We Believe in Dinosaurs is an independent documentary chronicling the story of the Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky, and will be featured as part of PBS’ Independent Lens programming in February, 2020.
Ten years ago, the world’s most well-known Young Earth Creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis (AiG), announced that they would build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark, as a Christian theme park, in Kentucky, deep in the heart of the American Midwest. Ken Ham, the president of AiG, envisioned that along with the AiG Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter would inspire a new generation of Christians to rethink how they read the Bible, to show how the story of a global flood, as taught in the Bible. according to Ken Ham, provides a better explanation of earth history, as the most Scripturally faithful alternative to a secular worldview, the latter which is currently undermining morals and other Christian values in the Western world today.
A full size replica of Noah’s Ark!!? Many Christians look to the work of Answers in Genesis as a way of supporting their belief and confidence in the Bible, whereas other Christians have the opposite reaction, and struggle with doubt, as to how accurately Answers in Genesis portrays science and faith. Others are curious and not sure what to think.
In February 2014, Ken Ham publicly debated famed TV personality Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” which has since garnered millions of views on YouTube. The debate gave Answers in Genesis the exposure needed to make the Ark Encounter a success. Once the Ark was completed, Nye even returned to the Ark Encounter, for yet another impromptu, casual debate with Ken Ham, as they walked together through the exhibit.
Ken Ham has envisioned the possibility of “seven billion people” coming to the Ark Encounter. Given the record breaking attendance, over the past few years, Ken Ham maybe on the way to see this vision becoming a reality.
Since the opening of the Ark Encounter in July, 2016, I have known dozens of my Christian friends who have visited the museum. Regardless of how my friends view the Scriptural accuracy of Young Earth Creationism, everyone I know who has seen the exhibit has walked away overwhelmed with the top quality and workmanship of the park. The Ark Encounter makes for quite an impressive visit, though it does represent a significant development away from the version of the Young Earth Creationist story that I learned during my years in college, at my college church.
Back some 35 years ago, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) was one of the premier Young Earth Creationist groups in the world, as the American version of Answers of Genesis, did not exist in those days. The Young Earth Creationists at ICR could not imagine how evolution could work, to account for the biological diversity we see today, except at the micro-evolutionary level, a biological process generally found within species. For example, Young Earth Creationists readily accept that the flu virus mutates every year, requiring a new flu vaccine on a yearly basis. This is a type of micro-evolution, which is compatible with a biblical view of history. The version of Young Earth Creation I was taught in my college church, as promoted by ICR, did not allow for any case for evolution beyond that.
So, what has changed over the years? Well, one big challenge for the Young Earth view of Creation, is in demonstrating how the placement of the animals on the Ark, in a global flood model, can adequately explain the great wealth of biological diversity we see in our world today, less than 6,000 years after the global flood occurred. Today, at Answers in Genesis, the solution has been to propose that Darwinian natural selection took place after the great flood event, but at a greatly accelerated rate.
Instead of the standard Darwinian view, which sees all of biological life within a tree of life, where all living organisms share a common ancestor, the Answers in Genesis view proposes an orchard of life, whereby the diverse animal populations on-board the ark, represent different trees within the orchard, that are responsible for generating all of the future diverse animal populations we find on planet earth today.
Old Earth Creationists do not accept a global flood, but rather say that the message of the Bible is consistent with a large local flood. Such Old Earth Creationists, who accept the standard view of a 4.34 billion year old earth, as being compatible with Scripture, are skeptical of the Answers in Genesis orchard of life proposal, in that it assumes that the animals on-board the Ark, were somehow genetically supercharged to accomplish this amazing feat. But Old Earth Creationists maintain that such genetic “supercharging” could never have been sustainable, in such a short period of time, in less than a few thousand years. That is part of the reason why a large local flood makes more sense, wiping out only a part of the earth’s creaturely world, at least from a scientific perspective, compatible with Old Earth Creationism.
But Old Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find the ideas offered by Answers in Genesis, to visitors of the Ark Encounter, to be less than convincing. The Institute for Creation Research, (ICR), whose material I read back in the 1980s, argues that Darwinian natural selection, in any form, including Answers in Genesis’ version, is completely incompatible, not only with science, but with the Bible as well. But if natural selection is off the table, as ICR proposes, what then actually is the mechanism that could result in today’s biological diversity? One should note that Answers in Genesis founder, Ken Ham, once worked with ICR, eventually splitting off to form the U.S. version of Answers in Genesis, in 1994.
It all makes for a confusing situation, for those who try to examine the details of Young Earth Creationist views of the Bible, and how they relate to science. Which version of Young Earth Creationism is correct?
One of those avid Young Earth Creationist thinkers, who has since had serious second thoughts about Young Earth Creationism, is David MacMillan. MacMillan was interviewed by independent filmmakers, Monica Long Ross and Clayton Brown, to create the documentary We Believe in Dinosaurs. MacMillan was interviewed by Christian apologist, Randal Rauser, detailing how he got involved in the making of the film.
One of the strengths about We Believe in Dinosaurs is that there is no narrator in the film. The film is made up of interviews with people deeply invested somehow in the Ark Encounter project. On the side sympathetic towards Answers in Genesis, is the talented Doug Henderson, who headed up the sculpture team, who produced all of the animal representations found in the Ark Encounter exhibit. Outspoken critic of the Ark Encounter, Dan Phelps, a geologist with the Kentucky Paleontological Society, is also interviewed in the documentary.
Though several Christians are interviewed in the film, Christian viewers of We Believe in Dinosaurs might feel uncomfortable about the film’s secularized approach to the topic of Creation. The film sides clearly on the side of promoting evolutionary science, but its stance towards biblical Christianity is undecided, offering multiple Christian viewpoints in the film’s interviews.
Yet regardless as to how Christians might think about this documentary, one think is for sure: Christians themselves today are divided about how to think about the relationship between Creation and the Bible, and this division threatens to have a profound impact on the Christian witness for the Gospel, in an increasingly non-believing world.
Some Christians are quite content to believe in a 6,000 year old earth, and never give it that much thought. Other Christians have wrestled with the Scriptural text, and have come to different conclusions as to how God might have created the world, and how long that process took place. Even other Christians are aware of such problems, that face the Christian believer today, but who are wholeheartedly convinced that the scientific argument is still there, waiting for us to discovery it in nature, and that argument will eventually win over, even the most skeptical scientists, towards a more traditional, six-24-hour day interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis. And yet, sadly, there are also others, for whom the cognitive dissonance between the Bible and science is so great, and so disturbing, that they walk away from the faith, in disbelief.
As a Bible-believing Christian, with an interest in sharing my faith with others, I tend to steer clear of such topics, like the age of the earth, or evolution, unless the discussion of such topics would provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus. I want to stay focused on the Gospel, and not get sidetracked by conversations, that would leave Jesus off to the side. Nevertheless, science-based topics can be a real stumbling block for those, who wonder how the Bible and science fit together. With that in mind, We Believe in Dinosaurs might give some good food for thought.
We Believe in Dinosaurs would be a helpful discussion starter, for Christians to view, to help gain a more balanced perspective, as to why the topic of Creation and the Bible, is so divisive in Christian communities today. Is Christianity and science fundamentally at odds with one another, or are they in harmony? Watch We Believe in Dinosaurs to explore that question. We Believe in Dinosaurs will be broadcast on PBS television stations, on February 17, as part of their Independent Lens programming.