Book review: ‘Righting America at the Creation Museum’

Jan 16, 2017 by

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Susan L. Trollinger and Wil­liam Vance Trollinger Jr. describe the Creation Museum as an arsenal for the Christian Right’s culture wars. It’s an apt analogy, but perhaps a better comparison would be a propaganda campaign. Righting America at the Creation Museum — written by two former Bluffton (Ohio) University faculty members — shows how a selective presentation of Scripture, science and history promotes a specific view of God’s created world and a narrow understanding of Christianity.

"Righting America at the Creation Museum"

“Righting America at the Creation Museum”

The museum — from Ken Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis, the leading articulators of young-Earth creationism — opened in 2007 in Petersburg, Ky., to promote a literal reading of the Bible, specifically the first 11 chapters of Genesis. These biblical accounts form the cornerstone of young-Earth creationism, which claims God created the world in six 24-hour days and the world is just 6,000 years old.

This reading of Scripture resonates with many Anabaptists, particularly plain groups such as the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. These communities maintain a consistently literal interpretation of the Bible, as evidenced by their nonviolence and separation from the world. Righting America is not aimed at them. Rather, the authors have written for a more acculturated audience that employs biblical literalism much more selectively.

For Ham and company, the entire Christian faith depends upon a literal reading of Genesis. “If we question [God’s] first words, what does that do to our respect for the Author and the rest of what He says about His plan of salvation?” asks an Answers in Genesis publication. The consequence of that questioning, according to Answers in Genesis, is a turning from God to human reasoning. And the results of rejecting God include pornography, abortion and other ills that have left the world a decadent cesspool, which the museum dramatically presents with the goal of convincing people to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.

The Trollingers — a married couple who teach at the University of Dayton, about 75 miles north of the museum — explore the religious, scientific and political dimensions of the Creation Museum and the beliefs it represents. They made numerous visits, attended Answers in Genesis events and read voluminously to produce Righting America.

The book is not a defense of evolution but a comprehensive critique of the museum and the movement behind it. The writing is measured, devoid of bombast and bile, which makes the book effective as the authors rely on facts and cogent arguments. They describe exhibits that don’t adhere to stated principles, opportunistic applications of Scripture and dubiously employed uses of theology, history and science — all in a facility that douses visitors with a flood of information in a fast-paced environment that obscures the shortcomings. The Trollingers “slow it all down” so readers can more fully understand the Creation Museum.

Righting America doesn’t bog down in the intricacies of science or biblical interpretation, which could have made it daunting and inaccessible. The chapter “Science,” for instance, takes a crucial component of young-Earth creationism and turns it around. Ham and his colleagues claim a distinction between “observational science” and “historical science.” In the former, developments can be seen, replicated and verified. Historical science refers to what happened in the past that no one witnessed, such as the forces behind evolution, and so cannot be proven.

But the Trollingers demonstrate that much of the young-Earth creationists’ observational science is actually based on historical science. That undermines claims such as those regarding the biblical flood. There is no observational science that can confirm it, and it certainly can’t be replicated.

The museum’s biblical foundation is problematic. It asserts not only that all Scripture must be read literally but also that it’s commonsensical and doesn’t need interpretation — which is itself an interpretation. Righting America points out that the museum doesn’t address the striking differences between the two creation stories in Genesis and the two sets of instructions to Noah, who first was told to take two of each kind of animal but later seven pairs of each clean animal and one pair of each that was unclean.

One exhibit proposes Noah was a wealthy man who hired shipbuilders to construct the ark, a scenario not found in the Bible.

Ham argues that the Hebrew word yom, translated as “day,” must refer to a 24-hour segment of time, a view disputed by most scholars. Yet the museum approves of modern understandings of slavery as sinful and of a sun-centered solar system, both of which depart from literal readings of the Bible.

While not mentioning Anabaptism explicitly, the Trollingers show that the Creation Museum’s approach to Scripture puts it in tension with, and arguably opposed to, Anabaptist beliefs. Ham and the museum purport that a particular understanding of Genesis is central to Christianity. Consequently, the museum presents almost nothing about the life and teachings of Christ, who is Anabaptism’s foundation. One 15-minute film devotes just 32 seconds to his ministry and teachings but 3:45 to his flogging and execution.

