Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Curator John Rajca Rajca assured me that the hostile coverage, particularly a critical CNN report, had generated a surge of interest.
When I was living in Los Angeles years ago, a door-to-door solicitor pitching San Diego vacations and tours showed me a brochure of local attractions. Included on the list was the Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee. In the years since then, the museum has attracted worldwide interest, especially after its 1992 expansion, following a two-year remodeling. In addition to widespread newspaper coverage, CNN, the BBC, and French TV have sent teams to report on the museum and its parent organization, the Christian fundamentalist Institute for Creation Research.
10946 Woodside Avenue North, Santee
The 17-year-old museum, by its own reckoning, is about 1/500th the age of the universe. ICR scientists flatly deny the concept of evolution and teach that God created the heavens and the earth and all forms of life a mere 6000 to 10,000 years ago. This concept of “recent creation” (or “young-earth creationism”) and a literal interpretation of the Bible are basic to ICR beliefs.
Science and Faith is the theme of the first hall. The exhibit’s narration declares that true science fully confirms a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis.
The museum is an antidote to what ICR considers “anti-biblical” evolutionist propaganda of the sort seen at San Diego’s venerable Museum of Man, particularly “ape-men” presented as prehuman ancestors, human kinship with animals, and life as millions of years old. At 4000 square feet, ICR’s museum compares favorably in size to the Museum of Man’s Early Man hall, though exhibit space in the whole Museum of Man totals almost five times ICR’s.
ICR vice-president Duane Gish. Gish has maintained that tales of fire-breathing dragons (and the biblical Leviathan) may be eyewitness accounts of dinosaurs.
The Institute for Creation Research is unarguably the most influential Creationist organization among the hundreds that exist around the world. For millions of people, ICR is scientific creationism, and founder and president Henry Morris and vice president Duane Gish are the world’s best known “creation scientists.” Morris is largely responsible for the modern Creationist revival and widely revered as its leading theoretician. Gish is famous for championing creationism in gladiatorial debates, vanquishing most evolutionist opponents with insouciant ease.
Sabre-toothed tiger skull constructed by ICR scientists
ICR presents enormously popular lecture series around the country, plus summer institutes, workshops, and seminar series. Its publications catalog lists more than 80 books, 50 videos, and related material. More than 80,000 subscribers read the institute’s free monthly newsletter, Acts & Facts. ICR books have been translated into about a dozen languages. Using person-to-person evangelism, lectures, books, and television, ICR has been quite successful in Russia, exploiting the breakdown of atheist, evolutionist Communism to proselytize for fundamentalism, and is also making inroads in China.
ICR librarian James Stambaugh librarian graciously requested that I autograph my UCLA dissertation on creationism.
As a long-time observer of ICR and critic of creationism, I was uncertain about how I would be received on my return to the institute. But museum curator John Rajca immediately said that non-Creationist coverage was welcome, and he answered questions freely and enthusiastically.
Racja conducts a tour for students. Rajca explains “how belief in evolution led to death for thousands.”
ICR maintains that even unfavorable publicity helps spread the message of creationism and is a useful “seed-planting tool.” Rajca assured me that the recent flurry of generally hostile coverage, particularly a critical CNN report, had generated a surge of interest and visitors, most of whom leave the museum very favorably impressed. ICR’s librarian, James Stambaugh, even graciously requested that I autograph my UCLA dissertation on creationism, shelved between Henry Morris’s History of Modem Creationism and Ron Numbers’s authoritative critical study, The Creationists.
I had discovered that Al Seckel, leader of the Southern California Skeptics, had blatantly phony academic and scientific credentials.
The Institute for Creation Research and its museum, with a staff of about 50, are just off Route 67, on Woodside Avenue, two buildings away from the Santee Swap Meet and Drive-In. The institute’s museum bills itself as “A Walk Through History,” beginning with Creation. I had asked for and received permission to tag along on a guided museum tour.
Dean of ICR graduate school Ken Cumming said he didn’t like me hanging around the ICR offices trying to “pump” faculty and staff members for information since I was the “enemy.”
“Science and Faith” is the theme of the first hall. The exhibit’s narration declares that true science fully confirms a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Not only is creationism supported by science, but “evolution is more religious than creation [ism],” because evolution is accepted by most religions, while creationism is required only by fundamentalist Jews, Moslems, and Christians.
The museum at Liberty University, established in 1986, billed itself as “The World’s Largest Creation Museum,” but this was before the ICR museum’s expansion.
This argument was developed by Wendell Bird, former ICR staff attorney, in a prizewinning 1978 Yale Law Journal article, under the supervision of future Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, then a Yale law professor. The display highlights a resolution issued in 1976 by the National Academy of Sciences calling for intellectual freedom to challenge scientific theories without fear of censorship or retaliation. In light of this statement, claims ICR indignantly, the academy is guilty of “remarkable inconsistency” in flatly opposing the “scientific teaching of creation.”
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, 1925
The next series of displays is a grand tour of Creation Week: the six days of Creation and the concluding day of rest. Bible verses appear side-by-side with their creation science paraphrases. Genesis is interpreted quite literally: God creates light on day one; plants on day three; and sun, moon, and stars on day four. The Bible’s order of creation has traditionally presented problems for scientific interpretation, notably the creation of light and plants before the sun, and birds and marine mammals before land animals. The exhibits explain how creation science solves these difficulties.
We see the Cross shining through the darkness of evolutionist paganism as we enter the Greco-Roman world.
For example, a standard objection to the doctrine of recent creation is the fact that stars are millions of light years distant — that is, it has taken millions of years for their light to reach Earth. ICR tells us, however, that stars may be much closer than evolutionist science asserts or that light may have been created “en route.” Harold Slusher, one of ICR’s original scientists, proposed that starlight took a drastic non-Euclidian, non-Einsteinian shortcut through space, turning light-years into moments.
The museum’s room of days five and six, the creation of sea, air, and land creatures, is especially popular with children because of its live fish, birds, and reptiles. A mural depicting the complex structure of a cell, with chemical formulas, covers the wall like Koranic tilework (reminding me of a cell diagram used by a Los Angeles televangelist, who spoke pompously about the cell’s complex structure somehow validating his miraculous “Divine Cellular Healing”). Reflecting on the completed Creation, another ICR display reasons that since there is no “natural” explanation for our seven-day week it must be of supernatural origin.
Moving past Creation itself, museum visitors next confront the entry of sin into the Garden of Eden. The exhibit equates the Fall of Adam, bringing on the curse of sin, with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a cornerstone of modem science. The Second Law describes the inevitable increase of disorder in the universe and the decrease of available energy. ICR asserts that this “directly precludes any natural evolution toward higher order.” Before the Fall, according to Genesis, sin didn’t exist, nor killing, nor death. Thus, all animals were originally plant eaters. Likewise, all fossils must postdate the Fall. After the Millennium, disorder will be negated and death again will not exist.
