The Day 285 Atheists/Agnostics Visited the Creation Museum

I missed out on all the excitement yesterday back at the Creation Museum as over 2,200 guests toured—including about 285 people affiliated with a humanist (largely atheist) group called the Secular Student Alliance (SSA). I find it funny that many evolutionists have been declaring or speculating on websites and blogs that I intentionally stayed away from the museum on Friday!  I am speaking at a statewide homeschool conference cross country in Washington State. I can assure you that such events are organized well in advance, and so this has been on my calendar for about a year.

Mark Looy of our staff wrote me a lengthy report on the SSA/atheist visit yesterday, and most of it is presented below. Now, it is somewhat lengthy, but since I’m sure that much will be written by evolutionists about the SSA trip (and we’ve already noticed some false reporting), we wanted to present our side here (Proverbs 18:13) of what was largely an uneventful visit, with some notable exceptions (but in a group of 285 people with a completely different worldview, you are going to expect some challenges with a portion of them, especially when some of their comments on the web about us are nasty and vile).

Here is Mark’s report:

Summary of the Visit Friday by the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), August 7, 2009

There was a lot of mocking inside the museum Friday (and to a lesser extent during Dr. Jason Lisle’s noon lecture) by dozens of the 285 in the SSA group, and some of the mocking could be clearly heard by many of our guests (especially in our Noah’s Flood rooms, but also in the Garden of Eden exhibit when words like “garbage” were uttered, etc.). Several times during the day we had to ask mockers to keep their voices down (I did it five times myself), but generally, it was more peaceful than what we expected (many blog comments from those who were coming were promising some very aggressive actions). The majority of the SSA group was quite civil. It helped that there were over 2,200 people at the museum, and thus the 285 in the SSA group were in a small minority. (The SSA is having a convention in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend about two hours away, with an associate professor in Minnesota speaking there—that’s why this group was with us today.)

Only one person was asked to leave the museum, and one person was given a final warning that he was about to be escorted out if he acted up one more time (though some people are “boasting” that he was also asked to leave—not true, and more about that in a moment).

Overall, though, given the several disruptions and recognizing that our regular guests sadly had to overhear and endure some mocking (a family from Virginia shared their frustration with me about the SSA group), the day went well. It helped that all 285 atheists/agnostics signed a statement that they would be civil—they did that when they checked in and got their tickets from their organizer, Lyz (who was a pleasure to work with).  By the way, I did not request that the signed agreements were to be done (with the exception of getting the professor’s signature, which we demanded in a certified letter mailed to him over a week ago)—to her credit, Lyz, after hearing our concerns about the web chatter about the possible behavior of her SSA group, did not want to see a ruckus in the museum, and she, I understand it, volunteered the idea of having her group sign such a statement (and we did verify with Lyz that the prof signed it).

But there were still some incidents, but most were minor. For example, despite our clear sign next to the Triceratops model downstairs (which is not in the museum exhibit area), where it stated this was a photo op and that children under 12 could get on (see photo attached), some SSA members hopped on anyway. Our head of security went downstairs to stop that activity when he heard of it. The prof got on, too, but insisted that he only saw the children’s sign after he got on! Here is a photo of the sign which is easy to see and read:

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Indeed, that much-mocked Triceratops model of ours—with the saddle on it, and which has been mistakenly taken by our opponents as a museum exhibit rather than a photo op area for families with children—was a center of much attention today. The model had just been patched up Thursday (it had taken a lot of beating over the past two years by children climbing on board ) to be back just in time for today. We did not want to be accused of hiding something so “infamous.” It was clearly placed in a non-exhibit part of the museum and marked with a sign that stated that this was for children to get on and for photos to be taken. (By the way, it was some sight for drivers along I-275 Thursday evening to see this Triceratops on the back of a truck as it was being brought back to the museum. Even one of the SSA group saw it on the highway that night and took a photo, which has popped up on some blogs.) Of course, we are not embarrassed by our teaching that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, but the atheists have been implying that this photo-op spot in the museum was our “evidence” of dino-human co-existence. To use a photo op area for kids, no different to what one finds at many secular venues, shows how much these opponents clutch at straws and will twist anything to try to mock us.

