Trouble in Creationist Paradise
By Mark Joseph Stern|Posted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, at 6:00 AM ET
Few have profited more from Darwin calumny and science denial than Ken Ham, an Australian-born, young-Earth creationist behind some of the most ambitious monuments to creationism in the United States. Ham rose to fame after successfully raising $27 million to build the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which tells the story of God’s creation of the Earth through pseudoscience and unforgettable dioramas (the highlight: a kid hanging out with a gentle raptor). According to Ham, dinosaurs and humans coexisted for a while. Dinosaurs shared the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and humans may have saddled dinosaurs for transportation and long-distance travel. Pro-evolution scientists (i.e., all actual scientists), however, have obfuscated these undeniable truths with sinful lies and slander…
The best way to understand the radical strangeness of Ham’s views is to closely examine how he attempts to undercut belief in sound science—that is, to read his books. Ham’s books fall into two categories: colorful picture books designed to indoctrinate children, and pseudoscientific tracts aimed at persuading adults. The best example of the former category is Dinosaurs of Eden, published by Master Books, a branch of Ham’s Answers in Genesis. Master Books’ parent company, New Leaf Publishing Group, claims that Eden has sold 80,000 copies, out of 2.1 million Ham-penned books allegedly sold, including The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved, Did Adam Have a Belly Button?, and My Creation Bible…
In a sense, Eden captures everything that Ham does well (or outrageously, depending on your perspective). It is imaginative and absorbing, with vibrant illustrations and an engaging narrative. But its ultimate message is that belief in young-Earth creationism is necessary to avoid an eternity of damnation. Two Christian children enter “Bible Time Gate” and function as our surrogates as we explore Ham’s bizarre account of the history of the world. After walking us through the opening verses of Genesis, Ham proclaims that “we can say 100%, absolutely for sure, that people lived with dinosaurs!” A series of surreal illustrations features Adam and Eve feeding grapes to vegetarian dinosaurs while lions and cheetahs canoodle with an avaceratops. This herbivorous paradise is wrecked after Cain murders Abel.* “Dinosaurs may have started eating other animals” at this point, Ham tells us, citing Genesis 6:13: “the earth was filled with violence.”
Ham’s masterpiece for the adult reader, The Lie, was recently reprinted in a revised and expanded 25th-anniversary edition. It contains the same outlandish pseudoscience and strict moralizing as Dinosaurs of Eden—with none of the whimsy. The Lie distills Ham’s theological convictions: Christianity is under attack, society is rotting away, and acceptance of evolution is the root of its disintegration. Remarkably little of the book is devoted to Ham’s pseudoscientific arguments against evolution; rather, Ham attempts to inject doubt and ambiguity into evidence of evolution, claiming it is “a belief system” supported by no conclusive proof. “All the evidence a scientist has,” Ham insists, “exists only in the present.” This means we should disregard isotope dating, fossil records, genetic sequencing, geologic time, developmental biology, plate tectonics, disease resistance, and the rest of modern science because who can really know if they’re accurate? “The Bible’s account of origins,” on the other hand, was written by “the Creator God” and contains all the “history we need to know to understand the present world.”
And that’s pretty much all Ham has. Blind faith in the Bible is superior to belief in evolution, because the former was written by God, while the latter is a myth perpetuated by sinful atheists. Science is a myth simply because it cannot be allowed to contradict the Bible. That’s Ham’s starting and ending point, his premise and his conclusion. Such unquestioning trust and circular logic pervades the pages of the book, presented with smug satisfaction.
But there’s trouble in Ham’s creationist paradise. In 2012, the Creation Museum reported a 10 percent decline in attendance from the previous year, and its parent group, Answers in Genesis, posted a 5 percent drop in revenue. That continues a four-year slump and a new low for the museum at 280,000 total visitors last year. Even more ominously, fundraising for the Ark Encounter has slowed to a crawl. Its future is further imperiled by the decline of the Creation Museum, whose visitors were expected to be a huge source of funding for the ark park. As of January, Ham had failed to raise even half the money required to build the ark replica itself, let alone the rest of the park. To help out, you can buy a peg, a blank, or even a beam for $100, $500, and $1,500, respectively—but seeing as the fate of the ark is in serious jeopardy, is a free pass to the grand opening really worth the risk?
The Creation Museum was one of the region’s biggest draws only four years ago. The museum’s vice president blames the downward spiral on the recession, but the decline has only worsened as the economy has recovered. Gas prices, the museum claims, might also be cutting into attendance, because 70 percent of visitors arrive from out of town. It’s true that fossil fuels—which are, on average, several hundred million years older than Ken Ham’s version of the Earth—have risen in price over the past several years, perhaps dissuading potential visitors.
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