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Creationists gain national prominence

By Stephen Huba, Post staff reporter

The answers Ken Ham finds in Genesis are to questions that most people ridicule or avoid, like: Where did Cain get his wife? Are dinosaurs in the Bible? Where did the races come from?

But then, Ham, president of the creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, has made a career out of controversy.

''It's not something I relish. It's something we do,'' Ham said.

The Florence-based organization, whose efforts to open a creation museum in Northern Kentucky have generated heat locally, is starting to enjoy a higher profile nationally because of the continuing debate over evolution vs. creation.

The group believes in the literal story of creation as outlined in the Bible and argues that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution should not be taught as fact.

''We do believe there is a culture war in this nation,'' Ham said. ''It's like a chasm that's widening. We're basically telling people you have to jump on one side or the other.''

When state education officials in Kansas and Kentucky changed the way evolution is taught in public schools, media coverage of the fallout thrust Answers in Genesis into the national spotlight.

Major articles - not always flattering - appeared in the New York Times and the Sunday Times of London. CNN is said to be preparing a report on Answers in Genesis.

Ham said the New York Times story prompted 1,000 more daily hits than usual on the ministry's Web site.

A counter-site titled ''No Answers in Genesis,'' operated by Ham's critics in Australia, also gets plenty of visitors.

''It's given us an opportunity to speak,'' Ham said. ''We've had several colleges contact us just so they can understand what creationists believe. We have more standing invitations to speak in churches in Greater Cincinnati than we could ever fulfill.''

Ham, 48, a native of Queensland, Australia, has become an unofficial spokesman for the creationist movement. Answers in Genesis, with an annual budget of $5 million, has become a leading publisher of creationist literature.

Answers in Genesis recently opened offices in England, Canada and Japan, bringing the total to six. About 300 radio stations, including Cincinnati's WAKW (93.3 FM), carry the ministry' s radio program ''Answers . . . With Ken Ham.''

Spokesman Mark Looy maintained that, as a nonprofit organization, Answers in Genesis is not involved in legislation or litigation to mandate the teaching of creation in public schools. But it would like to shape the debate, he said.

''One of our main aims is just to disseminate massive amounts of information, in a sense putting pressure on those who don't agree with us,'' Ham said.

The organization has about 120 ''creation clubs'' in public schools across the country, including six clubs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, giving young creationists an opportunity to meet and exchange information.

Ham said the indirect approach of giving students the ammunition to challenge evolutionary teaching seems to be working.

''Colleges are finding that there's an increasing number of students that are educated on this issue and are asking questions,'' he said.

Answers in Genesis also seems to have the ear of education policymakers.

Members of the Kansas Board of Education who approved the new science curriculum guidelines downplaying evolution reportedly had read the Answers in Genesis book ''Refuting Evolution,'' written by staff scientist Jonathan Sarfati, before their vote last August.

More than 60,000 copies of ''Refuting Evolution'' have been ordered for distribution in public schools in Greater Cincinnati and across the country, Looy said. The book is a response to the standards for teaching evolution published by the National Academy of Sciences in 1998.

Duncan Irschick, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cincinnati, finds the growing influence of groups such as Answers in Genesis troubling.

Irschick wrote a letter, signed by 322 scientists, protesting the Kansas decision to remove the mention of macro-evolution from the state's curriculum and standardized tests.

The letter was sent to Kansas Gov. Bill Graves and all 10 state school board members, asking them to reverse the decision.

Irschick, who works in UC's biological sciences department, believes creationist groups such as Answers in Genesis had a role to play in the Kansas decision.

''They're very influential, incredibly influential. It's hard to overstate just how insidious this is, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,'' he said.

Last fall, the Kentucky Department of Education replaced the word ''evolution'' with the phrase ''change over time'' in curriculum guidelines for science teachers.

The Kentucky Science Teachers Association plans to announce today the results of a membership survey on the new wording. Its national association supports the teaching of evolution.

Ham said that neither the developments in Kentucky nor the Kansas case amounts to a real change in the way evolution is presented in public school classrooms.

The ministry's Web site says:

''Christian parents should be aware of the fact that public school teaching in our culture is currently slanted heavily in favor of anti-Biblical worldviews about our origins, regardless of whether the 'e-word' is mentioned in print or not.''

Despite its successes elsewhere, Answers in Genesis has been stymied at home to open a creation museum.

In May 1999, after four years of false starts, the ministry finally won approval from the Boone County Fiscal Court for its museum, future headquarters and distribution center.

That decision is being challenged in a lawsuit filed in Boone Circuit Court by neighbors of the 47-acre site.

A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 4 before Kenton Circuit Judge Douglas M. Stephens, a visiting judge for Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger, who recused himself from the case.

Ham said the delays have allowed the ministry to build up future exhibits for the museum.

Publication date: 01-22-00
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