The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Answers In Genesis’

Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Gets Torpedoed by Kentucky State Government

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 11, 2014

Imagine my surprise when I found out today that my home state of Kentucky, which I often refer to as the “buckle of the Bible Belt”, actually took a firm stand in favor of church-state separation! Today the state’s Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet informed uber-creationist and all-around pseudo-scientist Ken Ham that his over-budget and under-delivered Ark Encounter will NOT be receiving the tax breaks he has so long sought from the state government (which he really needs due to the questionable financial situation of his endeavor).

Why has this happened? Because Ken Ham thinks that anti-discrimination laws shouldn’t apply to his organization in the hiring of employees (he wants to force employees of an organization which receives public money to sign the Answers in Genesis “Statement of Faith”), and the state has decided (wisely) that that is going too far and would be a clear violation of separation of church and state. So, they’ve closed the door on ol’ Ham and his ruse.

The local KY media are weighing in; this from the Courier Journal…

Ark park won’t get Kentucky tax incentives

The state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet said in a letter Wednesday that the Ark Encounter theme park has changed it’s position on hiring policies since it originally filed for incentives in 2010 and now intends to discriminate in hiring based on religion.

It also said the park has evolved from a tourist attraction into an extension of the ministry activities undertaken by Answers in Genesis, which promotes a literal interpretation of the Bible’s old testament and argues that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

“State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion,” Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart wrote in the letter. “The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

Officials will “take no further action” on the application, he said.

Of course, what is Ham’s reaction? Why, he’s threatening legal action, because – in his alternate reality – he thinks that his organization should be allowed to both collect public money and discriminate on the basis of religion (or non-religion).  In other words, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Sorry, Ken, it doesn’t work that way:

But, Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said it’s unlikely a lawsuit could succeed in federal court.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that states can deny taxpayer subsidies to religious groups if officials are concerned that funds will support religious activities.

“Kentucky is doing the right thing and is respecting the rights of taxpayers to not be forced to subsidize religious indoctrination and discrimination,” Luchenitser said. “The state is also respecting the fact that jobs that are going to be supported by state subsidies must be open to all.”

I’m sure this ongoing drama won’t stop here; it will likely take Ham and his creationist allies getting smacked down by the courts, multiple times, before they give up this lost cause.

As a final comment, it is with no small amount of irony that I share the fact that in recent days, Ham’s Answers in Genesis organization started a billboard campaign mocking those who would question his grasp of the law. Here’s what the billboard looks like:

635537324277510263-noahs-ark-billboard-creation-museum-answers-in-genesis

Interesting… according to the mythology, Noah didn’t need a crane to build the Ark, did he? — Image source

My response to Mr. Ham: “intolerant liberals” may not be able to sink that ship, but it seems that the Kentucky state government just did a pretty thorough job of torpedoing any hope for those tax breaks.  As the Biblical saying goes: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. It looks like right now Caesar is saying “no dice” on the tax breaks! :D

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Runs Aground on Kentucky Anti-Discrimination Laws

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 29, 2014

As I have documented many times before, uber-creationist Ken Ham has been trying to get a new attraction built named Ark Encounter (which is Ham’s version of the mythical Noah’s Ark) that would boost lagging attendance at his Creation Museum.  And he’s been trying to get the state of Kentucky to fund this misadventure with public dollars and tax breaks, with varying degrees of success; though, sadly, up until this point the KY officials have appeared all-too-willing to accommodate Ham.  If you want to read the full background on this slow-motion train wreck – and the various scientific and church-state issues it raises – feel free to read here, here, and here.

What I want to focus upon in this latest post is a new and highly troublesome wrinkle in Ham’s plans to pull the wool over the eyes of Kentucky public officials.  It seems that Ham billed Ark Encounter as a for-profit venture while also simultaneously seeking tax breaks and other goodies from the public trough; however, because Ark Encounter is under the auspices of Ham’s Answers In Genesis creationist organization, he appears to want to force any potential Ark Encounter employees to sign on to the Answers In Genesis “Statement of Faith”.

According to this New Civil Rights Movement article, this statement would require of Ark Encounter employees:

Indeed, as The New Civil Rights Movement reported, Daniel Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society and vice president of Kentuckians for Science Education wrote an op-ed in which he details the issue. “On the day the tax incentives were recommended, the Answers in Genesis website had a help-wanted advertisement,” Phelps explained.

The job description included this statement: “Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry. Our employees work together as a team to serve each other to produce the best solutions for our design requirements. Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying believers and evangelizing the lost.”

Ham claims that the Ark museum will be run separately and differently from the Creation Museum.

But job postings at Answers in Genesis include this statement: “All job applicants for the non-profit ministry of AiG/Creation Museum need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation, and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG Statement of Faith.”

The AiG Statement of Faith claims “it is imperative that all persons employed by the ministry in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, should abide by and agree to our Statement of Faith, to include the statement on marriage and sexuality, and conduct themselves accordingly.”

It also requires all employees to believe and support “the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge,” and the “66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.”

And that’s just for starters.

Whoops – that’s a real legal no-no.  It’s so much of a legal no-no that now, finally, those public officials in Kentucky who have been so willing, up to this point, to give a wink and a nod to Ken Ham and his creationist nonsense can no longer turn a blind eye to his shenanigans.  This Courier-Journal article outlines some details:

“The Commonwealth doesn’t believe that Ark Encounter, LLC will be complying with state and Federal law in its hiring practices,” Bob Stewart, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said in an Aug. 27 letter to an Ark Encounter attorney.