The next room is a reconstruction of a section of the interior of Noah’s Ark. The Genesis flood account, according to ICR, is “straightforward, factual history,” and the Flood has both a moral cause — sin — and a physical (scientific) cause. A trompe I’oeil painting (no live critters here) extends our view down the length of the Ark, showing animals in their stalls, birds and small reptiles scampering about uncaged, and dinosaurs peeking over the dividers (yes, dinosaurs were taken aboard). In response to the hoary objection from biologists and others that the world contains far too many species to fit in the Ark, ICR explains that the biblical “kinds” are not necessarily identical to taxonomists' “species,” but may be as inclusive as biological genera or families. The dog “kind,” for example, includes wolves, foxes, etc. The 1,518,750 cubic feet of the Ark (based on the dimensions given in the Bible, 300x50x30 cubits) could have easily accommodated 136,560 sheep-sized animals and all supplies with enough room left over for shuffleboard courts and exercise areas. The detailed scale model of the Ark on display, by the way, I measured at three cubits long.
We emerge from the Ark into the profoundly altered postdiluvial world, where we are introduced to Flood Geology, the linchpin of creation sciences concept of young-earth creationism. All Earth features that the standard science of geology attributes to cumulative action over millions of years, young-earth Creationists attribute to the catastrophic effects of the Flood. An exhibit of the Mount St. Helens volcano (studied by ICR geologist Stephen Austin and his students) illustrates how geological catastrophes can reshape Earth’s surface almost instantly.
The Flood Geology room also emphasizes the “unreliability of radioactive dating.” As proof, ICR uses a variant of the omphalos (“bellybutton”) argument, or “creation with appearance of age.” This argument is useful when undeniable evidence of age exceeds biblical limits. Their reasoning is that just as Adam was created with a bellybutton (evidence of a non-existent birth and a non-existent mother), other organisms and objects were sometimes created with an illusory appearance of age. Radiometric dating methods use known rates of radioactive decay to compute the age of an object by determining the ratio of parent elements to daughter elements (decay products) in the object. Creationists point out that radiometric dating assumes that the daughter elements were not initially present. If these presumed “end products” were already present at Creation, like Adam’s bellybutton, then radiometric methods would yield a falsely inflated age.
Flood Geology also views the “geologic column” — the sequence of rock layers from oldest, billions of years ago, up to youngest — as an illusion, because all layers were deposited by the Flood nearly simultaneously. Creationists argue that geologists classify fossils according to evolutionist preconceptions, then use this supposed evolutionary fossil sequence to date the rock layers using “index fossils” (fossils found only in certain layers).
The museum’s handsome cutaway model of the Grand Canyon and surrounding region shows the canyon’s Paleozoic strata down to its Precambrian basement. The Grand Canyon’s spectacular mile-deep exposure of rock layers, ICR notes rather defiantly, is considered “Exhibit A” for the evolutionists’ geologic time scale. But ICR interprets the canyon as a “Monument to Catastrophe.” In Bryce and Zion canyons, as shown in the museum’s models, these same Paleozoic layers are overlaid by younger Mesozoic strata. ICR says all layers were deposited by the Flood, and the canyons were carved out by the retreating Flood waters.
The museum dismisses Australopithecus, the ape-like but upright-walking fossil hominid as merely an extinct ape. Regarding Homo erectus, clearly transitional between apes and humans, it says that some specimens are true humans while others may be apes.
Next on the tour, we enter a passage representing the Post-Flood Ice Age (singular). As ICR sees it, Flood-associated volcanism pumped gases and particles into the atmosphere, which deflected sunlight and triggered the Ice Age (as in the hypothesized nuclear winter scenario).
ICR’s ice tunnel debouches into displays about the false evolutionist religion of Babylon, dominated by a large model of Babylon’s ziggurat — the Tower of Babel, from which Nimrod, instigated by Satan, propagated the lie of evolution. Related exhibits illustrate the flowering of Satan’s false religions of paganism, pantheism, and occultism, based on evolution.
Passing through a replica of Babylon’s Ishtar Gate, we learn that these Satanic falsehoods lead to evolutionist new-age heresies and openly atheistic evolution. Archeological artifacts from the Holy Land prove the historical accuracy of the Bible, and fulfilled biblical prophecy proves it “must have been supernaturally inspired!”
By not accepting Christ as Son of God, Jews and Moslems, though believers in God, fail to realize that the Creator became Redeemer and Savior. Thus, they are still unsaved. At this point in the tour, we see the Cross shining through the darkness of evolutionist paganism as we enter the Greco-Roman world.
The hall covering the Renaissance through the 19th Century is clearly divided: Creationist good guys, responsible for all real scientific advances, are arrayed on one side, and evil evolutionists appear on the other. (Among the latter are Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection and believer in spiritism; ruthless business tycoons and “social Darwinists” Carnegie and Rockefeller; and social evolutionist William Graham Sumner). Newton is praised as a supporter of recent six-day creation; not mentioned is his denial of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. Nietzsche is caricatured as obsessed by the “racist implications” of Darwinism and as advocating war and controlled breeding as the best means for evolving his prophesied super-race. Nietzsche and Ernst Haeckel (described, with more accuracy, as a “strong advocate of social Darwinism, racism, and German imperialism”) are blamed for laying the foundations of German militarism that led to both world wars. Actually, Nietzsche was contemptuous of nationalism and militarism and highly suspicious of Darwinian evolution.
Hitler and the famed 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial dominate the 20th-century room. (J.T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school in Tennessee.) According to ICR, the goal of the ACLU-orchestrated prosecution was to ridicule Christians and Creation. Hitler, says ICR, followed Haeckel and-Nietzsche, carrying evolutionism to its logical conclusion. “Darwin, Huxley, and most evolutionary scientists were racists until Hitler gave racism a bad name.” On the other hand, Wernher von Braun (called in the exhibit simply a “German rocket engineer”) is praised for his outspoken creationism, without mentioning that he developed the V-l and V-2 Nazi terror weapons. In “Hitler’s Science,” part of ICR’s Science, Scripture and Salvation radio series, museum curator Rajca explains “how belief in evolution led to death for thousands.” “Race,” says ICR, “is strictly an evolutionary concept” and is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Slaveholders and white supremacists, though, traditionally appeal to the Bible to justify their racism.
This then, is the Creationists’ real argument against evolution: its supposed moral consequences. Creationism is the necessary foundation of fundamentalist biblical belief and thus the only basis for morality. Evolution, by destroying this foundation, leads inevitably and inexorably to evil.
A large chart at the end of the museum tour asserts that “the tree of evolution bears only corrupt fruits; Creationism bears good fruits.” Fruits of evolution include promiscuity, pornography, genocide, slavery, abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, homosexuality, child abuse, bestiality, and drug culture. God-denying, “man-centered” evolution, driven purely by “chance” and “self-interest,” results in a philosophy of utter meaninglessness.
The museum unabashedly proclaims “witnessing” as its goal, presenting the truth of the gospel to “unsaved visitors.” But more than converting unbelievers, the museum reassures believers that their fundamentalist faith is supported rather than contradicted by science. I saw many parents going through the museum in reverent appreciation, gushing in awed tones about how “scientific” everything was, and taking care to impress on their children ICR’s message that true science confirms the fundamentalist doctrine they learn in church and not the evolutionist propaganda forced on them in school. “We’re looking at real devils!” exclaimed one visitor (presumably meaning this literally), referring to the wall of evolutionist bad guys.
