Officials in Kentucky should not give governmental support to a controversial tourist attraction that promotes creationism, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said during a Jan. 26 appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360º.”
Lynn was invited on the popular cable news show to debate Ken Hamm, an Australian evangelist and promoter of creationism. Hamm and his backers hope to build a $150-million theme park called “Ark Encounters” in Grant County that will include a replica of Noah’s famous Old Testament boat. They are seeking various subsidies from the state.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has backed the scheme, pledging to make several tax incentives available to the park. During the broadcast, Lynn said Beshear is on the wrong track, noting that Hamm’s ministry, Answers in Genesis, exists mainly to convert people to fundamentalist Christianity. The government, Lynn said, should not help Hamm with this goal.
Lynn also pointed out that the so-called “ark park” promotes bad science. Hamm’s group, Lynn said, reads the Bible literally and even cites a passage in the Bible to argue that unicorns used to exist.
“Its purpose primarily is to try – on the website of Answers in Genesis, it says this – to convince the world, including those of us in America, that there is a literal truth to the Bible,” Lynn said. “And that includes the literal truth of the story of a worldwide flood and Noah’s Ark. So…I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who looks at this project and doesn’t see this as a ministry. And that’s precisely what’s wrong with the government of Kentucky, the state, helping to subsidize it.”
Asked by host Anderson Cooper if his aim is evangelism, Hamm dodged the question.
“In fact, the Ark Encounter is not a religion; it is a theme park,” Hamm said. “It is centered around biblical history. And the state is not going to have viewpoint discrimination just because it’s a theme park centered around biblical history.”
Lynn responded that the park is clearly intended to promote “a specific religious viewpoint” and charged that Kentucky government, by helping the park, would also be endorsing Answers in Genesis’ “unorthodox ideas.”
Answers in Genesis, Lynn said, believes that “the Earth is 6,000 years old, believes that dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time – only true in ‘The Flintstones’— and also believes that there were really unicorns.”
Added Lynn, “I don’t think that the heft, that the weight of the state of Kentucky, should be asking anyone, directly or indirectly, to subsidize these ideas. Mr. Hamm can have those ideas. This is America. Please don’t ask everybody to help you pay for them.”
Also appearing on the program was Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst for CNN. Toobin opined that the type of aid Kentucky is extending to the ark park may be legal under increasingly accommodationist federal court rulings.
“Whether it’s a good idea or not,” he said, “[is] a separate issue.”
Lynn and other critics of state support for the park have pointed out that the Kentucky Constitution contains strong language supporting church-state separation.