Stewart wrote that “serious concerns” were raised by a job posting for an Ark Encounter position that required applicants to provide salvation testimony, a creation belief statement, and agreement with the “Statement of Faith” of Ark Encounter’s parent organization, Answers in Genesis.

“Therefore, we are not prepared to move forward with consideration of the application for final approval without the assurance of Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in any way on the basis of religion in hiring,” Stewart wrote.

James Parsons, a Covington attorney representing Ark Encounter, responded to Stewart saying that the job posting that triggered Stewart’s concern was not for Ark Encounter, but Answers in Genesis.

Parsons wrote that Ark Encounter stands by its longstanding commitment to “comply with all applicable federal and state laws” on hiring and said that Stewart was adding a new requirement to Ark Encounter’s application for tax incentives.

Not so, Stewart replied Sept. 4. “The Commonwealth does not provide incentives to any company that discriminates on the basis of religion and we will not make any exception for Ark Encounter, LLC…” Stewart wrote. “The Commonwealth must have the express written assurance from Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in any way on the basis of religion in hiring.”

That last communication between KY officials and Ken Ham’s organization took place almost two months ago, and since that time there has been no written assurance from Ark Encounter that it won’t discriminate in hiring on the basis of religious beliefs.  Now why would that be?  Well, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have an idea, and I think it’s a pretty good one, as to why Ken Ham has suddenly gone quiet on the question:

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, said in a phone interview, “We’re pleased with this development. It sounds like the state of Kentucky has a policy of not providing tax incentives to organizations that discriminate and that the state is sticking to its guns in this.”

Luchenitser said he believes there is a reason that Ark Encounter does not want to provide an express assurance it will not discriminate based on religion in its hiring practices yet insists it will comply with all federal and state hiring laws.

“I think what’s going on here is that Ark Encounter’s position is that federal and state law allows them to discriminate in hiring based on religion — that they are entitled to an exemption from the federal and state anti-discrimination statutes that is afforded certain religious organizations. We think they’re wrong on that,” Luchenitser said. “… And we believe Ark Encounter is not entitled to that exception because it is a for-profit organization.”

In other words, it seems that Ken Ham wants to have his cake and eat it, too.  He wants to be able to make money off of Ark Encounter, thus labeling it “for-profit”, yet he also wants to use it explicitly as a way of spreading his fundamentalist religious beliefs, even to the point of forcing those beliefs on potential employees.  Of course, none of this surprises me, because once you understand that true-believers like Ham really do think they have God on their side, then any kind of behavior, no matter how underhanded or hypocritical, is acceptable in their quest to “save souls”.

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Creation Museum’s Faith-Based Investment in “Ark Encounter” Appears to be Sinking

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2014

The saga of uber-creationist Ken Ham’s Creation Museum continues, and it isn’t looking good for him or his followers.  If you recall, Ham and his creationist organization Answers In Genesis (AiG) have, in recent years, gone all-in on an investment scheme to fund what they call a life sized replica of Noah’s Ark named Ark Encounter.  For years, I and others have reported on the continuing financial troubles and ethically questionable revenue sources for Ken Ham’s enterprise, and now things seem to only be getting worse for Ham, AiG, and the Creation Museum.

Ken Ham Ark Encounter

Ken Ham looking over his model of Ark Encounter… the irony is that, according to myth, Noah didn’t need lots of investment capital, the backing of the government, and huge construction teams to build his Ark. (image source)

Back in February, there was a big debate between Ham and Billy Nye the Science Guy at the Creation Museum; after the debate, Ham reported that this debate had brought in a huge amount of much-needed financial support for Ark Encounter and that construction would begin on the much publicized project in May of this year (after repeated delays due to insufficient funds).  At the time, I and others were skeptical, speculating that perhaps Ham wasn’t being completely truthful because while he said money was coming in, he didn’t provide any specifics.  This led me to believe that Ham was continuing his habit of not only bending (or breaking) the truth on issues of science but those of economics and finance as well.

Well, now it appears that the other shoe has dropped… as reported in June by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, it seems that Ham is resorting to all sorts of shenanigans and obfuscation to give the impression that his enterprise isn’t sinking:

1) First, there’s the issue of the time-table on Ark Encounter continually being pushed back, at taxpayer expense

The main problem with Ham’s overtly religious pet project is it seems to be a magnet for taxpayer dollars. First, Kentucky officials committed more than $40 million in tax incentives to the Ark Park. Sadly that was just the beginning. Later, the Kentucky legislature planned to spend $2 million on a road project in a rural area, seemingly for the sole benefit of the proposed Ark Park.

But even those generous incentives weren’t enough for misguided lawmakers. The city of Williamstown, which had already granted a 75 percent property tax break for the park, decided last year that it would sell $62 million in municipal bonds on behalf of AiG affiliates.

All told, various government entities in Kentucky have planned to give the Ark Park, which was originally supposed to cost about $175 million, an astounding $100 million (or more) in various types of public support. Recent reports, however, cast serious doubt on just how much of that money, if any, will reach the project.

