A Slate article the other day compared the Ark Park to Coleridge’s Xanadu: “an extravagant vanity project born out of boundless narcissism and ambition.” An apt comparison, except of course that in the poem Kubla Khan actually builds his stately pleasure-dome – and he does not float junk bonds to do so.
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That is the headline of a press release printed unedited in the Sacramento Bee. The movie, by Ray Comfort of banana fame, is an excruciating 35 minutes of quote-mined sound bites, mostly from undergraduate science majors, but also from PZ Myers and a handful of other scientists (Gail Kennedy, Craig Stanford, and Peter Nonacs).
John Freshwater’s appeal of his termination as a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon, Ohio, public schools is still hanging fire in the Ohio Supreme Court. Decisions normally are promulgated between three and six months following oral arguments, and it’s been four months since the February 27, 2013, arguments in this case. The Mount Vernon News had a story on it last week.
More below the fold.
Under the heading Creationism Follies, Heather L. Weaver, an ACLU staffer, recalls the infamous fourth-grade science quiz that we described here on May 1. Being an ACLU staffer, Weaver notes that “religious schools are well within their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate students in this manner.” Not being an ACLU staffer, I note that they may have a legal right to teach students any kind of garbage that they like, but they have no intellectual right to do so, and schools that teach creationism as if it were truly science should lose their accreditation. Indeed, recent court decisions have upheld the University of California’s right to require remedial courses for students who have been miseducated at religious high schools.
But what about the public schools? Weaver outlines what she calls “just a few examples of creationism advocates working their influence in the public schools during the 2012-2013 school year”:
Don't you hate it when you get up in the morning and the first thing you read on the internet is the news that your entire career has been a waste of time, your whole field of study has collapsed, and you're going to have to rethink your entire future? Happens to me all the time. But then, I read the creationist news, so I've become desensitized to the whole idea of intellectual catastrophes.
Today's fresh demolition of the whole of evolutionary theory comes via Christian News, which reports on a paper in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution which challenges the ape to human evolutionary theory. Wait, that's a journal I read regularly. What did I miss?
My old friend, the Alert Reader, sent me a cartoon that he claimed had appeared on Ken Ham’s Facebook page. Captioned “Famous sayings of Ken Ham,” the cartoon shows a caricature of Ham and three balloons, including this one:
It’s designed to do what it does do.
What it does do it does do well.
Yes, it does.
I think it does.
Do you? I do.
Hope you do, too. Do you?
I found it hard to believe that the cartoon was not a parody and wondered why it is found on Ham’s own Facebook page. The Alert Reader responded with the following, also reportedly from Ham’s Facebook page:
Snopes.com yesterday verified that a “science” test (below the fold) given to 4th graders at a sectarian school is in fact real. Answers in Genesis, meanwhile, vilifies anyone who objects to such nonsense being taught as science, calling them “intolerant atheists” who “viciously attack [a] Christian school.”
Casey Luskin is such a great gift to the scientific community. The public spokesman for the Discovery Institute has a law degree and a Masters degree (in Science! Earth Science, that is) and thinks he is qualified to analyze papers in genetics and molecular biology, fields in which he hasn't the slightest smattering of background, and he keeps falling flat on his face. It's hilarious! The Discovery Institute is so hard up for competent talent, though, that they keep letting him make a spectacle of his ignorance.
I really, really hope Luskin lives a long time and keeps his job as a frontman for Intelligent Design creationism. He just makes me so happy.
His latest tirade is inspired by the New York Times, which ran an article on highlights from the coelacanth genome. Luskin doesn't think very deeply, so he keeps making these arguments that he thinks are terribly damaging to evolution because he doesn't comprehend the significance of what he's saying. For instance, he sneers at the fact that we keep finding conserved elements in the genome, because as we all know, there are lots of conserved elements.
On the topic of how kangaroos got to Australia after Noah’s Flood: at 2pm tomorrow, April 16 Answers in Genesis will hold a live chat at Facebook about AIG’s marvelous Super-fast Ice-Age Timeline and Map (which has the Ice Age lasting from about ~2220 to ~2115 BC, and all recorded human civilization post-2100 BC). I predict that any pointed questions they receive will be deleted quickly and permanently, so if you want some entertainment you will have to monitor it live. You may want to copy and archive any choice questions they receive before they’re deleted.
