Evangelist Dr. Kent Hovind's Florida theme park sells creationism — with an antigovernment twist.
If you can prove that evolution is real, there's $250,000 waiting for you in Pensacola, Fla. — if the IRS doesn't get to it first. Kent Hovind, a 51-year-old evangelist also known as "Dr. Dino," challenges evolutionists with this offer at the entrance of his homage to creationism, Dinosaur Adventure Land, "where the Bible and dinosaurs meet."
There are no roller coasters, no Ferris wheels, no popcorn or cotton candy at Dinosaur Adventure Land. Instead, visiting children are treated to a creation museum, science center and bookstore, an assortment of outdoor games with names like "pterodactyl glide" — and a big dose of Dr. Dino's theories about the beginnings of the universe.
In the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, fewer than 25 visitors roam the heavily shaded park, located just off a stretch of Pensacola Avenue car dealerships. In the science center, a couple of girls are busy with the "dinosaur dig," flinging sand to unearth a cement dinosaur's skeletal spine. Upstairs, a group of boys scrutinizes a taxidermied bat.
When the PA system announces, "The tower is now open," the kids all abandon the exhibits, dash out the back door and line up at the base of a tree. After climbing up, the children soar down a giant swing attached to a cable, touching ground about 200 feet away. Just like pterodactyls.
While most of the fun is outside, the serious creationism is taught inside, where Hovind promises "hundreds of amazing displays and artifacts that document God's word."
Behind dimly lit, child-smeared glass cases, the amazing displays include finger-length replicas of ancient beasts' teeth; dusty rocks and geodes glued to faded construction paper; and dried roaches, beetles and grasshoppers — insects that have been around, Hovind says, since the beginning of time.
As have humans. Not only does the former public-school science teacher claim the Earth was literally created in six days about 6,000 years ago, he also asserts that the first humans grew as tall as 14 feet and could live until age 900.
These super-humans co-existed with dinosaurs until a worldwide flood covered the Earth, almost destroying them all — till God ordered Noah to build an unsinkable ark big enough for two of everything, dinosaurs included. A good thing, since Hovind claims that a few small dinosaurs still rove the planet. (This explains Bigfoot.)
Opened in 2001, Dinosaur Adventure Land sprung from Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism ministry, which began to evolve in the late '80s. CSE sells videos and audiotapes of Hovind's lectures and his debates with evolutionary scientists, along with books on "Evolution and the New World Order." (At least one of them, Fourth Reich of the Rich, alleges a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.)
Hovind also points his followers to Citizens Rule Book, popular among antigovernment "Patriots"; Media Bypass, an antigovernment magazine with strong anti-Semitic leanings; and titles by America's leading authority on tax-dodging, Irwin Schiff, who was indicted on criminal tax evasion charges in March (see Taxing the First Amendment). Two years ago, Hovind's "fine Christian friend," Joseph Sweet of the Joy Foundation, ran into similar trouble, sued by the feds for allegedly teaching folks how to evade income taxes.
So it was no surprise when IRS agents swarmed Hovind's Pensacola homestead in April, confiscating financial records dating back to 1997. The IRS wanted to know why Hovind, whose enterprises have occasionally earned "well in excess of $1 million per year," had been operating with neither a business license nor tax-exempt status.
No charges were filed, but the investigation is ongoing. Hovind denies any wrongdoing, saying he follows "church law," not secular law. But he was called to court in May for having failed to secure a $50 building permit for Dinosaur Adventure Land.
Undaunted, Hovind has asked donors for $30,000 to expand his theme park. And as a guide in safari-like garb says, Dr. Dino's campaign "to get the lies [about evolution] out of the textbooks" is ongoing.
But there's one place Hovind won't be taking his message: Comedy Central's The Daily Show, which recently asked him to appear. "Some people think it's a joke," says the guide.
He points to the park's scientific centerpiece, a replica of what is allegedly the femur of a 14-foot man, and then to a replica of a fat-toed footprint extracted from the red clay of Glen Rose, Texas — conclusive proof, according to Hovind, that humans once were giants.
"Some people," the guide says, "don't believe until they come and see the evidence for themselves."