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THE STATE | COLUMN ONE

Adam, Eve and T. Rex

Giant roadside dinosaur attractions are used by a new breed of creationists as pulpits to spread their version of Earth's origins.

August 27, 2005|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

"It's what we call marketplace ministry. I bring the Gospel to the people," said Chiles, who runs a nondenominational church at the attraction, inside Bell's rickety old home.

Kids flock to the huge statues. "And it's not like they're crying, 'Oh, mommy, take me out, I'm scared.' They're drawn to it," Chiles said. "There's something in their DNA that knows man walked with these creatures on Earth."

The Kanters intend to spend $2 million to $3 million to add a giant sand pit where kids would rummage for fossils, a center that would contrast creation and evolution arguments, a maze and a replica of Noah's Ark. All that alerts visitors now is a cryptic sign that asks, "Is evolution true?"

Parents glanced past it on a recent afternoon as their children raced toward the growling dinosaurs. Boys wedged their heads between a smaller carnivore's teeth, or smacked its mouth with toy swords. Toddlers hugged Dinny's legs while one family crowded under his tummy in party hats, unwrapped presents and bonked a stegosaurus pinata.

Douglas Bant and his wife ushered their kids from gift shop to minivan for the trip back to Scottsdale, Ariz. The couple teach their children about Jesus, but Bant was miffed about a dinosaur trying to do the same.

"Who thinks, 'I'm going to open a gift shop and convince people this is church'?" he said. "Why would you turn a toy for kids into some sort of religious crusade?"

Corina Shreve had pulled off the highway with her son and daughter.

The family, from Westminster in Orange County, drops in on Dinny maybe twice a year. Shreve said a staffer recently piled pamphlets about creation onto her 6-year-old son Aeron's hands and told him to pass them to friends.

When Aeron asked his mom during this year's visit for a T-shirt, Shreve balked at buying the only one in his size. It read "By Design and Not By Chance."

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