I presume that AIG’s “2:00 pm” is Eastern Daylight Time (=1800 GMT). Diogeneslamp0 has some representative questions one might ask at the linked comment.
The Times last week ran an article on the implementation of school vouchers in a number of states. My concern here is that the vouchers may be applied to religious schools and possibly home schools that have little oversight.
Todd Wood has just announced that Bryan College is discontinuing support for the Center for Origins Research (CORE). I am actually kind of sad about this. Wood was almost the sole representative of critical thinking in the creationist movement. He also had the virtually unique trait of understanding what modern evolutionary biology actually said before opening his big mouth about it. I can’t think of a time when he quote-mined Gould’s punctuated equilibrium quotes or blamed Darwin for Hitler or used the other careless, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics ubiquitous with creationists of the ID or AIG varieties. And I can think of many times when he called shenanigans on creationists engaging in those sorts of sins.
Reporter James McNair recently reported in a Cincinnati newspaper that the attendance at the Creation Museum has dropped for four consecutive years and that Answers in Genesis lost over $500,000. These tidbits inspired my colleague Dan Phelps and me to look at AIG’s Forms 990. These are tax forms that must be submitted by nonprofit organizations to the US Internal Revenue Service and may be found if you have a (free) account on GuideStar.
According to various Forms 990 through the tax year ending June 30, 2011, in four consecutive years, AIG has run surpluses of approximately $2.1 million, $716,000, and $940,000, and a loss of $540,000. Not exactly a monotonic decline, but certainly a steep drop from a surplus of $2.1 million to a loss of $540,000 in three years. Can we expect similar losses due to the Ark Park? Maybe: Joe Sonka in the Louisville newspaper LeoWeekly reports that “… correspondence between Ark Encounter and the Tourism Cabinet reveal an application process that proceeded with remarkable speed, little scrutiny, and standards that appear different from that of [another applicant].”
The 2010 Form 990 (for fiscal year ending June 30, 2011) has some interesting information.
Last night, I saw a splendid production of “How the World Began” produced by the Boulder Ensemble Theater Company, also known as Betsy. If you hurry, you can catch the last performance of Catherine Trieschmann’s fine play this afternoon at 4 p.m. According to the director, Betsy’s production is only the fourth, after New York and two other cities.
Very briefly, the play involves a young, idealistic, single, pregnant biology graduate who comes from New York to teach biology in a rural Kansas town, at least in part because it has recently been destroyed by a tornado. Early on, she obliquely refers to creationism as gobbledygook and is challenged after school by a very troubled student. Unfortunately, she digs in her heels and refuses to apologize, with consequences both predictable and unpredictable.
One creationist claim that's commonly laughed at is this idea that 8 people could build a great big boat, big enough to hold all the 'kinds' of animals, and that those same 8 people were an adequate work force to maintain all those beasts for a year in a confined space on a storm-tossed ark. So the creationists have created a whole pseudoscientific field called baraminology which tries to survey all of taxonomy and throw 99% of it out, so they can reduce the necessary number of animals packed into the boat. Literally, that's all it's really about: inventing new taxonomies with the specific goal of lumping as many as possible, in order to minimize the load on their fantasy boat.
In the past, I've seen them argue that a biblical 'kind' is equivalent to a genus; others have claimed it's the Linnaean family. Now, Dr Jean K. Lightner, Independent Scholar (i.e. retired veterinarian), has taken the next step: a kind is equivalent to an order, roughly. Well, she does kind of chicken out at the Rodentia, the largest and most diverse group of mammals, and decides that those ought to be sorted into families, because otherwise she's reducing the number of animals on the ark too much.
Some poor young girl, deeply miseducated and misled, wrote into a newspaper with a letter trying to denounce homosexuality with a bad historical and biological argument. She's only 14, and her brain has already been poisoned by the cranks and liars in her own family…it's very sad. Here's the letter — I will say, it's a very creative argument that would be far more entertaining if it weren't wrong in every particular.
I've transcribed it below. I couldn't help myself, though, and had to, um, annotate it a bit.
Dan Phelps, author of a recent PT article on the Creation “Museum”, sent us this link to a “documentary” on “replicating” the Ark. The “documentary” is a three-part series and has supposedly been produced for PBS stations.
