Adam and Eve are brought back to life in a high-tech museum about earth's creation, but not everyone agrees with the interpretation.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 21:28
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SBS One

An Australian and his $17 million Creation Museum are creating controversy in the United States.

Ken Ham, a former science teacher from Queensland, has devoted his life to preaching the 'creation story'; that God created the world 6,000 years ago.

Now tens of thousands of true believers flock to his high-tech Hollywood-style museum in Kentucky each year. The animatronic displays bring alive everything from the Garden of Eden to the history of dinosaurs.

But Ham's increasing popularity and his unequivocal preaching rile an increasingly vocal band of atheists, who believe more in Charles Darwin than Adam and Eve.

WATCH - See their heated clash in David Brill's colourful story.

REPLAY - As well as speaking to Professor PZ Myers at the Texas Freethought Convention for this report, David also spoke to Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens at the convention for a Dateline report broadcast in October 2011. Click here to replay Fighting Faith.

Resources

Transcript

Today is Super Tuesday in the US. 10 states are up for grabs for Republican Party presidential hopefuls. Of course, key Southern states contain many evangelical Christian voters. And Republican delegates may well turn up today with the words of an Australian ringing in their ears. Ken Ham is one of the leading evangelicals in the US. His massive Creation Museum is a very popular draw card. And as David Brill found, the museum is also a focal point for Ken Ham's many atheist critics.

REPORTER: David Brill

Surrounded by acres of tranquillity, Kentucky's $17 million Creation Museum is a magnet for believers.

REPORTER: What brings you here today, please?

MAN: We're on Christian Tours from North Carolina.

The Genesis story that God created heaven and earth plays out in spectacular multimedia displays using Hollywood technology.

MAN: Along the way, they forgot all about God.

It draws tens of thousands from all over the USA. The auditoriums are full and this Garden of Eden, a revelation for true believers.

WOMAN: Oh. I finally realised today that God made time. He made the days, he made the 24 hours. He made, you know, he gave this to us. I guess I never realised that before.

Darwin's theory of evolution is under threat. The world didn't evolve over billions of years - it seems it was created around 6,000 years ago.

MUSEUM VOICE OVER: You see this rock? Evolution is what they can see, millions and billions of years into the past, by doing radioisotope data. But they are making a ton of assumptions when they do that. The only meaningful place to start is the word of someone who's seen everything from the beginning and told us what's happened. That someone is God. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth".

There's also Noah and his ark.

MUSEUM VOICE OVER: Have you thought about that conversation? God's word is true.

WOMAN: We're with a seniors' church group that came. We're from north-eastern Mississippi and we heard of this and they scheduled for us to come. And it's just been amazing.

REPORTER: And what do you say about people who are atheist? It seems to be a growing group in America.

WOMAN: They are losing out.

REPORTER: Why?

WOMAN: Because they do not believe that there's anything beyond, you know, when they die. And, oh, this is gonna be glorious.

The museum is a creation of Australian Ken Ham. After a degree in applied science, he began teaching and preaching in Queensland before coming to the USA 25 years ago.

KEN HAM, FOUNDER, CREATION MUSEUM: This is what we call the Wonders Room. It's really our intelligent design room, if you like. You know, Roman 120 in the Bible says, "If up don't believe in God, you're without excuse. It's so obvious there's a God." There are 15 videos, on the structure of the eye or solar system, looking at plants, sea creatures. It's all to show it's obvious there's a designer behind life. One of the atheists who was here once... Was quoted in the newspaper saying, "That place is so well done, kids are gonna believe it." They want kids to believe atheism, not the Bible.

REPORTER: What do you think of Ken?

MAN: I think it's great. I am thankful God gave him a vision and called him to do this and he fulfilled it and it's been great.

God's word echoes around the halls. But Ken Ham has many vocal critics.

PROFESSOR PAUL P Z MYERS, CREATIONIST CRITIC: It is not a museum. It's not a place for inquiry and exploration of the evidence. It's a propaganda place.

Professor PZ Myers is an evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist. He's speaking at a recent Free Thought convention in Texas.

PROFESSOR P Z MYERS: I think they ought to call it Ken Ham's Haunted the House. This is what it really is. It's a ride on rails where you go through and they try to scare the Dickens out of you about the horrible things evolution will do to you, that really is what it is. I took a group of 300 atheist students to the museum. We did not overwhelm their facilities. No, we were just a few people in the sea of Christians attending and praising this wonderful so-called museum.

