Monday, May 28, 2007

PETERSBURG, Ky. — Adam and Eve fall from grace and Noah survives an epic flood at a new museum that tells the Bible’s version of history on a theme-park scale.

But the scene near the front lobby might stop a paleontologist in his tracks: A pair of ancient children frolic just a few feet away from a group of friendly dinosaurs.

That exhibit, among others, has earned the Creation Museum notoriety among skeptics and anticipation from believers who are expected to pack its halls when it opens today.

“We wanted to show people there’s no mystery with dinosaurs; we can explain them,” said Ken Ham, founder of the nonprofit ministry Answers in Genesis that built the $27 million facility near Cincinnati.

Scientists say there’s a gulf of millions of years between mankind and the giant lizards, but according to the Creation Museum, they lived in harmony just a few thousand years ago. It’s part of the literal interpretation of the Bible adopted by Mr. Ham and other creationists.

“People are just fascinated by dinosaurs, but they’ve sort of become synonymous with millions of years and evolution,” he said.

Evolution is derided at the 60,000-square-foot facility, packed with high-tech exhibits designed by an acclaimed theme-park artist, animatronic dinos and a huge wooden ark. In this Old Testament version of history, dinosaurs appeared on the same day God created other land animals.

The museum also contains fossils, hung in large glass cases in a room visitors spill into after taking a tour of Old Testament history. Mr. Ham said most fossils were created by the massive flood detailed in the book of Genesis.

“The Bible doesn’t talk about fossils, but it gives you a basis for understanding why there are fossils around the world,” he said.

Mr. Ham said the stories of the Bible are supported by science, a notion that has drawn the ire of science educators across the country.

“They make such a point of trying to make it appear scientific,” said Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor, author and critic of the museum. “Instead of shying away from those things that clearly disprove what they’re trying to say, they use those things for deception.”

Mr. Krauss, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the exhibits rival those of a “very fancy natural history museum,” making them enticing to young visitors.

Fancy might best describe the facility’s multimedia rooms, where no expense is spared. After a stop at its digital planetarium, museum guides steer visitors into a 200-seat special-effects theater with seats that quiver as the sound system rumbles. Up on the screen, two angelic characters proclaim to the audience that “God loves science!”

But the creation story found in Genesis is the centerpiece of the museum. Patrons walk through a lush re-creation of the Garden of Eden and see life-sized models of Adam and Eve frolic and then get banished. Then it’s on to the era of the Great Flood, where animatronic workers are busy building Noah’s giant ark, which rises two or three stories inside the museum.

Mr. Ham enlisted Patrick Marsh, designer of the animatronic “Jaws” monster at Universal Studios in Florida, to oversee the exhibits. When fully staffed, the building will house about 160 museum workers, along with an additional 140 employees at the Answers in Genesis headquarters attached to the Creation Museum.

Mr. Ham started the ministry in his native Australia and came to northern Kentucky in the early 1990s with the idea of building a museum that could stand as a beachhead for creationist study.

He had plenty of supporters to help fund the museum, allowing it to open free of debt. Mr. Ham said the museum received three gifts topping $1 million.

“Christians across this nation see this place as a rallying point,” he said. They “recognize that we live in a culture that no longer believes the Bible is true.”

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