Curator John Rajca, a graduate of Christian Heritage College, ICR’s parent institution, just received his master’s degree in biology and paleontology from ICR’s graduate school. Rajca conducts group tours with the help of a volunteer staff of students and locals. These tours seem much appreciated; 270 visitors logged in the Saturday I visited, including a uniformed Cub Scout troop and a large Sunday-school class. (ICR proudly states that 60,000 people have visited the remodeled museum in its first two years of operation.)
The museum lobby features a sizable assortment of books, pamphlets, and videos, many aimed at young children. Also on sale are T-shirts with Creationist slogans such as the claim that fossils are “billions of proofs of creation.” Despite the museum’s strong evangelical message, visitors are not subjected to appeals for money. The museum is free, though donations are welcome.
While preaching mostly to the converted (or uncommitted), the occasional evolutionist walks through ICR’s door too. Rajca assured me that this leads to stimulating and educational exchanges with museum guides and other visitors, and said he welcomes such challenges as a chance to offer further proof of the superiority of Creationist science and the poverty of evolutionist theory.
The anti-Creationist visitor perhaps best known to ICR is San Diego State biologist William Thwaites. Thwaites and his colleague Frank Awbrey have frequently debated ICR leaders Gish and Morris and for years have taught a Creation/Evolution course at SDSU for which they invite ICR scientists to present the case for creation. Because of their long experience with ICR, Thwaites and Awbrey are intimately familiar with ICR arguments and are among their most knowledgeable and experienced opponents. Thwaites considers creationism a serious threat to the integrity of science education but also entertaining. He has led colleagues on his own tours of ICR and the museum, always politely and with respect, but as if privileged to look at living dinosaurs.
In addition to the permanent museum exhibits, ICR also presents small rotating exhibits, simple poster displays, in a hallway off the main museum. “Creation, Evolution, and Environmentalism,” which ran to lune 30 this year, was intended as a corrective to the global-warming exhibit then running at the Museum of Natural History. “Daily we are bombarded about the dire straits of the planet earth,” says an ICR display entitled “Ecology & the Christian.” “Global warming. Ozone depletion. Animal rights. Overpopulation. Are these alarmists’ claims really true?” No, answers ICR, warning that the economic effects of such alarmism many have “catastrophic impacts” and arguing that the evolution-based environmental craze is intended to promote paganism and heretical new-age beliefs. It dismisses warnings of a global-warming disaster as “most improbable” and fears of ozone depletion as hype.
On one issue, the use of animals for biomedical research, ICR is in more agreement with the scientific majority, though for its own reasons. It has little sympathy for animal rights, which it considers a consequence of the evolutionist delusion of humanity’s common descent with animals. ICR ominously warns that the Nazis went furthest in putting animal rights into practice; Hitler was a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, and Goering imposed humane laws for animals.
Overpopulation? No. Perhaps God will slow population growth if this ever proved necessary, or perhaps we will colonize other planets. Earth can support 100 billion people with conventional agriculture, according to ICR. Interestingly, ICR invokes the same population-increase statistics as do population-control advocates, but instead of using them to warn of catastrophic future overpopulation. ICR uses the current rate of increase and extrapolates backwards in time to argue that a few thousand years ago world population was only eight — in other words, all humans descended from Noah’s family.
ICR defines away the issue of endangered species by considering them subsets of more inclusive descent groups, pointing out with impeccable logic that if the animal categories are widened sufficiently to include non-endangered species, then the group as a whole is not threatened with extinction. This is also consistent with their argument that not all species were taken aboard the Ark, but only representatives of each “kind.”
ICR advocates a Creationist Ecology—respectful preservation and obedient stewardship of God’s creation, denying that its fundamentalist interpretation of the Genesis command to “subdue” and “take dominion” over Earth and “all living things” encourages destructive exploitation of Earth’s resources (though their belief that the world will end soon may encourage such exploitation).
I knew the museum before its current expansion. While studying creationism for my graduate research, I spent much time at ICR, attending summer institutes, auditing a graduate class on the teaching of creationism, participating in a weeklong hike through the Grand Canyon (offered as a graduate-level biology/geology field-study course), and immersing myself in ICR’s library, the world’s best collection of Creationist publications. The museum started as a one-room operation in ICR’s original building on the campus of Christian Heritage College.
I was once drafted as an extra for a museum scene in the 1984 promotional video Focus on ICR. We were filmed looking at the “Dinosaurs and Man in History” display, which showed human footprints among the fossilized dinosaur tracks at the Paluxy River in Texas. The exhibit featured a caveman staring up at a brontosaur, man and dinosaur conspicuously mingling their footprints in the mud, plus a cast of a very human-looking print.
The Paluxy dinosaur tracks were excavated in the 1930s and ’40s by Roland Bird for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where several magnificent sets are still displayed. Bird also noted some unidentified, curiously humanlike prints, which locals touted as “manprints.” Some enterprising locals carved their own manprints and sold them to tourists.
ICR’s Morris popularized the Paluxy claims in his 1961 book The Genesis Flood. Films for Christ’s 1972 movie Footprints in Stone, widely shown in public schools and churches, made Paluxy a household word among Creationists and established the manprints as decisive refutation of the evolutionist time scale and chronology; man and dinosaur did live together. Scientists later demonstrated that even the most human-like prints were actually dinosaur prints.
Following this refutation of the “manprint” idea, Morris’s son John, a geological engineer and ICR’s principal Paluxy investigator, inserted an addendum to remaining copies of his book about the footprints, Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them. He cautioned that tnese new developments threw the manprint claims into doubt. When ICR moved to Santee, it closed its Paluxy exhibit for “revision.” It never reopened. Presumably ICR also retired the logo of the museum’s business card, which was a human footprint overlapping a tridactyl dinosaur print. But many Creationists continue to believe in the authenticity of the manprints, some insinuating that evolutionists secretly tampered with the evidence.
In 1985, just before ICR’s move to Santee, Rajca, then assistant director of the museum, was asked to join a private expedition looking for surviving dinosaurs in the Congo, based on reports of a brontosaur-like monster called Mokole Mbembe. Expedition leader Herman Regusters, a sometime Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, was reportedly sympathetic to creationism. To Rajca’s obvious disappointment (and those who contributed to ICR s special dinosaur-expedition fund), he never made it. ICR said the amount they were expected to pay for his participation grew prohibitively expensive.
Another former “star” museum exhibit, still featured in ICR publications, is the story of the bombardier beetle. When attacked, Bomby (as ICR familiarly calls him) squirts out a scalding and irritating mix of chemicals. ICR’s Gish used to claim the chemicals explode when mixed (Bomby stores them in separate chambers). Actually, they require secretion of additional catalysts for their explosive firing. When Cornell entomologist Tom Eisner, in Time magazine, blasted ICR’s book Bomby the Bombardier Beetle for inaccuracy and misrepresentation, the ICR museum denounced this criticism as an “apparent attempt of publicly smearing the Creationist evidence.”
In his debates, Gish still appeals unrepentantly to Bomby, claiming the complex storage and firing mechanism and necessary sequence of chemical reactions could not have evolved gradually since any less-than-complete evolution would have blown poor Bomby to bits.
