Posts Tagged ‘Bible’
Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2015
For the last month a manufactured controversy has raged about the health-care provider Planned Parenthood. Extremists within the supposed “pro-life”/anti-choice (PLAC) movement (you’ll see why I put “pro-life” in quotes soon enough) have waged a thoroughly discredited campaign to deny Planned Parenthood funding because they claim that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts for profit. Yes, you read that right… and that isn’t the only bone-headed and debunked conspiracy theory from the “pro-life”/anti-choice movement. In this post I will argue that not only is the majority of this movement anti-choice and anti-woman, but it is also driven by religious fundamentalism and is anti-scientific as it attempts to impose a narrow, religiously-based worldview on all of us.
The heart of this manufactured controversy is a series of deceptively edited sting videos from a group misleadingly named the Center for Medical Progress purported to show Planned Parenthood doctors/employees selling baby parts for money. Of course, these videos have been thoroughly analyzed and debunked, and numerous investigations into the matter have provided no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. But in addition, the so-called Center for Medical Progress isn’t what they seem; on this last point, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reveals who is really behind the videos:
…The group behind the manufactured outrage, CMP, is really a front for Live Action, an anti-abortion outfit long associated with the more extreme fringes of the Religious Right. It’s headed by David Daleiden, an associate of Live Action founder Lila Rose; Live Action is responsible for a number of other deceptively edited “stings” that attempted to catch Planned Parenthood staffers engaged in illegal activities.
And Troy Newman, the current president of Operation Rescue, is a CMP board member. Newman once defended Paul Jennings Hill, executed in 2003 for murdering a Pensacola, Fla., abortion provider. Another current Operation Rescue staffer, Cheryl Sullenger, served time in prison for scheming to bomb an abortion clinic in San Diego, Calif. According to watchdog site Media Matters for America (MMFA), Sullenger also corresponded regularly with Scott Roeder, who later murdered Dr. George Tiller for providing abortions. …
So there’s the connection to religious fundamentalism. Of course, one of the more embarrassing things about the religious nature of the PLAC movement is that it’s supposed “pro-life” stance isn’t consistent with the Bible; for example, take a look at numerous sections of the Bible where God apparently condones abortion or how the PLAC movement has attempted to edit the Bible to make it more in line with their ideology.
As for the anti-science side of things, there is evidence aplenty to show how the PLAC ignores and distorts science in an attempt to push its religious dogma. For example, they conveniently ignore the fact that the family planning and birth control services that Planned Parenthood offers significantly reduce the need for abortion in the first place…
Not only that, most of the PLAC movement is fervently opposed to the use of birth control; in fact they’ll make crazy and thoroughly false claims that birth control actually increases the need for abortion. But don’t take it from me, take it from a former insider with the PLAC movement who left when she realized they were more about controlling women’s sexuality than anything else:
The Real Solution: Birth Control
But if banning abortion does not decrease abortion rates, what does? Why do some countries have low abortion rates while others have much higher rates? The answer, I found, was simple.
“Both the lowest and highest subregional abortion rates are in Europe, where abortion is generally legal under broad grounds. In Western Europe, the rate is 12 per 1,000 women, while in Eastern Europe it is 43. The discrepancy in rates between the two regions reflects relatively low contraceptive use in Eastern Europe, as well as a high degree of reliance on methods with relatively high user failure rates, such as the condom, withdrawal and the rhythm method.”
As I sat there in the student union reading over my lunch, I found that making birth control widespread and easily accessible is actually the most effective way to decrease the abortion rate. Even as I processed this fact, I knew that the pro-life movement as a whole generally opposes things like comprehensive sex education and making birth control available to teenagers. I knew this because I had lived it, had heard it in pro-life banquet after pro-life banquet, had read it in the literature. The pro-life movement is anti-birth-control. And opposing birth control is pretty much the most ineffective way to decrease abortion rates imaginable. In fact, opposing birth control actually drives the abortion rates up.
