The Creationism Museum

The nation’s largest organization devoted to creationism wants to make Northern Kentucky a tourist destination.

Originally published in The Lane Report, May 2006.

By Andy Olsen

It took just one man to turn science on its head in 1859, but Ken Ham is gathering a small army and a lot of cash to right it again.

His headquarters is a striking new 95,000-square-foot building in Northern Kentucky, where more than 150 full-time employees work to whittle away the theories of Charles Darwin and fight the world of evolutionary thought.

Ham is president of Answers in Genesis, a nonprofit that moved into the facility on a 50-acre campus near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport a year and a half ago. The group is bracing for a rush of hundreds of thousands of visitors to the building in early 2007, when it will open the nation’s largest museum devoted to the alternative science of biblical creationism.

Answers in Genesis insists on an unbendable worldview: The Bible must be taken literally, and the world was formed by God in six days just 6,000 years ago.

To walk through the organization’s halls is to catch a glimpse of the power of its support base. Young designers in high-tech workspaces squint at computer screens, tweaking one of the most popular religious Web sites on the Internet. A bookstore near the entrance is loud with the noise of shoppers browsing books that link social ills like racism and abortion to evolution, and DVDs that offer tips for refuting evolution in science classes.

The $25 million creationism museum will sit as the capstone of the 12-year-old organization’s rapid growth. Answers in Genesis has raised $21 million in cash donations for the project so far and does not expect any trouble raising the rest. A recent study estimated more than 70 percent of the museum’s visitors would come from over 200 miles away.

“We went to the media and said we’re going to build a museum,” Ham said. “They said, ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ And we said, ‘God will provide.”‘

Intelligent design – the belief that natural evolution has taken place over millions of years with a little help from God – has generated much public controversy recently. But many creationists, and Answers in Genesis in particular, are careful to distance themselves from the intelligent design movement, branding it as compromised science and a symptom of compromised faith.

A majority of scientists dismiss young-earth creationism as not even worthy of debate. It enjoys overwhelming support among Americans, however – recent polls suggest more than half of Americans believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools.

“The reason I think God has blessed this ministry is that so many churches see us as a beacon” for upholding the truth of the Bible, said Mark Looy, Answers in Genesis’ chief communications officer and a co-founder of the group. “Pastors see us as a way to help them equip their young people to have answers.”

The proof flows from churchgoers’ wallets. Answers in Genesis had revenues of $15 million in 2005, making it one of the wealthiest nonprofits based in Kentucky. Of that, $12 million came from donations in a year when fundraisers were competing with relief spending for natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

There are dozens of creationism advocacy groups around the country. But Answers in Genesis, which also has a sister organization in the United Kingdom, is by any measure the largest. It employs staff scientists with Ph.D.s from mainstream universities. In 2005, Answers in Genesis delivered more than 300 teaching seminars worldwide and broadcast lectures on 750 U.S. radio stations. That same year, it shipped more than 65,000 books, videos, CDs and other materials from its bustling Northern Kentucky warehouse.

Young Christian families and homeschoolers form a large part of the organization’s target audience. In fact, the museum is being finished with that demographic in mind. Exhibits include animatronic dinosaurs walking alongside humans which the museum teaches rode together in Noah’s Ark. It will boast a planetarium, a special-effects theater, state-of-the-art graphics and audio features that could even work with visitors’ MP3 players.

The exhibits are the collaboration of scientists and young artists who have studied at top schools around the world. But Looy doesn’t want anyone to mistake it for a pure science museum. He said Answers in Genesis is about much more than just a certain interpretation of the facts.

“We’re very transparent about what we do here. The people are going to be taking a walk-through biblical history when they go to the museum,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of science in it, but we’re going to be very evangelistic.”