much about. But think about it; it might help explain all of those extinctions. The day after the Ark landed all of the animals were walking around, stretching their legs after their long confinement. Mr. and Mrs. Tyrannosaurus Rex were feeling a little peckish and suddenly their old friends the unicorns looked awfully tasty. There's your first extinction. Within a few hours the ferrets ate the pixies, the coyotes ate the jackalopes, and the wolves disemboweled one of the Irish elk. Mammoths being smarter than most grazers headed north and stayed away from their old neighbors for a few years, but their days were numbered. I'm just guessing; maybe Ham has a better story.

Meanwhile a coalition of secularists, liberal Christians, and Atheists are planning to picket the opening. I have mixed feelings about that. While I agree with the sentiments of the protesters--the secularists and Atheists want to say that not every one in that part of the country is a credulous rube, and the liberal Christians want to point out that Ham doesn't speak for all Christians--I'm not sure protesting won't play into Ham's hands. Ham is a sophisticated media manipulator; his PR is anything but ham-handed (yes, that was intentional). The protest will bring profitable publicity and Ham will be sure to play the persecution card.

But no one asked me how to handle this, so let's just sit back and watch the show. This is not going to go away. The museum is Ham's move to become a major player in the culture wars. We'll have plenty of time dissect his arguments. Meanwhile, Memorial Day is one of the great yard work and barbecue weekends of the year. While Ken Ham loudly proclaims his martyrdom, let's take a moment to remember the folks who really did have the courage to die for what they believed. Ham compares rather badly to the real thing.

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