prepare to (make) believe

Yesterday morning, about 9:30, my husband (henceforth referred to as D) and I reached the exit off I-275 in Kentucky (near Cincinnati) that leads to the Creation Museum, an offshoot of the organization Answers in Genesis. We were there to participate in the Rally for Reason, a gathering of reason- and science-minded individuals protesting the promotion of the creationists’ “young earth” myth as science.

I’ve included some of my photos here. You can see more on my Flickr page.

My personal desire to be part of the rally stemmed from my fear of the religious right’s attempts to force their beliefs on other Americans. School groups will probably be taken to this museum, where children will be exposed to the exhibits and propaganda as though they were equivalent to verifiable scientific truth — which they are not. I’ve read AIG’s pseudoscientific articles, and I’m appalled that so many Americans are willing to suspend all belief in the rational and instead contort the facts in their minds as much as necessary to fit into the narrow grooves prescribed by a literal reading of the book of Genesis.

So, there we were. As we approached the exit on I-275, we could see the museum from the highway. A police car was parked on the highway — the first of many, many police we saw. The Boone County police had clearly decided that they were taking no chances and that a continual presence was their best best at maintaining order.

When we reached the corner to turn to the museum, Rally for Reason volunteers were standing beside the road wearing orange vests; they directed us to the parking area about two miles away on the grounds of the First Farm Inn. (This is a lovely and elegant inn down a narrow, wooded country road. It was wonderful of them to let everyone park there.) We immediately noticed that most of the other cars were as decorated with stickers as ours. This must be more of a left-wing thing to do, because very few of the cars we saw entering the museum sported any stickers at all — lots of Christian fish symbols, and license plates reading 1Bible and GotJC, but not stickers. (The exception were a couple of cars that had stickers with an outline of a brontosaurus and the words “We’re taking dinosaurs back,” which I thought showed unusual cleverness.)

We were transported to the rally site in a van driven by a volunteer who travelled from Georgia. Shuttles ran all day as needed, so the distant parking wasn’t an issue. We took chairs and a bag with snacks and drinks. When we arrived it was clear that there weren’t as many people as I’d expected and hoped, but there were at least 100 coming and going throughout the day — enough to form a solid and constant presence along the road leading to the museum gates. I’m not sure whose land the rally was on, or if it was public property designated by Boone County. We were on a curve that people rounded just before turning left into the museum.

D is at far right:

The gates are topped with metal dinosaur outlines. However, there is no sign indicating that this is the Creation Museum, either here on the main entrance or outside the museum on I-275. I find this curious.

A table at the rally site provided materials for people to make signs. Signs were also available that had been made by representatives of DefCon and other sponsoring groups. (We made our sign at home.) Judging from the sign wording, the t-shirts, the pins, and so on, those in attendance were largely atheists (although not 100%). There wound up being at least four of us from our Unitarian Universalist church, and I would think there were probably people from the Cincinnati UU churches. (I’m curious what opinion of the museum is held by Christians who endorse evolution.)

We looked around at the materials on display, and then I joined the row on the road while D stood and listened to a speaker from Case Western Reserve. Various people spoke, some serious, some humorous. There was also 60’s-style protest rock from time to time, which provided an energetic backdrop for the sign-waving.

You can see the fence around the museum behind the tent:

Mostly, people were lined along the road, holding up their signs and waving at the cars driving by. Reactions from drivers were extremely mixed:

  • Some refused to offer any recognition that anything or anyone was beside the road, driving by with stony faces and eyes fixed straight ahead.
  • A few offered signs of agreement with us: thumbs-up, waving, horn-beeping.
  • Many looked surprised, or interested, or amused, or annoyed. (I could hear in my head the comments that some of the parents were undoubtedly making to the kids in the back seat about the godless, hell-bound heathens. My inner response was to want to beg them to please not brainwash their children into believing this mythological travesty.)
  • A surprising number of vehicle occupants — including drivers! — took pictures of us, both still and video. One man managed to drive the entire length of the rally with his video camera out the window, held with both hands; I’m not sure how he was steering. (Perhaps he let Jesus take the wheel.) Several times, large vans carrying 10-20 people went by, and almost every time the occupants were busily capturing us on film.
  • Several women offered to pray for us. One drove slowly past, pointing to each sign-holder in turn, saying “I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray for you. …” Others shouted blanket prayer promises as they passed. Their prayers must have been busy last night.
  • And then there were the truly negative responses, offered almost entirely by men. One man shouted angrily all the way down the line, “You’re stupid!” Another, equally incensed, shouted, “You’re morons! You’re all a bunch of morons!” Both their faces were contorted with genuine rage; both were distracted enough by their fury that they missed the turn into the museum and had to turn around. Both were clean-cut, professional-looking, middle-aged men driving nice cars. Who are these intolerant souls who surround us every day, and what would happen to our country if their furious inability to accept dissent was allowed to take charge?
  • The most confusing response was offered by an African-American man who drove by shouting repeatedly at us that “Evolution is racism!” I’ve never heard such a statement before, and it makes no sense to me or D or others who were there.
  • The response that I found most annoying came from woman of about 50, riding in the back seat of a car, who looked straight at me and my sign, shook her head, and waved her finger back and forth at me as if she were chastising a naughty child. Astonishing. Who did she think she was — and who did she think I was?

As I mentioned earlier, the police were a constant presence, driving back and forth every few minutes. A pair of officers on horseback also made an appearance. And, interestingly, the Boone County Sheriff himself spent much of the morning on site. He was dropped off at about 10:00, and he mingled pleasantly with the crowd, talking with the organizers, doing interviews with the press, and keeping an eye on things. (He was wearing a suit with his badge on his belt, not a uniform.) Around noon, a couple of museum proponents arrived and began a heated argument with a couple of rally attendees. I was watching, and as the volume level increased, both sides got very much in each others’ faces, but there was no physical contact. A little later, we heard that the woman had reported to police that she had been “assaulted” by someone from the rally — and the Sheriff, who was there, immediately let his officers know that it simply hadn’t happened. My opinion of the law’s dealings with the event is entirely positive: They made the rules and expectations crystal clear up front, they maintained a neutral presence, they communicated continually with the organizers, and in general they did their job in a professional manner.

The other constant presence was the press. Camera crews were roaming everywhere, interviewing organizers, speakers, and attendees. Standing next to me on the road was a girl of about 10, whose parents were involved with the rally (you can see her in the picture above); she was holding her sign high and waving at everyone who went by. The press were fascinated by her, and nearly every camera crew took her picture; she was even interviewed by a film crew from Switzerland, of all places. (I have a cousin who lives there, so I may have shown up on her news channel!)

We stayed until about 1:00, and then headed home. No, I don’t think we changed any minds, but we at least reminded all the museum attendees that not everyone believes as they do. We were very glad we went, to add our dissenting voices to the crowd and to be reminded that there are others who think as we do, even in Indiana and Kentucky. 🙂

23 responses to “prepare to (make) believe

  1. Glenn Ellison

    I watched the local news last night to see what the coverage would be. Coverage on the opening was brief, and the words about the rally were minimal, with Channel 11 doing the best. They were pretty even-handed about the affair. I will send a letter to the editors at CJ.

  2. With all those prayers said on your behalf. It’s amazing the group wasn’t saved. LOL!

  3. You asked about Christians who “endorse Evolution.” I probably fall into that camp as much as any, and I find the Creation Museum to be an amazing waste of resources that could have (and should have) been used in other ways.

    Even from a purely evangelistic point of view, which makes more sense: Building a high-tech museum to provide Creationists with more ammo to argue (in futility) with non-Creationists, or print/prepare tracts or other information about salvation?

    This makes ZERO sense to me, at any level. We (Christians) aren’t going to change anyone’s mind with a “Creation Museum,” and it serves only as a point of parody, surpassing even Landover Baptist and other spoofs of Christianity.

    The opening of this museum, far from being a point of joy for me, is a point of extreme sadness. We (Christians) have lost our way, and now spend our days building memorials to our willingness to waste time and money.

  4. I probably also fall into the Christians who endorse evolution camp. As far as I can say, this is just another thing that normal Christians can roll their eyes at and hope that non-Christians are able to understand that most of us are not party to such shenanigans.

    I don’t think the Creation Museum is going to sway anyone. It will really only be visited by those who already believe anyway. Let’s face it, Petersburg, KY is not some massive metropolis and it’s not really close enough to Cincinnati to garner a lot of traffic either.

