Darwin-Free Fun for Creationists
May 1, 2004
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
PENSACOLA, Fla., April 29 - Robert and Schoećn Passmore took
their children to Disney World last fall and left bitterly
disappointed. As Christians who reject evolutionary theory,
the family scoffed at the park's dinosaur attractions,
which date the apatosaurus, brachiosaurus and the like to
"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
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
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
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
"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."