Propaganda War Against the Ark!

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Well, the propaganda war against our Ark Encounter project just entered a new phase. I believe some atheists are so obsessed with what AiG is doing to get out the truth of God’s Word to the culture that they search daily for whatever they can try to use to attack this ministry.

God’s Word warns Christians to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

I recall speaking with one of my friends about his pleasant demeanor with people who were attacking his character. I jokingly said something like, “I can’t believe how kind you were to those people. You would probably see some ‘good’ in the devil, too!” His quick response: “Well, you must admit, he’s always on the job!”

God’s Word warns us that for Christians, our adversary is always on the job.

Indeed, God’s Word warns every Christian that our adversary is always on the job. And we are certainly aware of that at Answers in Genesis.

Just as we saw with the Creation Museum over seven years ago, we are again seeing increasing attacks against us, and this time they are directed at our new project (currently under construction): the life-size Noah’s Ark in Northern Kentucky.

Today (Thursday), I read the following headline in Kentucky’s major newspaper, the Courier-Journal:

Report lowers Ark Park attendance projections1

Last night, I read a similar news report on the Lexington Herald-Leader website, which stated the following:

Ken Ham, president and founder of Answers in Genesis, the parent company of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, disputes the numbers in the report by Hunden Strategic Partners of Chicago, Ill.

Instead, he prefers to rely on the 2011 study done by America’s Research Group, which is run by Britt Beemer, a co-author with Ham on one of his books. That study predicted 1.2 million visitors in the park’s first year.2

It is important for us to set this record straight. First, opponents of the Ark Encounter Project contend that the detailed feasibility study conducted by America’s Research Group (ARG) should not be trusted because the head of the group happens to be listed as a coauthor on one of my books, Already Gone . What opponents fail to mention is that the reason the ARG executive is listed as a coauthor on that book is because ARG was hired by the book’s publisher to conduct research for the book (i.e., a study concerning why young people were leaving the church). This simple fact is clear for anyone who reviews the book, but the fact is inconvenient for a reporter who is aiming to make an implication that isn’t true. (As discussed below, ARG is a highly credible research organization with an extraordinary track record verifying its carefully conducted consumer research.)

America's Research Group

The results of a nationwide survey conducted by America’s Research Group (ARG) on possible Ark Encounter attendance were compiled in this thick volume (344 pages). ARG is the same organization that estimated 400,000 guests would tour the Creation Museum the first year of operation, and 404,000 visitors came.

So what started all this new media coverage on the Ark?

Well, surprise, surprise—an atheist associated with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Kentucky Secular Society obtained a copy of what is called the Hunden Report on the Ark project. This report, paid for by AiG, was required by the State of Kentucky as part of our application to be eligible for a tourism tax rebate incentive after the Ark is open and attendance is high.

Now, FFRF is the same atheist group that has been spreading misinformation and outright untruths about the Ark project. It’s the same group that wrote to Kentucky officials to pressure them into denying the Ark project the tax rebate incentive. As you probably know, the State succumbed to this pressure in an unlawful manner, and AiG is currently assessing its legal options in regard to this denial.

This week, FFRF issued a news release (as expected) that took many items in the Hunden Report out of context, used incorrect information, and was intended to try to undermine the Ark project. Of course, the news release was immediately seized upon by a grateful secular media, which has already shown its open bias against our Christian theme park plans.

Accordingly, we have now seen a string of new reports repeating the same mantra that AiG’s publicized projection for the estimated numbers of future visitors to the Ark Encounter are inaccurate.

Again, it is important for us to set this record straight, and here are critical points to remember:

First, whether the total number of visitors in the first year of the park is a half million or two million, that figure has no bearing on the eligibility of the project for the State’s tax rebate program. (If the total visitor numbers are lower, that simply means that AiG would eventually receive less dollars in a rebate of the brand new sales tax money its park generates.)

Second, reading the Hunden Report in its full and proper context shows there are many important points the atheists and secular media have chosen to omit. For example, consider the following quotes directly from the Hunden Report:

1. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

The Project meets the Definition of a Tourism Development . . . .

The Project meets the definition of a “Tourism Attraction Project” as noted by the definitions in KRS 148.851. . . . .

Based on the items the Project qualifies as an Entertainment Facility . . . .

Hunden Strategic Partners Conclusion . . . As shown, the Project in both scenarios meets all criteria identified by the Kentucky Tourism and Development Act.

Let’s reiterate this as simply as the detailed Hunden Report itself: The Ark Project clearly meets all the objective criteria to participate in the Kentucky tax rebate program.

The Ark Project clearly meets all the objective criteria to participate in the Kentucky tax rebate program.

Given this critical fact, it is obvious that AiG was not denied participation because its project failed to meet the state’s objective criteria. Rather, as we have been saying all along, we were denied the rebate of a portion of our future sales taxes because state officials dislike the message of our park—a blatant example of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by the state.

While we are setting the record straight, some additional background on our original projections may be helpful. Before AiG embarked on the Ark project, we contracted with America’s Research Group to conduct a general population study to determine what interest there would be in our idea. ARG, a well-respected group in both secular and Christian arenas, was a logical choice. They summarize their extensive research process on their website as follows: “Our fully compliant, consistent approach to research enables our clients to comfortably focus on our findings and analysis. ARG surveys are expertly developed to truly understand the thoughts and plans of the American consumer. We have conducted over 10 million phone interviews since 1979.”

[ARG] produced a very detailed report that projected a minimum of 1.2 million visitors (up to 2 million) during the first year of operation at the life-size Ark.

As a result of the professionally conducted research by ARG, the group produced a very detailed report that projected a minimum of 1.2 million visitors (and as many as 2 million) during the first year of operation at our Ark theme park.

