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.
Photographs by Matthew Monteith
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.
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.
“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
“[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
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.
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.