By Maurice Chammah
Carl Baugh, a former television personality with slicked-back grey hair and a warm, deep baritone, is a well-known figure in Glen Rose, Texas, a rural town near Fort Worth with a population of 2,400. On a warm Saturday in early September, he greeted several dozen men, women, and children at the Creation Evidence Museum, a small exhibition space open Thursday through Saturday, which he founded and directs. “It’s so good to see you,” he said, smiling as the families took their seats in the wide, tiled room, with high ceilings and a balcony around the perimeter. The museum features a replica of Noah’s Ark and a set of human and dinosaur footprints in a chunk of rock under a glass case. The tracks, found in 2000 by an amateur archaeologist who was exploring a riverbed near Glen Rose, are said by Baugh to be authentic proof that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, created by God roughly 6,000 years ago.
Baugh’s “Director’s Lecture” is held each month. Today the topic was not just creationism, but the importance of Israel, a country Baugh has visited sixteen times. “It’s my favorite place on Earth,” he told me. “I think it’s God’s favorite place on Earth.”
Israel is popular among American evangelicals, but no more so than in Texas, a state where the governor created the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce to foster economic ties. Politicians often wear lapel pins with the Israeli and Texan flags side by side. Founded in San Antonio, Christians United for Israel, the “largest pro-Israel organization in the United States,” hosts events around the state to tell church crowds why the U.S. relationship with Israel must be unshakeable. “It’s a matter of learning to talk the language and relate to people,” said Pastor David Simmons, the group’s Cowboy Church coordinator; he specializes in giving lectures at churches housed in barns or arenas, where congregants meet after services for rodeo events. “Our focus is, as long as we don’t stand for Israel, our nation becomes weak, simply because the Bible says Israel is the apple of God’s eye.”
Baugh is a passionate advocate for the Jewish people and their state but, in contrast to political activists like Simmons, he does not argue that they need help. “God is behind the activities in Israel,” he says, “and God is not dead, and Israel is not dead.” The goal of this lecture was not to urge support for Israel, but rather to show how Israel is connected to the argument for creationism. God’s hand is evident in the human and dinosaur tracks, Baugh explained, just as His hand is evident in Israel’s continuing military and political strength.
Baugh founded the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose in 1984 because the town is near Dinosaur Valley State Park, home to dinosaur tracks in the limestone along the Paluxy River. The museum’s centerpiece is a human footprint inside of a dinosaur footprint. After an amateur archaeologist named Alvis Delk found the print in a 140 pound slab of rock, Baugh took it to a medical center in Glen Rose and had 800 X-Rays performed, which showed that the compression of the rock under the prints could not have been faked and that the human print indicates a rolling step, rather than an even indentation. Baugh estimated the tracks were made around the time of Noah’s Flood, 4,500 years ago and not — as many scientists claim — 100 million years ago during the mid-Cretaceous Period.
Before the recession, Baugh says, the museum hosted as many as 15,000 visitors a year, teaching them how the study of science does not automatically lead to a belief in evolution; it can support the idea that the Earth was created roughly 6,000 years ago in the exact way described in the Book of Genesis.
For eleven years, Baugh hosted a show called “Creationism & the 21st Century” on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the channel founded by the once famed and later disgraced televangelists Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker. He still speaks as though he is in front of a television audience and, due to the electronic speakers and the reverberant tile floor, his voice permeated the room. His East Texan intonation is slow but without tedium and his rhetorical questions (“Are you ready?” “Are you still awake?” “I assume you know about…?”) are spoken with a slight lilt.
For many in the wider U.S., Baugh is a marginal curiosity, a subject of ridicule for bloggers and Yelp commenters. But he has been criticized more pointedly by other creationists, who say he has fabricated his degrees and promulgated “proof” that they think is misleading. They are embarrassed by his notoriety. On The Daily Show in 2001, Baugh was shown a scene in which Fred Flintstone cradled a small dinosaur in his arms. He responded, “I find that rather plausible and realistic.”
Other creationists don’t buy into the overlapping footprints. Carl Kerby, a creationist author and speaker who is on the board of the more famous organization Answers in Genesis (they have their own, much bigger museum in Kentucky), has written that “some Christians will try to use Baugh’s ‘evidences’ in witnessing and get ‘shot down’ by someone who is scientifically literate. The ones witnessed to will thereafter be wary of all creation evidences and even more inclined to dismiss Christians as nut cases not worth listening to.”
Baugh is sanguine about this disparagement, though he took down several degrees from his online resume that had been disputed. “Creation work is controversial,” he told me. “I have three earned doctorates, but I do not refer to them. The evidence speaks for itself.”
