Book, Chapter and Verse
In the beginning, the Big Bang created the heavens and the earth. The Big Bang, not God. Also, camels and lions were never immortal, and neither were humans, who actually used to be monkeys. Oh, and get this: The Earth is billions of years old, not six thousand, like the Bible tells us.
Tyson Thorne bit his lip to keep from laughing while listening to his seventh-grade science teacher drill such heretical gobbledygook into the young, impressionable minds of Thorne's classmates at Lakewood's Creighton Junior High School.
The year was 1983, and Thorne wasn't buying this Big Bang bullshit for a second.
"I grew up in a home that was very well-based in the Bible, and my parents did a good job of discussing with me what I learned in school that day, and if there were problems with what I was taught, they corrected those problems," he says.
"They instructed me to learn my lessons and to be respectful in class, but to always know in my heart that science isn't infallible; the word of God is."
When it came time to take his mid-term exam in science, however, Thorne faced a dilemma. Below the first question on the multiple-choice test -- "How did the universe begin?" -- he did not find among the five possible answers that which he knew to be true: God did it.
"I didn't want to fail the exam, but I didn't want to lie, either," he remembers. "So I circled the answer I knew she wanted, which was the Big Bang theory, and then I just wrote her a little note in the margin that said, 'Well, I know what you've taught us, so this is what I circled, but I know better, because God created the universe.' And that's what I did all the way down the test. I circled the answers I knew she wanted me to believe, and then I wrote the true answers next to every question."
Thorne passed the test, but his teacher pulled him aside a few days later and suggested that he try to avoid taking science classes in the future. "She didn't get real weird about it or anything; she just told me I wasn't cut out for science," he says.
Seventeen years later, Thorne wears a white lab coat to work. And he's still scribbling God's truth in the margins.
Thorne's not a scientist: He's a tour guide with Denver-based B.C. Tours. The B.C. stands for "Biblically Correct," and B.C. Tours conducts between 100 and 150 biblically correct tours of major Colorado attractions every year.
Over a three-day period in May that coincided with the Christian Home Educators of Colorado's "Day at the Capitol" conference, B.C. Tours shepherded more than 1,000 home-schooled children through the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, also known in a B.C. Tours pamphlet as the "Temple of Doom."
Divided into dozens of small groups, the kids listened as Bible-thumping tour guides in white lab coats detailed a defiantly alternative, fundamentalist-Christian view of the museum's exhibits -- one in which every word in the Bible is taken as the literal truth, not instructional myth.
The children learned that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time and that a Tyrannosaurus rex may have frolicked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They learned that radiometric- and carbon-dating methods are a fraud, that evolution is a lie and that when God says in the Bible that He made our world in six days, He means just that: six 24-hour days.
The B.C. Tours guides also denounced scientific creationism -- the middle-ground concept that evolution occurred roughly as modern science says it did, but only by virtue of God designing the Earth's system software and then booting it up on the cosmic mainframe. The men in white lab coats instructed the children that scientific creationism is an unholy alliance of incompatible beliefs.
"You have a key misunderstanding of the character of God if you believe in any form of evolution as a Christian, because everything that evolution purports to be true is pretty much the opposite of what the Bible tells us really happened," explains Thorne. "According to evolution, life began in the sea. According to the Bible, it began on land. According to evolution, it took billions of years for this world to develop. According to the Bible, it took six days. Evolution tells us that the Earth was originally all land, that it was molten rock, and that it had to rain for hundreds of thousands of years until we had oceans and streams and rivers. The Bible says that, in the beginning, the Earth was all water."
"See, right there from the beginning, there's a total difference," says Thorne. "It simply doesn't make any sense to try and fit science and creationism together. To make a case for scientific creationism, you have to pick and choose your way through the Bible, deciding as you go along what's true and what's poetic allegory. That angers me. Because who are you to set yourself up in judgment over the word of God?"