    It’s basically a waste of money that makes some people feel like they’re reaching out to an “ignorant” populace. We just look at them as ignorant and move on with our lives.

    Seriously? The earth is 6,000 years old? What a joke!

  5. Glenn, there was a picture in the C-J this morning. I saw Lexington press there yesterday, and the Cincinnati news crews. But because everyone was peaceful and the police didn’t have to break out the tear gas, the event was perhaps not as newsworthy as they hoped. 🙂

    Yah, it does seem as though all those prayers would have had some effect. Maybe the nice ladies got worn out at the museum and forgot to pray…

    Tim and Aaron, thanks very much for sharing your views on the museum from the Christian perspective. I expect that the museum will draw mainly people who already believe in its premise. I wonder if it will continue to draw over the long term? I don’t have a feel for what percentage of Christians adhere to the young-earth / literal Genesis view, and whether that percentage is growing (although I worry about it — particularly when I see people taking their children to this museum). As you say, they aren’t going to convince us, and we aren’t going to convince them. It’s an expensive monument built in honor of their own narrowmindedness.

  6. I’m one of those Pagan folk and an evolutionist. I don’t find a contradiction. As I recall the term was a pejorative one used to show those who didn’t buy into the new religion as backward and stupid. It looks like some folks are going to make Christian the new pagan.

  7. Both their faces were contorted with genuine rage;

    This is why I am not convinced that such rallies are the right way to proceed. Think how you would feel if creationists mounted a mass rally against a science museum. Confrontation increases anger and misunderstanding; it doesn’t reduce it. I doubt whether a single visitor to the museum was caused to change his or her view because of the rally.

    My inner response was to want to beg them to please not brainwash their children into believing this mythological travesty.

    But you also “brainwash” your children. We all do. It’s inevitable. You take as much care to “protect” your children from erroneous creationist ideas as creationists do to protect their children from what they regard as erroneous evolutionist ideas. The fact that we think we are right doesn’t justify it because we all think we are right.

    I am an atheist and a believer in evolution but I also believe we have to live together somehow on this small planet and not waste time and energy antagonizing one another.

  8. Dragon: interesting. You may be right.

    Tiger: If the creationists held a rally outside our local science museum, I’d be one of the people looking amused as I went by. As for the rally, I figure that most of the kids who were driven by have been raised in fairly insular environments, probably taught by their parents that there is only one way to believe. Sure, my kids know that I’m an atheist, but they also know that lots of people believe other ways. We talk about why people might choose to believe those things. My son is going through a sort of personal sorting-out at the moment, and it’s good for me to have to let him find his own way; I’m clear about my own feelings, but I’m trying not to brainwash him. If by being at the rally with our signs, we made just one or two creationists’ kids aware that there is another way to believe (or not believe), so that at some point in their lives they choose to undertake their own personal search for truth and meaning, then it was worth it.

  9. I am a Christian and I too think the museum is a bit too much.

    Please understand that kids are kids in every way. In other words, kids who practice the Christian faith , any faith really, ask questions and inquire and challenge what they are told like all kids do. They are not brainwashed because they are obedient or smart enough to look deeper into what they individually believe when they get older. They will most likely do so like everyone else does.

    I understand your fear of someone pushing their belifes on you, but truthfully persuasion towards one idea or another is done everyday via the news, advertisement etc. It is just the world we live in today.

    Do I believe that humans just flopped onto the planet and evolved to where they are today? No. I believe – and it is my faith – that God had a hand in how we turned out. To me personally one idea does not totally eradicate the other. Scientific facts do not frighten me in the same way I hope my faith does not frighten you. The truth is, much like real faith in God, science forever challenges itself . Heck, believers are told to question its “leaders” as a directive from God. Most Christians are not extremists attempting to push their ideas and beliefs on you. Please don’t let a few cloud your view of all of us.

    By the by, not just Christians believe that God has His part in the way humans are – Jews and Muslims may also believe in the same thing. We all agree on the first part of the Bible we just disagree about how the second half went down. LOL.

  10. Tiffany,
    Several years ago, I remember you hosting a discussion about home-schooling, and one of our friends made the following, highly-insightful remark:

    “We all want our kids to go to school and other places that are culturally, socially, and economically diverse… but in the end, we want them to share the same biases and prejudices that we have.”

