Reader Jerry (no, not this one) pointed me to an article at Kentucky.com about the planned “Ark Park,” another venture of Ken Ham. Formally called “The Ark Encounter,” it is supposed to feature a full-sized Ark (300 cubits, or 510 feet), designed to delude children about the history of life. And it’s been having financial troubles, which have now become severe:
A Northern Kentucky theme park to be built around a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark might sink unless investors buy about $29 million in unrated municipal bonds by Feb. 6.
In December, the city of Williamstown issued taxable debt for affiliates of the Christian non-profit Answers in Genesis, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Even though $26.5 million of securities have been sold, the project needs to sell at least $55 million to avoid triggering a redemption of all the bonds, Ken Ham, the non-profit’s president, wrote in an email message Thursday to supporters.
Without the money, construction funding will fall short, he said.
“We still need those Ark supporters who weren’t able to purchase the Ark bonds at closing to prayerfully consider participating in a secondary bond delivery at the level they had indicated to us,” Ham said. “Will you please step out in faith with us?”
The article added that The Ark Encounter “comes with the added risk of legal challenges because its religious theme might violate the U.S. Constitution.” I wasn’t aware of this, but it implies that the state of Kentucky has given special benefits to the park that don’t accrue to more secular enterprises. For those of you with a nose for business, here are the details about the bonds, which apparently come with no promise of repayment (I presume God will take care of that). And Ham blames the pesky atheists for his troubles, which I doubt is true:
Industrial-development bonds are considered the riskiest municipal debt because they account for the largest proportion of defaults in the $3.7 trillion municipal market. Williamstown issued the bonds without a rating, making the prospect of repayment even less clear.
The first phase is estimated to cost $73 million, offering documents show. About $14 million had been raised before the bond sale, which was supposed to make up the difference.
Instead, Ark Encounter has had no institutional investors buy its bonds, Ham said.
“The associated complications and struggles have been beyond our control,” said Ham, who cited impediments such as atheists registering for the offering and disrupting it. “I urge you to please prayerfully consider the options and help us get this bond offering completed.”
The documents cite at least 39 risks to buyers, including that Answers in Genesis has no obligation to back the debt. Bondholders’ sole revenue would come from money spent by visitors.
This all bears on Bill “The Science Guy” Nye’s upcoming debate about evolution with Ken Ham at Ham’s other project, the Creation Museum. I have previously suggested that for several reasons Nye is making a mistake by debating Ham. First, Nye is giving unwarranted credibility to Ham. More important, Nye is also helping raise money for the Creation Museum. I have no idea how much, if any, Nye is getting paid for this gig, but the Christian Science Monitor reported that Nye was willing to debate Ham if they simply paid his expenses. If that’s true, then nearly all of the $25 admission they’re charging to see the debate will go to Ham or, more likely, his Museum or the Ark Park.
It’s been reported on some blogs that the debate is indeed a fundraiser for the Creation Museum, but I can’t verify that. If that’s the case, then Nye is making a very serious mistake, no matter how well he debates. Various readers have, however, weighed in saying that my fears are unfounded: that Nye will do a great job and that this is a wonderful opportunity to promote science.
I doubt it. I have no great confidence in Nye’s debating skills. He’s certainly an engaging speaker, but it’s one thing to speak on your own, another entirely to engage in debate. Remember how Christopher Hitchens, atheism’s most formidable speaker, was mopped up by William Lane Craig? The skill in debate is not just rhetoric, but fanatical preparation. Craig had that, Hitchens didn’t, and lost because he relied on his usually reliable acumen.
And even if Nye does a good job, I suspect it won’t be put on video, for Ham won’t allow himself to be seen as a loser.
What outweighs everything, though, is the possibility that Nye will lose by simply showing up, and thereby raising big bucks for the Creation Museum or the troubled Ark Park. And no matter what he says, or how good he is, if he is raising money that helps promulgate lies to the children he loves, Nye is making a very serious mistake.