Museum's Fossils Presented in Creationist Context

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DONNA HEALY,


Billings Gazette GLENDIVE, Mont.—The head and monstrous jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex sculpture poke through the outer wall of the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum.

Inside, life-size castings of dinosaur skeletons offer the polished look of a big-city science museum. But a quote from Genesis clues in visitors that the 20,000-square-foot building, which opened in Glendive this summer, is not your standard natural-history museum.

Instead, the museum, located in an area of Montana known for world-class dinosaur fossils, offers a literal, biblical account of creation.

Spotlighted on the main floor, an 18-foot-tall replica of a T. rex skeleton engages in battle with a meat-eating dinosaur ridged by spines.

The new facility is the second-largest dinosaur museum in the state, dwarfed only by the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

"We are totally different from the Museum of the Rockies in that we present fossils and all the exhibits in the context of biblical creation," said Otis E. Kline Jr., the museum's founder and director.

Jack Horner, the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, agrees the two museums are fundamentally different.

"It's not a science museum at all," Horner said. "It's not a pseudo-science museum. It's just not science. There's nothing scientific about it."

The Glendive museum's self-guided tour starts with a series of questions challenging established science on the origins of life.

One of those questions asks whether dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago or coexisted with humans. Although the idea flies in the face of the consensus of scientific thought, it may hold sway with the one-third of adult Americans estimated by Gallup polls to believe the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally.

Visitors begin the museum tour by walking over layers of tempered glass as they look down upon a depiction of the sea floor beneath their feet.

"It shows how utterly complex life is, so complex it couldn't have evolved or developed by chance," Kline said.

The long skeletal tail of a 40-foot mosasaur, a reptile-like marine predator, loops teasingly through the wall, coaxing visitors around a corner to see the serpentine creature dangling with its head at eye level.

"We approach evolution on the basis that it's basically not possible," Kline said. "There is no scientific proof whatsoever that evolution has ever taken place. There's also no scientific proof that creation has taken place because they both are faith-based."

Nearby is a replica of a protostega gigas, a giant sea turtle measuring 16 feet from flipper to flipper. Similar fossils have been found in Kansas.

"There's two ways these fossils could get to Kansas, and one is the evolutionary way; the other is the biblical creation way," Kline said.

"The evolutionary way says there was an inland sea that came from the Gulf of Mexico. But the biblical creation way says it was the flood of Noah's day."

The museum, which opened in May, was four years and $1.5 million in the making. It contains a 90-seat theater, paleontology lab space and a gift shop run by Kline's wife, Miriam.

The funds were raised through a nonprofit Kline created, the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth. About 80 percent of the funding came from Montana, said Kline, a businessman who lived in the Bitterroot Valley for 23 years before moving to Glendive in the spring of 2003.

The Gianforte Family Foundation donated the T. rex and acrocanthosaurus exhibit in the museum's main display hall, the largest donation for a specific exhibit.

The foundation, set up by Greg Gianforte, CEO and founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, supports Christian causes in education, poverty and evangelism.

Billings architect Scott Atwood and a structural engineer donated about $28,000 in services to the museum over a period of more than three years. Before Kline broke ground, Atwood saw a news story on the museum. Atwood was intrigued by the challenge of presenting a "reasonable alternative" that would explain the existence of dinosaurs from a creationist perspective.