It seems Ham’s ever-changing timeline has finally caught up with him. He said in January 2011 that work would begin on the Ark Park that spring; then in May of that year, AiG said groundbreaking would be over the summer; in June, AiG said construction would begin in August; and by early August 2011, AiG still had not broken ground but promised that it would happen “in the next few months.”

Then in late August 2011, AiG bumped the timetable way back, saying groundbreaking would begin in the spring of 2012. That did not happen, either.

2) Then there’s the problem of the expiration date attached to the public funding (the one smart thing the KY lawmakers did in this whole fiasco)…

Louisville’s LEO Weekly reported last week that the large tax incentive package promised to the Ark Park back in May 2011 by Kentucky’s Tourism Cabinet came with one little catch: an expiration date. The agreement says that AiG can receive a 25 percent tax rebate on the cost of construction once the park opens, provided construction began by May 2014. The discount would be capped at $43 million.

Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the Tourism Cabinet, told LEO Weekly that Ark Encounter quietly withdrew its old application for a $172 million project on March 28 and instead submitted a $73 million proposal. If that application is approved, and if it is built within the allotted timeframe, that would mean AiG is eligible for $18.25 million in tax incentives, LEO Weekly said.

But the shrinking tax package doesn’t appear to be Ham’s only problem. In April, the Cincinnati Enquirerreported that the local road improvements needed to handle all the traffic that will supposedly rush to Ark Encounter (if it ever opens) will be pushed back to 2017. That’s a bit of a problem for Ham, who last claimed that the park would open in the summer of 2016. Perhaps he wants park visitors to have an authentic Bible experience by walking or riding camels to see the ark.

There is also some mystery surrounding the $62 million in municipal bonds that supposedly rescued Ham’s project. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in January that while $26.5 million in bonds had been sold, the city needed to sell an additional $29 million by Feb. 6 or else those who already bought bonds would be able to collect on their investment immediately.

The city would not say exactly how much money was raised, the Courier-Journal reported in late February, but AiG’s website claims the bonds actually yielded $73 million. AiG also claims it has raised $15 million on its own.

Hmm… when “there is some mystery” about how public funds are allocated and being used, especially on a legally and ethically questionable project such as this, then that’s kind of a problem.  KY lawmakers and politicians would be wise to distance themselves from this slow-motion train wreck.  But there’s more!

3) Ham has claimed that ground breaking and construction did indeed begin this past May, except that it didn’t actually happen…

Despite these setbacks, Ham presses on. His latest ploy appears to be keeping up the hoax that the Ark Park is under construction. In February, he said groundbreaking would begin in May. On May 1, AiG hosted a “groundbreaking ceremony” at the site where the park is supposed to be built, but the “groundbreaking” consisted of a handful of men in suits using wooden mallets to hammer wooden pegs into wooden boards. This all took place inside an auditorium, which doesn’t look much like a theme park. (You can watch this exciting video here, but be warned – it’s over 40 minutes long.)

It is now June, and it remains unclear whether or not construction has actually started on Ark Encounter. AiG’s website says its “construction management team” is still soliciting bids from contractors, suggesting that no real progress will be made anytime soon.

Whoops!  I thought that “construction” meant that earth-moving machines were actually, I don’t know, moving earth and digging holes and that carpenters were actually nailing pieces of wood together and so on.  Apparently, in Ken Ham’s universe, “construction” means… something else.

Well, one thing is for sure: this story won’t end here.  I think Ken Ham is going to try to string both investors and politicians alike along for as long as possible on his sinking Ark Encounter, despite the fact that it should be obvious by now to any reasonable observer that his grasp of finances is about as trustworthy as his grasp of science.

Too bad for the folks who invested in this debacle that they didn’t use a little evidence-based thinking. That’s what you get for faith-based investing, I suppose.

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Darwin Day 2014: Science Marches Forward While Creationism Fumbles – Part 2

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 17, 2014

In my previous post, I outlined how creationism got quite a public trouncing in the recent debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham.  Apparently, it’s not only the pro-science crowd that thinks Ham lost hands down; it is worth noting that one of the most infamous modern creationist outlets, the Discovery Institute, has some harsh words for Ham as well.  And if that isn’t enough for you, even conservative evangelical Pat Robertson gets in on the act, criticizing Ham’s idiotic arguments.  Last, but not least, a poll over at the Christianity Today website very clearly states that Bill Nye was the debate winner (by 92 to 8% !!!).

Now, as if this weren’t embarrassing enough for the creationist movement, let us take some time to visit the progress of one of its most touted efforts in recent decades: the Wedge Strategy from the Discovery Institute.

Wedge_document_cover

Image source

Josh Rosenau at the National Center for Science Education gives a really nice breakdown of the utter and complete failure of the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy since its inception over 15 years ago:

A Crystal Anniversary for the Wedge Document

… The Wedge Document [an original copy is available here], as the packet came to be known, laid out a bold plan by which the Center would “re-open the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature,” and “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” From its first sentence, the document proclaimed its sectarian goals, stating: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.”

In order to achieve this religious revival, the creators of the CRSC proposed a five-year plan, with three phases: “Research, Writing and Publication,” “Publicity and Opinion-making,” and “Cultural Confrontation and Renewal.” Of these, they insisted that the first was most crucial: “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.”

On this fifteenth anniversary of that five-year plan, it’s worth asking just what the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture has accomplished. They promised at the time, “we can accomplish many of the objectives of Phases I and II in the next five years (1999-2003), and begin Phase III (See ‘Goals/Five Year Objectives/Activities’).”

