Searching for the elusive answer to a persistent question concerning the seeming gullibility of my fellow Americans—namely, why did 42 percent of adults surveyed this spring by Gallup say they believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago?—I recently found myself in the office of Ken Ham, the born-again Barnum behind Kentucky’s $35 million Creation Museum, debating a separate but related question, one whose existence I had not previously recognized but which became for me a source of instant paleontological delight: How could dinosaurs have coexisted with other animals within the teeming confines of Noah’s Ark? Because, you see, Noah’s Ark, in Ken Ham’s understanding of the world, was crammed stem to stern with dinosaurs. The cleverest creationists don’t deny the historicity of dinosaurs; they simply argue that they were alive at the start of the Flood, which, by their calculation, occurred approximately 4,350 years ago. (What happened to the dinosaurs after the waters receded is another story.) One sign of Ham’s genius—and he is, at the very least, a marketing genius—is his ability to shape a conversation on his terms, which is why I heard myself arguing against the possibility of a dinosaur-laden ark, rather than arguing against the notion that the ark itself was an actual thing that existed. My argument, in case you were wondering, is that the Tyrannosauruses would have eaten the sheep. QED, right? Except, no. “Many dinosaurs,” Ham says, “were smaller than chickens.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. A short while later, Ken Ham found 40 acres of pastureland in northern Kentucky on which to build a museum devoted to the ideology of “Young Earth” creationism, which holds that the world is 6,000 years old, and which represents for a subset of evangelical Christians not only the most convincing explanation for how our planet, and the humans who rule it in God’s name, came into being, but also a potent weapon in the struggle against homosexuality and other modern ailments. What I didn’t understand until I visited Ken Ham is that his museum, which is devoted to a literal, historical reading of the first book of the Bible, is in itself a forward operating base in the conservative war against legalized abortion, gay marriage, and the belief that man is at least partially responsible for climate change (the creationists’ retort being that God will not allow man to destroy a world that he created).