When I first turned to read Edward Rothstein’s account in the New York Times’ Arts section of the just-opened creation museum at Petersburg, Kentucky, I gritted my teeth in advance.
I have little use for creation museums, but way, way less use for self-regarding, overaged art twerps who pretend superiority to millions of people who do real jobs for a living. So, I thought, Die. Twerp. Die. Before the cat gets you.
Well, I was overreacting, I am glad to say! Rothstein’s review is thoughtful and his reflections are of genuine use to those who want some idea of what they might see at a creation museum – and how it differs from a Church of Darwin museum:
The Creation Museum actually stands the natural history museum on its head. Natural history museums developed out of the Enlightenment: encyclopedic collections of natural objects were made subject to ever more searching forms of inquiry and organization. The natural history museum gave order to the natural world, taming its seeming chaos with the principles of human reason. And DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theory Ã¢â‚¬â€ which gave life a compelling order in time as well as space Ã¢â‚¬â€ became central to its purpose. Put on display was the prehistory of civilization, seeming to allude not just to the evolution of species but also cultures (which is why “primitive” cultures were long part of its domain). The natural history museum is a hall of human origins.
The Creation Museum has a similar interest in dramatizing origins, but sees natural history as divine history. And now that many museums have also become temples to various American ethnic and sociological groups, why not a museum for the millions who believe that the Earth is less than 6,000 years old and was created in six days?
Rothstein, a good multiculturalist, makes clear that, if you grant the premises of multiculturalism, the creationists are as entitled to tell their own story using their own funds as any other cultural group. (Incidentally, Darwinist museums receive considerable public funds, which creates an interesting conundrum when so many Darwinists treat their convictions as an anti-theistic religion.)
And, if you are not a frothing Darwinist, it is not always clear who is right:
Nature here is not “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson asserted. In fact at first it seems almost as genteel as EdenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dinosaurs. We learn that chameleons, for example, change colors not because that serves as a survival mechanism, but “to Ã¢â‚¬ËœtalkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to other chameleons, to show off their mood, and to adjust to heat and light.”
The creationists could well be right about the chameleons. Darwinian theory needs the colour change to be a survival mechanism and interprets just about everything in that light. The chameleon itself may not have any such need. If you think that everything about life forms exists in some relation to a survival mechanism, you have spent too much time among Darwinists.
One thing that Rothstein’s review illustrates is the way in which popular American evangelical culture has become technically mainstream and innovative – and that’s not typically a sign of weakness:
Whether you are willing to grant the premises of this museum almost becomes irrelevant as you are drawn into its mixture of spectacle and narrative. Its 60,000 square feet of exhibits are often stunningly designed by Patrick Marsh, who, like the entire museum staff, declares adherence to the ministryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s views; he evidently also knows the lure of secular sensations, since he designed the “Jaws” and “King Kong” attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.
Well, the museum, a short drive from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport, hopes for a quarter of a million visitors a year. We’ll see.
Also, at the Post-Darwinist:
Would Francis Crick be allowed to speculate on extraterrestrial origin of life today? Interesting comment from Beast Rabban. By the way, does anyone know who Beast Rabban is, and if he is really a beast? Of what type? Social or antisocial? He has obviously put a lot of thought into the ID controversy.
At the Mindful Hack:
Fruit flies and free will – and now hornets: Insects triumph over mechanistic interpretations
Why you do NOT need to be a creationist to disbelieve in evolutionary psychology. Common sense will do just fine.