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Posted May 1, 2004
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Darwin-Free Fun For Creationists

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Steven Frame for The New York Times

Visitors at Dinosaur Adventure Land, a theme park that offers to help children "find out the truth about dinosaurs."



"My kids kept recognizing flaws in the presentation," said Mrs. Passmore, of Jackson, Ala. "You know — the whole `millions of years ago dinosaurs ruled the earth' thing."

So this week, the Passmores sought out a lower-profile Florida attraction: Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist theme park and museum here that beckons children to "find out the truth about dinosaurs" with games that roll science and religion into one big funfest with the message that Genesis, not science, tells the real story of the creation.

Kent Hovind, the minister who opened the park in 2001, said his aim was to spread the message of creationism through a fixture of mainstream America — the theme park — instead of pleading its case at academic conferences and in courtrooms.


Promoting Genesis outside the school curriculum.


Mr. Hovind, a former public school science teacher with his own ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, and a hectic lecture schedule, said he had opened Dinosaur Adventure Land to counter all the science centers and natural history museums that explain the evolution of life with Darwinian theory. There are dinosaur bone replicas, with accompanying explanations that God made dinosaurs on Day 6 of the creation as described in Genesis, 6,000 years ago. Among the products the park gift shop peddles are T-shirts with a small fish labeled "Darwin" getting gobbled by a bigger fish labeled "Truth."

"There are a lot of creationists that are really smart and debate the intellectuals, but the kids are bored after five minutes," said Mr. Hovind, who looks boyish at 51 and talks fast. "You're missing 98 percent of the population if you only go the intellectual route."

The theme park is just the latest approach to promoting creationism outside the usual school curriculum route, which Mr. Hovind and others see as important, but too limited and not sufficiently appealing to modern young families. Creationist groups are also promoting creationist vacations, including dinosaur digs in South Dakota, fossil-collecting trips in Australia and New Zealand, and tours of the Grand Canyon ("raft the canyon and learn how Noah's flood contributed to the formation").

Dan Johnson, an assistant manager of the park, said there were also creationism-themed cruises, with lectures on the subject amid swimming and shuffleboard.

A Kentucky creationist group called Answers in Genesis says it is building a 100,000-square-foot complex outside Cincinnati with a museum, classrooms, a planetarium and a special-effects theater where moviegoers can experience the flood and other events described in Genesis.

Ken Ham, the group's chief executive, said marketing surveys suggested that the complex would draw not just home-schooling families and other creationists, but mainstream church groups and curiosity seekers. Mr. Ham said a former Universal Studios art director was designing exhibits for the complex, including dioramas of Adam and Eve and a model of Noah's Ark. The complex will open in 2006 at the earliest, Mr. Ham said.

At Dinosaur Adventure Land, visitors can make their own Grand Canyon replica with sand and read a sign deriding textbooks for teaching that the Colorado River formed the canyon over millions of years: "This is clearly not possible. The top of the Grand Canyon is 4,000 feet higher than where the river enters the canyon! Rivers do not flow up hill!"

There is a movie depicting the creation, the flood and the fall of man, which fast-forwards from a lush Garden of Eden to a New York City traffic jam.

There are no mechanized rides at Dinosaur Adventure Land — no creationist-themed roller coasters, scramblers or even a ferris wheel — but instead, a simple discovery center and museum and about a dozen outdoor games, each of which has a "science lesson" and "spiritual lesson" posted nearby. A group of about 60 parents and home-schooled children who visited Wednesday, including the Passmores, spent all afternoon trying the games, which promote religious faith more than creationist tenets.

Take Jumpasaurus, which involves jumping on a trampoline while trying to throw a ball through a hoop as many times as possible in a minute. The science lesson: "You will use coordination in this game, which means you will be doing more than one thing at once." The spiritual lesson, according to Mr. Johnson: "You need to learn to be coordinated for Jesus Christ so you can get more things done for him."

Somewhat more creationist in approach is the Nerve-Wracking Ball: a bowling ball on a rope, dangling from a tall tree branch. A child stands before the ball, and then a park guide gives it a shove from a specific angle, so that it comes careering back at the child's face only to stop just in front of it. The child wins if he does not flinch, proving he has "faith in God's laws" — in this case, that a swinging object will never come back higher than the point from which it took off.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which tracks creationist programs, said traditional creationists like Mr. Hovind had in fact given up on building intellectual credibility years ago.

"They have been going the grass-roots mainstream route for at least 20 years," she said. "So I'm not surprised they are the ones sponsoring group vacations and theme parks and things like that."

Dinosaur Adventure Land, tucked behind a highway lined with car dealerships in this metropolitan area of 425,000, sits next to Mr. Hovind's home and the offices of Creation Science Evangelism, which he said he founded in 1989. Mr. Hovind is well known in Pensacola, and even in a region where religious billboards almost outnumber commercial ones he is controversial. Escambia County sued him in 2000 after he refused to get a $50 permit before building his theme park, saying the government had no authority over a church.

Just last week Internal Revenue Service agents used a search warrant to remove financial documents from Mr. Hovind's home and offices, saying he was not paying taxes and had neither a business license nor tax-exempt status for his enterprises.

Mr. Hovind did not want to discuss the I.R.S. investigation, saying only, "I don't have any tax obligations."

The man who calls himself Dr. Dino is also controversial among creationists, some of whom say he discredits their movement with some of his pseudo-scientific claims. Mr. Hovind got into a dispute in 2002 with Answers in Genesis, when he took issue with an article it published called "Arguments We Think Creationists Should Not Use." One such argument was that footprints found in Texas proved that man and dinosaurs coexisted; Mr. Hovind said he considered the argument, now abandoned by many creationists, valid. Mr. Hovind said he gave 700 lectures a year and that 38,000 people had visited his park, at $7 a head. According to a map that invites visitors to pinpoint their hometown, most come from the Florida Panhandle and from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Rachel Painter, camp director at the Alpha Omega Institute, which runs several creationist family summer camps in Colorado, said creationist vacations had gained popularity as the number of Christian home-schooling families had grown. The institute started its camps 18 years ago with 4 families per session, she said, but now up to 18 attend each, and from more states.

Wade and Joan Killingsworth, who belong to a home-schooling coalition called Solid Rock Christian School, said they took their children to Colonial Williamsburg over spring break and came to Dinosaur Adventure Land because it was similarly educational. But they and the Passmores, who traveled from Alabama with eight minivans of like-minded families, said this type of road trip had far more to offer.

"We've been to museums, discovery centers, where you have to sit there and take the evolutionary stuff," Mr. Passmore said. "It feels good for them to finally hear it in a public place, something that reinforces their beliefs."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Arts & Ideas, of Starday, May 1, 2004., the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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