With its towering dinosaurs and a model of the Grand Canyon, America's newest tourist attraction might look like the ideal destination for fans of the film Jurassic Park.
View of museum from nature trail: 1 September 2004.
Source: Answers in Genesis.org Click and drag photo to resize.
The new multi-million-dollar Museum of Creation, which will open this spring in Kentucky, will, however, be aimed not at film buffs, but at the growing ranks of fundamentalist Christians in the United States.
It aims to promote the view that man was created in his present shape by God, as the Bible states, rather than by a Darwinian process of evolution, as scientists insist. The centrepiece of the museum is a series of huge model dinosaurs, built by the former head of design at Universal Studios, which are portrayed as existing alongside man, contrary to received scientific opinion that they lived millions of years apart.
Other exhibits include images of Adam and Eve, a model of Noah's Ark and a planetarium demonstrating how God made the Earth in six days.
The museum, which has cost a mighty $25 million (£13 million) will be the world's first significant natural history collection devoted to creationist theory. It has been set up by Ken Ham, an Australian evangelist, who runs Answers in Genesis, one of America's most prominent creationist organisations.
He said that his aim was to use tourism, and the theme park's striking exhibits, to convert more people to the view that the world and its creatures, including dinosaurs, were created by God 6,000 years ago.
"We want people to be confronted by the dinosaurs," said Mr Ham. "It's going to be a first class experience. Visitors are going to be hit by the professionalism of this place. It is not going to be done in an amateurish way. We are making a statement."
The museum's main building was completed recently, and work on the entrance exhibit starts this week. The first phase of the museum, which lies on a 47-acre site 10 miles from Cincinatti on the border of Kentucky and Ohio, will open in the spring.
Market research companies hired by the museum are predicting at least 300,000 visitors in the first year, who will pay $10 (£5.80) each.
Among the projects still to be finished is a reconstruction of the Grand Canyon, purportedly formed by the swirling waters of the Great Flood – where visitors will "gape" at the bones of dinosaurs that "hint of a terrible catastrophe", according to the museum's publicity.
|Mr. Ken Ham, Head of Answers in Genesis|
Mr Ham is particularly proud of a planned reconstruction of the interior of Noah's Ark. "You will hear the water lapping, feel the Ark rocking and perhaps even hear people outside screaming," he said.
More controversial exhibits deal with diseases and famine, which are portrayed not as random disasters, but as the result of mankind's sin. Mr Ham's Answers in Genesis movement blames the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, on evolutionist teaching, claiming that the perpetrators believed in Darwin's survival of the fittest.
Other exhibits in the museum will blame homosexuals for Aids. In a "Bible Authority Room" visitors are warned: "Everyone who rejects his history – including six-day creation and Noah's flood – is `wilfully' ignorant.''
Elsewhere, animated figures will be used to recreate the Garden of Eden, while in another room, visitors will see a tyrannosaurus rex pursuing Adam and Eve after their fall from grace. "That's the real terror that Adam's sin unleashed," visitors will be warned.
A display showing ancient Babylon will deal with the Tower of Babel and "unravel the origin of so-called races'', while the final section will show the life of Christ, as an animated angel proclaims the coming of the Saviour and a 3D depiction of the crucifixion.
In keeping with modern museum trends, there will also be a cafe with a terrace to "breathe in the fresh air of God's creation'', and a shop "crammed'' with creationist souvenirs, including T-shirts and books such as A is for Adam and Dinky Dinosaur: Creation Days.
The museum's opening will reinforce the burgeoning creationist movement and evangelical Christianity in the US, which gained further strength with the re-election of President Bush in November.
Followers of creationism have been pushing for their theories to be reintegrated into American schoolroom teaching ever since the celebrated 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial", when US courts upheld the right of a teacher to use textbooks that included evolutionary theory.
In 1987, the US Supreme Court reinforced that position by banning the teaching of creationism in public schools on the grounds of laws that separate state and Church. Since then, however, many schools – particularly in America's religious Deep South – have got around the ban by teaching the theory of "intelligent design", which claims that evolutionary ideas alone still leave large gaps in understanding.
"Since President Bush's re-election we have been getting more membership applications than we can handle,'' said Mr Ham, who expects not just the devout, but also the curious, to flock through the turnstiles. "The evolutionary elite will be getting a wake-up call."