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by Donald Prothero, Mar 13 2013

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.”

31 Responses to “Schadenfreude”

  1. Peter Damian says:

    I thought the mag cover was good, then I had to check the url just to make sure it was a joke.

  2. Other Paul says:

    I love the idea of a museum that – by the very nature of its content – must show exactly the same stuff forever and ever amen.

    However, some might say that this is precisely what a museum should be. Maybe real, functioning, museums which rely on new discoveries adding to the knowledge of the past they study need another noun?

    It’s confusing having the same word for both kinds of mutually contradictory institutions. (Yes, I know, there are many other terminological ambiguities in our culture – why pick on that source of confusion).

  3. Carl says:

    Mandatory pedantry: The Scriptures say “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, NIV), although it’s almost invariably misquoted.

    The point, of course, still stands.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    This is bad news for Mr. Prothero. Without Creationists he might have to pay attention to some of the quackery and idiocy of liberals.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      I would HAPPILY trade for a world where creationists didn’t waste my time! And I have plenty on my plate dealing with science deniers in climate change, AIDS deniers, anti-vaxxers, and many others who don’t like the message that science tells us…

      • Phea says:

        Trimegistus takes shots at you like it’s his full-time job. This idiot never comments on content. He ALWAYS berates you, (or rather tries to), on a personal level. Rather than feed him, I suggest letting this troll starve. Good blog, very funny magazine cover, thanks Don.

      • Alektorophile says:

        Longtime reader, only occasional commenter, but from what I have seen your comment is spot on, Phea.

      • Student says:

        Phea’s too kind.

        There’s a hammer for his ilk.

    • tmac57 says:

      Et tu quoque, Trimegistus ?

      • Alektorophile says:

        If I may be a bit pedantic, surely the vocative is needed? “Et tu quoque, Trimegiste?”.

        “Romanes eunt domus” and all that. Now write it a hundred times.

      • tmac57 says:

        I bow to your pedantry Alektorphile…now please return your gladius !

    • RCAF says:

      You were showing promise, then you went back to this.
      Are you multiple people posting under the same name?

  5. Casey Burns says:

    I’ve heard a rumor that Senator James Inhofe is trying to get Federal Funding for another museum down the road from the Creation and Ark Museums. This one will attempt to prove that our climate isn’t changing, or that if it is, its not because of the greenhouse gasses we produce. Its all due to the methane derived by Penguin Farts near the North Pole and Polar Bear farts in Antarctica.

    This is one of your best and these stories of well deserved demise and destruction gave me a good laugh. One thing these people apparently don’t understand (I stopped myself from saying “believing in”) is Due Diligence and having a fireproof business plan. I hope that the Hell that these people believe in truly exists and that many of them are headed there. Alas, it sadly doesn’t exist so they create it here.

  6. Daniel says:

    Obviously these creationists are not all that “powerful” and were never “mighty”. Rather, they’re more or less a fringe curiosity that appeal to people who, for their own reasons, are religiously inclined and don’t need to understand or even believe in evolution to conduct their every day affairs (i.e. 99 percent of the population). And they’re certainly not going to prevent the next Stephen Gould or Richard Dawkins from pursuing their academic endeavors. If you want to make a federal case over negligible tax dollars that provide marginal support for creationism and intelligent design, go ahead. The court system and the public discourse, however, have bigger fish to fry.

    To paraphrase another guy, you won’t have the creationists to kick around anymore.

    • tmac57 says:

      To paraphrase Edmund Burke:
      For irrationality to prosper all it needs is for rational people to do nothing.

      • Daniel says:

        Debunk creationism all you want. It’s shooting fish in a barrel, but I suppose the fish deserve to get shot.

        My point is that it is not the giant threat to civilization that hysterics like Prothero make it out to be.

      • oldebabe says:

        While Dr. Prothero can be didactic and opinionated at times, but a “hysteric”? Come on.

        Concern about creationism, intelligent design, et al and its advocates, its rise, and perhaps fall, etc. is rational and necessary ISTM, and information about and delight in thoughts of its demise seems to be warranted and chronicled due to the current state of that continued disregard of reality.

      • tmac57 says:

        Daniel,It isn’t about creationism anymore really,rather it’s about its twin in disguise, intelligent design.
        Do not underestimate the ability of ID proponents to make it appear as though the ID ‘theory’ is getting short shrift by the ‘gatekeepers’ of science,while it is valiantly fighting to get ‘equal time’ in the science classroom,despite the fact that it has never been about science,and always has really been about creationism dressed up (also,it has never had the goal of equality,they want to displace evolution).

      • Daniel says:

        Even intelligent design or “teaching the controversy” have not made the inroads into the public school system that some people make them out to have been. When it comes down to it, there have been a few failed efforts to bring it in to some small public school systems, and, as the post points out, the people who try to do it, get voted out of office pretty quickly. Most people don’t like gadflies on the local school board, regardless of what they’re pitching.

        But really, in the grand scheme of things, knowing how evolution really works is not relevant, as a practical matter, for virtually the entire population, except for those that study evolution. People believe in things like ID for their own reasons, and won’t be change their views.

