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Lutheran camp plans creation-science learning center

HENNING, Minn. - According to the book, the Earth is about 6,000 years old, evolution is wrong and Noah's flood accounts for all of the world's fossils.

The book is the Bible.

The interpretation is from Brian Young, who considers himself a creation scientist and opposes major mainstream theories about evolution and the formation of the universe.

"We often hear creationism versus evolution. In a sense, it's creationism versus evolutionism. Both are faith issues," Young said.

Young, founder of Creation Instruction Association, has ties to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and its Lutheran Island Camp here in Otter Tail County.

The camp has served as a summer destination for young people since the early 1950s, after the 67-acre island in East Battle Lake was purchased by the church for about $15,000.

The camp's mission expanded in the 1980s to include an education and retreat center with programs open to all, as long as they respect the camp's commitment to prayer and holding devotions, said Kenneth Erlandson, the camp's executive director.

He said through print advertising and the camp's Web site, the nonprofit has caught the attention of people from as far away as Indiana and Oklahoma.

Offering more than 200 programs, including horseback riding and a tree house village, the camp hosts about 4,000 visitors a year who head to the island for activities ranging from family reunions to quilting bees.

Something new

Now, the camp wants to become something more: the first creation-science environmental learning center in the state.

"There are 64 environmental learning centers that are run by the state of Minnesota, or the federal government. You couldn't teach creation science at any one of those," said Bill Schultz, who heads planning and resource development at Lutheran Island Camp.

The camp has hosted workshops to train youths, families and pastors regarding the church's views on life and earth sciences.

There are plans, however, to purchase nearby property for a center that would be dedicated to examining science through a Biblical lens.

Organizers believe it would be the first in Minnesota and possibly the country.

The aim, Schultz said, is to provide families and young people with information they can use to respectfully question differing points of view they may encounter, like at school.

"What we're finding is, many kids are subject to ridicule, lower grades, being laughed at, just because they lay forth different arguments and different interpretations of the same information," Schultz said.

The Rev. George Sagissor, who is working to help create the learning center, said he ran into similar reactions when he attended the University of Minnesota-Morris in the 1960s.

He recalled one lecture when he said he politely raised his hand to ask a question from a creation standpoint and was asked to leave the class.

"We don't get a chance to let our point of view be heard because we're put down and we're asked to shut up," Sagissor said.

'Not rocket science'

Adam Lewis, an assistant professor in North Dakota State University's Department of Geoscience, said it is difficult to fit mainstream science and creationism at the same table because they belong at different tables in different rooms.

"Religion and science operate in totally separate realms," Lewis said. "We're not speaking the same language."

"If you're going to talk science," he added, "you have to talk 100 percent what can be tested, what can be observed and what can be proven or disproven. If you can't do those things, you cannot have a scientific discussion."

The age of the Earth is accepted by many scientists to be at least 4.5 billion years old.

Lewis said his area of study focuses on relatively recent time periods, thousands to millions of years ago, adding there are several ways to determine the age of geologic features.

Counting the layers of sediment deposited at the bottom of Swedish lakes shows them to be at least 22,000 years old, he said.

Ice layers created by the annual freeze/thaw cycle in Greenland paint an even older picture.

"This is not rocket science," Lewis said. "You can count 14,400 (ice layers) by your eye. You can count a further 170,000 by a machine that detects electrical conductivity in the ice. There, you're looking at dust layers."

Ridicule, mockery

Given the chasm that separates them, can creationism and traditional science coexist?

Young said, for his part, the answer is yes.

"I think the difference is the other side is not willing," Young said, adding that many opponents of creationism "spend all their time ridiculing and mocking and making kids feel insignificant and stupid, without letting them even present the other side of the information."

Lewis said he has no wish to attack the strongly held beliefs of others.

"Scientists are not their enemies," he said. "We don't look at them like they're nuts, and we don't look at them like they are treading on our turf. It's just that we have a job to do and we have rules to follow, just like any profession does."

Young said those who look to the Bible for answers to scientific questions don't dispute the reality of things like dinosaurs - he cited references to dragons in the Book of Job - but he said they do question the conventional time frames for when things happened.

He said the flood described in Genesis explains the layers in the earth's crust and the fossils found in them.

"That's science, and for us to deny that would be certainly closing our eyes," Young said, adding that people who assert that fossils came into being as is when the earth was created are not creation scientists.

"Those would be more among the average church person who is trying to find an explanation for what they see in the world around them and they don't understand how it fits biblically," he said.

Schultz said from the church perspective, questions about the age of the earth or whether evolution is valid, are more than academic.

"When we have children who are, from the age of infancy on, inundated with a message that is contrary to what the church teaches and what the Bible teaches, we have a lot of parents and a lot of children who begin to question their faith, their salvation.

"This really, from our perspective as a ministry, has more to do with salvation and redemption and the fact that we are sinners, than it has to do with trying to prove some kind of a scientific argument," Schultz said.

Dave Olson is a report for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.