As I mulled this over, I realized how very obvious it was. The cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies. If you get rid of unwanted pregnancies the number of people who seek abortions will drop like a rock. Simply banning abortion leaves women stuck with unwanted pregnancies. Banning abortion doesn’t make those pregnancies wanted. Many women in a situation like that will be willing to do anything to end that pregnancy, even if it means trying to induce their own abortions (say, with a coat hanger or by drinking chemicals) or seeking out illegal abortions. I realized that the real way to reduce abortion rates, then, was to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. And the way to do that is with birth control, which reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies by allowing women to control when and if they become pregnant. …
Beyond opposing birth control, the PLAC movement is also anti-scientific in the sense of their opposition to Planned Parenthood having any relation to fetal tissue research. Despite the noise and gross rhetoric coming from the PLAC, what is happening is that sometimes, with the consent of the patient, Planned Parenthood will donate fetal tissue to research organizations for the purposes of finding medical cures. Fortunately, while some in the PLAC movement are calling for such research to be outlawed, the record is clear that even many of their political allies support such research, and the scientific community is rallying around protecting the vital, life-saving work.
Last, but not least, is the inherent hypocrisy of the supposed “pro-life” side of the PLAC movement (hence the quotes). If the PLAC were really about “saving the unborn”, the following facts show how empty and vacuous are their real intentions. First, they do not care to advocate for any research into saving zygotes from miscarriages (what can arguably be called a “natural abortion”); again, from a former PLAC insider:
… A few months after reading Sarah’s article I came upon one by Fred Clark. In it, he argues that if those who oppose abortion really believe that every fertilized egg is a person we ought to see 5K fundraisers to save these zygotes. This is very much like what I said above, except that the focus here is whether the 50% of all zygotes – 50% of all fertilized eggs – that die before pregnancy even begins could be saved. Fred suggests that if the pro-life movement really is about saving unborn babies, and if those in the pro-life movement really do believe that life begins at fertilization, then pro-lifers really ought to be extremely concerned about finding a way to save all of these lives. But they’re not. …
… Reading Fred’s article compounded what I had felt reading Sarah’s article. The pro-life movement is not about “saving unborn babies.” It can’t be. As someone who as a child and teen really did believe that life – personhood – began at fertilization, and who really was in it to “save unborn babies,” this is baffling. If I had known all this, I would have been all for this sort of research. I would have been all for sexually active women using the pill to cut down on “deaths.” But I didn’t know any of this. The adults of the anti-abortion movement, though, and certainly the leaders, they surely must know these things. This isn’t rocket science, after all. They must know these things, and yet they are doing nothing.
And if that isn’t enough, there’s this another, utterly damning fact: if “human life begins at conception” and “all [human] life is sacred”, then why isn’t the PLAC doing anything to save all the frozen embryos left over after in-vitro fertilization sessions? I would argue that the answer is disturbingly simple: the PLAC movement isn’t truly “pro-life” as it proclaims, it’s about controlling women’s sexuality…
… The disparity between how the law treats abortion patients and IVF patients reveals an ugly truth about abortion restrictions: that they are often less about protecting life than about controlling women’s bodies. Both IVF and abortion involve the destruction of fertilized eggs that could potentially develop into people. But only abortion concerns women who have had sex that they don’t want to lead to childbirth. Abortion restrictions use unwanted pregnancy as a punishment for “irresponsible sex” and remind women of the consequences of being unchaste: If you didn’t want to endure a mandatory vaginal ultrasound , you shouldn’t have had sex in the first place. …
Fortunately, despite the manufactured outrage on the part of the PLAC movement and its political allies, there is reason to hope. As I’ve stated, upon closer analysis the arguments and the methods of the PLAC movement are utterly falling apart. In addition, contributions to Planned Parenthood have skyrocketed and poll after poll show that far more Americans approve of the work done by Planned Parenthood than those who oppose it. Last, but not least, political support for a government shutdown over this issue is losing steam in Congress, and the Obama administration is investigating potentially illegal denial of funds to Planned Parenthood.
So, apparently the forces of reason, rationality, and science are fighting back vigorously. Whether you personally support or oppose abortion, I think one thing we can agree on is that distorting science, sensationalizing, and lying is a poor substitute for reasoned discourse.
Lastly, I would argue that to be pro-active against this sort of nonsense we should all be more politically active, and we should demand that our elected leaders are held to account for their non-scientific views; a good resource for this is the Science Debate initiative. Then, vote. Then, pay attention to whether or not those leaders are sticking with good science or pushing a non-scientific, religiously-driven agenda. And hold them accountable.
Now get out there and fight.