Similar questions of blasphemy fueled the prosecution of Tennessee teacher John Scopes in 1925. More than three-quarters of a century after the infamous "Monkey Trial," teachers are no longer charged with crimes for teaching the theory of evolution in science class. Still, the controversy burns. In the last three years, serious attempts to reintroduce creationism into public-school curricula have been made in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico and Kentucky. Last month, the school board in Cobb County, Georgia's second-largest public-school district, voted unanimously to allow middle school and high school science teachers to present creationism as a credible alternative theory on the origins of life.
In his 1996 book The Demon-Haunted World, celebrated scientist Carl Sagan wrote: "I meet many people who are offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. They also tend to be less than assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence. Evidence has little to do with it: What they wish to be true, they believe is true. The clearest evidence of our evolution can be found in our genes. But evolution is still being fought, ironically by those whose own DNA proclaims it."
"If you have faith in the Bible, then you know evolution cannot be true," says Thorne. "And faith in the Bible means you take God at His word. Either you believe what He's telling you, or you don't."
And if you believe what God's telling you, every word of it, then you believe that Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, that Joshua actually made the sun stand still and that Adam actually lived to be 930 years old.
And if you're a true believer, you have to accept that your loving God committed genocide.
"That's true," says Thorne. "God told the Israelites when they moved into the land to wipe out everybody, to spare no one, not even their cattle. Why did he do that? I don't know. That's God's call. In that case, genocide was obviously the right thing to do, because God commanded it. I'm not willing to set it aside and say, 'Well, that part of the Bible is patently untrue, because a loving God would never do that.' I don't presume to lecture God."
Despite the steel of his faith, in person Thorne comes off more like Friar Tuck than Torquemada the Inquisitor. Golden-haired, bright-eyed and quick to laugh, he's possessed of a glowing contentment with his place in this life and his prospects in the one to come. He drives a sports car and drinks Guinness stout. Around his neck, he always wears a string of clay beads -- the sort favored by neo-Deadheads to whom "4:20" means something entirely different than the verse in Exodus where Moses returns to Egypt.
The story behind the necklace is bittersweet. A few years back, Thorne was in seminary school. He used to study for tests at his favorite sports bar, where he watches Colorado Avalanche games. (He's a huge fan.) He started dating one of the waitresses there, and she'd come over during her breaks and run through his flashcards with him. Love blossomed, but there was a thorn: She had grown up in a Christian household, then lost her religion as a young adult. Thorne gently began to lead her back to the light, but she wouldn't follow him all the way. "We were close to getting married," he says, fingering the beads fondly, "but it was not to be."
Thorne likes to say he lives by the example of the Apostle Paul, a single man who wandered the earth visiting the pantheistic temples of the heathens in foreign lands, where he would preach the word of the one true God. "Places like science museums and zoos are the equivalent temples of our modern culture," he says. "They are where creatures are worshiped instead of their creator, where the work of the hands of man is worshiped over the work of God and where lies are worshiped as truth."
B.C. Tours got its start in 1987, during Thorne's senior year at Lakewood High School, where he'd raised the ire of school administrators by distributing creationist literature on campus. He did so under the tutelage of Bill Jack, who was then a youth minister with the Caleb Campaign -- described by Jack as "a creationist ministry designed to assist students who wanted to express their faith legally, effectively and aggressively on their school campus."
Thorne had met Jack two years earlier, when the Caleb Campaign activist had spoken to a youth group at Southern Gables Church, which Thorne and high school buddy Rusty Carter, who were then both fifteen, attended.
"Bill took us under his wing and discipled us through the rest of high school," says Thorne.
The same year that Thorne graduated from Lakewood, the blockbuster traveling museum exhibit Ramses II: Pharaoh of the Exodus arrived in Colorado for a five-month engagement at the cultural temple then known as the Denver Museum of Natural History. The self-guided audio tour accompanying the exhibit was narrated by Charlton Heston, star of The Ten Commandments.
"They actually had the voice of Moses telling everyone how great this pharaoh must have been, because he was buried with twenty rooms of treasure, compared to King Tut's one," says Jack. "We decided to put together our own tour."
Jack and his two disciples, Thorne and Carter, wrote a tour criticizing Ramses for his gross accumulation of material wealth, as well as for the pharaoh's belief in the Egyptian pantheon and in his own divinity. They advertised their "Biblically Correct Ramses Tour" via public-service announcements on Christian radio stations during the final two weeks of the exhibit. More than 500 parents and children signed up.