It was at the Triceratops model that our security chief (and then a few minutes later, me) had a run-in with an SSA young person, A young man (apparently from Canada) was asked to turn his atheist T-shirt inside out  (it had wording on it similar to what was seen on some atheist bus campaigns in some cities, blaring that there is no God—and the words “NO GOD” were in big letters on the shirt). The young man did so, but then proceeded to argue with our uniformed officer about why the wording was deemed offensive. The man did not get angry, but he was defensive—and borderline aggressive. I caught the tail end of it, and witnessed our officer calmly and patiently listening to the man.

Then about 5-10 minutes later, this same young man was in the bookstore upstairs. He was standing with the prof and 10-12 SSA members, and I stopped to hear what was being said—especially since the prof was being filmed at the time and that was creating some congestion. This young man stated, in a voice that could be heard beyond the 10-12 people (in a crowded bookstore) declaring derisively that he was not about to spend another penny in the museum (or words to that effect). I asked him to keep his voice down, and he looked at me quizzically and asked what was wrong. Again, he was defensive and smart-alecky—this time in a crowded bookstore.

Just a few minutes later I was at the FX photo booth, where I met a father and mother—with their young son and daughter—who had expressed some frustration that their visit was marred by the mockers inside the museum. They said, for example, that they were hoping to explain some of the significance of the Noah’s Flood to their children, who could not quite understand all the concepts—the parents were trying to explain things to their children in a way they could understand them at their level. But the laughing and mocking by some in the SSA group nearby were a distraction to the children, and this family felt their visit was not what it could have been (a 16-hour round-trip drive) . I apologized to them, and offered free tickets for their next visit and left them my card.

As this conversation was going on, the young man who had given us those hassles in the bookstore and at the Triceratops model, walked by. I stopped him and asked him to step over to the FX photo area and away from others in the group. I told him that the unruliness of his group—him included—was keeping our guests from fully enjoying their time, and I motioned over to the family from Virginia, noting that their visit was disrupted and that people like them were owed an apology. The young man leaned over and (to his credit) apologized to the family—a few feet away—for being disruptive. I said to the young man that he was out of chances, and that his next disturbance would lead to his being ushered out of the museum. He said that he was leaving the museum any way, so that would not be a problem.

The bigger incident at this particular moment is recounted here by Dan Mangus, our museum’s director, who saw much of what went on with the young man talking with me:

When you addressed the young man to have him apologize to the offended family, a gentleman stepped from the prof’s mob to try to film the action and listen in. I stepped in front of his camera and informed him it was a private conversation. He kept sidestepping me and being rude about it, like I didn’t exist, so I motioned for an officer to escort him away. Our officer said:  ‘Sir, will you come with me?’  The photographer said nothing; he just followed him.  Nothing else was said.  He escorted him to the crosswalk. That’s when he made the comment that he hadn’t done anything.

I mention this in detail because Lyz and many SSA members were (falsely) told that the young man was thrown out, and that is now being reported by bloggers, and we want to set the record straight. Only one person—the videographer—was ushered out.

Other incidents (but which were probably not disruptive for our guests, except for those driving into the property at the time) … The prof and a few dozen of his followers walked off the grounds and held a rally in front of the museum entrance.  There, a ram’s horn was blown (I suppose this was borrowing from Joshua 6 when a ram’s horn was blown, signally that the walls of Jericho were to come tumbling down. I guess it was their “statement” that the SSA had “conquered” the museum, but I did not hear what was said). Also, our security staff indicated that a mock communion service was held out front where crackers with cheese were served. Mocking the death and resurrection of our Lord like this is an extremely serious thing indeed. But they have to answer to the Lord for that. Then it was announced to the crowd that the prof was just named a Kentucky Colonel, and a proclamation was given to him. (I understand that these are easy to get; if you’re nominated by a Kentucky Colonel, it’s a relatively simple process). But why a governor and secretary of state of a state would indiscriminately allow their signatures to be affixed to this proclamation is bizarre, especially if the governor would ever read some of the prof’s vile writings.