Posted in conspiracy theories, medical woo, politics, religion | Tagged: abortion, anti choice, baby, baby parts, Bible, birth control, Center for Medical Progress, conservative, conspiracy, conspiracy theory, death, defund, embryo, feminism, fetal tissue, fetus, fundamentalist, GOP, investigation, liberal, Live Action, mother, murder, Planned Parenthood, politics, PP, pregnancy, pregnant, pro-choice, pro-life, religion, Republican, research, Roe v. Wade, science, sting, video, woman, women, women's rights, zygote | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 11, 2015
In the ongoing drama that is Ken Ham’s halting and sadly hilarious attempt to get the Kentucky state government to fund his creationist propaganda debacle, also known as “Ark Encounter”, time and time again it seems that he cannot avoid both controversy and the law. Now it seems as if Ken Ham and his Answers In Genesis organization (the creationist parent organization of both the floundering Creationist Museum and Ark Encounter) are mired in even more controversy: they apparently lied about the number of people who would be attending the new park attraction when they applied for an $18.25 million tax rebate through the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has more details…
Boatload Of Lies: Ark Encounter Gave Ky. Officials Inflated Attendance Projections
Americans United has long been skeptical that Ark Encounter, a proposed theme park in Kentucky that will feature a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, could ever live up to the enormous projected attendance figures claimed by its leadership in order to secure public assistance. As it turns out, the numbers submitted by Ark Encounter were indeed wildly inflated. …
… Now, thanks to an open records request by Ed Hensley of the Kentucky Secular Society, we know that AiG was less than truthful in at least a portion of its application. Ark Encounter claimed it would have 1.2 to 2 million visitors annually. This included an estimate of over 1.6 million visitors in the park’s first year.
But the reality is nowhere near that high. Kentucky sent AiG’s application out for review, and Hunden Strategic Partners in Chicago determined that if the Ark Park remained a purely religious attraction, it would generate about 325,000 visitors its first year, rise to 425,000 in its third year and eventually fall to 275,000 by its seventh year in business. This would mean the Ark Park could create about 514 jobs, Hunden said.
Were AiG to pursue “a mainstream approach to the attraction,” Hunden estimated it could draw just under 500,000 visitors in year one, 640,000 visitors in year three, then drop off to about 400,000 by year seven. Hunden estimated 787 jobs would be created if that scenario played out. … [emphasis added]
At this point, one might think the claim that Ham and AiG were lying is overly harsh, but then there are more details that have been revealed which seems to lend credence to the claim of outright lying (or even fraud). It ends up that there was a potentially huge conflict of interest between Ham and the firm which generated the initial (and wildly inflated) attendance estimates…
… Hunden also noted that AiG’s estimate was provided by the South Carolina-based America’s Research Group, which has ties to AiG head Ken Ham.
“The president of America’s Research Group is Britt Beemer, who is also a co-author with Ken Ham on the book Already Gone,” Hunden said in its report. “Furthermore, research by Beemer and America’s Research Group is featured in Already Compromised, another book authored by Ken Ham.” …
Wow. At this point, I’ll let the reader decide on whether or not the state of Kentucky made a good decision to not award the tax rebates to AiG. It seems that Ham isn’t above skirting both ethics and the law to “do the Lord’s work” in an attempt to get his hands into the public coffers – whatever happened to him being an honest Christian?
Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: AIG, Americans United, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Americas Research Group, amusement park, Answers In Genesis, Ark, Ark Encounter, Bible, bonds, cash, Christianity, Creation Museum, creationism, discrimination, employees, evolution, finances, funding, God, hiring, illegal, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, money, Noah's Ark, religion, religious, science, Statement of Faith, tax breaks, taxes, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2015
In recent years, the Satanic Temple has been getting more and more attention as they have been attempting to make themselves more visible in the public eye. In fact, they’ve taken a page from the tactics employed by many Christian churches, and they have begun to demand a place in erecting holiday displays, advocating for religious monuments on public land, and even distributing literature at public schools.
And it’s that last point which is so interesting and ironic: last fall a judge ruled that religious pamphlets could be handed out in public schools in Orange County, Florida. School officials seemed just fine with this scheme as long as it was only Christian literature and Bibles that were handed out to kids, but then along came the Satanic Temple…
In September of last year the Satanic Temple revealed plans to disseminate the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities,” to kids in a Florida school district.