The Five Year Goals:

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Of these, the first has certainly not happened within science. The second is immeasurable, but hasn’t happened in any obvious way, and to the extent there are new debates in the fields described in the third item, the CRSC seems to have no role to play (aside from sitting on the sidelines and carping). …

These five-year objectives outlined seven topics, of which there are two I’d like to emphasize from Rosenau’s article:

Topic #3. One hundred scientific, academic and technical articles by our fellows [i.e. research fellows with the Discovery Institute]

Rosenau elaborates…

… Unless you count articles published in the various unimpressive and intellectually incestuous ID journals that have come and gone over the years, or include papers that have nothing to do with ID creationism, they haven’t met this standard, either. Even the CRSC’s own list of publications only hits about 75 items, and most of those are not in credible journals, or don’t mean what the Center claims they mean.

Again, the Wedge document opened by insisting that “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” By their own standard, the ID creationists have to be judged as engaged in “just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” …

Ouch, so much for the actual science, of which there appears to be none in favor of so-called ID.  However, as anyone who has followed the Discovery Institute knows, their real goal is to promote so-called “cultural renewal”.

Topic #5: Spiritual & cultural renewal:

  • Mainline renewal movements begin to appropriate insights from design theory, and to repudiate theologies influenced by materialism
  • Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s) Darwinism
  • Seminaries increasingly recognize & repudiate naturalistic presuppositions
  • Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God

Again, time has shown that on this point the ID-creationists have had no luck, as Rosenau points out…

… Many mainline Protestant churches (and their seminaries) have issued policy statements in favor of evolution in recent years, and against IDC, while the CRSC’s allies in the older creationist organizations have backed away from IDC since its failure in the Dover trial. Public opinion polls show increasing acceptance of marriage equalityviews on abortion are quite stable, and belief in God is declining. …

Rosenau concludes:

… In short, on this crystal anniversary of the Wedge Document, it appears that the C(R)SC staff’s crystal-gazing skills were awful; they essentially achieved none of their goals. …

Or, as I like to put it… Message to the Discovery Institute:

shipment_of_fail

Posted in creationism, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Darwin Day 2014: Science Marches Forward While Creationism Fumbles – Part 1

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2014

This Darwin Day, in celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin, I would like to pause and reflect upon two recent bits of news related to the ongoing battle against creationism.  In this first of two posts, I want to note that our friends from the National Center for Science Education have highlighted the recent debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham.

darwin change

The NCSE’s Josh Rosenau gives a quick breakdown of the Nye vs. Ham debate.  Honestly, this was a debate of which I was highly skeptical, seeing as how I tend to come from the “don’t debate creationists” school of thought; however, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well Nye handled it.  I shall post below some select parts of Josh’s analysis; for the full story check out Josh’s post on it…

How Bill Nye Won the Debate

In tonight’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the Science Guy went on stage equipped with the most vital tool of all in any oral debate over evolution and creationism: a showman’s flair, developed over three decades of experience explaining science to the broad public.

Of course, he also had the science on his side, which doesn’t hurt. But it isn’t a guarantee of anything in a stage debate: competitive debaters are judged by their ability to argue either side of a question. Debate is a tool for showing who’s a better orator, not necessarily who’s right. … [emphasis added]

The text in bold above is one of my primary criticisms of the typical debate format; that and the fact that it, by default, elevates the two sides to apparent levels of equity (i.e., it gives the uninformed observer the impression that creationism is just as scientifically valid as evolution).  However, what Josh reports next is the saving grace of the entire debate, in my opinion, and can serve as a model for how scientists can and should debate creationists (or pseudoscientists in general) in the future…

… He [Nye] opened by undercutting the core of Ken Ham’s claim to authority, emphasizing that Ken Ham bases his claims not on the empirical evidence, but on a very particular reading of Genesis. And that way of reading Genesis is very specific to Ken Ham, not to most of the world’s religious people, or even Ham’s fellow evangelicals. He never stopped emphasizing that Ham’s theology is an outlier, and that he doesn’t speak for religious people, Christians, evangelicals, or even all creationists.

Throughout, Nye did a great job keeping the focus on the failures of Ken Ham’s creation model, and the key ways in which it fails to provide any sort of viable explanation for the world around us. A good, viable model has to make real predictions, he emphasized; those predictions can’t be wrong, and a viable model has to be of practical value. In various ways, Ken Ham’s creation model fails on all three prongs. … [emphasis added]

The two lines of bold text are critical points: they show that Nye absolutely refused to play into the typical creationist debate gambit of being pushed to “defend evolution”.  Instead, Nye chose to attack creationism as an extreme form of theology (especially Ham’s variation) which is only one kind of creationism among many, and he then went on to point out the fundamental flaws in Ham’s creationist model, namely that creationism isn’t science at all!