"We took them through in small groups of fifteen to twenty," recalls Jack. "We couldn't go any bigger, because it was really packed in there, almost shoulder-to-shoulder. You could really feel the tension escalate whenever we started talking."
The tour's fervor reached its crescendo in the Ramses exhibit's centerpiece, a display hall painted to resemble the pharaoh's burial chamber, replete with treasure. "In there, they had the sarcophagus Ramses was finally buried in after his first sarcophagus was plundered, but they didn't have Ramses, because the Egyptian government believed if his mummy left Egypt, his soul wouldn't be at rest," says Jack. "So instead they had a big photo of his mummy. It was pretty boring, really."
But when they'd scouted the Ramses exhibit before writing their first biblically correct tour, one interactive feature had caught Jack's eye: museum volunteers costumed as Ramses.
"They had these docents dressed up like Ramses, and these docents were supposed to answer questions in the voice of Ramses," says Jack. "So on our tour, we had our guides go and stand beside this Ramses, and we'd say to our groups, 'Now, if you guys want to bow down, go ahead, because this here is Ramses, and Ramses thought he was a god. So bow down if you want. But I won't bow down with you. I prefer to worship a living God, a God whose tomb is empty, not a false god whose tomb is filled with twenty rooms of treasure because he thought he could buy his way into paradise.'"
The volunteers didn't like that much, Jack recalls: "One of them called me a 'pompous ass.'" Thorne remembers being branded a "false prophet."
During their Ramses tours, the B.C. guides noticed that other museum patrons in the crowded exhibit halls couldn't help but overhear their spiels: a captive audience to which they could proselytize. Jack likens the reactions of the listeners to those of the Athenians when the Apostle Paul lectured in their Grecian temple: "Some believed; some wanted to hear more, and some hated Paul for what he said."
"We realized our tours were an excellent opportunity to teach the truth and relevancy of the Bible to all the other people in the museum that day, who might otherwise never darken the door of a church," Jack says.
And so, when the Ramses exhibit ended, the B.C. guides not only formulated a creationist tour of the museum's permanent collection, but they came up with one for the Denver Zoo. They promoted their fledgling endeavor with mailings to Christian private schools across the Rocky Mountain region and took out advertisements in newsletters published by Christian home-schooling groups: "Experience the Bible and explore its truth in cultural temples."
As their business grew, more tours followed. In 1993, when the traveling exhibit Aztec: The World of Montezuma came to the Denver Museum of Natural History, Jack led tours where he proclaimed loudly that Cortez was doing God's work by conquering and dismantling the Aztec culture, because the Aztecs worshiped false gods and practiced human sacrifice. "I suppose that wasn't very politically correct of me," he says. "But we're B.C., not P.C."
Now, in addition to "Fossil Find," at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science ("Decide if the evidence supports the theory of evolution or special creation"), and "Jaws, Claws, and Camouflage," at the Denver Zoo, ("Come safari with us and discover why God made each animal distinct. Learn how sin changed the world"), B.C. Tours offers "Heart of Art," a tour of the Denver Art Museum, and "Origins of Law," at the State Capitol.
The State Capitol tour is Carter's favorite. "We go over all the history of the building and the gold dome and all the usual stuff, and then we talk about why law is necessary, and man's sinful nature, and why God instituted law, and why law can't save us in the end," he says. "We also talk a lot about how the American system of justice is based on the biblical system of justice, like when people rise in court. That stems back to the time of Moses, because before Moses would go have his meetings with God to discuss issues of judgment, the people would all come outside the tent where Moses was going to meet with God, and they would stay standing until Moses entered the tent, and then they would stand again when he exited."
On the "Heart of Art" tour, Jack explains, "We go through all the Western European art and American art collections, and we talk about how you can track the shift in worldviews away from God by looking at the art that's being produced in a particular period."
Take impressionism, for example. "Because they got away from the view that there is a God who is sovereign, who is objective, who has objective standards of beauty," Jack says, "the impressionists began to say, 'Well, we're not going to paint this beautiful object as God made it. We're going to paint our individual impression of that object.' And that led to expressionism, which is ever further away from God, because it's painting pure feelings."
