The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Sinking Under the Weight of Heavy Lies?

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Dangers of NOT Offending Religious Sensibilities

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 18, 2015

**This post will also appear as a guest post at the Wrest In Peace blog. Go check it out :) **

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, there has been much soul searching regarding free speech, religion, what is and isn’t offensive, and public safety. In my first blog post here at Wrest In Peace, in the spirit of battling with words and not weapons, I wanted to take this topic head-on and without apology. So here goes…

First, I think that there has been a fundamental error in how much of this discussion has been framed. Too many people, mostly those who wish to not have their “religious sensibilities” offended and their weak-kneed allies, are asking the question of what are limits to free speech and should “offensive” speech which attacks and/or ridicules religion be allowed? This viewpoint isn’t to be dismissed as trivial in light of the fact that almost 20% of Americans think religion shouldn’t be satirized.

I think this is entirely the wrong question to be asking, for the simple reason that it appears to place the onus for responsibility of religious violence in the wrong place: on people whose only crime is to speak their mind openly and freely. There is an implicit and dangerous naivety behind such framing: it makes the assumption that if only people wouldn’t be critical of religion or poke fun at religious figures then murderous violence such as that on display recently in Paris would be curbed.

Really?! Not mocking religion means that there’s going to be a reduction of religiously-motivated violence? Try telling that to the thousands upon thousands of Muslims (and others) who are, even now, being enslaved, victimized, and barbarically killed by the extremists in ISIS. I’ll wager that the vast majority, if not all, of those being brutally oppressed and killed by ISIS never said or wrote one offensive word about Islam or Muhammad. Yet they are being slaughtered in the name of radical Islam none-the-less.

In my mind, a much more proper question to ask is this: What is it that it can so easily generate such a murderous certainty among the most ardent, fundamentalist believers of religion? The right way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and atrocities committed by ISIS isn’t to demand less scrutiny of religion but quite the opposite; we must demand more scrutiny of religion, especially radical, fundamentalist variations.

Second, in order to have any reasonable discussion of these topics, we must ask ourselves who defines what is offensive? Something which offends one person may be little more than humor to someone else. For example, much attention has been paid to the depiction of Muhammad in pictures and how this offends many Muslims; some even go so far as to argue that such depictions should be regarded as “hate speech”!

Would some consider the following depiction of Muhammad as a suicide-bombing terrorist to be offensive?

Undoubtedly, the answer to that question would be “Yes!” But consider this fact: there is a long, rich history of images of Muhammad being displayed within Islamic culture. For instance, this website shows numerous examples, most of them many centuries old, of Muslim artists showing Muhammad in their work. In 1999, Islamic art expert Wijdan Ali wrote a scholarly overview of the Muslim tradition of depicting Muhammad, which can be downloaded here in pdf format. In that essay, Ali demonstrates that the prohibition against depicting Muhammad did not arise until as late as the 16th or 17th century, despite the media’s recent false claims that it has always been forbidden for Muslims to draw Muhammad. Until comparatively recently in Islamic history, it was perfectly common to show Muhammad, either in full, or with his face hidden. Even after the 17th century, up to modern times, Islamic depictions of Muhammad (especially in Shi’ite areas) continued to be produced.

And even the U.S. government has incorporated an image of Muhammad as one of the traditional law-givers on the frieze of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC…

And there are plenty of other examples available.  My whole point here is that it seems the modern-day Islamic radicals are on a crusade to crush dissent, free expression, and free inquiry not only among the secular critics of Islam in the West, but also those whom would dissent within Islam itself.

And that brings me to my third point: if we allow “offensive” speech to be curbed or outlawed, we run the risk of letting these vague notions of what is offensive to be defined by the most extreme members of religion. Take, for example, the case of Saudi Arabian blogger and dissenter Raif Badawi, who is undergoing a brutal punishment involving receiving 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks, followed by years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His crime, according to the Saudi Arabian authorities, was “insulting Islam”; Raif had the audacity to run a website called Free Saudi Liberals (now closed down) where he advocated for a secular government in Saudi Arabia. Yes, political dissent is viewed as an insult to religion, justifying – in the minds of the extremists – the most brutal of tortures and disproportionate punishment. Raif Badawi’s torture makes the case that, if anything, religious sensibilities need to be questioned, and if that makes some people uncomfortable or offends them, so much the better!

