Creationism? Not in Washington, apparently
June 3: spent 3 hours at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Washington DC. A national showcase and as huge and impressive as you would expect. Admission free.
Picture of a dinosaur skull at the museum entrance shows the visitor what to expect – note the highlighting I’ve put on the superimposed description. If you’re offended by the proposal that the earth is 4.6 billions years old and we know that, run away and play. Evolution confronts you from every display. The geologic column, divided into layers illustrating the aeons of earth’s history, forms a centre piece in one of the great halls. No suggestion anywhere this might be contentious, controversial, unproven. Darwinism is a given: but there’s no nasty naturalist agenda on view, no Satanic deception, no liberal conspiracy: just an excitement in discovery and an eagerness to present knowledge in an accessible way. One or two displays acknowledged that dating errors had been made previously, which better research had now been able to correct; in other words, dialogue between scientists had served to fine-tune evolutionist methodology; but it had not been thrown into confusion, as creationists are fond of alleging.
In the bookstore, could I find one volume making the case for a young earth? Only one or two giving ID short shrift, otherwise, there is no hint of what creationists insist is still a debate. The show is over. This is America, where creationism is relatively strong. And here in the nation’s capital prime science museum, creationism is invisible. There were school parties everywhere, getting excited by dinosaurs, lapping up old-earth chronology as they did so. Creationism is not even seen as something that is worth responding to. I really did think there might be, somewhere in the Smithsonian, some acknowledgement that not everyone thinks the world really is this old, some Americans hold other points of view, but not a whisper. The great (relatively) creationist institutions of America might as well not exist so far as the Smithsonian is concerned. In all this time they have made no impression.
I visited some general bookstores to find much the same thing. The “religion” sections are generally better stocked in terms of both quantity and quality than one typically finds in Waterstones, the principal chain of British bookshops – but creationism… nowhere. I’ll see if the US’ equivalent of SPCK stocks any more creationist titles than the approximately zero held in British stores: I’m guessing not. I’ll need to go to a Baptist bookshop to find some, roll on Mississippi!