The central theme of the art-museum tour is that when artists abandon God, art degenerates.
"Man has no anchor by which to judge what is beautiful or what is not beautiful, what is true or what is not true," says Jack. "Which is why you wind up with someone hanging a urinal on the wall of a museum and calling it art. Whereas, if you come to art from a biblical worldview, you can say definitively what is good art and what is bad."
The price of each biblically correct tour is $5 per person, with a $100 minimum -- cultural-temple admission fee not included. At that rate, all three founders of B.C. Tours have other jobs. Thorne is a graphic designer; Carter runs a national flooring company; Jack travels the country as a guest speaker for Worldview Academy, a fundamentalist ministry that offers camps and seminars for young Christians.
Yet through their combined part-time efforts, B.C. Tours is ever more fruitful, and multiplying. Jack and Thorne are training B.C. Tours guides in St. Louis and Kansas City. In recent months, church groups in New York and Chicago have flown Jack in to lead biblically correct tours of the Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum, respectively.
"We've realized that it's fairly simple to adapt our tours to the science museums or zoos or art museums in other cities," says Thorne. "We're expanding as a result."
Thorne is also putting together creationist tours of Sea World in San Diego and Orlando, in hopes of involving B.C. Tours with the growing market in fundamentalist family getaways that Christian travel agents have dubbed "Creation Vacations." (That market is now dominated by the Michigan-based partnership Answers in Genesis, which markets Bible-based rafting trips down the Grand Canyon and week-long creationist retreats at a lakeside lodge. In Colorado, Buena Vista-based Noah's Arc offers day trips on the Arkansas River.)
But the goal of B.C. Tours is not profit or earthly glory, of course. It is to recruit children as an advance guard of shock troops for the long and hard-fought Culture War -- in which secular humanism is the enemy and evolution versus creationism is second to abortion as the bloodiest front.
"Evolution is killing our children; it is the death knell of our culture," says Jack. "It's not just a flawed idea; it's deadly. And if you don't believe me, let's just drive over to Columbine High School. Those two shooters learned their lessons well. Now hear me carefully: I am not saying that some teacher told them to go out and shoot somebody. However, from the day they entered the public school system until the day they died, they were told, in some form or another, that they were nothing more than mistakes of nature. That they were here on Earth purely by accident. That they were, really, nothing more than cosmic jokes. And they simply followed that worldview through to its logical conclusion."
Head bowed, Tyson Thorne said, "Amen."
When he looked up, a zookeeper and a security guard were staring in his direction from a few feet away. Thorne had just led a Broomfield Community Church youth group on a tour of the Denver Zoo. (The church had recently purchased the B.C. Tours "Silver Package," which consists of four tours, two per school semester, plus one day of classroom instruction on "reinforcing biblical truths." The Silver Package costs $600, for up to thirty students.)
All B.C. Tours outings close with a group prayer. After he finished thanking God for providing a beautiful fall Saturday, Thorne exuberantly thanked the young Christians of Broomfield for being a fabulous group, then walked over to the security guard and asked politely, "How can I help you?"
"Is this is a religious group?" the security guard demanded, his badge glinting in the sun.
Thorne carefully replied, "Well, I'm with a private tour company offering tours from a biblical perspective, so you could say we're a religious-based group, yes."
The guard looked to the zookeeper, then back at Thorne.
"You have freedom of speech, okay? But your freedom of speech and the behavior of your group are not allowed to be inconsistent with the mission of the zoo. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
The children of the youth group began to circle, listening in.
"I understand what you're saying. I'm just not understanding that we mean the same thing by what you're saying."
The zookeeper butted in: "You're blocking the exhibits so that other people can't see them!"
"Exactly right," Thorne shot back. "We're a tour group. We scheduled our tour with the zoo office, and we paid our admission. Is there any way we can view the animals we've paid to see without temporarily blocking an exhibit? Isn't that what tour groups do?"
The guard shrugged, looking embarrassed. The zookeeper fumed, looking madder by the second.
