As part of Museum Studies Week, on Sept. 28 in Schaefer Hall Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, presented the third Natural Science and Mathematics (NS&M) Colloquium of the semester on the integration of creationism and evolutionism in his lecture, “The Exhibit You Won’t See in a Museum: The Structure of the Universe Through the Eyes of the Bible.”
Godfrey began the lecture by discussing what caused him to initially become so interested in paleontology and the topic of creationism in general. “For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated and in love with natural history museums,” said Godfrey, “As a young teenager, I began to collect road kill.”
At that age, Godfrey had his first experiences with rearticulating skeletons. “I wanted to transform my bedroom into my very own natural history museum,” he said.
Growing up, Godfrey was raised to believe in creationism: a literal interpretation of the Bible. “Whenever questions about origin, evolution, or age of the universe were raised,” he stated, “we automatically went to the Bible as our first source of information.”
Young Earth Creationists (YECs) make a literal interpretation of the Genesis story of creation in the Bible. Both Christians and Jews adhere to this narrative, believing that the Earth was created over the span of six 24-hour days. Godfrey, however, states that YECs read Genesis selectively.
Cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe and how it works. Godfrey states that the Bible is a form of “observational cosmology.” It is a simple perspective on the creation of the universe from an earth-bound observer, without the aid of any of the advanced scientific instruments that we have today. In a way, we are still only capable of observational cosmology, as opposed to being outside in the universe and looking in like a God. Now, however, we have more advanced technology to get closer to that outside perspective.
Godfrey then went through the beginning of Genesis I line by line, discussing what it would really mean to take a literal interpretation of the creation narrative. When directly translated from the Hebrew, and not influenced by our modern knowledge of science, Genesis I gives a very inaccurate portrayal of the Earth that we know today. It states that the Earth is flat and contained within a dome shaped universe. The sun, moon and stars are portrayed as being situated within this dome and the blue sky that we see is a watery atmosphere suspended above the ground.
YECs read Genesis I selectively because they do not claim that any of these things, like the Earth being flat, are true.
“We describe what the biblical authors wrote as phenomenological because we now know better,” said Godfrey, “But it’s actually an accurate picture of what you see.”
The Creation Museum, near Petersburg, Kentucky, has exhibits that support the views of YECs. Godfrey states that the curators behind the museum have either never thought about the impossibilities of creationism mentioned above, do not know how to approach them or think that these issues are simply too controversial to be discussed. The museum is privately funded and has been heavily criticized by the scientific community. However, this is not the only museum of its kind. A similar museum, called the Creation Evidence Museum, is located in Texas.
Godfrey concluded his lecture early and allowed the audience to ask him a slew of questions. Many students diverted from the topic at hand and instead began asking Godfrey about his personal beliefs about church and the Bible.
“[Godfrey] was a great speaker,” said senior Brooke Kafami, “Some of the questions asked were irrelevant, such as asking him about his personal beliefs and if he went to church or liked church.”
“I found it interesting how Godfrey spoke of selective literalism in Biblical interpretations, and how he feels Genesis was the author’s attempt to make sense of the universe,” said senior Jon Barkley in response to the lecture. “Perhaps this provides support for the co-existence of science and religion. However, due to differing Biblical interpretations, this debate, along with the journey of self-discovery, will always persist.”