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Kentucky museum draws criticism

A Kentucky museum where Adam and Eve share exhibit space with dinosaurs is exciting criticism from science educators as it nears completion.

The $27 million (20 million EUR) Creation Museum tells a Biblical version of the Earth's history, asserting that the planet is just a few thousand years old and man and the giant lizards once coexisted.

It's just the latest twist in the long-running conceptual debate between science vs. faith-based versions of Earthly reality, a struggle that wends from Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" of a teacher who taught evolution (he lost) to recent school-board battles over the classroom inclusion of the "intelligent design" theory, the latest incarnation of creationism.

The educators say the museum exhibits, inspired by the Old Testament, are geared toward children but lack scientific evidence.

"When they try to confuse (kids) about what is science and what isn't science, scientists have an obligation to speak out," said Lawrence Krauss, an author and physics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "There's no doubt these are documented lies."

Krauss has signed one of two petitions circulated by national groups this week that challenge the facility's exhibits.

The museum, built by the nonprofit ministry Answers in Genesis with private donations, includes a 180-seat special-effects theater, a 40-foot (12-meter)-tall depiction of Noah's Ark and robotic, roaring dinosaurs. The 50,000 square-foot (4,645-square-meter) facility in rural Petersburg, Kentucky, just a few miles (kilometers) south of Cincinnati, will open to the public at the end of the month.

Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham said the vast majority of natural history museums and textbooks available to students are devoted to teaching evolution.

"And they're worried about one creation museum?" he said. "I think they're really concerned that we're going to get information out that they don't want people to hear."

Ham said critics need to tour the museum before making judgments.

One of the petitions, started by the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a Washington group that focuses on church and state issues, says the museum is part of a "campaign by the religious right to inject creationist teachings into science education."

Krauss said about 2,000 educators, mostly university-level, have signed the petition. A second petition from the National Center for Science Education sent to educators in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio had attracted support from nearly 600 university professors. It says there are "scientifically inaccurate" exhibits at the museum.

"The nature of the science process that's presented at the Answers in Genesis museum is very different from how science is really done by real scientists," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the Oakland, California, group, which promotes the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

Scientists say Earth is several billion years old, and that the first dinosaurs appeared around 200 million years ago, dying out well before the first human ancestors arose a few million years ago.

Ham maintains the museum exhibits, some of which include fossils, are based on scientific findings. He said the staff is stocked with scientists trained at secular universities.

"We use the same science they do," Ham said. "What they're really saying is they disagree with our beliefs about history, about the Bible, but we use the same science and genetics they do."

Scott, Krauss and others said Ham has a right to open the museum, but they are concerned with the effect it could have on science education in public schools.

"We're not talking about free speech. We would not protest the museum," said Alan Leshner, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science. "However, we are concerned that we not mislead young people inadvertently or intentionally about what science is showing."

Ham said the museum will attract home-schooled kids and students from Christian schools, but he said there are no plans to reach out to public schools. Admission for children ages 5 to 12 will be $9.95 (7.38 EUR), and $19.95 (14.80 EUR) for most adults.

"We're not targeting the public schools," Ham said. "I suspect by intimidation and threats of lawsuits, I doubt whether public school students, as an official tour, would come."

Ham said the museum will draw an estimated 250,000 visitors in its first year, and TV and newspaper advertising will begin soon in six major metro areas.

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