"Did you have this conversation with any other tour group at the zoo today?" Thorne asked them both. He received no answer. "Can you tell me what makes my tour group different?"
The zookeeper stalked off, muttering about blocked exhibits.
"We just need you to keep it down a little next time," the guard said. "Have a good one."
According to Angela Baier, vice president of marketing and public relations for the zoo, the security-guard contact was prompted by several complaints that Thorne's group was blocking exhibits and being disruptive -- although it was obvious to any observer that Thorne was speaking no louder than other tour guides at the zoo that day.
Two days later, at ten o'clock on a Monday morning, three field-trip groups assembled outside the entrance to the zoo. Two were from public elementary schools in Denver. The third consisted of about 35 home-schooled students from Colorado Springs, ranging in age from six to twelve, along with one home-schooling dad and a gaggle of moms. They had signed up for the tour several weeks before through B.C. Tours. Thorne said he'd forwarded their request for a group-ticket discount to the zoo ten days in advance, but when the Colorado Springs group arrived at the zoo that morning, their discount application was nowhere to be found.
"It's funny," said Thorne, sporting a white safari shirt and sunglasses. "I've noticed that, lately, our paperwork always seems to get lost at the zoo. You'll notice the public schools don't seem to be having this problem."
Thorne eventually got it worked out, collected the money and gathered the children for a short lecture by a zookeeper who minutes before had delivered the same address to the public-school kids. Essentially, the zookeeper's directives were: Don't mess with the animals, and especially don't mess with the peacocks that roam the footpaths, tempting as they may be. "Enjoy the zoo," he concluded.
Just inside the entrance, Thorne stopped the group at the zoo's main plaza and launched into an introductory attack on evolution: "Why is it that when dinosaurs turn into frogs, we call that evolution, but when frogs turn into princes, we call it a fairy tale? You'll see from what we learn today that evolution is a fairy tale."
Evolution must be false, because it depends upon death to promote survival of the fittest, he explained. But we know from the Bible that before the fall of Eden, all living creatures were immortal, and they were all vegetarians. Because there was no death, there could have been no predators, no meat eaters.
And then came the security guard.
This time it was a woman in a uniform, bearing a paper tablet. Written at its top was: "Denver Zoological Gardens Visitor Conduct Policy."
It read: "The Denver Zoo is a public scientific cultural facility dedicated for the purpose of public recreation and for preserving, exhibiting, and advancing the study and appreciation of wildlife. The public may not exercise its right of freedom of speech and assembly within the Zoo grounds in a way which is inconsistent with the primary use of the facility. The Zoo may restrict behavior on the part of the public which is disruptive or which might capture unwilling audiences. Such conduct is not protected by the Constitution."
The guard handed the paper to a woman who identified herself as the leader of the home-school group and then retreated to a vantage point some fifty feet away.
"Okay," said Thorne. "Let's go see the elephants."
Bill Jack joined the group at the elephant exhibit, where the children learned the difference between African and Asian elephants, and that elephants throw dirt on their backs to protect their hides from solar radiation.
"Look at how they can work those trunks," Thorne said. "If evolution were true, all you home-school moms would have four of five of those to use as extra arms, right?" The moms laughed. Then Jack described how circus trainers will chain baby elephants to heavy weights when they're young until the elephants associate the feeling of a chain with being immobile.
"Pretty soon the trainers just have to put on that chain and the elephants won't go anywhere, because they think they're tied up whenever that chain's on," Jack said. "Evolutionists do the same thing. They chain people to a false belief, over and over, until people just assume it must be true. Now, is it okay to be chained to a false belief?"
"No," the kids answered in unison.
"Is it okay to believe in evolution when it's not true?"
"That's right," Jack said. "It's not okay to be held captive by false beliefs. Now, we look at these elephants and we say, 'Dude, isn't it awesome what our God designed? And an atheist or an evolutionist, they say, 'Isn't it amazing what time and chance created?' But we know better. Because who designed the elephants?"
A tow-headed lad wearing a Cub Scout hat piped up first. "God did!"
"It's okay," Jack replied. "You can say the J-word here. Now, all of you this time: Who designed the elephants?"