This two-pronged attack on creationism was, in my view, devastating to Ham’s arguments in particular and creationism in general.  That is because it shifts the argument away from evolution having to justify itself to creationism having to justify itself.  I especially like how Nye emphasized the connection of aspects of evolutionary science to important and practical uses in our everyday lives with this…

… Then he [Nye] made the crucial point that Ken Ham’s creation model requires us to reject basic science we all rely on every day. The radioisotope dating methods Ken Ham dismisses are based on the same basic physics that nuclear medicine relies in to save lives. Is it a coincidence, Nye asked, that there are no training programs in nuclear medicine available anywhere in Kentucky? …

Or, as I like to put it, if there really is something to creationism as a “science”, then why hasn’t it been used to develop any medicines, vaccines, or other practical technologies?  And, just to stick it to the creationists even more, I’d like to point out that evolutionary science has done all that and more!

I won’t call the debate a slam dunk for science, because – as we all know – many creationists tend to be unsinkable ducks; no matter how much evidence you amass against their position, no matter what fatal flaws are exposed within their arguments, many of them will simply fall back upon the ol’ “God did it!” routine as a line of last defense.  However, I think that Bill Nye has shown us a road-map of how to proceed in future public engagements with creationists and give those people on the fence some serious food for thought.

Perhaps I will debate a creationist in public, after all :)

In part 2 of “Science Marches Forward While Creationism Fumbles”, I will explore the massive failure of the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy

Posted in creationism, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Continued Financial Trouble for KY Creation Museum?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 25, 2013

Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is back in the news, and – surprise – it has to do with a questionable funding proposal to finance his floundering theme park, where people can pay to be told that the Flintstones is the real thing.

Flintstones

Yup, they actually teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted… just like in the Flintstones cartoon.  Looks like a good investment to me – Yabba-dabba-doo! (Image source)

I’ve posted before (here and here) about the troubles the Creation Museum has had in securing funding for its Ark Encounter attraction (not to mention its dwindling profits – or should that be “prophets”?), and the following article indicates that Ken Ham is pursuing a constitutionally questionable strategy which could land him and the municipality in question into some dicey legal waters…

Kentucky City May Offer $62 Million in Securities to Help Noah’s Ark Replica Park

A city in Kentucky is working with Crosswater Canyon, an owned subsidiary of Answers in Genesis, Inc., to offer $62 million in securities for prospective investors to help aid the completion of a Creationist theme park and replica of Noah’s Ark.  While the city of Williamstown is issuing the bond, Crosswalk Canyon is solely responsible for the bonds, not the city.

Beginning next month, Williamstown may oversee the amount of taxable securities for investors to the project overseen by Answers in Genesis, reported Brian Chappatta and Priya Anand of Business Week.

“Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called ‘Ark Encounter.’ Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year,” wrote Chappatta and Anand. …

But if things are going so well for Ken Ham and his cartoon attraction, then why the need for these so-called “securities” to fund the project?  Let’s read on…

… Unlike the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter project has had its share of financial issues regarding funding and donations.

The official ground-breaking for the project has been delayed multiple times since 2011, with private donations not matching the necessary monetary benchmarks.

Mike Zovath, head of the Ark Encounter project, told The Christian Post about the current status of the park’s construction, namely that it is “under design.” …

Wow, that’s got to make potential investors nervous.  So what’s the big deal about going through these “securities” issued by the town of Williamstown, KY?…

… Answers in Genesis’ efforts in Kentucky have garnered their share of criticism, including from the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In the past Americans United has criticized the alleged First Amendment issues with regards to the state support for projects that benefit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United, told The Christian Post that the bond offering is one of many examples of government aid proposed for the Ark Encounter project.

“The imminent bond offering is only one of several different kinds of aid being given to the Ark Park by the State of Kentucky, Grant County, and the City of Williamstown,” said Luchenitser.

“The array of government aid to the Ark Park raises very serious issues under the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the even stricter church-state prohibitions of the Kentucky Constitution.” …

Well, there’s that!  And then there are other questions regarding the legality/wisdom of these securities from the standpoint of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  But don’t take it from me; take it from from people who actually know business and investment, like the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek.  Here’s an excerpt from an excellent blog post on this particular point:

Bloomberg Reports on Ken Ham’s Ark Bonds

This is about an article at the website of Bloomberg BusinessweekBusiness Week was formerly an independent magazine, now it’s part of the Bloomberg international news agency, headquartered in New York. Their article is Noah’s Ark Depends on Faith in Default-Plagued Debt: Muni Credit.

From our recent post, Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Bonds, you already know about the bonds being issued to finance the proposed Ark Encounter project, which is owned by a company controlled by Answers in Genesis (AIG). AIG is the on-line ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the ayatollah of Appalachia. It also owns and operates the infamous, mind-boggling Creation Museum.

It appears that Bloomberg has seen all the documents, and they routinely report on the bond market. Their analysis is far more sophisticated than ours. They say, with bold font added by us:

“Given the default history of unrated municipal debt, investors may have to pray for the success of bonds being sold to build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark.

The northern Kentucky city of Williamstown plans to offer $62 million of securities next month for affiliates of Answers in Genesis, a Christian nonprofit that operates the Creation Museum upstate. Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called “Ark Encounter.” Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year.”

Ouch… but what the heck does Bloomberg Businessweek know?  Sure they may have oodles of financial and investment expertise, but if creationists have shown us anything it’s that they don’t need no stinkin’ experts who spout off about pesky things like evidence and facts!

