Today marks the 204th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, father of modern biology, and inspiration for the Holocaust (depending on whom you ask). Happy Darwin Day! Scientists around the world will be celebrating the occasion with lectures, book readings, and even bake sales. Rep. Rush Holt, a physicist (and Jeopardy! champion), has introduced a bill to designate Feb. 12 a national holiday.
It might seem slightly gratuitous to celebrate the birthday of the man whose theories make sense of all of biology, particularly with such quirky tie-ins as Darwin-themed cuisine. Evolution, after all, is accepted by virtually all scientists, and federal judges have ruled that intelligent design may not be taught as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. Celebrants often observe the holiday with a bit of wariness, however, screening films about the lurking threat of creationism and intelligent design. Even the International Darwin Day Foundation seems slightly defensive about fêting Darwin, emphasizing not only his theories but also his contributions “to the advancement of humanity.”
Behind the worldwide celebration of Darwin Day is an understanding that Darwin’s reputation and work must not be taken for granted. Creationism, once a fringe movement, in many subcultures is mainstream. Last year, Republican presidential contenders including Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum denounced evolution and supported the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in public schools. They’re not alone: A full 46 percent of Americans have expressed belief in young-Earth creationism, the idea that God created the Earth and humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years. That might contradict the opinion of 99.9 percent of scientists, but in the clash between religious fundamentalism and demonstrable scientific facts, blind faith is holding strong.
Few have profited more from Darwin calumny and science denial than Ken Ham, an Australian-born, young-Earth creationist behind some of the most ambitious monuments to creationism in the United States. Ham rose to fame after successfully raising $27 million to build the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which tells the story of God’s creation of the Earth through pseudoscience and unforgettable dioramas (the highlight: a kid hanging out with a gentle raptor). According to Ham, dinosaurs and humans coexisted for a while. Dinosaurs shared the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and humans may have saddled dinosaurs for transportation and long-distance travel. Pro-evolution scientists (i.e., all actual scientists), however, have obfuscated these undeniable truths with sinful lies and slander.
After completing the Creation Museum, Ham decided to take on an even greater challenge: conquering the separation of church and state. He and his fellow creationists have proposed a creationist theme park called Ark Encounter, centered around a “full-size” replica of Noah’s Ark. At Ham’s request, the governor of Kentucky has proposed a $43 million tax break for the park, as well as an $11 million road improvement project for the highway leading to it. (Apparently creationists read the Bible literally but not the First Amendment.)
The best way to understand the radical strangeness of Ham’s views is to closely examine how he attempts to undercut belief in sound science—that is, to read his books. Ham’s books fall into two categories: colorful picture books designed to indoctrinate children, and pseudoscientific tracts aimed at persuading adults. The best example of the former category is Dinosaurs of Eden, published by Master Books, a branch of Ham’s Answers in Genesis. Master Books’ parent company, New Leaf Publishing Group, claims that Eden has sold 80,000 copies, out of 2.1 million Ham-penned books allegedly sold, including The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved, Did Adam Have a Belly Button?, and My Creation Bible.