Gish has since maintained that tales of fire-breathing dragons (and the biblical Leviathan) may be eyewitness accounts of dinosaurs with chemical defense systems like Bomby’s, suggesting that the hollow crests of duckbill dinosaurs were flamethrower storage, reaction, and firing chambers.
In the museum, however, Bomby’s role as the showcase specimen of created design impossible to explain by evolution has been taken over by the monarch butterfly. The monarch’s transformation from caterpillar to adult ICR considers palpably impossible to account for by evolution. (During pupation some cells that remained inactive in the larval stage basically rebuild the whole organism.)
A topic of special interest to ICR, though hardly mentioned in the museum, is the fantastic Pre-Flood Water Canopy. On day two of Creation, God separated the “waters above the firmament” from the “waters below,” setting a literal ocean of water above the atmosphere. Creation scientists theorize that this canopy produced the uniformly mild “greenhouse” climate, lush growth, and fantastic longevity of the pre-Flood world described in Genesis and that its collapse produced the rain for Noah’s Flood.
ICR’s dismissal of warnings about global warming due to an atmospheric greenhouse effect is based on its commitment to the Canopy Theory. ICR says such a greenhouse effect, if it occurred, would be beneficial rather than harmful, as it was before the Fall.
There is lively debate in creation science circles about whether the canopy was liquid water, vapor, or ice; ICR promoted a vapor model, though ICR’s canopy specialist, Larry Vardiman, a meteorologist, now suggests it existed in a complex combination of all three phases plus ionized molecules.
A widely repeated Creationist claim, presented as compelling evidence for “balancing” the teaching of evolution with creationism (ICR favors such a “two-model” approach), is that Clarence Darrow, defense attorney at the Scopes trial, argued passionately that it was “bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins.” This apocryphal quote spread throughout the Creationist community after Wendell Bird cited (and legitimized) it in his authoritative Yale Law Journal article. I tracked the quote’s origin (it doesn’t appear in the court record) to a journal published in 1974 by a San Diego-based Creationist group, the Creation Science Research Center.
Darrow would hardly have been likely to make such a statement, since he was challenging the law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. He wanted only one theory — evolution — taught in science classes. Even William Jennings Bryan, arguing for the prosecution, conceded that Genesis shouldn’t be taught in public schools. Nevertheless, the quote is featured in countless books and videos (including several from ICR), TV sermons, and legal arguments. In perhaps its apotheosis, I even saw it emblazoned on an RV used as a traveling creation science video center.
Another quote attributed to Darrow and dramatized (literally) in an ICR book and video promoting the two-model teaching approach is an impassioned plea to “let the children have their minds kept open!... Let them have both evolution and creation!” Like the previous quote, it is used to argue that present-day Creationists are simply asking for what Darrow himself demanded — that both theories be taught — and that now the shoe is on the other foot, that now it is evolutionists who seek to suppress the rival theory.
In fact it was Darrow’s co-attorney who made this plea, and he called not for the teaching of both “evolution and creation” but of both “science and theology,” precisely to point up the distinction between them and to avoid teaching religion as science. However, the mythic “Scopes Trial in reverse” arguments have influenced court decisions regarding creationism. In the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision against the Louisiana creation science bill, Justice Scalia, in his sharply dissenting opinion (with which Rehnquist concurred), blasted the majority opinion for its repressive “Scopes Trial in reverse” policy of allowing only one theory of origins.
Before founding ICR, Henry Morris was chairman of the civil engineering department at Virginia Polytechnic and a recognized authority in hydraulic engineering (he has authored the articles on fluid mechanics hydrodynamics and related topics in all editions of the Encyclopedia Americana since 1970). In 1961 Morris’s book Genesis Flood, co-authored with theologian John Whitcomb, inspired the modern Creationist revival. Not content with his successful academic career, Morris wanted to establish a strictly creation-based university. He was able to fulfill this dream when he met Tim LaHaye of San Diego’s Scott Memorial Baptist Church, who had a similar ambition.
LaHaye, cofounder of the Moral Majority and founder of San Diego’s Christian Unified School System, was largely responsible for popularizing the notion, now accepted as dogma by many fundamentalists, of “secular humanism” as an anti-Christian conspiracy responsible for “most of the evils in the world.” “No humanist,” Tim LaHaye has declared, “is qualified to hold any governmental office.”
Agreeing that evolution is the basis of humanism, Morris and LaHaye founded Christian Heritage College in 1970, sponsored by the Scott Memorial Baptist congregation. The college moved from the church in San Diego’s Normal Heights neighborhood to its present El Cajon campus (previously a Catholic school) in 1973.
LaHaye has since moved to Washington, D.C. to head the American Coalition for Traditional Values; his wife Beverly, Christian Heritage ( college’s first registrar, leads another fundamentalist lobbying group. Concerned Women for America. LaHaye’s brother Richard was recently appointed ICR’s director of extension services.
Morris insisted on a rigid doctrinal statement for the school, requiring belief in biblical inerrancy, strict recent creation, and a worldwide Flood. He also started a “creation research division” at the college, which became the Institute for Creation Research. But WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a regional college accrediting agency, already uncomfortable with CHC’s explicitly Creationist doctrinal commitment, frowned on the school’s close association with ICR. Anxious to preserve WASC accreditation and also eager to start a Creationist graduate school, Morris made ICR institutionally independent of Christian Heritage College in 1980, though it remained on-campus. In 1985 ICR moved to its present Santee location.
ICR then began offering graduate-level courses. In 1981 the California Private Postsecondary Education Department of the state board of education approved ICR’s master’s degree programs in astro-geophysics, biology, geology, and science education. “Approval” means the State of California recognizes CHC’s graduate degrees as legitimate, though non-accredited. ICR’s graduate school has never sought state accreditation (a more demanding set of criteria), knowing that its commitment to fundamentalist creationism would preclude this.
In 1988 ICR’s approval was due for renewal. The evaluating committee voted three to two for renewal. But later, after meeting with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, one member switched his vote. ICR cried foul, claiming pressure tactics by Honig. Not long after, Honig was indicted for improper use of public funds; he claimed this was retaliation by his fundamentalist opponents.
Of the two evaluators still voting for approval, one was an officer of the Creation Research Society and professor at a fundamentalist college; the other, G. Edwin Miller, was a former president of Christian Heritage College. Miller was also executive secretary of TRACS, a private fundamentalist Creationist school accrediting agency founded by Morris, which has accredited Christian Heritage College and ICR’s graduate school.
ICR avoided withdrawal of approval by negotiating with the state department of education, promising to keep religious aspects of its Creationist teaching separate from its science instruction. Meanwhile, the Private Postsecondary Education Department chose a new committee to re-evaluate ICR and check its compliance with the negotiated conditions. The committee recommended denial of approval. However, in a stunning reverse, California dropped its attempt to deny approval, admitting administrative and procedural errors.
ICR pressed a federal lawsuit against the state for violating the institute’s constitutional rights to teach creation science. The state eventually settled with ICR, submitting to a declaratory judgment stipulating that it pay part of ICR’s legal costs and acknowledging that private institutions can require students and faculty to submit to specific statements of belief.
ICR now expresses confidence that despite the tribulations of its exhausting battle with the state, its victory ensures that ICR’s graduate school will rebound stronger than ever.
