by Susan Trollinger
They call it the Creation Museum. It’s a museum. At least that is what Answers in Genesis (the Creation Museum’s parent organization) says it is. Although a number of scholars and commentators have contested that claim (and for good reason), we decided to go with it. So, assuming it is a museum, we asked, what is it a museum of? What is its object?
Art museums display art objects. Natural history museums display objects from the past that help to tell the story of nature over time. A women’s history museum or an African-American museum or a Native American museum displays objects taken from the history of a group of people that can help tell the story of that group of people over time. And so forth.
What is the object of the Creation Museum? Creation? Objects taken from creation that help tell the story of creation?
If we look at what is on display in the Bible Walkthrough Experience, which AiG says is the centerpiece of the museum, what we see there are a lot of life-size dioramas that feature stuff that the designers of the Creation Museum made in order to re-create scenes and stories from the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Adams and Eves (there are a few of each of them), animals (including dinosaurs, of course), plants, a Tree of Knowledge, a serpent, a waterfall and pool, lily pads . . . you get the idea.
What does it mean to have a museum whose apparent object is stuff that was created by AiG designers to stand in for the actual stuff of Creation? If much (most?) of the stuff on display in the Bible Walkthrough isn’t actually from Creation or the process of Creation how can it tell the story of Creation? How can this fake plant or that fake animal or that fake Adam help tell the story of Creation?
On AiG’s logic, all this fake stuff helps to tell the story of Creation because Genesis talks about it (or some of it—there are no references to dinosaurs in Genesis). If Genesis says there was an Adam, an Eve, a Tree of Knowledge, then they existed. And if they existed then re-creating them out of 21st-century materials and 3-D printers (or whatever) and putting them in a life-size diorama (or whatever) helps to tell the story.
Such a logic would strike most curators for mainstream natural history, science, or even art museums as odd indeed.
Is the object of the Creation Museum all this fake stuff? Or is it something else? In Righting America, we argued that by re-creating scenes from Genesis 1-11 in life-size (and smaller) dioramas, the point was to enable the visitor to experience the “historical referent” to which Genesis presumably refers. In other words, the point is not to display objects from the Creation that can tell us something about what that was like. Instead, the point is to create an experience within something called a “museum” that appears to refer to a real historical event that is captured in the pages of Genesis.
Even more importantly, by experiencing the scenes from Genesis as if they are real historical referents about which one can create a diorama and display it in a museum, the Creation Museum enables the visitor to experience a literal Word as if one, and only one, actually exists.