So head on over and buy some of Ken Ham’s bonds.  You just have to have faith that you won’t be flushing your money down the toilet :)

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Creationist Update: Creationism Loses Popularity, Texas Creationists Are Honest, and More Financial Shenanigans from Ken Ham

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2013

So much has been going on in the world of creationism lately that it’s been touch to keep track of it all, so I just want to give you a quick summary of three news items…

1.  Creationism Loses Popularity?

According to this blog post over at Patheos.com, it seems that creationism (and by “creationism” I mostly mean young-Earth creationism) may just be, slowly but surely, losing support among the public in the United States:

Just when we start to think the regressive policies of red states mean the battle is becoming harder, the secular movement gets more proof that what we’re doing really does matter.

poll of 1,000 people conducted by the Internet-based market research firm YouGovearlier this month indicates that since 2004, the level of public acceptance of creationism and the level for support for teaching creationism in U.S. public schools are down, and the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is up.

Coming the week marking the 88th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial, this is good news indeed. The numbers are far lower than what they need to be, though. While nearly half of the respondents agreed that evolution, whether guided by a deity or not, resulted in homo sapiens sapiens, significantly more than a third rejected evolution altogether and the remaining 17% claimed uncertainty.

YouGov’s poll marks substantial change from a similar CBS poll conducted in 2004. Thirteen percent of CBS’s 2004 respondents agreed with the statement. “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” In 2013 the figure jumped to 21%. Correspondingly, strong creationism has taken the hardest hit. In 2004, 55% of respondents said that ”God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years,” and 5% said they were undecided. The strict creationists now account for 37% of the respondents. … [emphasis added]

Personally, I’ll take whatever good news I can get on this front, but I would like to see more than one poll yield the same information before I go celebrating too much.  Still, these results are pleasing :)

2.  Texas Creationists Get Honest

If you’ve followed the ongoing saga of creationism’s attempts to get into public schools, you probably know that the intent of creationists on school boards for decades, whether they espoused “teach the controversy”, “equal time”, or “academic freedom”, really meant “don’t teach evolution, instead teach (our view of) creationism.  Well, at least now the creationists who are attempting to manipulate the Texas Board of Education are now being open and honest about it (from Patheos.com) …

It used to be that creationists were sneaky.  They knew teaching creationism was against the law, so they tried to dress it up as science, or as teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.  It wasn’t exactly crafty, and it certainly wasn’t honest.

And the reason they weren’t honest is because playing fairly would result in immediate defeat (it turns out creationists don’t get to break the law more than anybody else).  This is a lesson the creationists on the Texas board of education are about to learn.  Karen Beathard, one of the reviewers, made a misstep by telling the truth.

“Religious conservatives serving on state textbook review panels have criticized several proposed high school biology textbooks for not including arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The review panels include several creationists. They urge the State Board of Education to reject the books unless publishers include more disclaimers on key concepts of evolution.

One reviewer even suggested a rule requiring that each biology book cover “creation science.” That would run counter to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision banned the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. 

“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.” [emphasis in the original]

Whoops.  That’s going to look pretty embarrassing for the creationists when they inevitably get hauled into court.  Can’t help fools… at least these are honest fools.

3.  Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Government Bailout?

It seems that despite all the rosy financial projections of a few years ago, uber-creationist Ken Ham is having even more difficulty than previously thought raising funds for the newest attraction at his Creation Museum, the “Ark Encounter”.  He has resorted to some questionable methods of raising money, seemingly putting the public on the hook by dipping into taxpayer funding in Kentucky (from NCSE):

When Answers in Genesis chief Ken Ham isn’t dealing with employees being zotted by lightning, or getting schooled on theology by a college student, he’s trying to build an amusement park centered on Noah’s Ark. He wants it to be full-sized (assuming they’re right about how long a cubit was), he wants it to be built by Amish carpenters (just like Noah’s was), he wants a mock first-century village, he wants to charge admission, and, as Daniel Phelps reports at Panda’s Thumb he hopes taxpayers as well as private citizens will cover part of the bill.

The project has already been promised a tourism-related state tax rebate and state road crews will widen the road leading to the park, but apparently the campaign to raise capital for construction has not been meeting expectations (neither has Creation Museum attendance, reportedly). So Ken Ham is looking for a new way to scare up money. He sent out an appeal to the Answers in Genesis mailing list offering people a chance to buy bonds to fund the park, bonds issued by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky. …

From the Panda’s Thumb link, I found the following comment to be of particular interest:

… Unfortunately, what it sounds like is that the City of Williamstown is going to issue some type of municipal bonds.

Municipal bonds are a loan made by a public entity. If you buy the bonds, you get a stream of “coupon” payments, as with any other type of bonds (“zero coupon” structure is just a variant of a coupon stream). You can think of the coupon payments as interest on the loan, even though it works slightly differently than the variable interest savings account that most people are more familiar with. Bottom line, a municipality borrows money and taxpayers pay the interest.

The hypocrisy here is unbelievable. I’m going to use the term “corruption” as well. There may or may not be anything technically illegal going on. But if this a surreptitious issuing of municipal bonds to fund a religious display, that may raise legal issues, and absolutely raises ethical issues. …

Ethical issues, indeed.  In my mind, the more I look at this entire situation with Ken Ham and his attempts to use public money to fund his creationist theme-park, the more I am reminded of this famous scene from The Simpsons:

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ken Ham Drops All Pretense and Admits Creationism Isn’t Scientific

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2013

Wow.  Advocates of science and skepticism have been saying it for a really, really long time: creationism (including its latest variation, “intelligent design“) is not scientific and therefore has no place in the public school science classroom.