The Satanic Temple along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) were responding to a ruling, which let the Orange County school district allow religious and atheist organizations to distribute materials — including bibles and other pamphlets — in public schools.
Since religious and atheist materials could be handed out, the Satanic Temple made a request to hand out the aforementioned activity book, while the Freedom From Religion Foundation planned to hand out a pamphlet describing the bible as an “X-rated book.”
Now, the Satanic Temple’s request has the school district rethinking its policy, and the district is currently putting the distribution of all religious paraphernalia on hold, according to WFTV-TV.
“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” David Williamson, of FFRF, told WFTV-TV. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”
So in a hilarious and embarrassing turnabout, the school district did what they probably should have done all along: they decided that in order to respect the separation of church and state they should probably just not allow any religious organizations to distribute literature in the public schools.
In closing, I think it’s fair to say that a picture is worth a thousand words :)
Posted in education, politics, religion | Tagged: 10 Commandments, Bible, book, Christian, Christianity, Devil, FFRF, Florida, Freedom From Religion Foundation, freedom of religion, fundamentalist, God, government, Jesus, judge, law, literature, Lucien Greaves, Lucifer, Orange County, pamphlets, public schools, religion, right wing, Satan, Satanic Temple, separation of church and state, students, Ten Commandments | 1 Comment »
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…
A proposed Noah’s ark theme park in Northern Kentucky has been turned down for around $18 million in state tax incentives amid concerns that it will promote religion and violate the separation of church and state.
But the group behind the project — Answers in Genesis — says it is considering legal action in federal court.
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:
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: AIG, Americans United, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, amusement park, Answers In Genesis, Ark, Ark Encounter, Bible, bonds, cash, Christianity, Creation Museum, creationism, discrimination, employees, evolution, finances, funding, God, hiring, illegal, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, money, Noah's Ark, religion, religious, science, Statement of Faith, tax breaks, taxes, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 1 Comment »
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: AIG, Americans United, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, amusement park, Answers In Genesis, Ark, Ark Encounter, autism, Bible, bonds, cash, Christianity, creation, Creation Museum, creationism, discrimination, employees, evolution, finances, funding, God, hiring, illegal, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, money, Noah's Ark, religion, religious, science, Statement of Faith, tax breaks, taxes, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 1 Comment »
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 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: AIG, Americans United for the Separation, amusement park, Answers In Genesis, AU, Bible, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Businessweek, bonds, business, cash, Christianity, creation, Creation Museum, creationism, donations, economics, economy, evolution, extinct, extinction, financial reports, funding, God, investing, investment, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, money, science, securities, Williamstown, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2014
I posted about a year ago the audio of my talk on how to more effectively communicate with creationists from the 2013 Chicago Skepticamp, and now I’m happy to share with you all the actual video of that talk. For reference, here is a link to an earlier blog post I made on the topic. Enjoy! :)
Posted in creationism, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: 2013, argument, astronomy, believer, Bible, biology, Catholic Church, Chicago, church, communication, conference, creationism, Earth, evidence, evolution, Galilei, Galileo, Galileo Was Wrong, geocentrism, geocentrist, heliocentrism, literalism, physics, pseudoscience, psychology, religion, science, seminar, skeptic, SkeptiCamp, skeptics, talk, video, vimeo, worldview, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2014
You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard the news about Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows sectarian prayers at government meetings. My skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist has an excellent breakdown on the background of this case – check it out here.
Essentially, the SCOTUS ruled that explicitly Christian and other sectarian prayers are allowed in the opening of local government meetings (just as they have been for years in the federal and state legislatures) under the Constitution. Regarding this ruling, I think the devil is in the details; specifically, the SCOTUS did not rule that only Christian prayers were allowed. It ruled that sectarian prayers are allowed… from any religion (or non-religion)… which means that anyone can make a motion to pray at such meetings. Further, Justice Kennedy stated in his opinion that:
“If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.”
