A few years ago I visited one of the most bizarre “museums” I have ever been to in my life, the Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs. This is the story of that visit.
Tomorrow I’ll be writing about Marion Orton, who died this week.
Dinosaur Days in the Ozarks
In Eureka Springs, the Museum of Earth History offers counter view to evolution
"Why can’t we have our own Bill Nye the Science Guy?” - Dr. Thomas Sharp
It’s a modest-sized museum with a lofty goal: to counter over a hundred years of what educators have been teaching students about the beginnings of life on Earth. But for those who push the agenda of Creationism, or Intelligent Design, it is less about education than it is about “indoctrination.”
On a September afternoon I visited the “Museum of Earth History” in Eureka Springs. Brought to us by the Creation Truth Foundation, the museum purports to demonstrate how it can all be connected though history, science and faith - though faith is far more important a part of the equation than science.
Indeed, projects such as the Museum of Earth History have largely come about because many people are uncomfortable with advances in scientific discoveries. Steps must be taken to ensure that science assumes its rightful place - three steps behind faith.
I first became aware of Eureka Springs in the early 1970s, while living in Germany. An English newspaper carried an article about Gerald L.K. Smith’s attempts to build a religious theme park in the Ozark community.
Smith already had a reputation as a Holocaust denier, and founder of the America First movement.
Smith moved Eureka Springs in his later years, and in 1964, began work on his hoped-for theme park. Though the park failed to materialize - along with his hoped for life-size recreation of Jerusalem, the centerpiece of the park, the Christ of the Ozarks statue was built. The famous bigot and his wife are buried close to the giant statue.
These days, it is virtually impossible to find anyone who wishes to recall Gerald L.K. Smith.
Today, Eureka Springs is famous for the annual Passion Play, which recounts the last days of Jesus Christ on earth. But becoming almost as well known is the Museum of Earth History, sponsored by both the Elna M. Smith Foundation (producers of the Passion Play) and the Creation Truth Foundation, based in Noble, Oklahoma. In 2006, the museum was the focus of a brief mention on ABC News.
Children are often given dinosaur models and toys to play with. Invariably, many play sets will also come with tiny cave dwellers, even though they lived at different times. Well, the museum is a chance to see them side by side, so to speak.
The Museum of Earth History is located close to where the life-sized Jerusalem would have been, near the site of the Passion Play. The small, round domed building is located on the site of a former chapel - it resembles nothing so much as a Middle eastern church.
After paying the entrance fee, visitors to the museum are given a wand that contains the museum “tour” on. By pressing the appropriate buttons, the voice of museum founder G. Thomas Sharp will tell the visitor about each exhibit.
“In these murals you are looking at an artistic rendering of the first four days of the Creation Week. You must remember, right from the beginning of this tour, that origins issues are not scientific problems, and even though many scientists have opinions about aspects of this subject, their opinions are no more valid than anyone else’s opinion.” - Thomas Sharp, museum tour
Walking around the museum, one is greeted with the sounds of the dinosaurs, murals of rainbows, a large painting of rain over the Ark, volcanoes, dinosaurs on hillsides, thunder and lightning, and Adam and Eve.
Though small, it is a well-built museum, with well-done, sturdy looking models. Though its science is suspect, at least it doesn’t try to make the point that Satan put the dinosaur bones in the ground to spread confusion among God’s people, as some “museums” do.
Though Satan is mentioned, of course, as in Man’s fall from Grace. Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought death to the Earth, one of the results of which was that many of the formerly plant-eating dinosaurs now turned carnivorous.
From the very beginning of the tour, Sharp makes his intentions known.
“The purpose of this museum is to help you reconnect Jesus Christ as the creator of the Earth in Genesis . . . for the last one hundred years we have been exposed to a presentation of the Earth, Life and Man, all in the name of science, that has deliberately ignored the need for their supernatural origin.
“This godless explanation has been sold to the public as if it were scientific in some way.” - Thomas Sharp, museum tour
At the tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit, the claim is made that there had been found “ . . . poorly fossilized T-Rex bones with organic cells still preserved inside. This means that these T-Rex bones could possibly be less than ten thousand years old.”
At Montana State University in 1997, researchers found what at first glance appeared to be red blood cells in a T-Rex bone. After further study, it was determined that no actual red blood cells were found, but that the objects seen under the microscope might simply have been the remnants of blood cell residual products, which resulted from cellular breakdown.
Even so, some in the Creationist community still spread the myth that they were, indeed, red blood cells, and that some sort of “conspiracy” is afoot to keep the truth from being told.
The fact that if red blood cells were found it would excite the scientific world doesn’t seem to occur to those charging conspiracy.
The museum covers three periods of history that the founders feel are often overlooked in modern American schools, especially from a Biblical perspective. Creation, the fall from Grace, and the Great Flood.
Along the lines of this Biblical outlook, is the theory that Noah did, indeed, carry dinosaurs on the Ark. Baby dinosaurs, perhaps?