Strangely, the prof wrote on his blog—just before he visited—that “285 people signed up so far. There is some concern that we’ll strain their parking …” Now, the SSA made up only about 12% of our total guest count on Friday, so parking challenges were a non-issue (we have three large parking areas and have had many days with many more cars than we had Friday). We have handled even 4,000 people in one day. But the prof was somehow concerned that 285 people coming in and probably no more than 100 cars (there was a lot of carpooling among the SSA group) were going to be a problem for us.  The professor also wrote that we provided them with a special check-in tent outside the museum because his group was so large. Actually, the tent is there regularly, and we had nine other groups sign in there yesterday. Also, I want to note that we had 900 people in one group come to the museum last month—perhaps the prof shouldn’t be too boastful.

Dr. Lisle and Dr. Menton of our staff chatted with a few of the skeptics—these were not hostile engagements, however (see photo of one person talking with Dr. Lisle), but cordial.

Young man talking with Dr. Jason Lisle
Here is Dr. Lisle’s summary of his part of the day inside the museum (when he gave his lecture):

Today I spoke to a group of atheists in the Special Effects Theater.  The Special Effects Theater was filled to capacity, so some people were not able to attend the presentation.  (About 40 people had to be turned away.)  A few Christians attended the talk, but most of the attendees were not Christians [those with the SSA group were issued name tags by their organizer and so they were easily spotted].  I did a presentation on The Ultimate Proof of Creation which parallels my book with the same title.  In this talk, I demonstrate that the Christian worldview must be true by showing that the alternative destroys the possibility of science and knowledge.

Although there were a few people (perhaps 20 or so) that were softly but audibly mocking during the presentation, the rest of the audience was polite and attentive.  I suspect that many of them had never heard such an argument before, and will hopefully consider the given information.  I got the impression that they were really thinking about what was presented.

After the presentation, I stayed in the lobby to answer questions.  Since I had presented a very strong case that Christianity alone is rational and scientific (in a firm, but polite way), I was expecting that a lot of people would want to argue with me.  But only a few of the secular students came to ask me questions (and none of the ones that were scoffing during the presentation, interestingly).  Some of the students had very good follow-up questions.  Two or three attempted a counter-argument, but none were able to successfully refute The Ultimate Proof of Creation. All of the people who spoke with me were polite and cordial.

Let’s pray that the Lord uses what these students saw at the Creation Museum to soften hearts and bring many people to salvation.—Dr. Lisle

Looking back on the day, I find it ironic that an ardent atheist like this prof would bother bringing 285 people to our museum and hear our biblical messages—people who would not even think about attending church. And here, they got the gospel message! We are grateful for the opportunity to share with them.

I thanked Lyz at the end of the SSA visit for her efforts in trying too keep her group in check. We had a 10-minute debriefing, where I first asked how we had done. No complaints at all from her. I did tell her about the conduct of some of her guests—including the videographer who was ushered out and the young man we almost asked to leave.  She said that we acted appropriately, and she had nothing but praise for the staff—for their attitude as well as professionalism.

I told her that the SSA would be welcomed back if she could again attempt to help keep the mocking from happening. I admitted that out of 285 people, it just takes a few people to stir things up. I told her that we had heard from a few families who were distracted by the mocking (e.g., the family from Virginia, who drove 8 hours to get here and felt that their trip was not what they expected). Lyz  apologized— sincerely—for their misbehavior.

Many staff certainly earned their salaries today. A job well done—especially when even the SSA leader raved about our museum staff’s professionalism and graciousness.

I am happy to report that we had many people around the country praying for us and the SSA group (they had read your blog, Ken—or had been following the prof’s blog). Inside, our staff met for prayer at 8:30 am, and then throughout the day, we had staff gathering in the board room at certain hours to pray for our visitors.