After a local singer performed two Christian popular songs over synthesizer-laden backing tracks (“The storms will come, but fear not, oh children, I am nigh”), Baugh took the stage and announced, “We have guests from throughout the country, which is rather usual here.” He discussed the museum and its many artifacts. The crowd nodded and voiced encouraging ‘amens’ and ‘that’s right’s.” “You can say ‘amen’ if you like,” Baugh said. “You can respond. Just don’t throw anything!” In an adjoining room, some children giggled as they watched Baugh on a live television feed. There were not nearly enough people present to merit an overflow room, but some months the crowds are much larger. The kids seemed to see the televisions as a novelty.
At the museum, a section called “Israel is Special” features photos of modern and ancient Jerusalem, a replica of the Moabite Stone, a menorah, a shofar, a letter written by Israel’s modern founder David Ben Gurion, a bronze bust of Ben Gurion, tablets with the Ten Commandments, scrolls and other antiquities, a half shekel excavated from the City of David, and twelve Jewish pots Baugh says were found at the site where the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Where the footprints down the stairs are specific proof that God made the world in seven days, 6,000 years ago, these artifacts illustrate a more general proof of God’s existence: he gave the holy land back to his chosen people after an absence of two millennia.
Baugh, like the leaders of Christians United for Israel, pays little attention to Palestinians. He has brought volunteers from rural Texas to help excavate the City of David in Jerusalem, where Palestinians live in houses on top of many of the dig sites. This has been a source of tension, as Israeli archaeologists and Jewish tourists who see King David’s claim to the territory as evidence of their own collaborate with the Israeli settlers who are trying to reclaim much of the property in the area and live in it. “Beyond re-inscribing the village with this new symbolic meaning as ‘Jewish space,’” archaeologist Jeffrey Yas wrote in Jerusalem Quarterly in 2000, “the practice of archaeology is physically reshaping the village, having in several cases paved the legal path for Jewish settlement expansion.”
Though Baugh did not mention Palestinians, he made a point of comparing the number of Nobel Prizes won by Jews (129) with those won by Muslims (7). It was a slide of his power point presentation meant to show the special, God-ordained qualities of the Jewish people. “By the way, God loves the Muslims,” he said. “He doesn’t like the way they’re behaving, but sometimes he doesn’t like the way we behave either.” Everyone nodded, as if this was a good point they hadn’t heard before. Baugh was not putting down Muslims so much as arguing that Jews are favored by God, and hence have more of a right to the territory.
But for a presentation so dependent on physical artifacts, there seemed to be no Jews in the room for him to gesture towards as he spoke. And then he remembered that I had told him about my Jewish upbringing.
“Maurice is my Jewish friend,” he announced. “I have a lot of Jewish friends.” He asked if I had heard the story about how the Israeli army captured the city of Eilat in 1948. I had not.
According to Baugh, during the 1948 war between Jewish nationalists and several Arab armies, three Israeli soldiers drove to an outpost at Eilat, hoping to claim a spot on the Red Sea before the United Nations declared the new state’s official boundaries. At a little mud hut, they found four Egyptian soldiers. One of them walked up to the soldiers and asked, “Would you like some chocolate?”
The crowd laughed as Baugh made eye contact with me and said, “Maurice, this happened.”
The Egyptians excitedly took the chocolate. And then the punch line: “It was exlax.” Big laughs simmered down to quiet admiration as Baugh continued. The Egyptians ran off to the rocks to relieve themselves, and the Israelis made a hasty flag out of a T-shirt, thereby claiming the territory. “That’s how God deals with Israel.” The political success of Israel, for Baugh, is continuing evidence of God’s ability to shape real-world events, a narrative that began with the creation of the world.
There were more murmurs of agreement and quiet exclamations of “wow.” Many in the room, I learned, already agreed with Baugh about the Earth’s young age and follow Israel avidly in the news for proof of God’s continuing hand in human affairs. But they had not necessarily tied the two together, viewing the political history of contemporary Zionism as the focal point for God’s continuation of the work he began when he created the world.
“Have you learned anything?” Baugh asked at the end, the anticipatory lilt of his voice interrupted by a wave of applause. “God bless you.” The audience lingered and then slowly trickled back to the parking lot. The sun, low in the sky, lit up the barren landscape in a dramatic fashion; you might even describe it as “biblical.”
Maurice Chammah is a writer and musician in Austin, Texas who studied journalism in Egypt as a Fulbright student, 2011-2012. More about him at http://www.mauricechammah.com. He writes regularly for The Revealer.
With support from the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs.