Archive for May, 2009

Cross- country drive – day 10

May 11th, 2009 | Category: Travel

We drove to Black Canyon of the Gunnison national park today, which is not really that close to the town of Gunnison – maybe an hour’s drive.  It was a spectacular day which I’ll post about later!  After spending about 8 hours in the park, we drove to Grand Junction, a mere 125 miles away but right on the Colorado/Utah border.  We’ll be in Arches national park later today.  Total drive length so far: about 2450 miles.

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Cross-country drive – day 9

May 10th, 2009 | Category: Travel

Today we left Colorado springs and drove through the Florissant fossil beds park, over the continental divide, where we had spectacular scenery and crested at almost 12000 feet.  Every mountain mile is equivalent to 3 or 4 regular miles, because it’s harder for the car, uses more gas, requires more concentration, and there is so much to look at that you are forced to drive slowly and to stop frequently.

We’re staying in the town of Gunnison.  We drove 215 miles for a total of about 2200 miles away from home.  I’ve been using google map’s distances, but they are a little different than what the car’s odometer says so I’ll report that from now on.

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Cross country drive – day 6

May 07th, 2009 | Category: Travel

Today we drove another 540 miles through kansas, looking for prairie chickens at the tallgrass prairie national preserve and also stopping at the national agricultural hall of fame.  We are now 1690 miles away form home.  We wound up in Colorado springs in order to visit for a few days with friends.

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Cross-country drive – day five

May 06th, 2009 | Category: Travel

Today we drove Through Missouri, landing in Emporia, Kansas in preparation for a search for prairie chickens the next day.  A drive of about 315 miles, total of 1290 from home.

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The St. Louis Arch

May 05th, 2009 | Category: Travel

After leaving Bloomington, Indiana, we drove through the rest of Indiana and the entirety of Illinois, reaching the edge of Missouri late in the afternoon just as the light was beginning to be interesting.  Despite an initially gray sky, the weather delivered.


The arch is properly known as the Jefferson national Expansion Memorial, and is part of the National Park Service.  It is astonishingly large, and should be on everyone’s list of things to see.  It can be seen in only a few hours, although I’d recommend staying in St. Louis for the day, just to wander around the waterfront area and get a nice dinner.


You can go inside the arch, but it’s not for the claustrophobic.  In order to get to the top, you have to endure a ride in an elevator that is a little cylinder that pivots so that it remains upright as it goes around the curve of the arch.  The arch extends underground, and curves back – not enough to make a complete ellipse, but it approaches that.  getting into the elevator is kind of like climbing into a clothes dryer; it’s only about 3X larger, and you have to squeeze in there with 4 other people.  There is a window, but you can only see the innards of the arch, and even then only sometimes.  I’m not particularly claustrophobic, but I have to admit to feeling a little uncomfortable at first.


The view from the narrow windows is impressive.  If you are not claustrophobic and managed to get through the elevator, then you had better not be acrophobic (afraid of heights) either.



The small spaces and height, combined with the downward angle of the windows, remind me of a Gary Larson cartoon that I can’t find on line, but it was  captioned ”Professor Gallagher and his controversial technique of simultaneously confronting the fear of heights, snakes and the dark.” The cartoon showed a distressed man, surrounded by snakes and standing in a dark phone booth enclosure suspended from a great height as an impassive shrink looked on.

Every time I see a large American city, I’m impressed with our country’s wealth.  Many other countries I’ve been to, even wealthy European ones, boast only a single city of this magnitude, or maybe three.  But we have dozens.



Cross-country drive – day four

May 05th, 2009 | Category: Travel

Today we drove 280 miles, for a total of 970 from home.  We went to the St. louis arch, and continued on into Missouri.

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Cross-country drive – day three

May 04th, 2009 | Category: Travel

Today we didn’t drive very far – only 71 miles, for a total of 691 miles away from home.  We stopped in Colunbus, Indiana, and stopped in Bloomington to take a nice bike ride around the campus of the university there.

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Heart of Darkness – the Creation Museum

May 03rd, 2009 | Category: Travel

Today we went to the creation museum in Kentucky, right across the Ohio river from Cincinnati.  It was an overwhelming experience that I have been trying to process for a week.  Originally I thought that I should not even try to list the problems with the museum, because engaging the place is pointless; I’m not going to convince anyone who already believes, and anyone who knows the problems doesn’t need me to elaborate.  But I just can’t help myself.  Read on if you want to hear about my foray into a strange land.  And trust me, what I’ve written here is only the beginning.  I have many more images and thoughts that I just don’t have time to put here.

