PETERSBURG, Ky. (AP) -- Ken Ham has spent 11 years working on a museum that poses the big question -- when and how did life begin? Ham hopes to soon offer an answer to that question in his still-unfinished Creation Museum in northern Kentucky.
The $25 million monument to creationism offers Ham's view that God created the world in six, 24-hour days on a planet just 6,000 years old. The largest museum of its kind in the world, it hopes to draw 600,000 people from the Midwest and beyond in its first year.
Ham, 53, isn't bothered that his literal interpretation of the Bible runs counter to accepted scientific theory, which says Earth and its life forms evolved over billions of years.
Ham said the museum is a way of reaching more people along with the Answers in Genesis Web site, which claims to get 10 million page views per month and his "Answers ... with Ken Ham'' radio show, carried by more than 725 stations worldwide.
"People will get saved here,'' Ham said of the museum. "It's going to fire people up. If nothing else, it's going to get them to question their own position of what they believe.''
Ham is ready for a fight over his beliefs -- based on a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament.
"It's a foundational battle,'' said Ham, a native of Australia who still speaks with an accent. "You've got to get people believing the right history - and believing that you can trust the Bible.''
Among Ham's beliefs are that the Earth is about 6,000 years old, a figure arrived at by tracing the biblical genealogies, and not 4.5 billion years, as mainstream scientists say; the Grand Canyon was formed not by erosion over millions of years, but by floodwaters in a matter of days or weeks and that dinosaurs and man once coexisted, and dozens of the creatures -- including Tyrannosaurus Rex -- were passengers on the ark built by Noah, who was a real man, not a myth.
Although the Creation Museum's full opening is still two years away, already a buzz is building.
"When that museum is finished, it's going to be Cincinnati's No. 1 tourist attraction,'' says the Rev. Jerry Falwell, nationally known Baptist evangelist and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. "It's going to be a mini-Disney World.''
Respected groups such as the National Science Board, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association strongly support the theory of evolution. John Marburger, the Bush administration's science adviser, has said, "Evolution is a cornerstone of modern biology.''
Many mainstream scientists worry that creationist theology masquerading as science will have an adverse effect on the public's science literacy.
"It's a giant step backward in science education,'' says Carolyn Chambers, chair of the biology department at Xavier University, which is operated by the Jesuit order of the Catholic church.
Glenn Storrs, curator of vertebrate paleontology for the Cincinnati Museum Center, leads dinosaur excavations in Montana each summer. He said the theory of dinosaurs and man coexisting is a "non-issue.''
"And so, I believe, is the age of the Earth,'' Storrs said. "It's very clear the Earth is much older than 6,000 years.''
The Rev. Mendle Adams, pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Pleasant Ridge, takes issue with Ham's views -- and the man himself.
"He takes extraordinary liberties with Scripture and theology to prove his point,'' Adams said. "The bottom line is, he is anti-gay, and he uses that card all the time.''
Ham says homosexual behavior is a sin. But he adds that he's careful to condemn the behavior, not the person.
Even detractors concede that Ham has appeal.
Ian Plimer, chair of geology at the University of Melbourne, became aware of Ham in the late 1980s, when Ham's creationist ministry in Australia was just a few years old.
"He is promoting the religion and science of 350 years ago,'' says Plimer. "He's a far better communicator than most mainstream scientists.''
Despite his communication skills, Ham admits he doesn't always make a good first impression. But, that doesn't stop him from trying to spread his beliefs.
"He'd be speaking 20 hours a day if his body would let him,'' said Mike Zovath, vice president of museum operations.
Ham's wife of 32 years agrees. "He finds it difficult talking about things apart from the ministry,'' Mally Ham says. "He doesn't shut off.''
Ham said he has no choice but to speak out about what he believes.
"The Lord gave me a fire in my bones,'' Ham says. "The Lord has put this burden in my heart: 'You've got to get this information out.'''
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