        Don’t get me wrong, ID is twaddle, and I don’t believe it should be taught as science, for the same reasons that the ancient aliens theory shouldn’t be taught in history or even in theology courses. (For the life of me though, I can’t even tell whether ID proponents actually consider ID science, philosophy, or just a matter of faith).

        It might seem like a quibble, but I get irked when people see the ID movement as some kind of conspiracy of proto-theocrats with a grand design to undo the march of scientific progress. Really, they’re a bunch of meschuggees that don’t have this hypnotic power that some people think they do. I guess its akin to people that feel that we’re slowly becoming some Communist, Fascist or theocratic state. If you really felt that way, you should be joining some underground armed resistance movement rather than whining about it in the comment section of blog.

        Yes, this is a blog that’s devoted to debunking all kinds of crazy ideas. I would just welcome a little bit of perspective.

      • Student says:

        Not sure if Daniel has heard of the continuuing issues with the Lousianna State board.

        These things are still getting pushed, so a blog post is far less than hysterics. Any suggestion otherwise is not based in reality.

      • Peter Damian says:

        Properly understanding the world we live in is the only way to survive it. Cancer, new viral outbreaks, global warming, bacterial epidemics – knowing the evolutionary processes behind these is necessary to combat them.
        Some of these things I think are a threat to civilisation.

      • Daniel says:

        If you’re talking about people approaching treatment of disease through superstitious remedies, that’s a different issue than whether one believes God created the heavens and the earth in six days six thousand years ago. Great scientific advances were made when most of the people in the world felt that way. In fact, I seem to recall in Bill Maher’s documentary that one of the scientists that worked on mapping the genome was a devout Roman Catholic that was a biblical literalist.

        You get into problems when people try to treat leprosy the way Leviticus tells you to. However, I don’t see a hint of evidence that medical schools, even in actual theocracies like Iran, are taking that approach.

      • tmac57 says:

        Sounds like you might be referring to Francis Collins,who was director of the National Human Genome Research Project. If so,Collins is not a Catholic,but more of an evangelical Christian.
        He also doesn’t believe in creationism or intelligent design. He believes in evolution with a theistic twist.In any case he is not a biblical literalist.

      • Daniel says:

        tmac57: Thanks for correcting my memory re Collins. It was a few years since I saw the film on cable and I was zoning in and out.

  7. BillG says:

    Let me preface that I happily applaud the Dover decision. Regarding creationism though, it would be very instructive if we had HS philosophy courses – perhaps manatory – to cover the major religious beliefs and the physical sciences and their leading conjectures.

    Expose it all, from the absurd and improbable to the known and unprovable. For good measure, toss in in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. With young and elastic minds, exposing the bias bunk of others can aid in filtering out their own.

  8. Loren Petrich says:

    A good illustration of the tawdriness of Duane Gish’s claims: The Bullfrog Affair. He claimed that some bullfrog and chicken proteins are closer to their human counterparts than their chimp counterparts. Yet he has never revealed which ones despite repeatedly being asked about that.

    That’s an extreme improbability, because the ancestors of chimps diverged from our ancestors about 6 million years ago, while the ancestors of chickens and bullfrogs diverged about 300 – 350 million years ago.

    It’s now possible to test that claim using sequenced genomes, though one would have to use the Xenopus frog one instead of the bullfrog one. But there are plenty of bullfrog genes and proteins now sequenced.

  9. Loren Petrich says:

    “Ken is into indoctrinating children to challenge, disrespect, and harass their teachers, and using bullying and intimidation against those who cross him.” That seems like what believers in the Welteislehre or WEL did in the 1920’s to 1940’s. That’s the Cosmic Ice Theory, a crackpot cosmology that stated that the Moon and most of the planets are covered with ice, that the Earth had several previous moons that have spiraled in, that its present-day Moon is also doing so, that the Milky Way is a ring of ice blocks, etc.

    They put a lot of pressure on people to believe in the WEL, even heckling astronomers’ meetings with “Out with astronomical orthodoxy! Give us Hoerbiger!” the theory’s inventor. As Nazism emerged, the WEL advocates associated themselves with it, saying that Hanns Hoerbiger was like Adolf Hitler, an Austrian “amateur” who successfully fought Jewish influence. The Nazis’ propaganda department even issued a statement that one could be a good Nazi without believing in the WEL.

    The Hoerbigerites dropped out of sight after WWII, then reappeared in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and then dropped out of sight again. Though the Internet has advocates of numerous varieties of crackpottery in it, there seem to be none for the WEL.

  10. RCAF says:

    The Great Recession ended in 2009, so blaming the decline on the recession is just more BS from the creationists.

  11. Steven Baudoin says:

    Great post! I think you are right about the decline in influence of the fundies. I hope so. I believe their credibility has taken a hit from the increasingly obvious evidence of climate change. Of course they had to take the unscientific position on that, because accepting the science would imply an old Earth.

  12. Moses says:

    Just a correction, Ken did add his new afarensis was a knuckle walker exhibit.