All the children: "Jesus did!"
Thorne and Jack then divided the tour group in half. Jack took his charges to see the African wild dogs, where he asked the kids, "Now, why do we need these fences between us and those dogs?"
Quickest to reply was a boy wearing a shirt that bore the words "What part of 'y'all' don't you understand?" He said, "Because of sin."
"That's right," said Jack. "Because of sin. Because before sin, there were no predators, because there was no death. Is death a good thing?"
"No," came the chorus.
Satisfied with the lesson of the wild dogs, Jack went on to the giraffes. There are seven bones in a giraffe's neck, he told his group. "Evolutionists believe those bones stretched over a long period of time, but can you stretch the bones in your neck?"
"So how do you think the giraffe got such a long neck?"
Jack smiled. "That's right."
A terrified peacock sprinted past, three giggling public-school kids in hot pursuit.
Jack's half of the B.C. Tours group proceeded in a quiet, orderly fashion to the zebras.
"Why do you think the zebra has stripes?" Jack asked.
A boy wearing a Federal Bureau of Investigation, Knoxville, hat ventured a guess: "Camouflage?"
No, not camouflage. Patiently, Jack explained again how before the fall of Eden, there was no death, hence no predators, hence no need for camouflage. "Let's try again. Why does the zebra have stripes?"
The kids defaulted to their standard answer: "Jesus!"
"Kind of," said Jack. "But not quite. The answer is really that the zebra has stripes to glorify God. God made all the animals for his own glory. They're for our enjoyment, but they're for His glory."
Jack used the camel exhibit to illustrate the Bible's account of Abraham's servant choosing a wife for Isaac. "He said, 'Whoever waters my camels and gives me a drink of water, she shall be the one.' He chose her because she had a servant's heart."
The last animal on Jack's tour was the hippopotamus. Jack talked about how the hippopotamus is fiercely territorial and one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Then he explained that upon the Second Coming, while all the non-believers are roasting marshmallows in Hell, all those who trusted in Christ will be able to swim and play with the hippopotamus, because everything will be like it was in Eden.
"One day, we'll all be able to swim with sharks and scratch lions behind the ears," he said. "Won't that be cool?"
"I'm going to have a pet cobra!" one boy exclaimed.
"I'm going to ride on tigers!" another cried.
Jack had one final, important point to make. He set it up by quoting God in the Book of Job:40:15-18:
Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; he eats grass like an ox. See now, his strength is in his hips, and his power is in his stomach muscles. He moves his tail like a cedar, the sinews of his thighs are tightly knit. His bones are like beams of bronze, his ribs like bars of iron.
The word "behemoth" is footnoted in most Bibles as "a large animal, exact identity unknown." Many biblical scholars point to the hippo as a likely candidate. But Jack has another theory. "Look at that hippo's tail," he said. "Does that look like a tail the size of cedar tree?"
"Well, what other animal can you think of that is massive and super-strong that has bones like beams of bronze and a tail the size of a cedar tree and who eats grass, who God made along with man?"
"That's right," Jack said. "There's the evidence, right there."
But then, where are the dinosaurs today? If they were created by God at the same time He created man and all the other creatures, why aren't they still around?
"It is a bit of a mystery," admits Thorne, "but we do know from the Bible that people used to live for a long, long time. Eight hundred, nine hundred years was common. Now, what if the lizards of today lived that long, too? Can you imagine how big they would have been? That's one possible explanation."
But when you have faith, you don't need to nitpick little things like the fossil record.
At Colorado Christian University, Thorne had a professor who believed that the first twelve chapters of Genesis were fabricated tales meant to teach us lessons about God and human nature. "He thought there really was no Garden of Eden," says Thorne, incredulously. "Well, I'm sorry, but if you take out the first twelve chapters of Genesis, you can pretty much throw the rest of Christian ideology away, because it's all founded on Genesis.
"The Bible teaches us that God protects his word. He says not one thing will disappear from His word. Not one jot, not one tittle. His word's as true today as it was yesterday as it will be tomorrow. And I gotta believe that. If I don't believe it, then the whole Bible isn't worth believing."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.