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Diorama in the Creation Museum of Noah and his family offering a sacrifice of clean animals after the Flood as described in Genesis 8:20.

Genesis

Though 57 percent of Americans believe in some form of evolution, there are also plenty of folks who espouse an alternative, more Biblical point of view. We visited three creationist museums to hear others’ ideas about how human life began.

A dinosaur model on wheels with a saddle stands outside the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
IT IS A TANTALIZING THOUGHT, that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth side-by-side. That’s one of the ideas championed by the Young Earth creation movement, which asserts that God created the planet in six 24-hour days.

This conflicts with the theory of evolution, which holds two main points, according to Brian Richmond, curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City: "All life on Earth is connected and related to each other," and this diversity of life is a product of "modifications of populations by natural selection, where some traits were favored in and environment over others," he explained to Live Science. In other words, according to the vast majority of scientists, there’s no way that our planet’s creatures emerged, whole cloth, at the same time.

The U.S. has long lagged behind other nations in its creationist tendencies. But in recent years, more Americans (and more young Americans) have accepted evolution as fact. According to a 2015 Slate story, 73 percent of young Americans believe in evolution, an increase over the 61 percent from 2009. A 2017 Gallup poll shows that only 38 percent of Americans believe that evolution played no role in human development, a drop from previous years.

This still means that around four out of every 10 Americans takes a creationist view. To get a sense of what this belief entails, we visited three museums devoted to an alternative theory of evolution—two in Kentucky, one in South Dakota—to learn more about the people who make pilgrimages to such places.


Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky

The 75,000-square-foot museum opened in 2007 and has had 2.5 million visitors. It offers a “chronological retelling” of Biblical history, according to its website, showing an interpretation of the Book of Genesis’s creation story that involves dinosaurs.

Visitors walk through the Botanical Garden at the Creation Museum.

“I am a creationist, therefore I do agree with the starting point from which the museum presents its information,” says Jodie Spinosa, 43, from Auburn, New York. “It was interesting to truly visualize each day of creation and then to see the effects of the fall of man on the perfect Earth. How much things changed after the fall. I'd like to think I would have done things differently, but I know I would have made the same mistake but probably sooner.”

“It was humbling.”

Jodie Spinosa says that she doesn’t think the job of a creationist is to try to convince others of that belief.

Michael Attardi, 48, from Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, came with his wife on vacation. This wasn’t their first time to this museum; they had been a decade earlier. As an ardent believer, Attardi wasn’t troubled by the conflicting science of evolution—and places like this museum help ground that faith. “I think the most fascinating or the most important and enriching is the strengthening of our faith—that we don’t just believe some nonsense thing. It’s truth. It’s substantiated through God’s word and there’s also a purpose behind it.”

A museum visitor uses a cellphone camera to photograph a diorama of the flood at the Creation Museum.
An exhibit at the Creation Museum of school children, with questions about evolution behind them.
Creationism asserts that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
Creationism points to the demise of the dinosaurs as evidence of the Great Flood.
A dramatic imagining of the snake in the Garden of Eden.
A bible marked up by its owner, the father of Creation Museum Founder Ken Ham, is open to the beginning of the Book of Genesis.

Ark Encounter, Williamstown, Kentucky

A sister museum to the Creation Museum, the 510-foot wooden ark and zoo opened in 2016; attendance numbers are expected to hit 1.4 million this year. The Ark Encounter focuses on Noah’s preparation and execution of the ark; plans for the future include the construction of a Walled City, the Tower of Babel, a first-century Middle Eastern village, and more.

