As the 2 p.m. tour of the Museum of Creation and Earth History was about to start, several dozen attendees, many carrying folding chairs, scrambled for sitting space. The Saturday crowd was predominantly children, ranging from infants to young teens, with several sets of parents in tow.
"I feel like I'm in a Dr. Seuss movie," said John Rajca, the 30-ish guide, referring to several youngsters' fanciful, Whoville-like headgear.
The museum, operated by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), is housed in a sleek, modern building off a Santee frontage road. Six days a week-but never, of course, on Sundays-a steady flow of visitors, many of them groups of schoolchildren, tour the facility, which promotes the literal interpretation of all creation as written in the Bible. Founded approximately 30 years ago, ICR, a private, nonprofit corporation, also offers a graduate degree program with majors in biology, geology, education and physics.
As one ICR pamphlet states, "We believe God has raised up ICR to spearhead Biblical Christianity's defense against the godless dogma of evolutionary humanism."
But, for the moment, Rajca kept the tone light and animated, leading the group through rooms devoted to the events of the six days of creation as outlined in Genesis. Each room's theme was highlighted by vivid murals, lighting, sound effects and photographs.
Particularly striking were dozens of informational plaques lining the walls. Many, accompanied by Bible quotes, contrasted so-called "creationist" and "evolutionist" interpretations of life on Earth and the universe's origin.
Children giggled and babies fussed in the jungle-like Day 5 (creation of marine and winged life) room, where fish, peculiarly blue scorpions, a python and giant cave cockroaches hid in small aquariums. Rajca's demonstration of cockroach hissing elicited high-pitched squeals and the call to "Kill it! Step on it!" from at least one teen. In stark contrast to a nearby plaque referring to "fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven," a handful of many-colored finches flitted about in a phone booth-sized enclosure.
A park bench symbolized Day 7, God's day of rest. A sign above it reminded visitors, "Even those who reject the Genesis record of six-day Creation inadvertently acknowledge it by taking off one day each week."
The drama level escalated in the fiery red-orange "fall of man" room, with its murals of prehistoric beasts and dramatic dinosaur movie music. Also featured was perhaps the museum's most interpretation-challenging exhibit, called "Universal Disorder." A sun-warped 45 rpm (Dale & Grace's "Bad Luck"), a photo of the Titanic corroding on the Atlantic floor, a melted Erlenmeyer flask, assorted kitchen utensils, gummed-up paint brushes and a rodent skeleton invisible-taped against a brown macramé border seemed frozen in motion in a glass display case.
After meandering through exhibits devoted to geology, the Noah's ark and the Ice Age, the tour reached a room with a wooden model of the Tower of Babel and plaster replicas of the Rosetta Stone, the Ishtar Gate and numerous small archaeological artifacts. "Is that an idol?" a shocked young female asked, pointing at a primitive statue featuring pronounced breasts. "Yes," her mother intoned. "I guess, by the shape, it's a... woman."
The informational plaques became increasingly editorial in nature, and it didn't take long to catch on that any association with the terms "evolution," "evolutionary" or "evolutionism" was pejorative. One read, "Most religions are evolutionary," and gave as examples "Atheism, Confucianism, Taoism, Liberalism, Pantheism, Evolutionism, Jainism, Marxism, Humanism, Buddhism, Animism, Fascism, Polytheism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Monism, New-Age-ism, Sikhism [and] Occultism."
Orthodox Judaism, Orthodox Islam and "Biblical Christianity" were listed as "Creationist religions," but it was noted that the first two "fail to understand that the Creator must also be their Redeemer, so they do not see Him as He really is."
Rajca described ancient Egyptians as having worshipped "all kinds of things, like animals... cows and kitties."
"Did he say they worshipped kitties?" one child asked another. "That's funny."
One sign intriguingly suggested that some Egyptian ""creation stories' are crude in the extreme," adding "they are totally unacceptable to intelligent, thinking people."
Greek philosophers, especially Plato, received particular attention. A list of "Anti-Christian Philosophies" comprised Epicureanism, Stoicism, Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism ("a mixture of the teachings of Plato and Aristotle with Gnosticism"). When asked how concepts and the teachings of men predating Jesus by centuries could be "anti-Christian," Rajca emphasized the point was that such philosophies ultimately clashed with Christianity.
But it was during the last leg of the tour, where the tenor of information became much more pointed.
A type of "Hall of Fame/Shame" pictured 18th and 19th century "creationists" and "evolutionists" on opposite walls. Evolutionists included "ruthless developer" John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie ("cruel and heartless to competitors and laborers alike"), "chief founder of Communism" Karl Marx and, of course, Charles Darwin, whose bio warned, "Many other compromisers have traveled the same path."
On the creationist side, entities such as Linnaeus (man of "great piety") and "strongly religious" Louis Pasteur were pictured alongside a facsimile of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, included as proof that "our nation was established on a Creationist foundation."
The improbable task of identifying a philosophical connection between Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin was attempted-all identified as having been profoundly and negatively influenced by Darwin's works on evolution.
Finally, two large illustrations near the exit put all cards on the table. The "harmful philosophies" and "evil practices" listed as the fruit of a decrepit-looking "Evolutionary Tree" included Communism, Nazism, racism, pornography, genocide, slavery, abortion, infanticide, homosexuality, child abuse, bestiality and drug culture.
Conversely, a flourishing "Creationist Tree" bore such fruits as faith, morality, hope, Americanism, government, education, history and science-all preceded by the word "True."
At closing time, the children, parents and other visitors filed out to the parking lot. Most seemed pleased, others enlightened, some bemused, still others confused.
A young man marveled to his girlfriend, "Can you believe some people think DNA just came out of nothing? That the planets just appeared from nothing? Wow."