Over the past few years here at NKU, as many readers are no doubt aware, ministers preaching extreme religion have become a fixture in front of the Student Union and elsewhere. Initially, some of us speculated that the first wave of activists were an entrapment scheme designed to goad unwary students into lashing out physically so the perpetrators could collect damages – a theory that has shown itself to be mainly false. As time passed, and given the variety of different ministries I’ve seen appear on campus, I have come to the conclusion that some at least are genuine in the desire to share their beliefs. Therein lies the problem. Con artists can be discovered, arrested, and removed while sincere believers in fundamentalist doctrines can cloak themselves with liberal ideas that they in truth despise – free speech and toleration.
And this issue is not confined to our campus, as Governor Beshear has proposed that the government of Kentucky provide substantial assistance to the “Ark Encounter” project, a biblical theme park proposed by the creationist group Answers in Genesis; the organization responsible for the nearby Creation Museum in Petersburg. The project is slated to receive considerable tax breaks, which Beshear and his administration are justifying as an impartial job creation measure. The governor’s proposed budget for 2012-13 cuts funds for higher education (in the area of 6.4 percent), potentially increasing tuition for NKU students and all while allocating a massive windfall for the Ark Encounter; presumably so that a for-profit amusement park can be used as a vehicle to mislead the public. For anyone that hasn’t been, the Creation Museum was built to spread the laughably false notion that Earth is, amongst other things, only six thousand years old and that humans cohabited the Earth with dinosaurs. Advancing “Young Earth Creationism,” AiG espouses the most literal and severe interpretation of Genesis – which has led many of the more moderate Christian churches to shun the organization.
Besides the fact that supporting this project with state money is blatantly unconstitutional and, as the Lexington Herald-Reader pointed out in their editorial, makes Kentucky appear either “desperate” or stupid, the park and its sister museum are a threat to the minds of Kentucky’s children. Many of the displays and events hosted at the Creation Museum are explicitly calculated to appeal to the vulnerable minds of the young, as convincing adults that haven’t been exposed to this idiocy in childhood remains difficult. All the obscurantist techniques accrued for centuries by institutional religion are on display, as children receive classes on “debunking evolution” and a Biblical petting zoo is on site to foster positive associations with the overall message.
Of course, instilling belief in extreme forms of creationism amongst the young and the ignorant is only the beginning. As literal interpreters of the Bible homophobia, sexism, and a desire for theocracy each occupy a cherished place within the creationist cosmology. The broader fundamentalist movement employs a notion, an idea of the evangelical law professor Phillip E. Johnson, that a “wedge” for Christian ideas should be created to insert religious dogmas into the curriculum of public schools. As one of the figureheads of the intelligent design movement in the 90s, Johnson theorized that aggressive legal tactics and public relations strategies could result in intelligent design (read:creationism) being taught alongside evolution in classrooms as “alternative theories”. As the metaphor suggests, the purpose of a wedge is to make room for something larger, and Johnson imagined that influencing the public school curriculum would lay a foundation for reimposing the whole of their backward ideas on the public.
As the students, faculty, and administrators here at NKU represent a significant portion of the intellectual culture in Kentucky, it falls to us to excoriate the governor for courting these primitives. Fundamentalist religious theories are antithetical to the life of the mind and have no place in education anywhere. It is bad enough that peddlers of this insidious nonsense have a presence on campus, and we may be obliged to tolerate their presence, but we are not obligated to tolerate the use of taxpayer money to brainwash children and credulous adults into disbelieving science.