Now, lest you think this discussion is exclusively about Islam, think again. It has become clear of late that many more than just some Muslims are jumping aboard the “curb offensive speech” bandwagon. Consider, for example, the reaction from various branches of Christianity to the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Famous religious right and fundamentalist Christian broadcaster Bryan Fisher suggested that God allowed Islamic terrorists to carry out their attack in Paris as punishment for blasphemy. Further, in his radio broadcast he stated “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… They [Charlie Hebdo] made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus [in vain].” So, according to Fisher, it wasn’t the satire of Islam that led to the attacks, it was the satire of Christianity and Jesus that is to blame! It should also be no surprise that Fisher is among those who would impose so-called anti-blasphemy laws in the United States.

Not to be outdone, prominent radical Catholic and head of the Catholic League Bill Donohue stated that the victims of the Paris attacks only had themselves to blame for insulting religion and angering people. “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated,” he explained in a press release. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”

Now one would expect such nutty rhetoric from commonly-known Christian fundamentalists such as Fisher and Donohue, but what is more disturbing is that the most widely known religious figure on the planet, Pope Francis, who is regarded by many as a “progressive Pope” appears to agree with these sentiments! “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the Pope stated on a recent trip to the Philippines. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” he continued. Wow, so much for that “turn the other cheek” nonsense that Jesus espoused.

What I see now is an emerging unholy alliance between right-wing extremists and naïve left-wing multiculturalists against secular critics of religion. The former want little more than power and control, and they view silencing criticism of religion and its related power structures as a way of attaining these goals. The latter are often well-meaning but clueless and unrealistic idealists who believe that sitting in a circle and singing “Kumbaya” will result in less religiously-motivated power grabs and violence. Both groups view secular critics of religion as either an enemy of the faith or callous and disrespectful loud-mouths who are somehow a threat to a healthy society. And this is not simply an academic debate; political correctness, introduced by the naïve among the multicultural left, has now been co-opted by right-wing fundamentalists to justify everything from the denial of contraception to women to the inclusion of pseudo-scientific notions of creationism in public schools. Under the guise of “religious liberty”, these fundamentalists insist that not allowing them to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of society is offensive.

What needs to happen is that it needs to be shown that an increased secularization of society, as Raif Badawi advocates, is needed to make it more free and prosperous for everyone, believer and non-believer alike. But in order to show the importance of secularism, it is necessary to simultaneously question religion; and as Voltaire famously wrote, “We must have laughter on our side,” because there is often no more powerful force to tear down the high and mighty than laughter. And laughter is the chief weapon of the satirist.

So you see, even if it is considered offensive or blasphemous, the satirical lampooning of religion and religious belief is necessary for a healthy and free society. If we accept a situation where there really are sacred cows that cannot be questioned or made fun of, then that leads to the collection of unquestioned and absolute authority (it’s hard to get much more authoritative than claiming you speak for God). And, as the saying goes, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Satanic Temple Convinces Florida School District that Church-State Separation is a Good Thing

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…

Satanists victorious in wild scheme to disrupt Florida school district’s Bible plan

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 :)

prayer-in-school

Posted in education, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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.

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How Secularists Should Respond to the SCOTUS Ruling on Sectarian Prayer at Government Meetings

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!  :)

la-abcarian-satan-pix-20140505

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  :)

 

 

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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

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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 »

Evolution and Creationism in 2013: The Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2014

If you know anything about the evolution-creationism battle in the United States, you know that it is a long-running one.  You also know that the issue is heavily influenced by religious outlook (or lack thereof) and politics.  Some recent polling data has provided some very revealing information about trends in the U.S. on these issues: and a deeper analysis yields bad news for the creationists.

First, the poll itself: the Pew Research Center released their poll, titled “Public’s Views on Human Evolution” on Dec. 30th.  And it contains some interesting take-aways:

evolution2013-1

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” …

One of the most interesting things to see in this poll is the breakdown of religious and political affiliation:

… These beliefs differ strongly by religious group. White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.

There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap. … [emphasis added]

Perhaps it’s no surprise that evangelical Protestants are the ones who reject evolution the most while the religiously unaffiliated (the so-called “nones”) embrace evolution.  The thing that is so surprising about this particular survey is the part I put in bold above: self-identifying Republicans are rejecting evolution in higher and higher numbers.  I think this presents a big problem for the Republican party, and my next discussion point illustrates why. Read the rest of this entry »

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

 
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