Some TV stations had stories this morning about the SSA visit. No newspaper or radio reporters came that I was aware of—just a reporter with a left-leaning free tabloid in Cincinnati, and there was someone who stated that he was with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, but since he could not produce credentials, not even a business card (he then acknowledged he was a free-lancer), we just gave him our “prepared statement.”*

Our public safety officers and museum staff dealt with the incidents in a very professional way, and Lyz—the SSA person who was the nuts-and-bolts organizer of this tour—was very complimentary of all the staff’s behavior. The officers and staff used great restraint when dealing with some of the louder SSA guests. As I noted above, only one person was ushered away (when he clearly disregarded the order not to videotape a private conversation). I am very proud of our museum staff in the way they carried out their duties on Friday.
DEVOTIONAL

Lastly, a museum staff member (Larry) shared the following devotional that he had happened to read this very morning that was printed inside his Bible, and it was so apt for the day:

Academics tell us that we all have mental ‘paradigms’ or sets of assumptions about reality. It takes a powerful exposure to ‘new truth’ to cause a new ‘paradigm shift.’ In fact, it takes the Holy Spirit to shift a person from worldly-mindedness to heavenly-mindedness. When others think we are crazy for believing as we do, our response should be to pray that God will enable them to believe ‘crazily’ in Jesus, too (Acts 26:29). Paul replied, ‘Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.’

I would have to think that some hearts were touched today by the Christ-like attitude of our staff as well as the Bible-centered messages of the museum, and that their paradigm was challenged. Dr. Lisle and Dr. Menton told me that some of the SSA group that they interacted with seemed to be truly searching. Please pray that hearts will be changed as a result of this visit.

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*Here is the full text of our prepared statement that we issued to media outlets today:

The Creation Museum welcomes anyone to tour our family attraction. We especially encourage visits by those who are skeptical about the Christian faith, for we will offer them a different perspective of world history (including origins) than what is presented in almost all natural history museums and public school science classes.

We frequently come across blog comments from atheists and agnostics who intend to visit the museum with their minds already made up and are prepared to mock.  But we note that they scoff at anyone who believes in a God, whether that person accepts the historicity of the Bible or not.

We trust that such skeptics will be open to reassessing their dogmatically held views as they tour the Creation Museum, and will use their critical thinking ability to study the scientific and biblical arguments on the other side of the origins debate. Our museum has many exhibits of fossils and minerals, plus a state-of-the-art planetarium, along with several full-time staff with earned doctoral degrees (astronomy, biology, geology, history/philosophy of science, molecular genetics and medicine)—all here to offer a view that is excluded in almost all public schools and natural history museums and thus generally withheld from the public.

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Thanks, Mark. No doubt I will have some more reports in future blogs concerning this visit.

I found it strange that some of our opponents are now saying we are thin-skinned and easily offended when people misbehave on our property. But we’re not concerned with ourselves. We just don’t want our guests to be offended by loud talk and in-your-face comments that might be prominent on an atheist T-shirt (especially when people are standing in line, as most are on a busy day like Friday, and an offensive T-shirt is right in front of you). It has everything to do with our guests having a wonderful time here. Indeed, some T-shirts were taken as offensive and inappropriate, as some of our guests shared with us. We are sensitive to their experience here, and we want them to get the full benefit of their visit and the biblical messages we proclaim.  Many guests have come a long way and thus have invested a lot of time and money in travel, accommodations, food, etc.  to come to the museum, and we want to ensure that their investment results in the best possible experience we can give them.

Would you imagine that a secular natural history museum would give someone a third chance after being warned twice for their behavior? And of course this SSA group—which had attendees indicating beforehand that they would be disruptive (as stated on many blog comments)—signed an agreement that they would follow our policies. Each SSA visitor agreed that they would not be disruptive to our guests (and thankfully that was the case with most of them), that they “would behave in a courteous and respectful manner to all museum staff, visitors, and media” and that they would “abide by all Creation Museum policies and staff instructions” (to use the words that the SSA composed themselves). Some of them sadly failed to abide by their signed agreement not to be disruptive in front of our other guests.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

Ken