Petersburg, Ky. -- The glass display case, soon to be filled with a variety of finches, could be in any natural history museum. It is set among exhibits on frogs and lizards, across from a gift shop and a diorama of life in ancient times.
But this is something different: The Creation Museum is a $27 million destination that is expected, on its Memorial Day opening, to bring a new level of high-tech polish to the argument against evolution.
The text below the display case says scientists are "puzzled" by the varieties of finches. "The Bible provides the explanation," it says. "In the beginning of time, six thousand years ago, God created every kind of bird, including the finch kind, and He gave them the ability to 'multiply on the earth.'"
The 60,000-square-foot museum, near Cincinnati on 49 acres of lush Kentucky countryside, is the work of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the "young Earth" creationist movement. Unlike proponents of "intelligent design" - who question aspects of evolutionary theory but may accept that the universe is billions of years old - members of "young Earth" groups insist that the Book of Genesis is an accurate historical record.
Because the world began only 6,000 years ago, they argue, dinosaurs discovered in the fossil record must have coexisted with humans. In the diorama that greets museum visitors, models of baby tyrannosaurs cavort among animatronic children clad in buckskin.
Dinosaurs, in fact, are all over the Creation Museum: Visitors can plunk down $29.99 for a plastic apatosaurus in the gift shop. Their kids will be able to saddle up on the back of a model triceratops by the coffee bar.
"Kids are fascinated by them," said Answers in Genesis President Ken A. Ham. The creatures have too long been used as propaganda for the evolutionist cause, he said.
"We like to say, 'You've captured them for evolution, and we're going to take them back.'"
The museum, with its flat-screen TVs and special-effects theater, is an attempt to go mainstream with an idea that has been widely discredited by modern science. And that is a concern for defenders of evolutionary theory. The Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a Washington-based group that advocates science education and the separation of church and state, recently compared the museum to cigarette ads.
"This is to science what Joe Camel was to health - a crass marketing ploy that cynically preys on the impressionable minds of children," co-director Clark Stevens said in a statement.
Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director for the group American Atheists, is organizing a protest outside the museum on opening day.
"In the recent presidential debate you had three Republican candidates raise their hand and say they didn't believe in evolution," he said, referring to Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. "Now that's getting dangerous. Within a generation we could be back in a Dark Ages, where direct revelation is accepted over science."
Ham, a former schoolteacher in Australia who founded the ministry in 1979, said he simply wanted people to "think about the origins issue" in a new way.
"You have secular museums in every major city that treat evolution as fact, and public schools around this nation treating evolution as fact, and they're worried about one Creation Museum?
"If evolution is so obvious," he said with a smile, "why are they so worried?"
Ham says he believes that many modern Christians have strayed from the basic tenets of their faith because they learned in school that evolution, not Genesis, provided the best blueprint for the story of creation.
Creationists have one smaller museum, called the Museum of Creation and Earth History, in Santee, Calif., as well as a number of roadside attractions. In Cabazon, Calif., dinosaur models tower as high as 65 feet over the nearby Interstate 10, enticing visitors to unlearn Darwin.
The Kentucky museum takes creationist tourism to a new level. Its chief designer, Patrick Marsh, designed the Jaws and King Kong attractions at Florida's Universal Studios. Organizers are expecting to attract 250,000 visitors a year, who will pay $9.95 to $19.95 for a ticket.
Beyond the diorama of the dinosaurs and children is a reproduction of a narrow slot canyon from the Grand Canyon. "Have you ever wondered where canyons come from?" asks a video on a flat-screen TV, laying the groundwork for a recurring assertion: that the Grand Canyon was not carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River, but by a rush of water in the great flood described in Genesis.
Richard Fausset writes for the Los Angeles Times.