Not the answer

Earlier this week Jay Melosh, a professor of planetary science at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona with links to NASA, was in Waterloo, Ontario, to deliver a public lecture on how the reign of dinosaurs ended abruptly following an asteroid impact in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, 65 million years ago.

He shouldn’t have bothered. Instead, the American scientist should have stayed in his own country and visited the newly-opened $27-million Creationist museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, where he would have found the “true” answer to why the dinosaurs disappeared. 

At the museum, two prehistoric children can be seen playing close to a burbling waterfall while mechanically-animated dinosaurs cavort nearby. The scene is supposedly meant to portray life on Earth just after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Scientific inquiry is pushed aside at the museum which claims that dinosaurs were created on the sixth day with man and all the beasts as specified in the Genesis account, saved by Noah from the Biblical flood, resurrected in the human mindset as dragons and only went extinct after the floodwaters receded. Were they killed en masse by such mythic dragon-slayers as St. George, the patron saint of England?

Creationists conveniently pick and choose from the wealth of fossil and geological evidence that scientists use to explain evolution and the Earth’s great age and then come up with widely divergent conclusions. In a creationists’ view of reality, Fred Flintstone could have had a pet dinosaur named Dino.

According to those who literally interpret the Bible, creation  occurred on October 23, 4004 B.C. as determined by the Irish Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), who used Genesis as the basis for his calculations. For good measure, Ussher gave the date of the expulsion of Adam and Eve as Monday, November 10, 4004 BC, and the landing of Noah’s ark on Mt. Ararat as May 5, 2348 BC. 

On the other hand, Melosh, who has an asteroid named in his honour and has links with NASA, does believe that the earth is some 4.6-billion years old and the universe is at least 13 billion years old.

Unlike Americans, few Canadians actually accept a literal translation of the Bible that says the earth is slightly over 6,000 years old and dinosaurs cavorted about with people. There are some who take a literal interpretation, such as Conservative MP Stockwell Day, but he is the exception rather than the rule. 

Canada’s Creation Museum is in Day’s home province of Alberta and is located in a small house in Big Valley. Ironically, the museum is just kilometres away from one of Alberta’s most famous tourist attractions, the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology, where dinosaur fossils on display are scientifically dated at over 65 million years old.

For whatever reason, Americans tend to use their faith to gauge the worthiness of others. In any  election campaign — from president to town sheriff — among the first questions asked is if a candidate believes in God and the Creation. A wrong answer can gain the wrath of a significant portion of the population and mean the difference between election success or failure. 

In the May 3 Republican presidential candidate debate, the 10 candidates were asked whether they believed in evolution. Three replied they did not and another was quick to add he saw the hand of God whenever he hiked the Grand Canyon (Creationists believe the canyon was created during the Biblical flood over a period of days not milllennium). A LiveScience article expressed the view it was “surprising that more candidates did not raise their hands.” In the U.S., politicians are now forced to heed polls that show 42 per cent of all adult Americans (65 per cent of white evangelicals) believe humans and other living things have only existed in their present form, which means they deny Darwinian evolution. Even President George W. Bush wants Intelligent Design (a spruced-up version of creationism) taught in schools alongside evolution.

This confusing aspect of American politics — at least to Canadians — is probably why it was possible in recent years for evangelical Christians to nearly make creationism or intelligent design (ID) part of school curriculums in the U.S. But in both cases, reason prevailed and they were judged in U.S. courts to be faith-based beliefs and not scientific theories so their teaching in schools was ruled unconstitutional.

A simplified explanation for this difference between Canada and the U.S. is that the earliest American settlers formed colonies based upon religion, such as the Puritans in Massachusetts, etc. And while these religious colonists fled the Old World to escape persecution, they came to believe only their particular faith held the key to salvation. On the other hand, Canada from its start was founded upon commercial pursuits, whether it was the cod fishery in Newfoundland or the Hudson’s Bay Company’s attempt to control the Western Canada fur trade on behalf of its shareholders. 

Religion had a useful role in Canada, but it did not become the basis of initial settlement and thus had less of an impact on future public institutions. In fact, Canada’s early politicians were more worried about language — actually still the case — than a person’s religious beliefs. Politicians may be asked at election time about their ability to speak English or French, but they are not asked about their religious beliefs. 

Americans make a big deal about John Kennedy being the first Catholic president elected (1960), but Canada’s first Catholic prime minister was John Thompson way back in 1892. It was a bigger deal in Canada when Wilfrid Laurier became the first prime minister (elected 1896) who spoke French as his first language rather than the fact he was also Catholic.

While both countries have religious tolerance enshrined in their constitutions, an individual’s religion in the U.S. is open to public debate, but in Canada it remains a private matter.

In the new Creation Museum, faith has trumped widely-accepted Darwinian evolution, although faith and evolution are not mutally incompatible and both can easily be accommodated without conflict.