A Creation Museum recently opened in Kentucky. The designers had an agenda: to advocate a literal interpretation of the account of creation in Genesis. The displays explicitly contrast Genesis with the scientific account of our origins, regarding the age of the earth, evolution, etc.
The museum is eliciting a lot of ridicule in the blogosphere. Jewish Atheist has had a couple of goes at it. And Media Czech at BlueGrassRoots describes his visit to the museum at considerable length. For example:
One of the most interesting discoveries of the museum is that The Flintstones was not merely a children’s’ cartoon, but rather a realistic depiction of man’s early interaction with their dinosaur friends. Never mind those foolish heathen scientists who say that humans came some 60 million years after the extinction of dinosaurs. The first image the visitor receives as he/she enters the museum is Eve/Pebbles Flintstone frolicking with her pet dinosaur, Dino. No worries for Pebbles, because this “velaciraptor” is a playful vegetarian pet here to serve you and be your buddy.
Andrew Sullivan and Aaron both referred me to the Media Czech post.
Am I going to defend the Creation Museum? Nope. On the other hand, Media Czech’s post leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Here’s a guy who travelled about an hour to see the museum: not because he was interested in exploring an alternative worldview, but for the express purpose of mocking it. And he made quite a production of it! The resultant post is more than 2,000 words in length, with 80 photographs. (Fellow bloggers will realize how much work is involved in uploading 80 photos!)
Mockery is not a very lofty pursuit. Sometimes it has a legitimate place in public discourse, provided that the mocker displays a deft touch. But Media Czech certainly isn’t deft. Daft, maybe:
While it’s fun to laugh at these idiots, the parents that take their kids to this museum are committing child abuse. [emphasis in original] There is no other way to put it. To present this idiocy to them as “science” and blatantly brainwash their kids by entertaining them with cool animatronic dinosaurs while they absorb these ridiculous stories is a goddamned crime.
Speaking as a father, I can tell you that parents do lots of well-meaning but misguided things. No responsible person should blur the line between those sorts of parenting choices and abusive parenting.
If it’s child abuse, it should be illegal. Law enforcement officers should intervene immediately and take those children out of their parents’ care.
I’d like to see Media Czech sit down with someone who was actually abused as a child and argue his point. I suspect it would get a rather chilly reception.
But Media Czech is onto a good thing here. He will get lots of visitors to his post — from the Andrew Sullivan link alone. The whole scenario leaves me in a cranky mood.
When I speak of “the whole scenario”, I include the Creation Museum itself. Well-meaning, I don’t doubt. But no more deft (no less daft) than Media Czech’s offensive post. It supplies an easy target for people who want to mock the Bible and the Christian faith. Toss ’em another softball, why don’t you?
The truth is, some Christians are not pre-scientific in their thinking. In fact, before science there were already educated Christians — prominent figures in Church history — who understood that Genesis 1 should not be pressed into literal history. That’s the point I want to make here.
For example, consider the debate over the age of the earth. According to Genesis 1, God created the world in six days. Human beings arrived on the scene within one week of creation. But is this the only legitimate way to read Genesis? Did God necessarily create the world in six 24-hour, literal days?
While this view (the “ordinary week” interpretation) historically has been the most common interpretation, there have always been prominent dissenters from this view, including Augustine. …
People in the ancient world knew that daylight comes from the sun, and early writers (e.g., Origen and Augustine) remarked on the fact that the sun was not created until the fourth day, sometimes citing it as a reason not to take these as ordinary, literal days. …
The creation of the sun on the fourth day is suggestive — as it would have been to the ancient audience — that the succession of days is not intended to be taken as a strict, chronological account and that something else is at work as an ordering principle in the text.
What that might be is not hard to see. For centuries it has been recognized that the six days of creation are divided into two sets of three. In the first set, God divides one thing from another: day from night, waters above from below, and waters below from each other. Classically, this is known as the work of division or distinction.
In the second three days, God goes back over the realms he produced by division and populates or adorns them. He populates the day and night with the sun, moon, and stars. He populates the waters above and below with birds and fish. And lastly he populates the land (between the divided waters) with animals and man. Classically, this is known as the work of adornment.
That this two-fold movement represents the ordering principle of Genesis 1 also is reflected at the beginning and end of the narrative. At the beginning we are told that “the earth was without form and void” (Gen. 1:2). The work of distinction cures the “without form” problem, and the work of adornment cures the “void” (empty) problem. Likewise, at the end of the narrative we are told “the heavens and the earth were finished [i.e., by distinction], and all the host of them [i.e., by adornment]” (2:1).
People have recognized for centuries that this is the ordering principle at work in Genesis 1 (e.g., see Aquinas, ST 1:74:1).
In other words, we’re dealing with a literary construct, not literal history. Welcome to the fascinating world of hermeneutics — the science of interpretation — where a text can be true without being literally true. Poets and painters express themselves like this, as have mystics down through the ages.
Of course, it requires some maturity to think this way; and maturity is arguably lacking on both sides of the debate. The Creation Museum is part of the problem, but Media Czech’s post isn’t very elevated either. Two thumbs down for both sides.