Dinosaur museum presents biblical view of origins

A faith-based Creation
2009-10-18T00:30:00Z Dinosaur museum presents biblical view of originsDONNA HEALY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 18, 2009 12:30 am  • 

GLENDIVE - The head and monstrous jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex sculpture poke through the outer wall of the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum.

A faith-based Creation

Dinosaur museum presents biblical view of origins

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 co-existed 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.

"When I first met with Otis, I wondered, 'Was he going to be one of these guys who shoves things down your throat?' And he wasn't," Atwood said.

Atwood immediately offered to create some architectural drawings of his museum concept.

The artwork surrounding the dinosaur skeletons was created by Billings artist Melanie Richard, who painted murals, carved molded mountains and created trees and other elements. Two brothers, Darrell and Earl Sevier, of Glendive, put in the building's steel studs and exhibit railings and worked with Kline on the bulk of the sheet rocking.

Kline also traded excavation work at dinosaur digs for museum replicas.

In the fall of 2006, a rancher asked him to dig up a Thescelosaurus on the rancher's property. In exchange for the Thescelosaurus, a small, plant-eating dinosaur, a paleontology company in Colorado gave the museum a replica of a triceratops and the Mosasaurus casting.

As part of the agreement, the museum will eventually receive a casting of the Thescelosaurus.

Kline just finished excavating a dinosaur in the Cerotopsian family, a family that includes dinosaurs with horns and frills like the more familiar triceratops.

In April of 2005, Kline broke ground on the museum, building it without ever having to borrow money, take on debt or halt construction for lack of funds, he said.

He saw the finances falling into place as confirmation he was on the right track.

Roughly a half-million dollars has been spent on the dinosaur exhibits, with plans to eventually spend another $300,000 on the exhibits.

Richard continues to add new murals and other design elements.

In mid-September, she worked on a takeoff of a temple scene reminiscent of the Cambodian temple ruins of Angkor Wat. It shows overgrown vines twisting around temple ruins. A pillar on the museum's second story contains images of a deer, a water buffalo and a stegosaurus.

"There's over 80 places now, around the world, where evidence shows that people actually reproduced dinosaurs in one art form or another," Kline said.

The artwork of those early civilizations accurately depicted dinosaurs, he said.

"The only way that can happen is if they have seen the creature," he said.

Kline sometimes uses scientific findings to bolster his arguments.

In 2005, a science journal announced Mary Schweitzer found remnants of soft tissue inside a fossilized thighbone of a Tyrannosaurus rex excavated in Eastern Montana.

"Nothing's going to stay soft for 65 million years. You can take that to the bank," Kline said. "I personally think that that dinosaur probably died as a result of the flood in Noah's day, which if we do our chronology is about 4,300 years ago."

Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University who is a Montana native, said there is overwhelming evidence on the age of the Earth based on sound, solid data.

"You can't have a debate about science and opinion," Horner said. "It's not apples and oranges. It's more like apples and sewing machines."

Displays on the Glendive museum's second floor, which rings the central exhibit space like a gallery, are geared toward refuting evolutionary theory.

A large case contains a diorama of Noah's ark, built on a scale meant to represent an ark of 300 cubits, or 450 feet. Miniature animals and dinosaurs move two-by-two into the ark.

A nearby biblical history exhibit illustrates how God's words have been perfectly preserved, Kline said. Biblical references to behemoths and leviathans seem to him to be descriptions of dinosaurs.

His own interest in dinosaurs dates back to his childhood, when he spent his lawn-mowing money to buy a fossil that was being used as a doorstop.

Kline grew up in northern Illinois and had a successful career in business as a bank trust officer, stockbroker and land developer. He put together a retirement community outside Yuma, Ariz., before moving to the Bitterroot Valley in 1981, where he and his wife started a home health-care business.

Up until 1988, Kline's strong faith co-existed with his belief in evolution.

"I believed God created and he started the whole thing going, but he used the process of evolution," he said.

Then, he attended a lecture in Hamilton given by Dennis Petersen, the author of "Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation," and founder of the Creation Resource Foundation.

"Petersen convinced me you can't combine oil and water, you can't combine evolution and the Bible," Kline said.

In 1991, Kline joined a dinosaur dig in Canada led by Petersen and saw the profound effect digging up fossils had on "believers."

In the mid-1990s, the two men worked with a Wyoming rancher to set up a family dinosaur dig south of Newcastle. In January of 2003, Kline bought 37 acres near what is now the museum as a dig site.

Kline knows of two other creation-based museums with dinosaur exhibits. One is in San Diego; the other, in Petersburg, Ky., south of Cincinnati.

"We dig dinosaurs here," Kline said. "You can't do that in San Diego, and you can't do that in Ohio."

Three groups have already signed up for week-long digs next summer. Two are creation studies groups; the other is from a Bible college.

More than 6,000 visitors have toured the museum since May.

The building, which is just off an exit of Interstate 94, attracts many visitors from Minnesota, about a day's drive away. Before the museum opened, a tour group from Miles City arrived in two bus loads. This summer, a Billings church organized a tour for about a hundred. Schools groups from both public and private schools in Montana and North Dakota have also visited, but Kline declined to mention names of specific schools.

Glendive is home to both Makoshika State Park, a badlands area in the Hell Creek Formation that has produced significant dinosaur finds, and a separate, nonprofit Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, which opened in 2004 in a refurbished downtown building.

The Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, which usually attracts 1,500 to 2,000 visitors during the summer, is closed from September to May, except by appointment.

Steve Bury, who runs the downtown museum with his wife and family, said there has been some confusion between the two museums, but he has no objection to the other museum's Bible-based interpretation.

"My philosophy is not to argue about it. …You have scientific theory. and you have faith," he said. "My feeling is, there's dinosaurs here; just let people see them."

Ryan Sokoloski, manager of Makoshika State Park, offered similar sentiments. The new museum, added to existing sites, may motivate more motorists to swing off the Interstate, Sokoloski said.

"If we want to draw people into our community to spend a day or a weekend I don't know if we can afford to be overly critical of this viewpoint over that viewpoint," he said. "I think the community has welcomed this museum with open arms. …It's helping the economy, and everybody benefits from that."

Both the state park and the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum are on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a nonprofit created in 2005 to promote tourism at affiliated museums and dig sites.

Kline attended some early meetings of the Dinosaur Trail group, he said. But he left the organization when the group adopted the slogan "150 million years in the making."

Contact Donna Healy at dhealy@billingsgazette.com or 657-1292.

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