Whoops, that’s already happened; just look at how there are some self-righteous fundamentalist religious jerks who misinterpret this ruling as saying that “only Christian prayers are allowed” – which is exactly the kind of thing more reasonably-minded members of the SCOTUS noted might happen. Indeed, the problem here is that this ruling has a huge potential to cause even greater religious animosity and division at the same time our country is becoming ever more (non)religiously diverse (with as many as 20% claiming “no religion”). Specifically, Justice Kagan said:
“The monthly chaplains appear almost always to assume that everyone in the room is Christian. … The Town itself has never urged its chaplains to reach out to members of other faiths, or even to recall that they might be present. And accordingly, few chaplains have made any effort to be inclusive; none has thought even to assure attending members of the public that they need not participate in the prayer session. Indeed, as the majority forthrightly recognizes, when the plaintiffs here began to voice concern over prayers that excluded some Town residents, one pastor pointedly thanked the Board “[o]n behalf of all God-fearing people” for holding fast, and another declared the objectors “in the minority and … ignorant of the history of our country.””
So… what is a secularist to do? Shall we bemoan our fate, lamenting that “this was another win for the religious right”? I think not. In fact, I think this ruling can lead to a really big problem for the religious right; but don’t take it from me, take it from an evangelical Christian writer (and constitutional scholar) for Christianity Today magazine:
“So what’s the harm of government prayer? First, it leaves a few deeply resentful, with hearts hardened to Christianity. One need look no further than the two complainants here. Many more of our fellow citizens are confused about evangelical methods and motives when we hitch our wagon to Caesar, and they are misled about the nature of Christ’s invitation and a person’s freedom in response to him. Moreover, because what goes around comes around, municipalities in less friendly territory than Greece, New York, will seize this newly approved legality and use it to offer up invocational prayers that will be unrecognizable to evangelicals. Already this is occurring in the Town of Greece, where a Wiccan priestess has offered up prayers to Athena and Apollo. An atheist has also petitioned, by appealing to “inclusion,” that she be allowed to take a turn at rendering the invocation. She did so, not because she wanted to pray, to protest the city policy by rendering it absurd. The Supreme Court’s ruling means we will be seeing more of this mischief.” [emphasis added]
Did you hear that? Mischief! :)
At the next county board meeting, ask if you can get a “Hail Satan!” (image source)
And he’s right. Now that the SCOTUS has explicitly opened the door to sectarian (note, that’s a different word that “Christian”) prayers, then all those Christians who so badly wanted to win this case had better be prepared for people of other religious (or non-religious) beliefs to come calling for their turn to give invocations at local government meetings. I’m guessing they won’t be too happy to have a Muslim imam, Jewish rabbi, Hindu priest, or humanist/atheist open with a prayer or statement; just look at how they threw a hissy-fit when a Hindu priest opened a session of the U.S. Senate with a prayer:
Well, these conservative Christians had better get used to it, because plenty of highly non-Christian folks are now more than ready to start attending local government meetings with the express purpose of opening them with non-Christian prayers/invocations. For example:
**The American Humanist Association is planning to launch a program to “provide resources for atheists and humanists to deliver secular invocations during legislative meetings.”
**The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already announced “Nothing Fails Like A Prayer”, a nationwide contest for the best secular invocation delivered at a government meeting.
**And the Satanic Temple (yes, the same one that is petitioning to erect a statue of Satan outside the Oklahoma state house under their “religious monument” law) is getting in on the act, too. In fact, they’ve already got the following prayer/invocation ready to go:
“Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.”
I have a message for all the conservative Christians hailing this ruling: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it :)
Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: Bible, Christian, Christianity, Constitution, court, decision, Devil, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, freedom of religion, Friendly Atheist, fundamentalist, Galloway, God, government, Greece, Hemant Mehta, invocation, Jesus, law, legislature, Lucien Greaves, Lucifer, meeting, New York, prayer, religion, right wing, ruling, Satan, Satanic Temple, SCOTUS, separation of church and state, Stephens, Supreme Court, United States | 1 Comment »
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.
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:
… 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]
… 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 equality, views on abortion are quite stable, and belief in God is declining. …
… 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:
Posted in creationism, scientific method | Tagged: AIG, Answers In Genesis, anti science, Bible, Bill Nye, Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, Christianity, Creation Museum, creationism, CSRC, Darwin Day, debate, Discovery Institute, education, evolution, February 12, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, proof, public, religion, science, The Science Guy, Wedge document, Wedge Strategy, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | Leave a Comment »
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.
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…
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: AIG, Answers In Genesis, anti science, Bible, Bill Nye, Christianity, Creation Museum, creationism, Darwin Day, debate, Discovery Institute, education, evolution, February 12, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, proof, public, religion, science, The Science Guy, Wedge Strategy, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 2 Comments »