Many people who read our book might assume that the claims we make in it were clear to us from our first visit to the Creation Museum. As is the case with most worthwhile research projects, achieving such clarity from the start is rare. And it was not at all clear to us from the beginning of the Righting America project what our final result would be.
What propelled our work, however, was an assumption we made: that if we could slow down our experience of the museum, we might have a better understanding of its constitutive parts and how those parts work together. Likewise, in order to really understand the the Creation Museum, we had to immerse ourselves in it to examine it piece by piece, room by room.
At the most basic level this meant visiting the museum seven times between 2008 and 2014. On each visit we took extensive photographs and notes. When we have mentioned this field work to friends we are frequently asked if museum workers bothered us. We know that some Creation Museum visitors have been made to feel uncomfortable: one friend reported that he was repeatedly questioned by museum workers as to how he was feeling about being at the museum. In Pray the Gay Away Bernadette Barton discusses the discomfort felt by her lesbian students during a class visit (we talk about this in chapter 4 of Righting America).
But we were never bothered by folks at the museum and rarely even approached, even though we were obvious in our note-taking and photo-taking. Maybe this is because we are white, middle-aged, not prone to creative attire, and free of tattoos and piercings?! Whatever the reason, in our seven visits we were quite free to look very, very closely at what is on display at the Creation Museum.
One implication of this time-consuming close reading of the museum is that we were able to filter out some of the overwhelming aural and visual clutter to see what is there “beneath” the constant voiceovers and the flood (a pun that is just too easy!) of textual bits. In this sense our method is similar to what Sut Jhally does in his series of Dreamworlds video series. By slowing down and meticulously examining hundreds of MTV videos — silencing the video music and focusing on the images — Jhally is able to document in horrifying detail that the world of MTV involves, at heart, a nightmarish commodification of women.
For us, slowing down and meticulously examining the content of the Creation Museum shows that, contrary to what one might expect, there is not much science (even science as they define it) and — perhaps more surprisingly — not a lot of Bible. It is not that there is no science and Bible; it is that there is not nearly as much as we expected.
Instead, there is a lot of politics, a Christian Right politics devoted to fighting the culture wars, a Christian Right politics bolstered by a persistent message of damnation for those who are not with them on the Right side of history. And as we also discovered, when one goes beyond the confines of the museum to look at the larger world of Answers in Genesis — with its print and online materials, with its audio and video creations, and with its speakers and conferences — the emphasis on culture war, politics, and judgment is even more visible. That is to say, and to borrow from one of Ken Ham’s favorite formulations regarding the connection between science and the Bible, AiG confirms the Creation Museum as a Christian Right site.