Mr. Phelps says he could not find any PBS stations that are actually airing the “documentary.” Can any reader point to a PBS station that has shown it or plans to show it?
***Update, October 10: Joe Sonka, in an article for the Louisville newspaper LEO Weekly, reports that PBS has no knowledge of any documentary. He quotes Ken Ham, however, as saying that PBS had agreed to three documentaries. Perhaps Mr. Ham is exaggerating.
The director of the “documentary,” Johan Bos, incidentally, is associated with an oddball outfit that offers classes in film production and guarantees, “This class is a Christian safe environment. This class does not teach secular or worldly views.” A Christian-safe environment. I had no idea that Christianity was so fragile.***
Dan Phelps, right, armed for battle, with his new friend, Ken Ham.
On July 28, 2012, Answers in Genesis (AIG) held a “Behind the Scenes” event at the Creation “Museum’s” Legacy Hall. The event was free but with RSVP required via the Ark Encounter website. I made it a point to register well in advance and ask for a space for a guest. I invited reporter Joe Sonka from LEO Weekly to come along since he has done numerous critical news articles and blog postings on the Ark Park. Indeed it was Joe who asked Governor Beshear and Ark Encounter representatives some embarrassing questions revealing that the Ark would have dinosaurs on it when the project was announced in December, 2010. What follows is my account of the event and summary of the status of the proposed park.
I wish I had thought of that title, but it is actually an article by Joe Sonka in the Louisville newspaper, LEO Weekly. According to Sonka, the Ark Park (properly known as Ark Encounter) will have to raise $22 million before it can even start construction, and $44 million an additional $22 million to complete the project (it was unclear to me whether that is an additional $44 million, above the first $22 million). Sonka further estimates that the project will take at least 3 years to complete, and an estimated $53 million will have to be invested over the next decade. If the project takes that long to complete, however, they will presumably lose at least some tax incentives.
But cheer up! There is hope: If you invest $100,000, the minimum investment, they project a 20.6 % return on investment. At this point, I am torn between a quotation attributed to P. T. Barnum and a myth concerning the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ken Ham, the driving force behind the Ark Park, claims that PBS will air a documentary this fall, but I could find nothing on the PBS website besides this broadcast, a year ago. According to Sonka, Ham claims that the PBS documentary will net the Ark Park 2 million visitors per year, an attendance that Sonka says would rival that of a big amusement park in Cincinnati, a city of roughly 300,000. Grant County, by contrast, has a population of around 25,000 and is located at least an hour’s drive from any major metropolitan area.
Jason Rosenhouse moved from the east coast to Kansas for a postdoc. He had studied a bit about creationism while a graduate student at Dartmouth, so it would be an exaggeration to say that he was surprised to learn that not everyone in Kansas was a liberal Democrat (even by today’s standard of liberalism). Nevertheless, for reasons that are not made completely clear, he humored his inner anthropologist and attended a handful of creationist conferences over a period of several years. The result is the splendid book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, which both shows creationists as regular people, just like scientists, and also takes them seriously, without condescension or sarcasm.
Not that Rosenhouse cuts them any slack. He gets up to the microphone and asks pointed questions, and he is completely open about who he is and what he believes. He mingles with the conference attendees and is impressed by how very pleasant they are; he is pleasant in return, except for one apparently unfortunate interaction with Ken Ham. Nevertheless, however pleasant the creationists may be, Rosenhouse makes clear that he and his interlocutors are always talking past each other, and his critiques have virtually no effect - except occasionally, when he sees a young student listening intently and thinks he may have planted some seeds of doubt.
Ratio Christi is a new-ish college campus oriented apologetics organization whose Wright State University (Ohio) chapter’s goal “… is to populate heaven by planting seeds of Truth into the minds of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and spiritual seekers.” If one is so inclined, one can earn a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles) at a discount through Ratio Christi. In some ways Ratio Christi looks like a sort of successor to Casey Luskin’s now-defunct IDEA center.
Like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, Ratio Christi is heavy on anti-evolution. It’s recommended resources include books and papers by Disco ‘Tute stalwarts like Michael Behe, David Berlinski, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Jonathan Wells, along with Fuzzy Rana of Reasons to Believe, young earth creationist Paul Garner, and apologetics philosopher Alvin Plantinga.