Here in Texas, creationists lurk everywhere, so it seems reasonable to try to understand how they think. A place called the "Creation Evidence Museum" is an hour and a half from Dallas, right near Dinosaur Valley State Park. At the park you can see dinosaur track fossils in a the bed of a shallow stream --very cool. A man by the name of Carl Baugh created the museum close by in 1994, presumably to educate visitors from the park who might reason "dinosaurs existed long before humans, so the Bible is not entirely true." Baugh's position is that dinosaurs and humans actually existed at the same time.
I've always been curious about the museum, ever since we visited the State Park way back when (a memorable trip, because I contracted a terrible case of poison ivy). When my kids started asking questions about creationists earlier in the summer, I decided it was time to check it out. Yesterday we made the journey--a party of six in all. It was one of those hotter than hell Texas days, but we fearlessly set out, armed with sunscreen and an extensive de-contamination kit (four books by Richard Dawkins). OK, I lied about the sunscreen.
So yes (we were told), dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time. The museum has a couple of pieces of evidence for this-- a rock with a dinosaur footprint as well as a human footprint Also: a little clay pitcher with a baby dinosaur-shaped handle, dated 1250 AD and found in Mississippi. There were dinosaurs not just in earliest biblical days, but in the middle ages! Also: an image of a dinosaur in a Peruvian bas relief, indicating that dinosaurs were also in South America not so long ago. (Some images here.)
What fun! We got to hear a lecture on the geologic column by Mr. Baugh himself, which was all very interesting. His team of "geologists" was present, and they seemed to have some very impressive "credentials". They inserted themselves here and there, reporting on their "excavations", demonstrating their "sensitivity" to the possibility of fraud, asking "penetrating scientific questions", etc. You will have noticed a lot of scare quotes in the last two sentences. Let us not belabor the obvious.
A fair number of the people in the room (40 in all) appeared to be part of the magic show. It was a little difficult to say, looking around, who were the performers and who they were performing for. We came away quite curious about the state of mind of Baugh and Co. To what extent are they sincere true believers, and to what extent are they involved in a deliberate fraud? Presumably they do believe in creationism. But do they really believe in the whole dog and pony show they're putting on to get others to believe in creationism too? Or is the show a noble lie, so to speak--with the ends justifying the means (in their minds)? If they don't know they're talking nonsense, should they know?
Well anyway, it's sort of a fun thought, isn't it? Dinosaurs in America in the middle ages. Dinosaurs off-stage, throughout the bible. I'm tempted to go look up the Leviticus dietary code, and see which instructions could possibly be construed as saying whether or not humans are permitted to eat Tyrannosaurus burgers. Surely if there had been dinosaurs around, they would have loomed rather large (literally) and that would have been covered. Plus, one wants to have a closer look at pre-historic cave paintings. Early people were obviously fascinated with mega-fauna. What, no dinosaurs?
It would certainly be a fun exercise for a high school critical thinking or science class: how do we know that dinosaurs did not live at the same time as humans? We discussed this during the car ride back, and only once needed to consult the decontamination kit (there's a great section on dating techniques in The Greatest Show on Earth). We discovered two great truths on the trip: you're never far from a Starbucks, even in the bowels of Texas. And: there really is a town called Venus, Texas, and they really are fussy about their speed limit. Ahem.
When we got home we discovered that Mr. Baugh is considered a disreputable young earth creationist, even by other young earth creationists. Ouch! We also discovered that he was once featured on The Daily Show and that he is fond of The Flintstones. Enjoy!