But despite, or perhaps because of, Morris’s insistence on absolute doctrinal purity, problems of interpretation emerge even within ICR. One 1986 ICR astro-geophysics master’s thesis, “A Classical Field Theory for the Propagation of Light,” for which a degree was apparently awarded, contains only two of the three faculty signatures required. The author studied advanced electromagnetism with Thomas Barnes, former dean of the ICR graduate school, whom the author praised as a “scientific genius, one of the greatest thinkers of this age.” Barnes and Gish signed his thesis, but the third line remains blank. Gerald Aardsma, ICR’s coordinator of research, the third committee member, reportedly refused to sign, apparently objecting to some of Barnes’s manifestly pseudoscientific theorizing, such as his defense of pre-Einsteinian ether theory.
Barnes, who held only an honorary doctorate, left ICR under strained circumstances. Harold Slusher, who received a Ph.D. from an unaccredited correspondence school under Barnes’s direction at ICR, took over as grad school dean. But he too left under strained circumstances. Slusher, like Barnes, was idolized by many ICR students and similarly railed against post-Newtonian physics and astronomy, especially relativity and quantum mechanics, which they judged a veritable Tower of Babel of abstractions and speculations arrogantly piled upon one another in a vain attempt to erect a materialist, Godless view of the universe.
Aardsma, with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of Toronto, has the prestigious credentials and scientific credibility Barnes and Slusher lacked, but the price paid is the risk of Aardsma deviating from strict ICR orthodoxy. Based on his study of radiometric dating, Aardsma concluded that the Earth is slightly older than the 6000 to 10,000 years allowed by Morris. In an unusual move, Morris added a disclaimer to an ICR-published book by Aardsma, Radiocarbon and the Genesis Flood, cautioning that he does not endorse Aardsma’s date of 12,000 years ago for Creation.
Seen against its claim of being a “scientific” institution, the blatant religious proselytizing of the museum underscores the entanglement between science and religion around which “scientific creationism” must dance. ICR’s successful promotion of creation science and its dominant position in the eyes of the media and the public mask the pitfalls of this entanglement. So far ICR has managed effectively, but not without criticism and accusations from many fundamentalists as well as scientists.
ICR maintains that a clear distinction can be made between “biblical” and “scientific” creationism. Scientific creationism (the argument goes) consists of non-religious scientific evidence against evolution and for supernatural creation. Biblical creationism, on the other hand, openly announces its religious basis. Both are true, and mutually supporting, ICR asserts, but while the teaching of biblical creationism in public schools is not allowed because it would violate the establishment-of-religion clause of the Constitution, scientific creationism should be allowed in public schools and other tax-supported institutions.
But while ICR must promote scientific creationism to get into the schools, it is biblical creationism that pays the rent. ICR’s “Back to Genesis” traveling lecture series has been remarkably successful, with many thousand paid attendees and sales of thousands of books and videos. Its success is largely due to Ken Ham, who reportedly just appeared, unexpectedly, at ICR after leaving his Australian Creationist organization. Ham doesn’t pretend to address scientific issues but simply hammers home the message that without a fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis, which must be based on creationism, the Bible is without foundation. Thus evolution is Satan’s chief weapon and Christianity’s greatest threat. Rather than discuss scientific evidence, Ham crusades against abortion, prohibition of school prayer, homosexuality, sex education, pornography, and other social-moral issues.
Consistent with the remarkable success of these ICR road shows, the museum exhibits indicate that ICR’s public, though grateful to see “scientific” confirmation of their fundamentalist beliefs, wants religion, not science. Science is simply the means to this end.
The tactics of the Creation Science Research Center, another influential San Diego Creationist organization, illustrates another approach to the dilemma of whether to promote the biblical or scientific angle. In 1961, the Supreme Court, in a case initiated by atheist Madalyn Murray (O’Hair), ruled against compulsory religious activity in public schools. Shocked by this decision, two housewives, Jean Sumrall and Nell Segraves, devised a retaliatory strategy to protect religious believers against atheism, arguing that Christian students should not be subjected to any teaching offensive to their beliefs. They concentrated on evolution, reasoning that it fostered atheism and thus unconstitutionally violated the rights of Creationist students. Supported by California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty, a Governor Reagan appointee, they lobbied the California Department of Education for inclusion of Creationist teaching in science classrooms.
In 1970 Sumrall, Segraves, and Segraves’s son Kelly joined forces with Henry Morris when he first organized his “Creationist research division” at Christian Heritage College, naming it the Creation Science Research Center. The center initially concentrated on producing elementary-grade “Science and Creation” booklets for the statewide public school textbook selection process.
In 1972 the Creation Science Research Center split into factions because of differences in approach. The Segraves wanted to mandate creationism by means of legislation and lawsuits. Morris’s group sought voluntary, gradual “education,” building from the bottom up, by teaching and convincing people of the validity of creation science rather than forcing it on them from above. (The Arkansas and Louisiana legislation mandating teaching of creation science were modeled after arguments developed by Wendell Bird while he was ICR’s attorney, but ICR has never advocated coercive legislation or political solutions.)
The Segraves faction retained the CSRC name and relocated elsewhere in San Diego. They were joined by Robert Kofahl, holder of a Caltech Ph.D. and author of the popular Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter. The reorganized CSRC avoided direct affiliation with a religious institution to invoke more effectively the Constitution’s free exercise of religion clause — that is, to argue (contrary to ICR) that creationism should be allowed because it is religious rather than scientific. CSRC blames the failure of creation science bills in the courts on attempts to present creationism as non-religious rather than on appealing to the free-exercise clause.
In a 1981 case that drew national attention, Kelly Segraves sued the State of California for the “dogmatic” teaching of evolution in his son’s San Diego public school. The judge ruled that the state had not violated Kelly’s religious freedom by teaching evolution but ordered it to distribute copies of its anti-dogmatism policy, adopted by the state board of education in 1972 in response to Creationist pressure, to all schools and textbook publishers.
In a talk I attended at a local Bible-Science meeting, Nell Segraves boasted that CSRC still had active supporters ensconced in the state board of education who secretly abetted them.
CSRC is still extant but has largely disappeared from public view and has no lawsuits currently in the works. It is supported by Lou Sheldon’s Coalition for Traditional Values, a fundamentalist lobbying group chaired by LaHaye, which has had such names as Jerry Falwell and Jim Bakker on its board and Jimmy Swaggart on its executive committee.
The Creation Research Society, referred to in the concluding museum exhibit as having had over a thousand scientist members, was formed as a result of the interest generated by publication of Henry Morris’s Genesis Flood. Morris served as president, and ICR scientists have been prominent contributors to its journal. Recently, Amway co-founder and co-leader Jay van Andel donated a large sum to CRS through his philanthropic foundation.
When fundamentalists won three out of Five positions on the Vista school board, it aroused concern around the country of new “stealth” tactics by the religious right to infiltrate local political positions and school boards. John Tyndall, an accountant at ICR, is one of the Vista board members, prompting additional concern of ICR involvement, but ICR denies any intent to exert direct influence.
The Vista school board recently replaced its staff lawyer with one from the fundamentalist Rutherford Institute, which specializes in “Christian rights” cases involving prayer and religious activities on school grounds and similar issues. Some evolutionists fear this makes legal challenges against prohibitions on teaching creationism in science classes likely to happen in Vista. Meanwhile, the school board has adopted a policy of teaching creationism in history and language-arts classes.
