“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”
—Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”
In the middle of the lobby of the 50,000-square-foot Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., a 20-foot waterfall tumbles. Two life-size figures of children with long black hair and in buckskin clothes play in the stream a few feet from two towering Tyrannosaurus Rex models that can move and roar. The museum, which cost $25 million to build and has a sea of black asphalt parking lots for school buses, has a scale model of Noah’s ark that shows how Noah solved the problem of fitting dinosaurs into the three levels of the vessel—he loaded only baby dinosaurs. And on the wooden model, infant dinosaurs cavort with horses, giraffes, hippopotamuses, penguins and bears. There is an elaborate display of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve, naked but strategically positioned so as not to display breasts or genitals, swim in a river as giant dinosaurs and lizards roam the banks.
Before Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, museum visitors are told, all of the dinosaurs were peaceable plant-eaters. The evidence is found in Genesis 1:30, where God gives “green herb” to every creature to eat. There were no predators. T-Rex had such big teeth, the museum explains, so it could open coconuts. Only after Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of paradise did the dinosaurs start to eat flesh. And Adam’s sin is a key component of the belief system, for in the eyes of many creationists, in order for Jesus’ death to be meaningful it had to atone for Adam’s first sin.
The museum has a theater equipped with seats that shake and gadgets that spray mist at the audience as the story of God’s six-day creation of the world unfolds on the screen and the sound system rocks the auditorium. There are 30-foot-high walls that represent the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, floors that resemble rocks embedded with fossils, and rooms where a “Christian” paleontologist counters the claims of an “evolutionist” paleontologist. It has the appearance of a real science museum, complete with a planetarium, a gift shop and plaques on the wall with quotes from creationist “scientists” who have the title doctor conspicuously before their names. It has charts, timelines and graphs with facts and figures. It is meant to be interactive, to create, like Universal Studios, a contrived reality with an array of costly animatronic men and women as well as moving dinosaurs.
The danger of creationism is that, like the pseudo-science of Nazi eugenics, it allows facts to be accepted or discarded according to the dictates of a preordained ideology. Creationism removes the follower from the rational, reality-based world. Signs, miracles and wonders occur not only in the daily life of Christians but in history, science, medicine and logic. The belief system becomes the basis to understand the world. Random facts and data are collected and made to fit into this belief system or discarded. When facts are treated as if they were opinions, when there is no universal standard to determine truth, in law, in science, in scholarship, or in the reporting of the events of the day, the world becomes a place where people can believe what they want to believe, where there is no possibility of reaching any conclusion not predetermined by those who interpret the official, divinely inspired text. This is the goal of creationists.
Other creationist museums are going up in Arkansas, Texas, California, Tennessee and Florida. Museums are part of a massive push to teach creationism in schools, part of a vast Christian publishing and filmmaking industry that seeks to rewrite the past and make it conform to the Bible. The front lines of the culture wars are the classrooms. The battle is one we are slowly losing. Twenty states are considering changing the way evolution is taught in order to include creationism or intelligent design.1 Only 13 percent of Americans in a 2004 Gallup poll, when asked for their views on human origins, said life arose from the strictly natural process of evolution. More than 38 percent said they believed God guided evolution, and 45 percent said the Genesis account of creation was a true story.2 Courses on intelligent design have been taught at Minnesota, Georgia, New Mexico and Iowa State universities, along with Wake Forest and Carnegie Mellon*, not to mention Christian universities that teach all science through the prism of the Bible.
The museum is an illustration of the movement’s marriage of primitive and intolerant beliefs with the modern tools of technology, mass communication, sophisticated fundraising and political organization. Totalitarian systems usually start as propagandistic movements that ostensibly teach people to “believe what they want.” This is a ruse. This primacy of personal opinion, regardless of facts, destabilizes and destroys the primacy of all facts. This process leads inevitably to the big lie. Facts are useful only if they bolster the message. The use of mass-marketing techniques to persuade and convince, rather than brainwash, has led tens of millions of followers to accept the toxic totalitarian line by tricking them into believing it’s their own. Ironically, at the outset the movement seemingly encourages people to think “independently” or “courageously.”
At first all have, in the totalitarian belief system, a right to an opinion, or, in short, a right to believe anything. Soon, under the iron control of an empowered totalitarian movement, facts become worthless, kept or discarded according to an ideological litmus test. And once these movements achieve power, facts are ruthlessly manipulated or kept hidden to support the lie. Creationism is not about offering an alternative. Its goal is the destruction of the core values of the open society—the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense tell you something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to advocate for change and to accept that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable. We are beginning to see the growing intolerance that comes with the empowerment of these ideologues. There is a bill in the Texas Legislature to strip all mention of evolution from Texas school textbooks and institute mandatory Bible classes for all students. This is just the start.
And yet, coming from the modern age, these Christo-fascists cannot discount science. They employ jargon, methods and data that appear to be science, to make an argument for creationism. They have created parallel research and scholarly institutions. They pump out articles in self-published journals to provide “evidence” that homosexuals can be cured, that global warming is a myth, that abortion can cause breast cancer, that something they call “post-abortion syndrome” leads to deep depression and suicide and that abstinence-only education is an effective form of birth control. This pseudo-science has seeped into the public debate. It is disseminated by nervous and timid media anxious to give both sides in every argument. Those who have contempt for facts and truth, for honest research and inquiry, are given the same platform by the press as those who deal in a world of reality, fact and rationality.
The movement desperately needs the imprint of science to legitimize itself. It achieves this imprint by discrediting real science and claiming creationist science as true science. All attempts to argue the creationists out of their mythical belief, to persuade them with logic, evidence, scientific inquiry and fact, will fail. They have created a “fundamentalist science.” They know they cannot return to the pre-Darwinian innocence that let them believe the Bible alone was enough. They need, in the midst of their flight from reality, to reassure their followers that science, science not contaminated by secular humanists and nonbelievers, is on their side. In this they are a distinctly modern movement. They seek the imprint of science and scholarship to legitimize myth. This is a characteristic they share with all modern totalitarian movements, which co-opt the disciplines of law, science, medicine and scholarship to give a modern veneer to their primitive and superstitious belief systems, systems that allow the rulers to dictate reality and truth. The “paraprofessional” organizations formed by the Christian right, organizations of teachers, journalists, doctors, lawyers and scientists, mimic the activities of real professional groups. They seek to challenge the legitimacy and the power of the traditional organizations. The duplication of the structures and methods employed by the non-totalitarian world, the use of pseudo-science to dress up fantasy, is slowly undermining our legitimate scientific and educational institutions. It is destroying the foundations of our open society. It is ushering us into a world where lies are true.
* Correction: A representative of Carnegie Mellon University states “Carnegie Mellon University does not teach a course on intelligent design. The contemporary issue of intelligent design is sometimes raised in discourse in courses such as Christianity and Science: A Multidisciplinary Approach. This fulfills an elective in the religious studies minor.”
1 Scott LaFee, “Local scientists, doctors and professors talk about ‘intelligent design,’ ” The San Diego Union-Tribune, F-1, June 8, 2005.
2 Frank Newport, “Third of Americans Say Evidence Has Supported Darwin’s Evolution Theory,” The Gallup Poll, Nov. 19, 2004, http://poll.gallup.com/content/default.aspx?ci=14107&pg=1.
AP Photo / Ed Reinke
An exhibit depicting two archeologists coming to very different conclusions while unearthing the same skeleton is part of the Creation Museum, now under construction near Petersburg, Ky. Ken Ham’s $25-million facility will argue that God created the Earth and its inhabitants just a few thousand years ago—never mind what modern science says.