Well, get ready for a bombshell.  Now one of the most prominent young-Earth creationists out there, Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis fame, has openly admitted that creationism is not science.  In fact, he basically goes on to say that if you are given a choice between science and (his particular interpretation of) the Bible, then you should choose the latter.

Read on for more details, including a video wherein Ham says as much in his own words:

Creationism Advocate Admits That Science Proves Evolution, But Says We Should Believe The Bible Anyway (VIDEO)

Ken-Ham-Creationism

They are doing this because they oppose the scientifically supported process known as evolution. Creationism advocates usually contend that evolution is full of holes. Of course, the great majority of scientists, nearly all of them in fact, support evolution. Supporters of creationism believe that every word in the Bible is the only factual description of reality, therefore blatantly ignoring reason and logic.

But a radio ad for the Creationism Museum in Kentucky operated by Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham blew a major hole in the creationism effort on Thursday. Ham admitted that there is ZERO scientific evidence to support creationism, although he still contends that the Bible is evidence enough to force people to learn about it.

“We have solid proof in our hands that evolution is a lie: the Bible. You see, we can’t depend solely on our reasoning ability to convince skeptics. We present the evidence and do the best we can to convince people the truth of God by always pointing them to the Bible.”

Here’s the video via Raw Story:

All I can say now is two things: 1) this shows, clearly and for all to see, that at its heart creationism is fundamentally anti-science.  It seems that Ken Ham and his ilk see science as “the enemy”, so this confirms what I and many others have said for a long time: the spread of creationism is a threat not only to evolution but to all of science.  Think about the implications of that for a bit before you blithely dismiss creationists as random nutters.

And 2) this admission by Ken Ham is going to play hell with the attempts by outfits like the Discovery Institute to try promoting “intelligent design” or any other variation of creationism in public school science classes.  I have to think that Ken Ham’s open and honest admission is probably not going to be liked much by those who have tried a variety of cynical strategies in the past to try dressing up creationism in the language of science.  This might even cause a bit of a dust-up in creationist circles, which is fine by me :)

Posted in creationism, education, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

More Evidence of Bad Financial News for Ken Ham’s Creation Museum

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2013

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about how it appears that creationist Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is starting to run into some financial trouble.  This earned a public response from Ken Ham on his Facebook page, wherein he assured readers that all is well.  I’ve also had some response to that post on the comment section, where a reader shared with me Ken Ham’s latest response on this issue:

Crowds Continue to Flock to the Creation Museum

speakerportrait_kham

Image Source

On Memorial Day weekend this year, the Creation Museum celebrated its sixth year of operation.

Entering our seventh year, crowds have been continuing to flock to the Creation Museum. This past Friday and Saturday, we saw over 3,500 people visit the Creation Museum! Thus far, attendance is ahead of projections for this year and ahead of last year.

I’ve included a few photographs of some of the people who visited this past Friday. At a few times on Friday, lines were out the door—but our very capable staff was able to get visitors into the museum quickly. The new zip lines have also proved to be extremely popular—and in the near future, two super zip lines around 1700 feet long, plus an obstacle course and a special children’s course, will also open.

I’ve also heard so many people rave about the new world-class insect exhibit and theDragon Legends exhibit—both opened on Memorial Day. …

Ham goes on to list a lot of things which he claims are new displays and “research” to his museum, presumably to bolster his argument that things at the Creation Museum are going just fine.  However, a more thorough analysis of the Creation Museum’s publicly available finance reports for the last few years – which you can find at http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2012/12/pts-year-end-re.html – seem to disagree with the overly rosy picture that Ken Ham insists upon painting. When you go from a surplus of $2.1 million to a deficit of $540,000 in three years time, it’s not good financial news.

Here’s a quick summary of what the folks over at Panda’s Thumb dug up on this question:

Reporter James McNair recently reported in a Cincinnati newspaper that the attendance at the Creation Museum has dropped for four consecutive years and that Answers in Genesis lost over $500,000. These tidbits inspired my colleague Dan Phelps and me to look at AIG’s Forms 990. These are tax forms that must be submitted by nonprofit organizations to the US Internal Revenue Service and may be found if you have a (free) account on GuideStar.

According to various Forms 990 through the tax year ending June 30, 2011, in four consecutive years, AIG has run surpluses of approximately $2.1 million, $716,000, and $940,000, and a loss of $540,000. Not exactly a monotonic decline, but certainly a steep drop from a surplus of $2.1 million to a loss of $540,000 in three years. Can we expect similar losses due to the Ark Park? Maybe: Joe Sonka in the Louisville newspaper LeoWeekly reports that “… correspondence between Ark Encounter and the Tourism Cabinet reveal an application process that proceeded with remarkable speed, little scrutiny, and standards that appear different from that of [another applicant].”

The 2010 Form 990 (for fiscal year ending June 30, 2011) has some interesting information.

1. The president of AIG, Ken Ham, earned an annual salary of approximately $150,000 and a total package of around $200,000, which I think is not out of line for the president of a company with approximately $20 million of revenue (Schedule J, Part II). Four of Ham’s children, his son-in-law, his brother, and his sister-in-law are listed as staff members, with annual salaries between approximately $1300 and nearly $80,000 (Schedule L, Part IV).

