Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a summertime staple for more than a few evangelical churches, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation where congregations across America are unable to proceed as planned, instead offering online or home-based programming.
>Never the sorts to shy away from an opportunity to get their message out, the Creationists at Answers in Genesis have responded by releasing a modified version of their 2012 VBS curriculum, available for free on the ministry’s website. The amusement-park-themed program, titled IncrediWorld: A Thrill Ride Through God’s Creation, has been reworked and simplified to make it manageable for parents teaching in the home or children’s ministers switching to online learning.
So I downloaded it and took a stroll through the park.
It promises a comprehensive experience that blends science, religion, and play:
[We] have designed IncrediWorld to provide solid Bible-based teaching, delivered in a fun and entertaining way, that counters the misinformation about the Bible and science that children encounter daily.
For children who are young enough (or sheltered enough, or bored enough), IncrediWorld might be fun and entertaining. And it certainly takes great pains to counter the accepted science around evolution with a hyper-simplistic “God did it” narrative — often in clunky and robotic scripted dialogue.
But despite the central conceit of a visit to “IncrediWorld Amazement Park,” the deity they’re presenting is neither incredible nor amazing.
The mediocrity of the IncrediWorld god shines through from the very first day, when teachers are instructed to loudly proclaim their admiration for a Creator who put literally no effort into creating anything:
He had no need to gather materials, make several trips to the home improvement store, measure twice and cut once, tear everything apart and start again. He spoke, and it was done. At his word, all things — time, light, space, earth, water, plants, trees, heavenly bodies, flying creatures, swimming creatures, land-dwelling creatures, people — came to be.
… God didn’t need millions of years to make the world, because he’s God, and he’s incredible! Nothing is hard for him.
Have you ever actually made something with your hands? Ever actually collected materials, measured and cut, practiced and improved, backtracked to correct errors, spent weeks or months laboring with your hands, kept at it until you had a finished project? That’s an achievement. That’s impressive.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about being able to achieve results without trying. For anyone who’s ever worked hard to learn a skill, reach a goal, or complete a project, it’s almost insulting. If the Creationists’ god didn’t have to put any effort into His creation — didn’t even have to mull it over, let alone put actual work into it — even the smallest children in the audience have experienced more impressive levels of success: They actually had to try to learn skills like language or fine motor control.
If nothing is hard for God, nothing He does is worthy of outsized praise.
That’s not to say that the program has nothing impressive to offer the kids: It’s just not God. The curriculum puts a spotlight on some truly incredible, fascinating creatures and the ways they’ve adapted to survive extreme conditions. The problem is, all these amazing adaptations are twisted into evidence that animals can’t possibly have adapted, and therefore must have been designed for their environments by an intelligent mind.But of course, that intelligent mind didn’t have to spare even an instant of effort at the drafting table thought before He just popped these perfectly-made critters into existence with a single word.
To the science-minded, the logic is so twisted, it makes pretzels pale in comparison. They’re literally using animals who’ve become uniquely well-suited to their environments to argue that animals don’t change over time to adapt to their environments. At times they come devastatingly close to something that resembles recognition, as in this passage about the extinction of the dinosaurs:
If you wear your BIBLE glasses, you can see that they disappeared (became extinct) for the same reason many other animals have become extinct. Conditions were harsher after the flood, and it would have been much harder for them to survive.
Surely, Ken Ham, you don’t mean to suggest that some animals were more able to survive changing environmental conditions, causing the relevant traits to become more prevalent over time…
But it doesn’t have to make sense, because the truth about human origins was never the point. It’s a justification for their socially-conservative ideology, and even in a program specifically designed for small children, they can’t help but let the mask slip.
Consider this snack-time script — yes, even the kids’ snack breaks are scripted — in which teachers are encouraged to serve faux wedding cake to open up a conversation about same-sex marriage:
Did you know the word Genesis means “beginnings”? All major truths (doctrines) of Scripture begin in the book of Genesis. For instance, we see the beginning of the family. God created Adam, and Adam named the animals, but he couldn’t find someone suitable for him. So God specially designed someone for Adam. This was not an animal but a woman.
This is our God-given example for marriage — one man and one woman for life — and it started way back at the beginning of time. So as we eat our wedding cake and drink our punch, let’s remember that God is the creator of marriage.
The real joke, of course, is on the poor teacher who has to get her class to sit through “Wow Zone Bible Time” after she’s just finished bribing them through her mini-sermon with punch and cake.
The program suffers throughout from the same basic problem: Its designers seem to think that, like their designer God, they can speak what they imagine into reality. If they call it “Wow Zone” instead of “Reading Genesis 1 for the 20th Time Directly From the Bible Text,” it will somehow overpower a sugar high. They can create a “fun and entertaining” Bible camp just by telling children they’re supposed to be entertained, as in these presentation notes from the first day:
Start getting hyper excited about the day ahead and keep talking over and over about how much fun it’s going to be here at IncrediWorld. Use the word fun a lot.
Nothing says fun like someone required to tell you what you’re doing is fun.
I suppose if you’re expecting your children to think and feel as they’re told for the rest of their lives, it pays to get them accustomed to it early. But instead of telling them something is impressive, it would be far more effective if they actually did something impressive.
That said, at least somebody sat down at a computer and wrote the program. That’s more than we can say for a God who apparently creates everything without thought or effort.