Those of you who know me will understand that this visit was not inspired by faith; it was a voyage to an alien world.  The creation museum is an attempt to counter the scientific interpretation of natural history with the view that the earth is only 6000 years old.  It is operated by a sect that is connected ideologically to the fundamentalist right-wing Christianity that is prominent in the political life of the USA.

I count among my friends many Christians.  I hope this post doesn’t disturb them, because I have to report that this “museum” is a farce.  To be clear: The ideas promoted by the creation museum are intellectually bankrupt; the primary thesis of the museum is absolute lunacy, and the agenda is anti-intellectual. The religion espoused by the museum is hostile to modern American society and has an underbelly of paranoia and prejudice; these things are served to the visitor with a cheery, friendly facade of reasonableness.  The museum is a propaganda tool designed to keep the converted in line and to inculcate the young or naive with pretzel logic and fear; it aims to change American society by undermining the accomplishments of the last 400 years of intellectual and cultural progress.  I believe that a society based upon such beliefs would result in tyranny.

There are heavily armed guards carrying tazers and pistols who will stop you from taking pictures of some copyrighted things (that are sold in the store there).  I wonder what kind of tazer Jesus would carry?  I spoke with one of the officers.  he was very nice and polite, as were all staff of the museum.  He informed me that he was there to protect the place from “atheists” and other individuals who “could not be trsuted” because you “never know what they will do.”  Apparently, when the place opened, there were some protesters.  They were peaceful, but the view is that since Christians are persecuted minority and under threat, they need heavy protection.  This is just a whiff of the paranoia that underlies the happy front of the museum and its brand of religion.

There is also some kind of cult of personality going on; Ken Ham, the founder of the museum – and its driving force – has a stirring sermon that is shown multiple times a day in a theatre there.  On the stage is a mannequin who appears to be watching the filmed sermon, as if to instruct the audience that they, too, should be watching the film.  This strikes me as a weirdly conformist situation; what else would you do in a theatre?  Is it not obvious?

Anyway, after watching the sermon, I can tell you that Ken Ham is a very intelligent, eloquent, earnest, and driven person.  I am impressed by his achievement in making the museum a reality despite various financial and political difficulties.  As an enterprise, it is an impressive achievement.  He is a first-rate public speaker, but unfortunately, his reason is distorted by elementary errors in logic.  His debating skills are such that any argument supporting “secular science”  (his phrase) is bound to be pointless, since he argues from a position, not toward one.  His is a defensive style, not an exploratory one.  He already knows what to discover and does not accept the possibility of his own intellectual fallibility.  Discussion of his ideas is not acceptable; belief is paramount.  In his sermon, he stresses that belief alone is a weak argument for persuading people that science is misleading; however, belief – faith – is the cornerstone of all his ideas.  He is fundamentally inconsistent.

Yet this place is a hoot.  I had a lot of fun there.  Religion aside, it a a beautiful building surrounded by exceptional gardens.  It has a first-rate petting zoo, a good cafeteria, nicely done displays, and a good planetarium (although some of the content is cracked).  The fact that it has a bizarre agenda and distorts facts does not necessarily overcome the reality that the place is fun.  They’ve done a good job in that respect.  The personnel are friendly and helpful.  I liked the people I spoke with when I was there, at least on a personal level.  We did our best to treat everyone with respect and not scoff openly at anything we saw.  The museum is also expensive; although entry is not outrageous compared to similar attractions, if you eat there and pay for a few extras (like the planetarium, and a few books from the gift shop) it will easily get into the $100 region.  This is no duct-tape hillbilly offering; it is a polished experience similar to Disney world.  A lot of money, thought, research, and the work of many intelligent people went into the creation of this museum (sic).  It is an impressive enterprise, and I suspect that it is raking in the dough.  They’ve been open for 2 years and have had 700,000 visitors.  The items in the gift shop are imaginative and numerous.  The marketing coverage is thorough to the extent that they have special labels for the bottled water they sell.

I knew something about this museum before my visit.  I’d read about it, seen other people’s reviews, and looked at their web site; anyone who has been awake in the last eight years will understand the relevance of this brand of religion in the USA.  I have a particular interest in such matters and have followed developments in the new earth creation movement.  I entered this museum with preconceived notions.  I knew that my visit would be at best amusing, but probably enraging as well.  Still, I wanted to see it for myself.  It is one thing for someone to talk about what they believe on some blog, and a completely different thing to make the construction of such a museum the work of one’s life.  I wanted to learn more about these people.  I was determined to treat them with respect, and to learn everything I could from this visit.  I think I succeeded in that way.  But I cannot hide my contempt for the type of mental vandalism going on in this museum.  It is irresponsible and harmful to naive individuals and to society.  Yet the museum is so silly and the ideas so uncompelling that I believe it will not succeed.

