We Believe in Dinosaurs
Director: Clayton Brown, Monica Long Ross
Runtime: 105 minutes
It’s one thing to read about Noah’s ark. It’s another to see it.
The massive structure—built to the specifications laid out, it is said, by God in Genesis—stretches 510 feet from end-to-end, the length of nearly two football fields. It stands 65 feet off the ground. Inside, the place is stocked with animatronic creations that wouldn’t feel out of place at Disneyland: chimpanzees, cows, even a pair of juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rexes. The dinosaurs would have to be juveniles, theorizes Doug Henderson, one of the craftsmen behind the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. How else could they fit in the boat?
“I’m a normal person,” Henderson tells the documentary crew. “I am not crazy. But I do believe in all of this.”
We Believe in Dinosaurs, a 90-minute documentary airing on PBS Feb. 17, zooms its cameras on a creation story, if you will: How creationist Ken Ham’s sprawling Ark Encounter (which supporters say draws around 1 million people a year) came to be. And even as it seeks to answer questions about creation itself from a strictly biblical point of view, its very existence sparks plenty of others: Is it a theme park or a proselytization center? As a faith-based attraction, should it be eligible for all the tax breaks it received? Does it really embrace science, as boosters say it does?
The documentary hints at the answers: Both, no, and no. And certainly there are scenes that strict evolutionists would find chilling: When Ham lectures a room of students on what to say to anyone who believes the earth is billions of years old (“Were you there?”) would strike many as indoctrination. But for the most part, the documentary approaches its subject—and its subjects—with respect and even a measure of empathy.
Part of that might be due to one of its prime voices: David MacMillan a Christian and a former young-earth creationist (a philosophy which posits that the universe was created by God in six literal days and the earth itself is just around 6,000 years old). He serves as a winsome bridge between these two clashing philosophies—a translator of sorts. As a teen, he became a charter member of the Creation Museum, and he shows us a picture of he with Ham. MacMillan would even pick arguments with scientists back in the day, before he decided they were right after all.
And even when he walks into the Ark Encounter on its opening day, he seems practically giddy—even if, as he says, he doesn’t believe that the ark is historical fact anymore.
“I’m really, really excited,” he says. “I don’t want to be, but I am.”
He’s emblematic of the documentary as a whole. While We Believe in Dinosaurs allows some shrill voices in the creationist/evolutionist standoff to have their say, it devotes most of its attention to more soft-spoken advocates. Henderson, one of the Encounter’s hands-on creators, seems like a guy you’d like to share a pizza with. Dan Phelps, a geologist who fought the Encounter’s tax incentives vociferously, is a smiling, quiet advocate for science—even if he calls the science behind Ham’s work B.S.
We Believe in Dinosaurs will likely not change many minds. But it does something more important, perhaps: It gives a window into two very different and often dissonant worlds and offers a more human face to those with whom we might disagree. And that, in these fractious times where so many people seem spoiling for a fight, is a valuable service.
Written by Paul Asay