A massive model of Noah's ark, towering dinosaurs, animatronics, and a state-of-the-art planetarium: The exhibits at the Creation Museum have drawn crowds from near and far, and drawn plenty of controversy, too.
Since its opening in May 2007, the $27 million museum in northern Kentucky has attracted more than a half-million visitors. Exhibits portray what founder Ken Ham describes as a literal interpretation of the Bible's creation account, or specifically, young Earth creationism. Some who come argue it is one of the few science museums with a Christian worldview.
Biblical texts appear throughout the exhibits, combining Scripture with subjects like geology. The museum's rejection of pure scientific naturalism is what draws criticism from scientists of the naturalist ilk.
"We're depressed, I think," said Dan Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontology Society, who toured the museum shortly after its opening. "There's been such a push in recent years to improve science education, but stuff like this still hangs around."
Phelps said he fears some teachers, shying away from the origins controversy, may choose to omit mentioning evolution studies in the classroom.
State education officials, however, said they have seen no sign of students challenging science teachers in their classrooms based on conclusions drawn from visits to the Creation Museum.
"It's not been a huge issue. In fact it's almost a non-issue for public schools," said Lisa Gross, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education. "Teachers have been dealing with these things long before the Creation Museum came into being."
Scientists also criticize the museum's portrayal of dinosaurs and humans coexisting as pure conjecture, since most science texts in schools teach that the two are separated by 65 million years.
The Creation Museum doesn't draw nearly the numbers of visitors as the nation's top science museums, which boast larger facilities and government funding. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington attracted 5.8 million visitors in 2006; the Children's Museum in Indianapolis brought in 1.2 million that same year, according to a list compiled by Forbes magazine.
But for its size and budget, the museum has been an overwhelming success, founder Ken Ham said.
"We made a decision quite a few years ago, that we wanted to do it first-class ... as good as you would see at museums or Disney World or Universal Studios," Ham said. "It's become an attraction in its own right, regardless of the message that we have here."
One visitor, Bill Michaletz, drove his family from Wisconsin in May.
"I do believe in Creation, that God created it all," said Michaletz, who has five children. "I'm appreciative that there is a place to go for ourselves and our kids, to look at that view."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.