So I'm a regular guy, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I'm sitting here in a hotel room outside Cincinnati getting ready for my first visit to the Creation Museum tomorrow morning.
Why am I going? Well, I'm not sure there is a short answer to that question. The obvious answer is that I'm a fan of PZ Myers ; he proposed an organized trip to the Creation "Museum", and I joined in. The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) from Ohio State University joined the effort and helped to organize the outing, and they were kind enough to arrange discounted tickets to the "museum". But that answer doesn't really do the topic justice.
Why is there a Creation "Museum" in the first place? Wow, how far back do we go? Let's start near the beginning. There is a conflict between the literal word of the Christian Bible and the nature of the world as revealed by observation. This has been an active conflict since Copernicus observed that the Earth revolves around the sun, and was rewarded for his discovery with a conviction for heresy by the Catholic church. Since then (and perhaps even before), some religious forces have sought to suppress any scientific discoveries that were at odds with their pre-ordained beliefs and traditions.
I use the example of Christian belief here, but parallels can easily be drawn with Muslim fundamentalists. The M.O. is the same - any observation or discovery (a/k/a science) that is at odds with existing dogma should be supressed. Feel free, as you read further, to substitute the word Muslim for the word Christian at any point; I suspect that the logical arguments will hold water either way.
Part of the fundamentalist Christian doctine relies on a literal interpretation of the biblical book of Genesis. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth", and all that. And that's fine with me; most cultures and religions have their own creation myth, and none of them directly encroach on my life. But in America, there is something uniquely special about the fundamentaist Christian position on the origin of the world. The literalist viewpoint holds that our world was created in six days by an omnipotent god, and that the whole thing happened six thousand years ago. Why six days? Because the common translation of the King James bible (using the best scholarship available in the early 17th century) says so. Why 6,000 years ago? Because if you count backwards through all the generations named in the Christian bible, you come up with a date for the original Creation of the night before 23 October, 4004 BCE, according to Bishop Ussher.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with believing that the world we live in is 6,012 years old (going on 6,013). There are many Creation myths from religions and culturea all over the world, and all of them are interesting from a cultural point of view. The problem is that in America, in 2009, there are Christian believers who want their local school districts' science curriculum to conform to their ancient Creation myths.
That's the real problem - true believers who demand that modern observations be supressed unless they conform to a particular religion's creation myth. I'll offer an example. Scientific observations and analysis suggest that the Universe is somewhere around 13.75 billion years old, and that its current form originated through a process that we know as the Big Bang. If someone wants to believe that the Big Bang occurred because an Invisible Pink Unicorn stood over the proto-Universe waving a pink magic wand and saying the magic word "Shazam!", more power to them. If the true believer wants to imagine that the same Invisible Pink Unicorn created the Earth in the shape of a nice cherry scone, left it unchanged for 30 billion years, and then 6,000 years ago magically transformed it in to the shape we know today, then so be it. I may not have a particularly high regard for their grasp of reality, but I won't begrudge them their peculiar beliefs.
Here's where the detante ends. If the same believer demands that public school science classes teach that the Universe is no less than 30 billion years old (because their sacred texts say so), then we'll have a conflict. If they say that their local school district can't teach any science which says the Earth is more than 6,000 years old - not because of any problem with the science, but because it conflicts with their tradition - then I'll have a problem with that. Believe what you want, but don't hold others hostage to your beliefs.
Which brings us back to the Creation "Museum". Apparently a young-Earth creationist named Ken Ham spend somewhere north of $25 million to build a "museum" that explicitly supports a literal interpretation of the Christian bible. That viewpoint requires its believers to reject the observations of paleontologists, physicists, geologists, biologists, and anyone else who makes a claim on the age of our world. The bible says that the world was created in 6 days, and that Day One was October 23, 4004 BCE; any conflicting observation is heresy. Schools, in their view, should teach the Christian viewpoint; anything else is to be fought and defeated. It wouldn't be so bad if they were just doing this inside their own churches, but they're trying to do this in the public schools that all of our children - of all religious and non-religious backgrounds - attend. That, to me, is morally wrong; AND it violates the doctrine of Separation of Church and State that was so wisely established in our Bill of Rights.
So what will I be doing at the Creation "Museum" tomorrow morning? Observing and documenting the obvious signs of hypocrisy. Observing, recording, and analyzing the ways in which their arguments are logically inconsistent and scientifically flawed. Hopefully, exposing the nature of the lies that the "museum" is espousing. Hopefully, creating some record of how they deny observation in favor of dogma. In my most far-reaching hope, writing something that will help some young, indoctrinated soul to see how they're being misled and manipulated for religious purposes.
And why, of all things, does this matter to a liberal, Democratic audience? Because the same people who want to deny children a sound science education also want to deny non-religious children equal rights in their community. Because the same groups that claim dinosaurs walked with Man 6,000 years ago also claim that health care reform will kill old people. Because the same groups that can't support their traditional beliefs without denying modern science also want to deny OTHER people's children access to the latest science education in our public schools. Because the same people who insist that the world was created by their "loving" god also insist on denying civil rights to my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered brothers and sisters under civil law, in the name of their religious doctrine. And because the Creation "Museum" which claims that the world is only 6,000 years old also has a planetarium which promises to take us "billions of light years in to deep space", without a hint of irony.
I'll be meeing PZ and his other Minions tomorrow morning, and will take copious notes and as many photos as my digital camera can handle on two sets of batteries. Look for my post mortem report tomorrow.