I recently visited the Institute for Creation Research‘s Discovery Center for Science & Earth History with some Facebook friends as an excuse to finally meet up in real life. We had connected via the Facebook groups Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection and Answers to Answers in Genesis, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that none of us buy into the central conceit of this creationist institution. Call it reconnaissance or morbid curiosity, we decided to see what how the Institute presented its material in case we ever needed respond to any of its presentations.
I remember visiting as a child when ICR was still located in San Diego, and while ICR has upgraded to a snazzier exhibition space in their Dallas location, with several genuinely enjoyable exhibits, their favorite talking points have not advanced much in the intervening decades. My compatriots noted the heavy use of many classic “PRATT”s (“points refuted a thousand times”), such as accounts of reptile-like monsters divorced from their mythological context, broad generalizations about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens inappropriately compared to the Grand Canyon other geologic processes, and dodgy information about fossil hominins. My use of the term PRATT may seem somewhat disparaging, but as it suggests, many others have answered creationist claims about these things far better than I ever could, and it gets tiresome to see them trotted out time and time again.
If you would like to look into some of these responses yourself, you can check out my review of God’s Word or Human Reason? for one of the best collections of these sorts of answers you’re likely to find in print form, but for now I’ll save the rest of my review for the museum experience itself.
The overall building has a modern, open feel to it, which gives it a crisp, attractive look, but also makes it feel like it doesn’t take full advantage of its space. The highly detailed Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark sections feel very fleshed out, and while subsequent exhibits do center around eye-catching models and animatronics, it seemed that more items of interest could have filled out the margins. The walls in these exhibit spaces usually feature murals and touch screens offering supplemental text, but they miss the opportunity to feature smaller side exhibits in the space instead.
Similarly, the scale models of Mt. St. Helens, the Grand Canyon, and a hypothetical Tower of Babel could have used some fleshing out, too. While they look nice enough, visitor’s attention is drawn to the touchscreens in front of the exhibit instead to learn more about them. A better approach would be to engage visitors with the displays themselves; even something as simple small labels describing significant points of interest on the models would have gone a long way towards fleshing things out. As it is, despite their reasonably large size, the lack of direct engagement with the models themselves makes them feel somehow underwhelming.
I should mention before I go too much further the foyer that guests first walk through upon entering the attraction. A faux fireplace sits at one end, while portraits of famous scientists line the walls. If one stops to listen, the portraits come alive (similar to the portraits in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios) and engage in a lively discussion with each other about the discoveries which made them famous. Though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen a set-up like this, I found it genuinely entertaining nonetheless.
Unfortunately, entertainment seems to be the main focus at this institution. Even if we allow ICR their claim that they simply interpret the evidence in a different way, I still found the overall experience rather disappointing, educationally. I noticed a conspicuous lack of actual specimens and artifacts in the place: to wit, the only such items I can recall exclusively reside in the main lobby and consist of fossil casts of Velociraptor, Protoceratops, Allosaurus, and a commendably Sophie-inspired Stegosaurus. One can quibble about interpretation vs evidence, but it seems this place consists of all interpretation and no evidence. Tellingly, the experience ends with a nice timeline diorama depicting the life of Jesus, with the implication that Jesus’s salvation message somehow depends on the literal interpretation of a few chapters of the Book of Genesis. This would seem to be out of place if the attraction’s intent is to educate visitors about science, but it is the pivotal attraction if the main point of the center is to proselytize instead. As a Christian myself, I find it disappointing that institutions like this continue to insist that the foundation of the Christian faith lies not on the person of Jesus himself, but on an unnecessary interpretation of a few stories among hundreds of more important ones. Even ignoring the New Testament, any Biblical scholar will tell you that the covenants of Abraham and Moses impact the arc of the Biblical narrative far more than the creation and Flood accounts.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I mostly wrote this review to give a sense of the museum’s contents for those curious. For more detailed responses to creationist claims, I again recommend reading my review of God’s Word or Human Reason? I consider it one of the single best resources for answering creationist claims on the market right now, and it’s certainly a more enriching use of your money than visiting ICR’s Discovery Center. While it was never likely that I would have an overall positive opinion of this place, I hope I managed to at least avoid ridicule, at least until this point. While I promised myself I wouldn’t poke fun, I think I’ll leave my youngest son’s all too appropriate face in this picture as my official opinion of the ICR Discovery Center.
(If you’d like some recommendations of better institutions to visit, check out my reviews of The Whiteside Museum of Natural History and Dinosaur Valley State Park. I’ll also be reviewing the Origins Exhibit at the Perot Museum sometime in the near future, so stay tuned!)