The museum seems to be designed using the principle that the presence of enough dinosaurs will make anything “scientific” and credible.  To that end, the place is lousy with dinosaurs.  There are dinosaur statues, a garden with topiary dinosaurs, dinosaur toys, animatronic dinosaurs, dinosaur books, toys, and dinosaur murals on the walls.  The sign by the main entrance has a metal dinosaur silhouette on it.

As you can see from the animatronic diorama pictured above, the museum carefully makes the point that dinosaurs and people peacefully coexisted.  It also reasons that no dinosaur was a carnivore; for instance, T. Rex was a gentle vegetarian whose teeth are clearly designed for tearing apart tough plants – and the conclusion of “secular” scientists that this animal was “built” to be a carnivore are biased and erroneous.  Somehow, the introduction of sin caused it to become a meat-eater.

Here is a typical display.  Like most things in the museum, it looks like what you’d see in a first-rate standard science museum.  There are beautiful fossil examples and a chart linking them to various paleontological periods:

But here’s a sample of the text in the lower left:

It seems to follow the syllogism “All men are mortal; Socrates was mortal, therefore, all men are Socrates.”  The museum is full of procrustean statements that warp facts and ideas to fit a predetermined conclusion.  The museum is quite explicit about the need to do this; after all, we all know that the bible is correct; therefore, any statement that does not support the bible is wrong, regardless of the evidence.  To quote one children’s book I found in the bookstore there, “Don’t put too much faith in facts.”  There is even the concept of BRGs (Biblical Reality Glasses) .  Viewed through BRGs, all becomes clear… The museum also clearly expounds the idea that using human reason is the root of “secular science” and cannot be trusted.  I find this argument particularly amusing, since a lot of (tortured) reasoning is used by the museum to justify its conclusions.  Apparently, reasoning is OK only when the conclusions, listed in the bible, are already decided upon.

Here are a few more examples:

A mixture of scientific findings and biblical beliefs are offered as support for weak reasoning.  One thing the museum does not do too much, though, is make fun of scientific reasoning.  They do a pretty good job of treating standard reasoning with respect so that the argument appears above board and based upon rational disagreement.  Or so they’d have you believe. The museum really, really, really wants to play with the big boys (scientists) and presents itself as simply an alternative viewpoint, one equal to other forms of interpreting the evidence.  They have a saying: “We all have the same facts, we just have different starting places.”  This statement is incorrect; we do not have the same facts.  I do not assume that the bible is factual.  this unsupportable statement is taken as truth by the museum, which clearly does not consider this elementary weaknessin all of its reasoning.

Here’s some images from around the gardens.  There is a great petting zoo.  The particular animals are there to illustrate that even though the ark was too small to contain all of the species that now exist, it was not necessary to have every animal represented on the ark; it was only necessary to have each kind of animal there.  For instance, you only needed horses, because zebras could develop from horses later.  I asked if this meant that zebras evolved from horses, and was told absolutely not – it was just a “genetic change over time“.  OK, yeah lady, whatever you say.

So… anything you can’t understand is wrong? Below is a display comparing the “standard secular science” explanation of geological and evolutionary time.  They are presented as equally viable explanations of how things came to be.  On the left is a chart that does a pretty good job of depicting what you’d be taught in any good high school natural history class.  On the right is the biblical explanation showing how everything was created in a week.

OK.  Enough of that.  Here’s some images showing us enjoying ourselves.

Here’s Holly with the word’s friendliest camel.

Here’s a picture that Holly took of me.  I’m sure she’ll put more of her images and impressions on her blog.


Cross-country drive – day two

May 03rd, 2009 | Category: Travel

So much has happened to us on this trip that I will have to fill in the details later.  For now I’ll just be content with showing our progress across the country.  We drove another 100 miles, and are 625 miles from home.  Today we visited the creation museum and also the charming town of Lawrenceburg.

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Cross-country drive – day one

May 02nd, 2009 | Category: Travel

I had intended to blog in real time as we drove, but that hasn’t worked out.  So I’m retroactively posting things at the appropriate date.  Here’s day one.

We drove about 525 miles.  Here’s the continental perspective – disappointing to see after you’ve spent all day driving (like working out on an exercise machine until you’re exhausted, only to discover that you’ve burned 50 calories).

Our route took us through the Allegheny mountains, through the cumberland region.  It was very beautiful, but it was overcast and we didn’t take any pictures.  We arrived at the outskirts of Cincinnati, exhausted but content to be within a stone’s throw of our first destination – the creation museum.

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