    Think how you would feel if, one of your kids suddenly decided to become a die-hard Republican, and was gleefully tuning into Rush’s radio show every afternoon? Would you feel compelled to “show them the truth,” or would you allow them to continue to hold their own view?
    Last year, my youngest son wrote a paper about creation versus evolution, hoping to demonstrate that evolution was scientifically unsound, and that there were valid reasons for believing the story of Genesis as a literal version of how things came into being. He and I discussed it, but also debated it. I took a very solid opposing view (for fairly obvious reasons).
    Now, sitting on the other side of the discussion was my wife, who was helping him take up the fight for creationism. His paper didn’t change direction, but he learned a great deal about various perspectives and opinions as a result of his research.
    Regardless of our personal beliefs, we regularly engage in that kind of discussion, whether it’s political, economic, social, or theological. (As I think you’ll remember, she’s registered as a Democrat, and I’m registered as a Republican.) When my oldest son registered to vote last year, he chose to register as a Democrat, but I’m perfectly OK with it, as long as he felt he had valid reasons for doing so.
    Now, all that said, I wouldn’t deny that in all sorts of subtle ways, we regularly reinforce faith/Christianity in our house, whether it’s by praying at mealtime, going to church every Sunday, the preponderance of Bibles and study materials around the house, and so on. However, as long as my sons are dedicated to truth, and on a constant search for it, they can (and should) land where that search leads them. If they land in a place where I’m not, then I want them to teach me what they’ve learned, so I can benefit from it too.
    Make sense?
    kitadiva, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Tiffany sees Christians in a fairly balanced light, given that her and I have been co-workers/friends for… 13 years or so (and she still lets me comment on her page and includes me on her blogroll!). My guess is that she’ll cut you the same slack.

  11. Dang it… missed the closing “blockquote” tag. Can ya fix it for me? 😀

  12. >>Scientific facts do not frighten me in the same way I hope my faith does not frighten you. >>

    Kitadiva, faith doesn’t frighten me. It does confuse me, because I don’t understand it; but that’s a discussion for another time. 🙂 Thanks for your comments!

    Tim, it’s good to know that your household has a majority of Democrats. 😉

    Sure, I’d love my kids to grow up to be exactly like me (or like I’d like to be). But darned if they don’t insist on making up their own minds about things, and building their own futures. I’ll still love them even if they marry Republicans 🙂 or start believing things I don’t.

    But I will never let them listen to Rush Limbaugh in my house. 😀

  13. Great post and a very interesting exchange of ideas and opinions in the comments.

  14. I know I’m a bit late to the game here, but thank you for blogging about your experience Tiffany. I participated in the “Creation Museum Carnival” that PZ Myers hosted along with many others, but what was lacking was the reaction of someone who was actually there at the rally, so thank you for writing about what went on and standing up for science in the face of religious fundamentalism.

  15. Pingback: From someone who was there « Laelaps

  16. Just a note of apology – I believe that one of the Creationist Museum’s creators was an Australian. Sorry about that…

  17. It was an amazing day. Hopefully Ham’s Creationist “Museum” will go the way of the dinosaurs (and very quickly). I have my blog about Ham’s Folly, if anyone is interested, at the following site:

  18. Hey check this out.

  19. Jerry,

    Don’t you think that’s a little off-topic, unless there’s a link to something specific to the Creation Museum? – Tim

  20. Jerry, OK, I’ve checked it out: You have a faith-based podcast. I’m happy for you; but, you know, I just don’t believe it.

  21. belief comes from the word of God. That is to say you have to hear it. I agree with you how could you beleive in something you know nothing about. Episode 12 has a video about dinosaurs and creation but with out the word of God I am sure that while you might be interested, you will not believe that either.

  22. My favorite so far is episode 11. Never the less If you truly do not wish to beleive in God then I will pray that he turns you over to yourself so you will not fill void, and empty like you are missing something. Because I have been there, and without God there is no fill. He is what you are missing. However if you do truly want to believe but “things” just have not clicked. I will pray to God that you listen to episode 11. Whatever you think Tiffany one thing is true and that is that I care, and God Loves you.

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