“[I]t is difficult to find much reference to Jesus at all . . . except to say that he was the sacrifice required to bear the holy wrath of God the Father in payment for the sin of human beings,” the Trollingers write, reflecting the museum’s tone. “One will look long and hard . . . to find anything of substance on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies or Jesus’ repeated calls for us to care for those who exist on the bottom rungs of the social ladder.”

That is probably the book’s most powerful critique of the Creation Museum.

Rich Preheim is a writer and historian from Elkhart, Ind.


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Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

  • Wilbur H. Entz

    Firstly, I definitely cast my vote with Ken Ham and AiG. Although Ken Ham does make mistakes, so do the Trollingers. I find an unacceptable contradiction between the two statements (1) “This reading of Scripture resonates with many Anabaptists, particularly plain groups such as the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites” and (2) “While not mentioning Anabaptism explicitly, the Trollingers show that the Creation Museum’s approach to Scripture puts it in tension with, and arguably opposed to, Anabaptist beliefs.”
    Secondly, I post this comment so that other readers may become aware of this book and book review and make comments on it. I only came upon this book review by accident. It is not in the main format of MWR digital.

    • Rachel Stella

      Wilbur, I’m not sure what you mean by “not in the main format of MWR digital.” This book review is viewable to subscribers on page 7 of the Jan. 16, 2017 issue (digital and print). Like all book reviews on our website, it is filed in the columns category and the book review subcategory. Please let me know if you see something missing or if I can help you with website navigation.

      — Rachel Stella, web editor

  • Keith Wiebe

    I’m not sure the plain Mennonites ever put a figure on how old the earth is. A literal interpretation perhaps but they didn’t make a pseudo science out of it.

  • Dale Welty

    Be aware of the “Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation” that says:”When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages indicate clearly otherwise,” Think about it. Since God used words to communicate His truth, and since those words have meaning—you should not try to change the meaning of the words simply because you really, really, really want them to mean something different. Dale Welty

  • Conrad Hertzler

    Having never visited the Creation Museum, this article leaves me with some questions.
    1. Could Mr. Preheim expound a little more on how the Museum’s approach to Scripture puts it “in tension with, and arguably opposed to, Anabaptist beliefs”?
    2. I find the last paragraph interesting. The book observes that teachings of Jesus and doctrinal issues are hard to find in the Museum. Is that the point of the Museum? Again, I haven’t been there, so I’m curious.

    Ken Ham is one who has tried to make sense of the Scriptures as the inspired written word of God. I’m not nearly 100% on board with AiG and it’s obvious that their interpretations of Scripture and of the creation leave some questions. But I have yet to hear an interpretation that doesn’t do so.

    • Rich Preheim

      The answer to your first question is best found in this quote from an AiG publication, which I included in the review: “If we question [God’s] first words, what does that do to our respect for the Author and the rest of what He says about His plan of salvation?” In other words, we can only believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior if we believe in a literal reading of Genesis, including its undeniable contradictions and inconsistencies. Anabaptists, however, believe that Jesus Christ is faith’s foundation, and as such, he is the lens through which we read and understand the Bible. Christ’s ministry, crucifixion and resurrection supercedes everything else. Note that I said “supercedes,” not invalidates or renders irrelevant the rest of Scripture. We still have to wrestle with all the issues presented by Genesis, for example, but we can do so as Christians. AiG and the museum, meanwhile come awfully close to bibliolatry. We have to accept as literal Genesis’ words about a domed world, walking snakes, etc. before we can believe the four Gospel’s words about the good news of Jesus Christ.

      As for your second question, I can only reiterate what’s in the review. Ken Ham and Company contend that rejecting a literal understanding of Genesis has resulted in rejecting God, which in turn has generated all the ills now devastating our world, which is graphically displayed in the museum. It does so in order to convince people to save themselves from all the decadence by turning to Jesus Christ. As the Trollingers point out, there is almost nothing about “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies or Jesus’ repeated calls for us to care for those who exist on the bottom rungs of the social ladder.” The museum’s Christ is rather like a Get Out of Hell Free card, with none of the self-giving discipleship that is at the core of Anabaptist life and thought.