The ICR museum presentation gives the impression that there is just one type of creationism. This is far from true. In fact there have always been rival theories of creationism, even though ICR’s brand has come to dominate media and public attention. The biggest area of disagreement concerns the age of the earth. Old-earth Creationists argue that ICR-type young-earth Flood Geology, because so obviously unscientific and false, is counterproductive and damaging to the primary goal of evangelism. It leads to ridicule by unbelievers, preventing those who might otherwise be open to the gospel to turn away in scorn, and leads Christians to doubt the Bible when they discover that young-earth Flood Geology is pseudoscientific fantasy.
The ICR museum notes that Darrow, at the Scopes Trial, capitalized on Bryan’s “flexible” interpretation of biblical creation. Bryan accepted day-age creationism, believing each “day" to represent long ages. ICR will have none of such compromises with literalism. Many day-age Creationists now appeal to the “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe, billions of years ago, as support for creation, but ICR rejects it (the “Big Bust,” Morris calls it) as evolutionist hogwash, insisting that the universe was created recently, in its present form. The museum exposes “Fallacies in the Big Bang Theory” and asserts (misleadingly) that “many top scientists” have abandoned it.
The case of “Mr. Fossil” illustrates the significance of the age issue. Arleton Murray, formerly a fossil preparator at the Smithsonian Institution, converted to fundamentalism and creationism after a sinful life as an evolutionist, as he tells audiences in his new career as Creationist lecturer “Mr. Fossil.” Morris reportedly considered him for the post of director of the ICR museum some years ago. Mr. Fossil visited ICR, and he and Morris hit it off — until Morris saw the museum exhibits with their explicit insistence on recent creation and rejection of old-earth creationism. Contrary to ICR, Mr. Fossil held that life existed millions of years before the six-day Creation. Satan ruled the pre-Adamic world of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, which God destroyed in a great catastrophe prior to the six-day Creation (which was really a re-creation).
This is the so-called Gap Theory, the belief that all the geological and paleontological ages attested to by science occurred “between the lines” of the first two verses of Genesis and long predated the succeeding Adamic creation. When Mr. Fossil realized that ICR would never tolerate the Gap Theory, and Morris realized Mr. Fossil was a Gapper, the interview ended. Mr. Fossil later excavated a dinosaur for the Creationist Museum of Earth and Life History at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
Lane Lester, director (until this past summer) at Liberty University’s museum, is a former ICR faculty member and was ICR’s Southeast representative. When challenged by ACLU for teaching religion as science, Falwell established a Center for Creation Studies at Liberty, with Lester as director, to remove creationism from the science curriculum in order to protect Liberty’s accreditation. The creationism course was switched from the biology department to general education, where it is now required for all students.
Though Murray was made a curator at Liberty’s museum, Falwell himself, following Morris, rejects the Gap Theory. (Murray may be “Mr. Fossil,” but Morris is “Professor Creation,” and Gish is “Dr. Fossil.”) Falwell hosted Morris on his Old-Time Gospel Hour and hosted Gisb-’s televised debate with distinguished UCSD biochemist Russell Doolittle. (Doolittle, though an effective speaker, was decisively routed by Gish on this occasion. ICR used to show a tape of Liberty’s Gish-Doolittle debate at the museum, where it was viewed with reverence and gleeful triumph.)
These aren’t the only challenges to ICR’s brand of creationism. The Christian Identity movement believes blacks and other inferior races were created as “beasts” during the six days (which were really long geological ages), while Adam, ancestor only of the white race, was created later, 6000 years ago. Identity Christians castigate ICR young-earthism as unscientific. Worse, they accuse ICR of cryptoevolutionism for allowing even limited reference to speciation. According to Christian Identity belief, species, and more importantly, human races, are absolutely fixed and were created separately; ICR, on the other hand, allows for variation and speciation (“microevolution”) within biblical “kinds” and maintains that all human races developed (Le., evolved) from Noah’s family in just a few thousand years.
Some Christian Reconstructionists denounce ICR for trying to disassociate “scientific” creationism from biblical creationism. Reconstructionist Gary North opposes ICR’s use of the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument, accusing “scientific creationism” of paying too much attention to the Fall and not enough to the Resurrection. By equating the Fall and the curse of sin with the scientific law of disorder, says North, ICR views the increase of sin and unbelief as inevitable. Reconstructionists, on the other hand, believe that Christianity will triumph on Earth, inaugurating the Millennium, and that Christ’s Second Coming will occur after the Millennium. This contradicts the belief of most fundamentalists that the Second Coming will precede the Millennium — that Christ will return to personally establish his kingdom on Earth, and that this will be preceded by Armageddon and the Rapture of the remnant faithful. This doctrine is enshrined in the ICR Museum, which insists on Christ’s “imminent” (premillennial) return.
Reconstructionists also accuse ICR of being soft on evolution because of the inherent pessimism of premillennial belief. Creationism, they say, is true because the Bible demands it, not because it is supported by science, as ICR claims.
Hyper-Calvinist John Robbins, of the Trinity Foundation, likewise decries ICR’s “evidentialist” apologetics — its assumption that the truth of the Bible can be proved by reason (and science) rather than accepted purely by faith—and insists on a purely biblical creationism. He poured scorn on ICR for the “hoax” of creation science, their pretense that creationism can be merely scientific and not unavoidably religious. Robbins considers “scientific” creationism — creationism sterilized of overt religious reference — to be cowardly surrender to anti-Christian forces and betrayal of the very principles of Christianity. He agrees with anti-Creationists that “scientific creationism” — the attempt to pass off creationism as science by claiming it need not refer to God or Genesis — is a fraud and a deception. ICR replied to this rebuke by saying that “scientific” creationism is the only kind of creationism allowable in public schools.
There are also sharp disputes about Noah's Ark within the Creationist movement. Some years ago, in the ICR museum, I helped John Morris, ICR’s principal ark investigator, look for signs of the ark in telephoto slides he took of various likely sites on Mt. Ararat. Morris has not yet found the ark but remains convinced it is on Ararat because of all the reported sightings. ICR presents many of these photos in the museum's ark exhibit. Another display is a 1969 signed statement by someone claiming he saw ark artifacts and photos at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where they “remain unacknowledged and unavailable.” (Such reports resemble tales of recovered remains of “crashed flying saucers” and bodies of space alien pilots secretly preserved at government facilities.)
The museum also displays a 1973 sketch of the ark made from aerial reconnaissance photos of Ararat (drawn by the U.S. naval pilot who took the “unreleased” photos); a 1985 sketch allegedly based on U-2 spy plane photos; and mention of numerous other aerial sightings and photos, many of World War II vintage.
The ark model currently displayed in ICR’s museum appears to be the same one used in their old museum. It was donated by Sun Classic Films and used in their movie In Search of Noah*s Ark. They claimed the model was tested in an unnamed oceanography lab, where it proved to be exceptionally stable. The old ICR display revealed that the lab was La Jolla’s Scripps Institution. The museum also had a second, larger ark model built to a scale of 1/90 (that is, five cubits long), one of several models used in Films for Christ’s World That Perished.
