‘Stupid Dino Tricks’: A Reply to Hovind’s Web Response
In early December 2004, a response to my Skeptical Inquirer article “Stupid Dino Tricks” (November/December 2004), about my visit to creationist Kent Hovind’s Dinosaur Adventure Land, was posted on Hovind’s Web site. (The response, by Jonathan Sampson, can be read in its entirety here.
Readers might be justified in thinking that a response to it may be a fool’s errand. However, amidst all the invective and misdirection there are instances when Sampson calls into question the fundamental accuracy and truthfulness of the article. Those require a reply.
After two paragraphs of tiresome boilerplate of how besieged Christians are in America, he accuses me of visiting the park “cowardly undercover.” I attended the park like any other visitor would. I paid my admission fee, toured the grounds with the tour group, wandering off a few times but never sneaking anywhere. I was never asked why I was visiting. I was not asked to declare any religious affiliation. I was simply asked how many admissions I wished to purchase. My intention was to provide an honest, accurate picture of what any average visitor to the park would experience. This hardly constitutes a form of cowardice or being undercover.
The same paragraph accuses me of being “less than truthful” regarding Hovind, the park’s founder and builder. All statements regarding Mr. Hovind’s interactions with the criminal and civil courts of Florida and Escambia County are a matter of public record and are available both at the county courthouse and on the Internet at the Clerk of the Court’s Web site. All statements about Hovind’s battle with the IRS were taken from media reports readily accessible on the Internet and from wire services. Hovind was arrested for assault on a parishioner. Hovind’s home and office were raided by the IRS. Hovind has spent over two years and countless taxpayer dollars on a quixotic battle with Escambia County officials over a failure to pay a $50 fee. These are verifiable facts and their sources were listed in the article.
The fourth paragraph compounds a simple error by throwing insults, asserting that the boarded up buildings I witnessed along Old Palafox Road were in that condition because of Hurricane Ivan, which struck Pensacola on September 16, 2004. I visited the park in June 2004. Hurricane Ivan was not a factor in the long stream of boarded up businesses that line Old Palafox Road. The park stands out in its surroundings, and it merited the attention given it. Dinosaur Adventure Land (DAL) is surrounded by empty, abandoned commercial properties, many in disrepair. Its neighbors are a “buy-here-pay-here” used car dealership, auto repair shops, and a pawn shop. The owners and operators of DAL know this and are dishonest in this dodge, hiding behind the fig leaf of a natural disaster.
Interestingly, the next paragraph does not dispute the rather small number of visitors to the park as incorrect, but attempts to inflate the numbers as an example of a successful outreach. Sampson goes on to taunt: “How many students are educated everyday from Skeptical Inquirer?” While I am not sure of precise numbers, adding together the circulation of the magazine, the efforts of staff at CSICOP and the Center for Inquiry for education and outreach via television programs, media appearances, and so on, the number of people educated is considerable. However, I am certain of the number of visitors educated at DAL: zero. There is simply no education to be found at the park.
Sampson accuses me of launching ad hominem attacks against Hovind, trying to discredit creationism by discrediting Hovind and not directly addressing creationism’s “science.” He defends Hovind and creationism by posing a hypothetical: “Suppose an algebra teacher was convicted of theft and eventually sent to jail. Does that mean algebra is therefore disproved?” My brief biographical sketch of Hovind did not intend to discredit creationism by association. Creationism is a fiction no matter who its proponent. My intention was to provide a snapshot portrait of the scofflaw who built the park I went on to describe in great detail.
Sampson wrongfully accuses the magazine and myself of fraud, insisting that my description of the park is not true. He states: “Later, Martinez claims to have taken pictures of the Dinosaur Adventure Land grounds. Unsurprisingly he fails to include them in his article, but instead only prints an outdated picture of the early stages of DAL’s creation museum building number 5. If Martinez included pictures of DAL grounds with the claims he’s making, it would be all too clear that he’s purposely painting an inaccurate portrait.”
During my visit in June 2004, I took more than 115 digital and film photographs of Dinosaur Adventure Land. The Skeptical Inquirer chose to run only three of them due to space considerations, more than the number Sampson incorrectly states. The photograph of the Creation Museum Sampson attacks as outdated was taken in June 2004, along with all the other images in the article. The top photograph on page 48 is of the actual pamphlet travelers in Florida’s Panhandle can pick up as an advertisement of the park. Their own advertisement depicts the “Fossil Dig” pit, the science center, the “Circle Swivel Springasaurus,” and the “Dinosaur Hunt.” All these are described accurately in the article.
Sampson is particularly exercised about my depiction of the tour guides at DAL. He states his pride in their ministering to the guests. Their quiet physical intimidation of guests at the park is more of a piece with the sales techniques of used car lots than the ministry. He also misses the point of the passage in which I describe eavesdropping on the conversation of a group of guides. He objected that I appeared to be mocking them for discussing scripture in a Christian park. The point I was making was that here were a group of young men, early in their adult lives, passing time by enthusiastically criticizing another branch of the Christian religion. It was difficult to reconcile all the earlier talk of Jesus and love with the “down-time” religious chauvinism I heard.
Sampson wraps up his indictment of my article by continuing to assert that it is a sloppy hatchet job that distorts the many valuable lessons DAL imparts to its visitors and lies about the contents of the park. He makes these claims despite the fact that he knows the descriptions are correct. He claims that a current and accurate photograph is outdated. He claims that the park’s surroundings are in disrepair due to a hurricane when he knows that the deterioration of these buildings predate the storm.
He keeps up a steady drumbeat of mocking the piece because it does nothing to disprove creationism scientifically. That was never the intention. This magazine has published many other articles by some of the finest scientists in the world effectively demolishing creationism as the pseudoscience it is. It should have been obvious to most readers that this was intended as descriptive reporting, and done in an intentionally deadpan style so that the absurdity of the place would shine through. This piece was carefully researched, reported, and written, and I stand by every word of it.
Sampson perpetrates a shabby sham of a rebuttal to my piece, and distorts what the article actually states and reports. Sampson should have included a link to the actual article on the Skeptical Inquirer Web page so that his visitors could have read the article for themselves. But then Hovind and his Dinosaur Adventure Land have never been about accuracy and honesty.