      • Conrad Hertzler

        I appreciate your reply. So I’m understanding that the Museum goes beyond the story of the Creation and delves further into the results of the Fall. I would share your concerns (and some of the concerns of the book, apparently) about Ham’s jump from rejecting a literal reading of Genesis to a rejecting of Jesus. I’m sure there are people who do both, but perhaps what are seen as being “inconsistencies” of the Creation story are used as an excuse to reject the entire Bible, including the life and teachings of Jesus.

        • Wilbur H. Entz

          Right on Conrad Hertzler. In John 5:46-47 Jesus says, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? ” I think that these two verses say it all.

  • Wilbur H. Entz

    “But the Trollingers demonstrate that much of the young-Earth creationists’ observational science is actually based on historical science. That undermines claims such as those regarding the biblical flood. There is no observational science that can confirm it, and it certainly can’t be replicated.”
    It is true that it cannot be replicated. But the Trollingers demonstrate that much of the young-Earth creationists’ observational science is actually based on historical science. That undermines claims such as those regarding the biblical flood. There is no observational science that can confirm it, and it certainly can’t be replicated.” Of course it cannot be replicated, for God promised there would never be another Flood. (Genesis 9:11-17). But the statement that here is no observational science that can confirm it is absolutely and patently false. There is both the fossil-record and the strata in the geologic-column all over the earth that confirm the truth of the Flood.

    • Keith Wiebe
      • Wilbur H. Entz

        I am writing this response as the Dems in the Senate are blocking or preparing to block the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Why are the leftists so afraid of Betsy DeVos and the literal Creation and Flood stories in the Bible? The answer is obvious. The educationalists are deathly afraid of losing their stranglehold on the educational establishment.

        • Keith Wiebe

          Wilbur, are you saying DeVos is wanting to teach literal Bible creation in public schools? That’s another reason she’s the most unqualified person to be in that position. She has absolutely no business. She’s a billionaire who bought her job. You should recognize that. It’s an embarrassment.

          • Wilbur H. Entz

            Well…I find your smarter-than-God mindset rather embarrassing. A staunch belief in the theory of evolution makes no one an instantaneous intellectual. And even if Betsy DeVos did use her money to buy her job, which she did not, she used it to further the cause of righteousness, bless her heart.

          • Keith Wiebe

            Wilbur you sound like a Trump supporter when he said he could murder someone in the middle of the street and his supporters would still support him. You just said that if DeVos used her money to buy her job that would be ok because it would further the cause of righteousness. Are you serious? Isn’t that a case of the end justifies the means? Is that what you stand for?

  • Rainer Moeller

    I don’t see that these questions about the past have any relevance for my practical life. The Creation Museum seems to be an entertaining place showing how things might have ben in case the dull orthodoxy of our day is wrong.
    The practically relevant part of the gospel is of course, our future. That is, knowing that I am a sinner and in need of a redemption by vicarious suffering with a hope for eternal bliss – from which follows my attitude to myself and my neigbours.
    This is admittedly a more indirect way to Christian ethics. Whereas Liberal Protestants prefer a simplicist way: the gospel contains some direct orders which we have to fulfill – in which case we must not be sensitive about how far we make our contrahents suffer and, as a executors of God’s orders, can feel as innocents or even saints. In fact Liberal Protestants don’t need a redemption at all. (And what a luck that these carefully selected orders of God are – accidentally – identical with the political fashions of the day!)
    The Trollingers have begun as Mennonites, have then joined a movement for a “centrist” Protestantism and now are teaching at a Catholic University. Where they hopefully have no influence on Mennonite students.

  • Matthew Froese

    I always find Ken Ham/AiG’s work a bit odd in the details. As an example, I think it’s funny that they talk so much about “six day” creation. I gather that’s a reference back to John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis. That’s fine for Calvinists, I suppose, but I’m pretty sure in Genesis creation takes seven days. I guess that it’s the day of rest – the foundation of the sabbath – that gets short shrift here?

  • Wilbur H. Entz

    Don’t buy the book! This book, according to the review, has so many errors it that it might be considered as an nonreadable book. I am not saying we should have a book-burning. But I am saying that we should keep the book around an in a few years reread the book just to see how wrong it is.
    “The book’s most powerful critique of the museum” is that the museum does not spent enough of its space and messaging on the life and teachings of Jesus which is true but that is not reason enough for one to not visit the museum. I would encourage all readers of MWR to visit the museum for themselves..

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