2. AIG says that Crosswater Canyon, a nonprofit, will operate AIG’s Ark Park but that a limited-liability company will own it. Crosswater Canyon is identified in Schedule R as being wholly controlled by AIG; we assume that means it is a subsidiary. According to Whois, crosswatercanyon.org is one of approximately 1300 domain names owned by AIG, but crosswatercanyon.org, .com, and .net yield nothing useful.

Crosswater Canyon reimbursed AIG a bit over $1 million for expenses. The Ark Park was formally announced in December, 2010. The payment was made some time between then and June 30, 2011. AIG was thus reimbursed $1 million for expenses within six or seven months of the announcement.

3. Schedule R, Part III, lists Takenbac Enterprises, LLC, PO Box 384, Hebron, KY 41048 as a “related organization taxable as a partnership.” Two of the officers of Takenbac Enterprises are “key employees” of AIG and draw annual salaries of approximately $90,000 from AIG. We speculate that Takenbac is the mysterious “private Limited Liability Company (LLC) [that] will own the Ark Encounter,” according to AIG’s FAQ’s.

4. Geo-Research Pty., Ltd. [proprietary company], 27 Rising St., Shailer Park, Queensland, Australia, received $128,000 for consulting (Part VII). Geo-Research is or was the employer of Andrew Snelling, a former geologist who joined the staff of AIG in 2007. The address of Geo-Research appears to be a private home that has been for sale but is now off the market.

Yet despite all of this evidence, Ham and his followers – many of whom, ironically, challenged me to examine the publicly available financial reports – keep on saying that all is well.

Of course, none of this surprises me.  That’s because if you make it part of your worldview, as many creationists do, to deny evidence and reality, is it any wonder that the true believers among creationists are not willing to acknowledge the troublesome finances which are plain to see for any who care to look?

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Noah’s Ark Theme Park in KY: Bad Science & Bad Economics

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 17, 2010

I’ve recently found out that the state of my youth, good ol’ Kentucky, has decided to make a theme park based upon Noah’s Ark. You might think this is no big deal, and I would normally agree, except that the organization behind this new theme park, the creationist outfit called Answers In Genesis, wants to set up the Noah’s Ark attraction – known as Ark Encounter – as an expression of reality.  I’m sorry, but this kind of strikes me as trying to claim that Disney World is showing kids the “real” world… ;)

Okay, enough snark, let me be serious for the rest of the post.  I know that Kentucky is a state awash in Christian fundamentalism, along with all the things that go along with that – such as young-earth creationism (YEC). This is evidenced by the fact that Kentucky is host to the Creation Museum, which is devoted to advancing the “reality” of YEC as viewed by the Biblical interpretation put forth by Answers In Genesis (such as that humans & dinosaurs lived at the same time – yeah, like in “The Flintstones”!).  So this is fertile ground for creationism & all the associated pseudoscience that goes along with it, and the people behind the Noah’s Ark project know it.

In this post, I’m not going to argue that creationism is bad science, non-science, or just plain pseudoscience, though it clearly is all of those. Rather, I’m going to argue that – despite the claims by KY Gov. Steve Beshear to the contrary – establishing Kentucky as a state known for harboring & encouraging non-science is actually a bad thing economically for the Commonwealth.

The Governor argues that Ark Encounter will create many jobs, which is undoubtedly true.  It will require lots of people to work construction over the next few years to build it, and then of course there are the jobs created for those who will work in the park once it is complete.  However, as many critics have pointed out, the vast majority of that second class of jobs will tend to be low-skill, low-paying, and seasonal positions, many of which are likely to be part time…

Ark incentives: cheap jobs, poor state image

… Despite some progress in economic development, Kentucky continues to use tax incentives in pursuit of mostly low-paying, part-time seasonal jobs that would further lower the state’s average wage and do little to increase the demand of higher education. This is similar to past shortsighted subsidies of chicken processing plants and customer call centers.

We understand that even low-paying jobs are welcome while rebounding from a recession and heading into an election year.

But these incentives could have been awarded without Gov. Steve Beshear’s public embrace of an expansion of the Creation Museum — a project rooted in outright opposition to science.

Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future. …

I have to agree with this criticism.  The fact of the matter is that if the Commonwealth of Kentucky wants to make good long-term economic development decisions, they need to foster an environment which encourages higher-paying jobs, a college & university-educated workforce, and – yes – an acceptance of & investment in science.  After all, modern science – evolution included – has yielded a host of technologies & economic development which has improved the standard of living for all of us drastically in the last couple of centuries.  Whereas creationist pseudoscience seems to be only good for producing reality-challenged theme parks that provide crummy jobs and encourages ignorance of science.

The bottom line is this, folks: real science & its associated discoveries, including evolution, creates new technologies which drives the economy, creating higher paying jobs, a better cost of living, and a more educated workforce.  If you want to do right by the economy, especially in the long term, encourage science & science education and invest in scientific research.  If the state of Kentucky continues on this path, then they shouldn’t be surprised when more lucrative, science-oriented companies & institutions look to base their operations elsewhere, taking the good jobs with them.

Too bad this lesson seems to be lost on Kentucky’s political leaders; they seem to be stuck on appeasing religious fundamentalists as a way of winning votes.  Too bad that won’t help solve the actual economic problem.

Posted in creationism, economics, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers

%d bloggers like this: