The new Museum of Earth History that opened last week in Eureka Springs, Ark., isn't nearly as big as more famous natural-history museums in Chicago, Washington and New York City; in fact, the whole thing would probably fit neatly inside one of their exhibition halls. And its nine replicas of dinosaur skeletons and skulls don't quite measure up to the rich fossil collections on display elsewhere.
But it's got something the others don't: an account of Earth's history that hews to the most literal version of biblical creationism. Nestled close to the 67-ft.-tall Christ of the Ozarks statue, the museum is the latest addition to a theological theme park established almost four decades ago by the late Gerald L. K. Smith, a right-wing zealot and notorious anti-Semite. So if you go there, you will walk through exhibits depicting Eden and the Tower of Babel and learn that all life on Earth was created at one stroke about 6,000 years ago (no mention of evolution), that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time, and that the terrible lizards perished under human pressure and habitat loss.
Scientists, naturally, won't be rushing for a visit. William Etges, an evolutionary biologist at the nearby University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, dismisses the museum's version of history as "utterly irrelevant to what we actually know and understand about our world." But the museum's president, G. Thomas Sharp, whose doctorate in the philosophy of religion and science was awarded by a Florida seminary, says the exhibits are intended to counter a lamentable shift in public education to what he calls "a very secular, pagan base," arguing that "the biblical explanation to earth science is very feasible and very satisfying." At least for some people: the museum expects from 35,000 to 50,000 visitors a year. --By Steve Barnes