Though not mentioned in the new museum, ICR books have sanctioned the “basic facts” of a widely circulated report (the “Roskovitsky” tale) that during World War I, a Russian flyer discovered the ark, it was investigated by Czarist troops, but the Communists, when they overthrew the Czarist regime, systematically destroyed all records of the discovery.
David Fasold, a Poway marine salvage expert, is extremely critical of all such ark claims, dismissing them as pious nonsense and/or lies (it was Fasold who definitively proved the Roskovitsky story a deliberate hoax). Fasold believed that a boat-shaped formation 17 miles south of Mt. Ararat is the real ark site.
A team led by televangelist George Vandeman investigated Fasold’s site in 1960 but concluded it was a geological formation. Fasold’s former partner Ron Wyatt, however, is convinced the boat-shaped formation is Noah’s Ark. (Wyatt also claims to have discovered the Ark of the Covenant, the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments, chariot wheels from Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea, and similar relics.) Fasold and Los Alamos geophysicist John Baumgardner teamed up with Wyatt to investigate the site. Using metal detectors and subsurface radar, they saw patterns indicating buried iron fittings. (Baumgardner, an adjunct ICR professor, said that subsequent testing indicated it is not the ark, but Fasold says Baumgardner flip-flops on whether he still believes it is.)
In his book The Ark of Noah and his Noahide Society newsletter, Fasold theorized that the true ark was not a wooden box like ICR’s (and the Ark of the Covenant), but a reed boat, similar to Sumerian and Egyptian craft, covered with bituminous cement. Trussed atop its 515-foot deck length (equaling 300 Egyptian, not Hebrew, cubits) was the three-story superstructure. Fasold reasoned that the reeds and wood have long since disintegrated, leaving only metal fittings and sediment-filled vestiges of the hull and superstructure. He suggested that drilled stones found west of his ark site, some inscribed with eight crosses symbolizing Noah’s family, were drogue-stones suspended from the vessel to stabilize it in the turbulent Flood waters, deployed from a central hull section open to the water (as in drilling rigs). The rising and falling water in this central section acted as a bellows, ventilating the superstructure built above it.
Fasold, no longer a fundamentalist, is now openly contemptuous of ICR’s Ararat ark-eology. The Turkish government has declared Fasold’s site a national park, Nuhun Gemisi (“Noah's Ark”). This Turkish interest is prompted in part by Islamic fundamentalists, who interpret the Flood (and Creation) literally, but also probably by desire to protect the site from zealous Christian fundamentalists while capitalizing on its tourist potential. Scientists from Ataturk University have instituted a special ark project to study it, to which Fasold contributes invited reports.
Though no longer taking the story of Noah literally, Fasold remained convinced that the formation was archaeologically significant (a conviction apparently shared by at least some Turkish officials and scientists) but no longer takes the story of Noah literally. He suggested the possibility that the site, if not the remains of a boat that rode out a great Mesopotamian flood, may be a commemorative structure on a site traditionally associated with the Great Flood, perhaps constructed by modifying a natural boatlike formation.
Meanwhile, the search goes on at Ararat by ICR and a host of other ark-eologists. Creationist impresario and Paluxy promoter Carl Baugh told an international creation conference audience that Dan Quayle’s father (an admirer, like Marilyn Quayle, of Gap Theory Creationist R.B. Thieme) fervently hoped that the ark would be found in his lifetime to refute unbelievers. Baugh then showed slides of ark sightings on Ararat, which we all viewed with 3-D glasses.
In 1985, sometime-actor George Jammal of Long Beach wrote to Gish claiming he had climbed inside the ark on Ararat and brought home a piece of it. John Morris questioned Jammal to check out his story but apparently found it less than convincing.
Not entirely unconvincing, apparently, for he did refer Jammal to Sun Pictures. Sun embraced Jammal’s tale uncritically and featured him as their star witness for a TV special The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark, broadcast by CBS in 1993 and reportedly seen by 45 million viewers. (Sun’s TV special was an updated version of its 1976 film In Search of Noah’s Ark, broadcast on NBC, which also featured many ICR scientists.)
Sun's David Balsiger, coauthor of the best-selling book tie-in to their 1976 film, also helped with another book (Noah's Ark: I Touched It) by a claimant who retrieved a hunk of wood (a claim John Morris suspects is fraudulent), and with The Satan Seller, a lurid “autobiographical” account of Satanism criticized even by fundamentalists as fabricated. Balsiger also publishes “Presidential Biblical Scorecards,” which rate political candidates according to fundamentalist values.
Other ark-eologists interviewed by Sun for the show, including Fasold, suspected the Jammal story was a hoax and advised Sun not to rely on it. Their advice was ignored, and they were replaced by less critical ark-eologists (including Henry and John Morris, Gumming and Vardiman of ICR, and Carl Baugh, though Sun did not identify them as Creationists).
Jammal himself never expected his hoax to go this far. In his original letter to Gish, he inserted names such as “Allis Buis Hitian,” which he assumed (mistakenly) would be a fairly obvious tip-off that he was pulling ICR’s leg. Coverage of the hoax was very confused because Jammal initially denied he was hoaxing. USC religion professor Gerald Larue, who revealed the story to the media (it broke in Time magazine), had helped coach Jammal for his appearances with Sun. Larue wanted to embarrass Sun; he had appeared as a token skeptic on a previous Sun broadcast (Mysteries of the Bible) and felt he had been deceptively taken advantage of.
But Jammal, afraid of being sued by Sun, stuck to his story and denied Larue’s exposé.
At this stage, citing Jammal’s denial of complicity, Sun and Morris accused Larue of hoaxing Jammal, pointing to Jammal’s 1985 testimony to ICR as proof that Larue could not have instigated the hoax as Time had initially (and erroneously) reported. But Jammal soon confessed and has since taken the offensive, strongly condemning Creationists for their gullibility.
Many Creationists assume that anyone not openly hostile to creationism is, if not an active supporter, at least a potential believer. During my visits to ICR and participation in Creationist activities, I was often treated as such because of my evident respectful desire to learn about creationism. Though it was clear from my published work that I am not a Creationist, many Creationists praised my work as objective and accurate.
I was therefore surprised when, on my recent return to ICR, Ken Cumming, dean of ICR’s graduate school, accused me of acting unethically. Seeing me in the office of science education director Richard Bliss, he burst in, obviously upset. He said he didn’t like me hanging around the ICR offices trying to “pump” faculty and staff members for information since I was the “enemy.” In my writings about creationism, I distorted information I had gotten at ICR, he said, by the “torque” I put on the facts. Cumming told me I was allowed in the museum and library, because they are open to the public, but made it clear he didn’t want me wandering around anywhere else in ICR or engaging in unauthorized conversations. He repeatedly likened my research to invading someone’s private home because, by talking to me freely, ICR had “opened up” to me, but that I unfairly took advantage of this by writing critically about them.
I explained to Cumming (several times, in fact) that I had visited only the museum and library. The only reason I was now in Bliss’s office was that I had a few follow-up questions for Rajca, but he said he was too busy and suggested I ask some other ICR staff scientist. It was because of this suggestion that I stopped by Bliss’s office, just outside the library, to ask him these quick questions when I saw his door open and was on my way out again when Cumming burst in.