“ The animals on the Ark were probably adolescent to ensure their health and ability to reproduce and repopulate a new world. This would mean that the animals were not yet full-grown. This is especially important for dinosaurs since most reptiles never stop growing.” - Thomas Sharp, museum tour
Much is made of the difference between Biblical truth and the information to be found in the “secular science world.” Naturally, evolution comes in for a drubbing.
The theory of evolution was first proposed in 1809, by La Marck, a French scientist, who suggested that animal species change over time. In 1844, a book by Robert Chambers, entitled “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,” helped to further spread the idea, and excite the public’s imagination.
Charles Darwin, in his important work, The Origin of Species, proposed the concept of “natural selection.” He also offered scientific proof that evolution was still occurring.
Another recorded voice - not Sharp’s - makes the point that Creationists and Evolutionists are both operating from “faith,” and use the fossil record to prove their points. “statements of their origin,” says the narrator over one exhibit, “are based on the personal faith of the one giving the explanation.”
Strangely enough, that seems at odds with just about every science class most Americans have ever sat in. But sure enough, the narrator is saying that scientists have preconceived notions, and attempt to fit the lessons from the fossil record accordingly.
Sharp is also at great pains to point out that the seven days mentioned in the book of Genesis are exactly that - 24 hour days as we know them.
Kay Peterson, director of the museum, says that around 20,000 people a year visit the museum. That is a fairly impressive number, considering that the museum is only open six months out of the year, mirroring the schedule of the Passion Play.
She says that many school groups come to visit the museum.
Peterson says that there are tentative plans to open the museum on weekends during the off-season. Though the Passion Play board of Directors runs the museum, Sharp is the curator, and decides what will be in it.
Peterson met Thomas Sharp when she and her husband, director of operations for the Passion Play, attended one of his lectures in Eureka Springs. According to an interview on the website Baptistmessenger.com., Peterson said, “He talked about the truth about dinosaurs, and it made so much sense. He shared with us things we wanted to know.”
In a way, a marriage made in Heaven occurred that night, as the Petersons met Thomas Sharp, the former science teacher who claims that his lectures have reached over 700,000 people.
In addition to the museum, Sharp and his foundation also offer a traveling show, “Dinosaurs, Design and Destiny.” Traveling with over 20 full-scale skeletons of dinosaurs, Sharp gives a variation of his museum tour.
Sharp has claimed that in the 1960s he became aware that families who were not Bible-believing were more prone to divorce, and that, according to a pamphlet put out by the Creation Truth Foundation, “ . . . Bible believing families were suffering the loss of 60% to 70% of their sons and daughters to secular thinking by the time they reached 15 years of age!”
Thomas concluded that America’s only hope was to return to the reality of a Bible-believing society - including total adherence to the story of Genesis, which many mainstream Christians consider a myth, and not literal truth.
Sharp’s credentials include a Bachelor of Science from Purdue University, A Masters of Science from the University of Oklahoma, and a PhD from the South Florida Bible College and Seminary.
Visitors can also visit the bookstore located next to the museum can buy a copy of the videotape which contains excerpts from his lectures. It is during one of his speaking engagements that Sharp laments the fact that the Creationism community doesn’t have someone like Bill Nye the Science Guy to promote their ideas.
Future plans for Thomas Sharp include building a similar museum in Dallas, Texas, which is planned to be five times larger than the Eureka Springs museum.
Along with books and videos by Thomas Sharp, one can also buy models, T-shirts and astronomy books. One astronomy book I looked through in the bookstore made the claim that “sin” is responsible for the decay in orbits of planetary bodies.
Though it is a small museum, the exhibits are well constructed, and the paintings on the walls are beautifully done. The lush jungle sounds and the cries of the dinosaurs make for a very atmospheric tour.
But it is all marred by the tour itself, by Thomas Sharp and his insistence that if science doesn’t mirror what appears in the Bible, it just isn’t science.
It is an interesting time for scientific debate in America - when it isn’t just scientists who debate the scientific issues of the day, but ordinary men and women. This is, of course, as it should be in a healthy society. But when one side comes to a debate prepared to sneer at the knowledge of the other side, what possible good is that debate?
In some parts of the country, groups can arrange for what are known as Biblically Correct Tours, in which a guide will accompany you to the museum and tell you where the scientists got it wrong.
There is a story that the eminent biologist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what might possibly disprove the theory of evolution, famously answered, “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.”
But for those who sponsor or visit attractions like the Museum of Earth History, such retorts fall on deaf ears. They are not interested in debate, or fossil records, or even having their children exposed to the theory of evolution.
In the end result, attractions like the Museum of Earth History are not meant for those seeking more information about how things came to be; they are meant to bolster one’s faith. It’s just too bad that some feel the need to strengthen society’s faith at the price of real knowledge.
Richard S. Drake is the author of a novel, “Freedom Run,” and “Ozark Mosaic: Adventures in Arkansas Alternative Journalism, 1990-2002.”
Little Rock Free Press - January, 2007