KEN HAM: And we were very kind to them and, you know, helped them to organise their group. But here's what many people don't realise - at midday, they went outside the museum gates and had a mock communion service, where he was served Kentucky bourbon and a cheese cracker to mock the death and resurrection of Christ. They come here, but on the other hand go and mock Christianity and mock the gospel. The fact that they are so emotional about this tells you the Bible's true. You annoy what the Bible says? The knowledge of God is written in our hearts and those who don't want to believe it suppress the truth.

MUSEUM VOICE OVER: How old do you think I am? 600? For the first two centuries of my life, I knew Adam.

REPORTER: What proof do you have that the world is 6,000 years old?

KEN HAM: In regard to what you call scientific methodology, such as using radiometric dating methods. I mean, all dating methods involve a process of change over time. You cannot prove or disprove what the age of the earth is. It's impossible, in an absolute sense. I can't prove it's young, they can't prove it's old. But for me, the ultimate proof that the universe is thousands of years old, not millions of years old, is the record of the history book of the universe, the Bible.

PROFESSOR P Z MYERS: This is pure garbage. This is somebody who's ignoring the mountain of evidence that supports the age of the earth. What they have done is they have essentially surrendered their intellectual responsibility to this thing that they call faith, which is just an excuse to swallow superstition whole, I think.

The debate is fierce, but the Creation is so well-organised and prolific.

KEN HAM: God hasn't hidden the answer. In fact, he's raised it high for all to see.

REPORTER: Tell me, where does that go out to?

KEN HAM: 600 radio stations throughout the United States and a few dozen overseas.

REPORTER: How often do you do these short ones?

KEN HAM: This is a daily radio program. We do a few weeks of programming in one sitting.

Back at the Mew museum, the gospel is preached in many forms.

SONG: In the book of Daniel there's a story to be told # Of a little heathen boy # He was taken from his home and march to do Babylon # But in his heart he knew he should go on # Here, kitty, kitty... #

And the Genesis story is a big seller in the museum book shop. Books, DVDs and magazines all push the message. Here, it's mostly an older crowd. But they are on a mission.

WOMAN: A lot of children are better off if they don't go to Sunday school because of the things that are being taught there, which are not biblical. As grandparents, my husband and I want to know how we can influence our grandchildren.

REPORTER: How do you explain the widespread appeal of creationism?

PROFESSOR P Z MYERS: From my background as a scientist and an educator, I can't comprehend it, because this is stuff that flouts all the facts, all the evidence that we have. The main reason I think that it's succeeding so well in this country is that its proponents have done an excellent job of corrupting public education.

But the Creationists believe exactly the opposite - that the non-believers are winning the battle for hearts and minds.

KEN HAM: The atheists are not just a minority, if I can say it this way. They are really a small minority, but they tend to get in a culture that's really become secularised from the top down, because many of the leaders say in the education system and in the secular media, many of them would either claim to be atheist or agnostic or something like that. Your scientific associations, many who run those would claim to be maybe atheist, or at the least that they certainly don't believe the Bible's account of creation.

MAN: I didn't realise then that the Bible is a whole lot more logical than the theory of evolution. You see, I have been reading a lot of books and listening to a lot of tapes on self-improvement and have noticed a recurring thing. All these successful guys noticed that having faith was an essential to having a successful life.

Each morning the museum workers gather to express their faith.

REPORTER: Why don't you believe in God?

PROFESSOR P Z MYERS: Because nobody's ever shown me the evidence for it. It's a ludicrous proposition. You know, if it were true, it would be amazing, right? It would be the most incredible thing ever discovered in the universe, if there was some being greater than the whole of what we have been living and studying in, and he has these vast powers. That would be earth-shaking to know about. If people had evidence, they would trot it out. The impression, from studying religion of any kind, they don't know the hell what they are talking about. They make it up as they go along.

But for the faithful, there's no debate. And the Australian, Ken Ham, remains a star.

KEN HAM: So you're running a radio program?

MAN: Yes. As far as I am concerned, the most important voice in our generation. Sign right there for me. You can do that.

KEN HAM: How long's the radio station been on the air?

MAN: 26 years.

KEN HAM: Is that right?

MAN: And we appreciate you so much. Thank you.

WOMAN: We are just very thankful that God brought Ken Ham here and we're thankful that you can take our love back to Australia.

YALDA HAKIM: David Brill there, in the land of dinosaurs and Adam and Eve. No contradiction if you're a Creationist. There's more on the great God debate on our website, where you can replay David Brill's interviews with Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens from last October. And you can let us know what you think about any of tonight's stories at sbs.com.au/dateline.

Reporter/Camera

DAVID BRILL

Producer

GEOFF PARISH

Researcher

MELANIE MORRISON

Editor

WAYNE LOVE

Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN

6th March 2012