Reprinted from the Lexington Herald-Leader with permission of the author. Photographs courtesy of Dan Phelps.
In June 2018, 35 public middle and high school students from Bell, Harlan and Letcher counties were taken by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College on a “college preparation” field trip that included the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter.
This was documented in the Middlesboro Daily News on Aug. 7. Information I received via an open-records request indicates the community college spent more than $1,300 for tickets to the Ark and Creation Museum plus additional travel expenses.
Both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter are run by the young-earth creationist organization, Answers in Genesis. It is a fundamentalist Christian apologetic ministry with the stated aim of instructing Ark and museum visitors that the Bible is literally true, and converting them to their version of Christianity.
By taking students to these venues, the community college’s program, which is a public, state-supported institution, unconstitutionally used tax monies to promote a specific religious message.
Moreover, the Kentucky Constitution forbids the use of taxpayer dollars to support a ministry.
Perhaps more importantly, the exhibits at the Ark and Creation Museum are scientifically unsound and go against the idea of preparing high school students for college-level work.
The brand of creationism promoted by these attractions, among other things, claims the Earth and universe are only 6,000 to 10,000 years old, that humans coexisted with non-avian dinosaurs (some of which were fire-breathing dragons according to AiG), and that the bulk of the geological and fossil record are explained by the Biblical Flood of 2348 BC.
None of these ideas are consistent with modern science, history or reality. Most Christians and other religious people realize these ideas are not science. Young-earth creationism has no scientific credibility whatsoever. Students entering college would be handicapped by these pseudoscientific ideas if they wished to pursue a career in science.
Astoundingly, the Ark Encounter recently added a bizarre exhibit depicting giants, a theropod dinosaur and people in mortal combat within a “pre-Flood” arena.
Also, Ark Encounter attacks the science of geology in their third-deck “geology room.” Part of this section of the Ark accuses geologists of being in a massive conspiracy for not accepting AiG’s pseudoscientific claim of a worldwide flood producing the rock record. Such hostility to science in the Ark’s exhibits is detrimental to students wishing to learn science and promotes ignorant conspiracy theories.
I presently teach geology and paleontology in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. It is astounding that Southeast would betray the work of geologists, biologists and other scientists teaching for them by performing educational malpractice on unsuspecting middle- and high-school students.
I hope Southeast [Kentucky Community and Technical College] will not violate the constitutional separation of church and state by taking area students to these sectarian and anti-science attractions in the future.
Dan Phelps is president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society and vice president of Kentuckians for Science Education.