Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn of plans to open a new, enormous creation museum near Boise, Idaho. But in exploring the announcement of this planned mega-museum, we came across an interesting tidbit: Two of the creationist scientists involved in this project worked for the US government as geologists. Does this mean that the government is funding creation science? And does it prove the creationist claim that their experts are engaged in “real” science?
As reported yesterday by the Boise Weekly, the Northwest Science Museum has big ambitions. Its founders want to open an enormous display area, 300,000 to 450,000 square feet. They hope to build a full-size replica Noah’s Ark that could rival the plans of the more-established Creation Museum in Kentucky.
Whether or not the Idaho creationists succeed in their lavish plans, they will likely end up adding another stop to those who want to tour the nation’s many creation museums. More interesting, the announced plans also raise crucial questions about creationism and government support for religion.
In their attempt to raise funds for their new project, the leaders of the Boise museum published a prospectus that includes information about themselves. According to this document, the leadership team includes two experienced geologists.
Douglas J. Bennett, founder of the museum, has degrees in geology and science education from Boise State University. For the past eighteen years, Bennett has worked as a geologist for the US Bureau of Reclamation. Similarly, museum founder Brent Carter earned a degree in geology from a large public university and worked for 42 years as a geologist for the same US Bureau, retiring with the title of Chief Geologist of the Pacific Northwest Region.
More than the opening of a new creation museum, these careers raise important questions for those of us interested in issues of evolution and creationism.
First, some might suggest that long governmental careers for these ardent and active creationists implies government support for religion. But does it really? After all, the government likely hired them to do specific jobs. They had the necessary qualifications. Whatever they chose to do in their private lives wouldn’t be any of the government’s business. Nor would the government be supporting these men’s religious work, as long as each geologist didn’t do his creationist research while on the clock.
More interesting, we have to ask what these careers tell us about the intersection of mainstream science and creation science. In the recent debate between leading creationist Ken Ham and leading science pundit Bill Nye, Nye repeated his charge that creationism blocked kids from learning science. Ham retorted with several examples of successful creationist scientists and engineers.
The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to help the creationist case. After all, if they have both had successful careers as geologists, how can we say that creationists can’t do science? One might suggest that the sorts of engineering tasks these creationists engaged in were not primary science. But it seems to me a stretch to say that these creationist geologists did not have careers specifically in the science that is contested. In other words, both of these men worked as geologists, though their religious beliefs gave them very non-mainstream ideas about that geology.
Consider—again from the museum prospectus—the tasks Bennett claimed to have worked on for the US government. As part of his job, Bennett
Performed surface and subsurface geotechnical studies and exploration programs utilizing diamond drill, power-auger, test pits, tunnels, and other processes to secure data for seismotectonic, ground-water, and other special studies of dams, reservoirs, canals, tunnels, spillways, power plants, and related structures.
One might say that none of this engineering work includes primary geological research. And if it did, someone who believed in a young earth and a recent world-wide flood would be at a crippling disadvantage. But anti-creationists sometimes make a different point. Bill Nye, for instance, has warned that a creationist nation will soon fall behind in technology and engineering.
The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to demonstrate the weakness of that argument. Indeed, Nye argues that creationism will turn kids away from science-related careers. But in the case of these two men, at least, it was precisely their religious beliefs that led them to careers in geology.
So does this case show government support for creationism? Not really. But it does offer evidence that creationism does not necessarily deter young people from going into science-related careers. Indeed, because of the tumult over the nature of biology and geology, perhaps creationist beliefs actually drive some young people into careers in science.