Kentucky Academy of Science on the ark park

Concern over Ark Encounter, the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky was expressed by two guest editorials in the January 2011 issue of the newsletter of the Kentucky Academy of Science. Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounter LLC and the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky. A major part of the controversy over the park is its application to receive state tourism development incentives, which would enable it to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining the sales tax generated by the project — estimated at $37.5 million.

In his editorial, Robert Kingsolver of Bellarmine University wrote, (PDF, p. 12), "the Academy has long held the position that faith-based paradigms defying any sort of investigative scrutiny should not be passed off as scientific truth, especially at taxpayers' expense." He also warned, "Scientifically literate people will think twice about moving to or investing in a state that publicly endorses the replacement of established scientific methods and principles with an alternative 'creation science.' ... our Commonwealth is putting its money on a landlocked wooden boat, a failed stairway to heaven, and a bronze-age world view."

Particularly galling to Kingsolver was the state's neglect of a project that genuinely would improve the public understanding of science — the Kentucky Natural History Museum, authorized (in 2000) but never funded by the legislature. "To our knowledge, the state has sought no investors in this project, nor has it launched any public awareness campaign comparable to the recent deluge of publicity for Ark Encounter," Kingsolver commented, adding, "Opportunities lost include the natural history museum's potential tourism revenue and a critically needed educational resource, but also the preservation of our state's natural heritage."

In his editorial, Daniel Phelps of the Kentucky Paleontological Society recommended that his fellow scientists take action, with respect to the short term and the long term alike. "In the short term, speak out!" he urged (PDF, p. 13). "If scientists are silent, politicians and school boards will only hear the voices of anti-scientists." Not only is there a new antievolution bill, HB 169, in the Kentucky legislature, Phelps observed, but "Kentucky has over one hundred school districts, and scientists need to pay attention to these local decisions where creationism gets taught, or evolution is misrepresented."

To help to defend the teaching of evolution in the long term, Phelps argued, "you can improve the way you teach the scientific method, evolution, and relevant sciences, especially to non-science majors," citing NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott's 2010 article "Dobzhansky was right: Let's tell the students" (PDF). "If some public school teachers are not doing an adequate job of teaching evolution and relevant sciences," he suggested, "it may be because of pressure from administrators and the local community, but it is also because some were inadequately educated in their university science courses."