What makes Kentucky such a hotbed for religious theme parks and otherwise unscientific entertainment spectacles? First there was the infamous Creation Museum in Petersburg and now the forthcoming Ark Encounter theme park in nearby Williamstown.
Lindsay Tucker has written about the Ark Encounter in Newsweek Magazine, including a very interesting interview with Ken Ham representing the Young Earth Creationists. Here is the introduction to that piece:
Imagine the Titanic minus the smokestacks, framed out of timber rather than iron. Imagine that instead of a doomed ocean liner bustling with well-dressed elites, it’s home to 2,000 seasick animals, a handful of teenage dinosaurs and one patriarchal family headed by a 500-year-old man bent on saving the world. Cultures all over the globe share the legend of Noah’s Ark, but this summer one especially enthusiastic Christian ministry will try to convince you that it looked exactly like this—dinosaurs and all—when it opens its biblical theme park. Its pièce de résistance is a 510-foot representation of Noah’s giant boat. (OK, the Titanic was bigger, but you get the idea.) Tickets for the July 7 opening go on sale January 19, and the ministry folks are betting big—with borrowed money—that people will want to see the show.
The masterminds behind this monument to theological devotion are fundamentalist Christian organization Answers in Genesis (AiG) and its Australian-born president, Ken Ham. For the unfamiliar, Ham, AiG and their followers believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and disparage anyone who doesn’t. Dubbed the Young Earth Creationists, they maintain that the Earth and its universe were created 6,000 years ago in six days, as described in Scripture. And while they argue that their worldview deserves as much classroom time in public schools as science, for now they are focused on molding young minds through their oft-mocked Petersburg, Kentucky, Creation Museum and the forthcoming Ark Encounter theme park in nearby Williamstown. By AiG’s calculations, dinosaurs and humans roamed the planet in harmony because God said in Genesis that all the animals were made in one day, which seems to indicate that they were made simultaneously. Ergo, dinos on the ark.
Despite many competitive advantages, including buying a 99-acre parcel of land from the city for a mere dollar, the $101 million project has been plagued for five years by setbacks that include a lack of public support, unfruitful fundraising efforts and a bitter lawsuit over $18 million in tax incentives that the state withheld due to church-state separation concerns. But none of this has discouraged Ham, who says his ark could draw as many as 2 million visitors in its first year, although such projections are highly disputed.
The article goes much deeper into this subject but two themes are apparent. First, should any government tax dollars go into this or similar enterprises. Even a cursory look at the hierarchy of laws, with the United States Constitution being at the apex, the use of tax dollars for a religious establishment is forbidden. However, the argument that under Kentucky law, a theme park which would bring tourists and added wealth to the state is plausible too. I invite you to consider the difference (and possibly even the impact on society) of this religious theme park and the National Football League. I suspect the NFL wins this one.
The bottom-line question is whether the theme of the theme park is relevant. For government purposes in this country, the Constitution says it is. I would also suggest that the government might consider reassigning the Bunko Squad to look into scams like Answers in Genesis or does strict separation of Church and State allow anything done in the name of religion to go unpunished by the State?
A second theme is well expressed by Bill Nye (the Science Guy) who warns that using public funding to suppress science is bad for the whole country.
Raising a generation of young people who are confused about the natural history of the Earth is not in our best interest. This project is going to slow the response of voters in the Commonwealth to climate change and it’s going to hold us all back.
Tucker started the article with a reference to the Titanic and he concludes with another reference to the Titanic. I agree.
But what if some enterprising Department of Comparative Literature has a few billion left in the budget at the end of the year and decides they’re going to build an exact replica of Dante’s Inferno somewhere in Texas. Will they get a tax incentive for all the fun, fun, fun this attraction will bring to the state? Is Dante religious or is he literary?
Maybe that’s the loophole for the Ken Ham’s of the world: they have to stop referring to the Bible as a religious book and just consider it entertaining fiction.