I told Cumming his reaction surprised me because I thought ICR made itself open to outside researchers, even critical ones, and reminded him that I had never claimed to be a Creationist. Cumming said ICR is open, and he didn’t want me to portray his complaint as indicating it wasn’t. But, as I tried to point out to him, declaring me persona non grata certainly suggests that critics are not welcome to have access to candid remarks at ICR unless they clearly, and at all times, identify themselves as nonbelievers.
Indeed, Creationists commonly allude to the need to hide their own beliefs under many circumstances. I heard ICR’s Steve Austin, for instance, describe how he kept his true Creationist beliefs secret when getting his Ph.D. in geology at Penn State, meanwhile writing Creationist articles for ICR under the pseudonym “Stuart Nevins.” (His dissertation concerned rapid coal formation from water-borne debris, but he carefully avoided revealing that he considered Noah’s Flood the agent.) Other ICR members have engaged in similar “nondisclosure” tactics when dealing with evolutionists. Wendell Bird endorsed a book by Jerry Bergman that claimed that Creationist nondisclosure is often necessary because of evolutionist “persecution.” ICR’s Gary Parker relied on a tape of a scientific meeting at the American Museum of Natural History; a tape the speaker accused Parker’s coauthor of obtaining and publicizing “unethically.” And of course, deliberate nondisclosure is the whole point of fundamentalist “stealth” campaigning.
Cumming’s suspicion and hostility was ironic, because others at ICR had welcomed me despite my being a critic and because I have strongly criticized unfair and unethical attacks against Creationists. I have also expressed considerable sympathy for Creationist concerns about morality.
In fact, my conversation with Gish in the ICR library concerned unethical behavior by a prominent anti-Creationist, Al Seckel, whom Gish had debated in an ACLU-sponsored event in Beverly Hills some years ago. I had discovered that Seckel, leader of the Southern California Skeptics, had blatantly phony academic and scientific credentials. Seckel had become a media star and flagrant selfpromoter, appearing frequently on radio and TV, and had been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, and many national publications (he wrote a column for the L.A. Times and claimed most of the credit for the celebrated friend-of-the-court brief sent to the Supreme Court signed by 72 Nobel science winners urging rejection of Louisiana’s creation science bill). CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), the world’s most prominent “skeptics” organization and heavily consulted by the media, elected Seckel an official scientific consultant. His Southern California Skeptics’ nonprofit status was revoked because he never submitted required financial information, and there were serious allegations of financial fraud from many sources, including plundering of SCS funds and conning SCS supporters in various investment schemes.
Prominent biologist Eli Shneour, director of Biosystems Research Institute in La Jolla, who was chairman of Seckel’s SCS board and is an active anti-Creationist and CSICOP-er, continued to believe that Seckel’s credentials were genuine, even after I provided documentation from Cornell and Caltech proving they were phony. (Seckel had apparently forged a transcript, which Shneour preferred to believe.) When I asked Shneour about an audit that supposedly cleared Seckel of financial allegations, Shneour told me he would “sue if asked any more questions about Seckel.” Later, regarding a letter from a distinguished Cornell professor confirming Seckel’s dishonesty, Shneour said that I had forged it.
This naturally interested ICR’s Gish. Many Creationists have their credentials questioned or attacked, some for very good reasons (though Gish himself has a UCLA degree and a Berkeley Ph.D. in biochemistry). But CSICOP, featuring and endorsing Seckel, championing him as their most successful regional leader, has never publicly acknowledged his fraud, which seems rather hypocritical considering its loud commitment to exposing fraud and charlatanry.
Richard Bliss was initially annoyed when a caption denigrating his graduate degree appeared on the same page of the newsletter of the National Center for Science Education as a review of my book about creationism. I had long ago explained to Bliss, and tried explaining now to Cumming, that the picture and caption were inserted by the editor, but Cumming still considered the uncomplimentary caption an example of my betrayal of ICR’s trust.
Ironically, the NCSE reviewer had emphasized the nonpolemical nature of my book, which described rather than argued against creationism, and noted (correctly) that most Creationists would not complain about my descriptions of them. By way of example he mentioned that I listed Bliss’s doctorate in education as simply from the University of Sarasota without scare quotes or comment. The reviewer’s implication (and the implication of the caption) was that this was not a reputable institution — the reviewer’s point being that I had not criticized or ridiculed it. (Bliss’s doctorate was awarded for an analysis of his two-model Creationist teaching in the Racine, Wisconsin, school district. Cumming's doctorate, which nobody ridicules, is from Harvard, obtained while a federal government fisheries biologist.)
When I had been chatting previously with Gish in the library. Bliss, recognizing me, had joined us, as genial as ever. Bliss seemed a little embarrassed about Cumming's accusations. Bliss, who served as a combat engineer in the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, in person is so good-natured, so genuinely, back-slappingly friendly, that he seems incapable of any personal hostility. But, ICR sees the creation/evolution issue as a life-and-death struggle between two diametrically opposed world views, with our very souls and eternal lives at stake. According to ICR, the deadly lie of evolution was concocted by Satan and is the foundation and chief weapon of his “long war against God.”
Other Creationist museums pale before ICR’s prestige and aura of scientific respectability. The most notorious is Carl Baugh’s Paluxy Creation Evidences Museum in Texas. Baugh planned a museum the size and shape of Noah’s Ark, but it is still housed in a large trailer; and Baugh’s exhibits have the credibility of the Fred Flintstone Museum (and much the same subject matter). While Baugh is still capable of generating publicity for creationism with his sensational claims, ICR considers him something of an embarrassment, scientifically.
The museum at Liberty University, established in 1986, billed itself as “The World’s Largest Creation Museum,” but this was before the ICR museum’s expansion. Lane Lester was laid off by Liberty, apparently for budgetary reasons, leaving the status of Liberty’s museum unclear.
Overseas, the Korean Association of Creation Research (established in 1981 as a result of Morris’s and Gish’s Creationist proselytizing) also plans an educational complex the size and shape of Noah’s Ark. (For comparison, ICR’s entire Santee building, at 21,000 square feet, is only a fraction the size of the ark.) Joachim Scheven, “Mr. Living Fossils,” runs Lehendge Vorwelt, a creation science museum near Frankfurt, Germany, featuring fossils of organisms with living descendants virtually unchanged from their fossil forms (a lack of change that supposedly refutes evolution).
ICR’s grassroots educational strategy and grassroots effort has been effective, largely because it attracts less publicity than do coercive legislative acts and lawsuits. As in Vista, stealth campaigning by organizations such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition has led to majorities on some school boards. In 1990 two-thirds of the religious right’s 56 candidates won in San Diego; this was down to one-third in 1992 largely as a result of organized opposition by such groups as the Berkeley-based National Center for Science Education.
Within the Creationist movement, ICR’s hegemony and doctrinal authority is still challenged by old-earth Creationists and other rivals, but ICR is not likely to lose its reputation as the pre-eminent Creationist organization. The museum expects to give twice as many tours this year, plus more film showings, lectures, and workshops. More volunteers are needed as museum guides, additional sound effects are planned, and ICR has just completed a new video tour of the museum, A Walk Through History, for those unable to visit in person.