For those who thought the creationist frenzy had reached its peak with the construction of the "Answers in Genesis" museum in Petersburg, Ky., there is now information to show those people are mistaken.
On Dec. 1, the same promoters of religious "edutainment" announced their plans to build a much larger creationist project (Ark Encounter) in Williamstown, Ky., less than 50 miles away. The new theme park will occupy 800 acres of space and feature a 500-foot-long interpretation of Noah's Ark, a Tower of Babel and other biblical accounts.
Park designers have huge expectations of earnings and project the need to hire some 900 people to operate their $150 million enterprise. They expect 1.6 million visitors the first years of the museum's operations. The state of Kentucky is also being generous in its support — awarding 25 percent of their development costs, an award estimated to be $37.5 million.
This project raises several issues to be considered by the citizens of Kentucky and by educators. There is clearly a constitutional issue when a state gives public funds to a sectarian religious business organization. There also is a need to examine the merits of historical, biological and physical "facts" that have obvious difficulties for not only informed people, but also experts in various areas of competence.
Gov. Steve Beshear, in his official announcement, gave ready assurance that the state's financial support posed no constitutional problem and said, "The people of Kentucky didn't elect me governor to debate religion. They elected me to create jobs."
However, constitutional lawyer Erwin Chemerinsky argues otherwise. "If this is about bringing the Bible to life, and it's the Bible's account of history that they are presenting, then the government is paying for the advancement of religion. And the Supreme Court has said that the government can't advance religion."
Closer to home, Kentucky's Constitution (Section 5) reads as follows: "No preference shall ever be given by law to any religious sect, society or denomination; Nor to any particular creed, mode of worship or system of ecclesiastical polity; nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place or the salary or support of any minister of religion, nor should any man be compelled to send his child to any school to which he may be conscientiously opposed ..." There will almost certainly be organized opposition to the governor's policy.
Then, there are the usual complaints against creationist interpretation of biblical events. Biologists and paleontologists emphatically oppose the presence of dinosaurs on the ark alongside human beings since they have evidence of the extinction of these huge beasts millions of years before the appearance of Homo sapiens.
The size, design and load capacity of Noah's boat also poses serious objections. A three-tiered boat, approaching 500 feet in length is not considered feasible at such an early period of watercraft construction. Also, when the number of species is taken into account and that Noah wanted pairs of each, there is no possibility of such a feat.
Years ago, in a debate with two fundamentalist clergymen, I raised this foregoing issue. Reflexively, one of them replied, "There were not as many species then as there are now." My response was, "But you cannot use that argument — that is my position."
Even if Noah could have been able to construct such a large boat, he would have faced another insurmountable problem. Foxes eat rabbits, cats eat mice, etc. By the time the Ark found land, it would be possibly near empty. These points made no impression on these literalists.
A very troubling aspect to the governor's enthusiasm for this constitutionally questionable project is the obvious contradiction from an educator's perspective. The state is responsible to provide a secular education for the citizens of Kentucky that meets the standards expected in each area of professional competence. At the same time, the governor is diverting public funds to support a religious "edutainment" program that contains a huge portion of ideas and "facts" that are rejected by those with the credentials to judge their educative merits.
In an open, free society, these developers are free to present their wares in an open market of commerce and ideas.
But it is not to be supposed that the government should subsidize such projects on the basis of providing jobs. With the prospects of so much money coming in from religious enthusiasts, there is no need for government support to survive.
— Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.