Why would we have confidence in that projection? Because this is the same research group that studied and predicted that 400,000 visitors would visit the Creation Museum the first year it was open. How accurate was their prediction? Well, the Creation Museum had 404,000 visitors in its opening year! ARG does great research!

The Hunden Report’s researchers had full access to ARG’s detailed study and projections. After summarizing the ARG report, the Hunden Report states the following:

. . . based on the proposed Project, the survey, the location, the experience in theme park development of the sponsors and the success of the Creation Museum, there is a generally high level of confidence in the ability of the Project to generate the levels of attendance projected in the analysis, assuming that pricing is deemed affordable and appropriate for the length and type of experience.

It is important to note the Hunden researchers did not do a detailed, consumer-based, general population study as the ARG research professionals did. Instead, Hunden used possible attendance scenarios based on a very different set of assumptions from ARG’s, such as comparing the Ark to other theme parks in the area to suggest annual attendance figures. But, as proven by the Creation Museum, because our Ark attraction has a much broader national and even international audience, we consider the Hunden assumptions highly conservative.

Even so, if the Ark project can fulfill the requirements of the state even on this conservative attendance basis, then there is no question the project could receive the tax rebate. And the Ark Encounter qualified.

Now, we are not disputing the Hunden Report overall (as one of the secular newspapers suggests). One just has to understand the conservative nature and purpose of the Hunden analysis and the context of the entire report. I think most people realize the Ark will attract far greater crowds than the Creation Museum; so considering the Creation Museum received 404,000 visitors in the first year, from that perspective, the ARG projection of 1.2 million per year makes logical sense.

And why does this matter even concern the atheists anyway? Why should they care?

And why does this matter even concern the atheists anyway? Why should they care? Well, they do care because they don’t want freedom for Christians to publicly disseminate their messages—they want to impose their atheistic views on the culture.

The Hunden Report did make some incorrect statements about the Creation Museum’s attendance. For some reason, they predicted 2014 would see a big decrease in attendance—but in fact, 2014 saw a very significant increase in our crowds. So far, in the 2014–2015 fiscal year, the Creation Museum attendance is already 31% above the previous year. Actually, attendance each year has always been above our initial projections back in 2007 (before we opened) for our business model. As of today, around 2.3 million people have visited the Creation Museum.

So here is our counsel on the matter: Be cautious as you read media reports on the Ark project. And remember this caution when you watch the ongoing propaganda war against the Ark. I’m reminded of this highly practical proverb:

He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him. (Proverbs 18:13)

In order to give you a sample of how we respond to the media as it relates to the Ark Encounter, here is an email we sent to a Kentucky reporter. He wanted our response to the anti-Ark news release issued by the Kentucky Secular Society (also associated with the Freedom from Religion Foundation) that initiated the current phase of the Ark propaganda war:

Contrary to Mr. Hensley’s commentary, the Hunden Report is certainly not the first unbiased report. In fact we think, based on our Creation Museum attendance experience, that the Hunden Report is conservative [about attendance] to the extreme.

We understand the state wanting the worst-case scenario to consider, to insure they make wise decisions in luring tourist attractions to the state. The Hunden Report states that the Ark Encounter meets every qualification of the state’s Tourism Act, and brings positive additional revenue into the state treasury. That is the goal of the Tourism Act.

That said, we stand solidly by the America’s Research Group report and have been using its numbers to build our business operating models. The ARG study is an exhaustive nationwide report that was provided to Hunden as part of its study. It is ridiculous to assume that ARG would put its excellent business reputation on the line by fabricating attendance numbers for the Ark Encounter, as Mr. Hensley seems to imply.

He is also misinformed about the scope of the ARG study. It focused on a full-size Ark only, not the full phased Ark Encounter that was presented in 2011. The ARG validation in 2013 was also focused on just the Ark, not the full-phased park.

Mr. Hensley’s red herring about supposed ARG bias is being peddled to his readers. Any savvy business person knows that it would be suicide for a business to cook a study for a client regardless of—and especially because of—any association it might have.

Even using the Hunden Report’s very conservative projections, the positive economic impact of the Ark Encounter to the state of Kentucky is actually a $15.9 million net gain. Hunden removed $11 million from the state’s net gain because of proposed state expenses to improve KY Highway 36. The state pulled that money from its budget and requested funds from a federal allocation. So its net gain is a very healthy $15.9 million after its rebate to the Ark Encounter.

Informed newspaper readers should be very wary of the glee shown by Mr. Hensley and his group when Hensley fabricates the statement that there has been a drop in Creation Museum attendance after the February 4, 2014 Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate at our Creation Museum. The actual fact is that the Creation Museum has seen some record daily attendance during 2014, and attendance has increased 30% over last year.

Another fact that Mr. Hensley failed to pass on to his followers is that the Creation Museum has actually had over 2.2 million guests since it opened. The economic impact of the Creation Museum, using the state’s calculation numbers, is well over $260 million since it opened in 2007.

Wouldn’t it be great to see media actually report the news instead of printing agenda-driven articles that now plague the culture today?

And so, we march on! The Ark is under construction and will be opened sometime in 2016. We do our best to inform people with the facts about the Ark, but we ultimately know that God is the One who fights for us.

Footnotes

  1. To be fair, yesterday a reporter with the Courier-Journal of Louisville did spend considerable time with me on the phone and also chatted with the head of America’s Research Group (ARG) for his story. As a result, he did write a much fairer article than some others I’ve read. However, one of our local TV stations, Channel 12 in Cincinnati, rehashed some of the false propaganda in a news story last night.
  2. Linda Blackford, “Study: Ark Encounter Could Bring Nearly 500,000 Visitors in First Year,” Lexington Herald-Leader, January 21, 2015, http://www.kentucky.com/2015/01/21/3653532_study-ark-encounter-could-bring.html?rh=1.

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