For those of us who have spent our lives fighting the never-ending creationism wars, small victories are precious, and give us hope that some day this will all be behind us. The Dover decision in 2005 was decisive, and the Discovery Institute has been ineffective ever since then, with no further school districts adopting “intelligent design” creationism. (Of course, creationism then morphed into the “teach the controversy/strength and weaknesses” strategy, which passed in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky). The clowns like Don McLeroy on the Texas State Board of Education who voted for all sorts of laws favoring creationism and other fundie distortions of science have been voted out of office, although not all their damage has been undone. The fundies in the Kansas State Board of Education were also voted out of office after they had embarrassed the good taxpayers of the Sunflower State enough times.
Likewise, every time another powerful creationist institution or preacher stumbles or declines, it gives us a bit of schadenfreude (“joy at the misfortune of others” auf Deutsch). A few years ago, the Institute of “Creation Research” seemed to be a powerful behemoth, which had a leading role in all the creationism battles of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. But as I discovered when I visited their former headquarters in the suburbs of San Diego, they left their pathetic little “museum” behind (see this post), sold to a Jewish convert to radical Protestant fundamentalism, and relocated to Texas in 2007. Their founder, Henry Morris, died in 2006, and their master debater, Duane Gish, just passed away last week, and the ICR has fallen on hard times. Their efforts to get their master’s program accredited in their new home, fundie-friendly Texas, have failed, and they have vanished from the headlines of the creationism wars after having dominated for years. Many of the “big guns” of ICR have since moved on to other institutions, such as little Cedarville University in Ohio, where they engage in stealth creationism in geology meetings.
(On another note, I’m not exactly sad at the passing of Gish. I beat him in a debate at Purdue in 1983, and saw just how slimy and dishonest he could be as a debater. He was a robot, giving the same memorized slide show he didn’t understand in the same order of faded slides with the same patter and the same jokes—and no one noticed. Even when I got to his main points and debunked them before he mentioned them, he STILL went along with his falsehoods as if I hadn’t said anything. His blatant dishonesty—especially when he had been corrected for falsehoods one night, and then repeated the lie the next night to a different, unsuspecting audience—would never be tolerated from a real scientist. He probably did more to harm to science education in this country than any person in the last few decades).
Kent Hovind was once the most powerful and aggravating creationist in the country, boldly calling himself “Dr. Dino” even though he knows nothing about dinosaurs (most of what he says is demonstrably false), and his “doctorate” was bought from a diploma mill. I’ve seen his “dissertation” and it was so bad and so amateurish it wouldn’t pass for a high-school report, let alone a college paper. At one time, he had a huge empire with his ministry, his creationism theme park, and many other big operations, but just like Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, George Rekers, Ted Haggard, and other high and mighty preachers, he got caught—in this case, lying to the IRS. He is still serving his 10-year sentence for 58 counts of tax evasion in the Federal pen in Florence, Colorado, which he started in 2006, and is not due to be released until late 2015. Meanwhile, his son and family try to keep his empire going (and each time they make a public appearance, they show even less knowledge and less charisma than “Dr. Dino” had).
Now it is Ken Ham’s turn. Currently, he is the behemoth and leviathan of creationist preachers in the U.S., with a powerful ministry spreading through many different media, and his travesty of a creation “museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky. And Ken Ham is no bumbling tax-cheating amateur like Kent Hovind, or stagnant institution like the declining ICR. Ken is into indoctrinating children to challenge, disrespect, and harass their teachers, and using bullying and intimidation against those who cross him. When his “museum” first opened in 2007 to huge crowds and big profits, we all thought that he would outlast the ICR or Hovind’s empire. In December 2010, he announced deals with the Governor and Legislature of the Commonwealth of Kentucky for them to build roads and infrastructure at taxpayers’ expense to support his new “Ark Encounter”, a mega-attraction with a life-sized Noah’s ark that would further boost his attendance and his untaxed profits. But then news came out last June that their fundraising was slowing down and is $44 million short of its goal, and apparently now the Ark Park is on hold while they beat the drums to shake down their loyal flock for even more money. And just a few weeks ago, the news came out that the Creation “Museum” is also showing a decline in attendance after just 5 years of operation. The bloggers at Panda’s Thumb dug into their publicly required tax records, and found that they went from a surplus of $2.1 million to a loss of $540,000 in three years. As one of the commenters waggishly suggested, maybe it is possible to go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public! Answers in Genesis blame it on the recession and on the high price of gas to reach their isolated location, but anyone could have seen this coming. Blaming it on the recession or gas prices is a lame excuse, since the recession has been in effect since 2008 and so have high gas prices. More to the point, real museums are constantly having to schedule blockbuster traveling exhibits, and open up new galleries to juice up their attendance and membership, and they represent real science which is constantly changing and being updated. Ken’s “museum” hasn’t changed or added a new exhibit since it opened (hence the Ark Park to boost their attendance). After all, creationism is all about final truth, not about learning new stuff or changing our views, so why should the museum change? Sure enough, apparently after 5 years most of the local fundies within driving distance found that one expensive trip was enough, so why would you go back to see the same exhibits that are unchanged since it opened?
Based on past histories of creationist empires, we will someday see Ken Ham’s empire vanish just like that of Hovind and the ICR. Judging from the recent poll numbers, the evangelical population of the U.S. is gradually shrinking, even as the numbers of non-religious expands to about 25% of the population. Even better, the younger generation is much less likely to be evangelical than their parents, and that trend will continue as the demographics change. Can we hope for a future when creationism is a declining minority belief with no powerful figures like Ken Ham to muddy the waters? That’s how it is in most of Europe, Canada, Asia, and the rest of the developed world, with only the U.S. as an anomaly.
Lo, how the mighty have fallen! As the scriptures say, “Pride goeth before the fall.”