Visitors to the Ark Encounter museum arrive by bus at a drop-off location.
“I think that it's presented in such a way that if you're not a believer, it’ll give you a lot to think about before you leave. And if you are a believer, it helps affirm what you already believe.”
—Kimberly Thorn, age not given, Vienna, West Virginia

Robert and Roberta Kruckenberg, 70, from Lowden, Iowa, were clearly excited by the scale of the work in this museum. “I didn't think this would be the actual size of the Ark, but I guess it is,” says Robert, of the 510-foot structure. “It's amazing.” The experience was one of “verification” for the couple, who didn’t learn anything that conflicted with their beliefs about creation. It was a lot to take in. “I saw a lot of people taking pictures of things so they could read them afterwards,” notes Roberta.

This Ark stands more than 50 feet tall.
“[T]he Egyptian royal cubit was longer than this cubit, so the Ark could’ve been bigger... The Babylonians’ cubit was a little shorter, so who knows?” —Allen Fisher, 72, of Greenville, South Carolina
Noah in his study on the Ark at the Creation Museum.
Genesis 6:19 says, “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.”
The ark’s main doorway—where, according to the Book of Genesis, animals entered two by two—is a popular spot to stop and take photos.
The domestic living quarters of Noah's family on the Ark.

Joe Ell, 76, and Judy Ell, 74, of Noblesville, Indiana, and Wendy Smith, 52, from York, Pennsylvania. This couple and their adult daughter came at Wendy’s request—she thought it would be a nice day trip for her parents, who had been to at least one other creation museum. “When you come here and see this, it brings it to life,” says Wendy. “It makes the Bible even more real.” Adds Judy: “Anybody that sees that, I can’t see how they can’t be a believer.”

Judy, left, and Joe Ell, right, with their daughter Wendy Smith.

Jerry Warren, 71, and Karen Warren, 66, from Greensburg, Kentucky.

One of three who traveled together by motorcycle, the Warrens had taught Sunday school for years and were thrilled to see Biblical events brought to life on a large scale. Jerry is a former science teacher, but neither spouse seemed particularly engaged in proselytizing against evolution. “I did learn one new thing,” Jerry says. “It took 40 years for Noah to build it. I didn’t know that. That wasn’t in the Bible that it took him that long.”

Karen and Jerry Warren were enthusiastic about the museum. “It’s just amazing,” Karen says.
These cages are meant to depict how animals, in pairs, were held and transported during the forty days of the Great Flood.
Johnson Lee, 45, brought his son Titus. The Kansas City resident says he’s a longtime subscriber to the Creationist Answers magazine: “Nothing in the museum was new information,” he explained.
Allen and Ruth Fisher of Greenville, South Carolina.

Grand River Museum, Lemmon, South Dakota

This family-run museum charges no admission and focuses on regional paleontological finds with the idea that the dinosaurs buried beneath the ground were victims of Noah’s flood. Established in 1998, Grand River covers 7,200 square feet spread across a main room, a smaller room, and a new addition.

Phyllis Schmidt, 78, of Lemmon, South Dakota, works the store at the Grand River Museum. The museum is a nonprofit that Phyllis started with members of her family and friends.

“So if you don’t believe in the Bible, of course then you’d have to try and sit down and visit with somebody and then help them.” —Daniel Schweigert, 67, of Pollock, South Dakota

(left to right): Richard Volzke, 78, and his wife, Judi Volzke, 73, of Herreid, South Dakota, sit with Judi’s brother, Daniel Scheigert, 67, of Pollock, South Dakota in the Grand River Museum.
The Faith Wall at the Grand River Museum in Lemmon, South Dakota, displays messages on faith, facts, fossils, and flood.
“At first there were the dinosaurs, you know. That’s been proven... If those that can’t believe or won’t believe, they’re never going to. And I feel bad for them. Because there has to be a higher accountability for us to even be here.” —Virginia Gerbracht, 67, of Faith, South Dakota
Peggy Riley and Virginia Gerbracht. For non-believers, Peggy would tell them to “look at the land” because “something happened that we can’t answer.”
Visitors walk past a depiction of Adam and Eve at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.

8/6/17: An earlier version of the caption of Noah’s family sacrficing clean animals missidentified them as Abraham’s family. We regret the error.

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