October 9th, 2013
02:27 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN)– A new video billboard in New York's Times Square has a message from creationists, "To all of our atheist friends: Thank God you're wrong."
The video advertisement at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan is one of several billboards going up this week in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, paid for by Answers in Genesis.
Answers in Genesis is best known as the multimillion-dollar Christian ministry behind the Creation Museum outside Cincinnati.
The museum presents the case for Young Earth creationism, following what it says is a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, which says the Earth was created by God in six days less than 10,000 years ago.
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, said the idea for the advertisements came from an atheist billboard in Times Square at Christmas.
During the holidays, the American Atheists put up a billboard with images of Santa Claus and Jesus that read: "Keep the Merry, dump the myth."
“The Bible says to contend for the faith,” Ham said. “We thought we should come up with something that would make a statement in the culture, a bold statement, and direct them to our website.
"We're not against them personally. We're not trying to attack them personally, but we do believe they're wrong," he said.
"From an atheist's perspective, they believe when they die, they cease to exist. And we say 'no, you're not going to cease to exist; you're going to spend eternity with God or without God. And if you're an atheist, you're going to be spending it without God.' "
Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists, said he felt sad for creationists when he saw the billboards.
"They refuse to look at the real world. They refuse to look at the evidence we have, and they offer none," Silverman said. "They might as well be saying, 'Thank Zeus you're wrong' or 'Thank Thor you're wrong.' "
Silverman said he welcomed another competitor to marketplace, noting that after atheists bought a billboard two years ago in Times Square that read "You KNOW it's a myth," the Catholic League purchased competing space at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel for a sign that read "You KNOW it's true."
"I would suggest, if they're actually trying to attract atheists, they should talk about proof and reason to believe in their god, not just some pithy play on words," Silverman said.
Ham says part of the goal of the campaign is to draw people to the website for Answers in Genesis, where he offers a lengthy post on his beliefs for the proof of God.
Ham insists that this campaign is in keeping with their overall mission. "We're a biblical authority ministry. We're really on about the Bible and the Gospel. Now, we do have a specialty in the area of the creation account and Genesis because that's where we say God's word has come under attack."
Ham said Answers in Genesis made the decision to split its marketing budget for the ministry between a regional campaign for the museum and this billboard campaign, rather than a national campaign.
IRS filings for the ministry in recent years have shown a yearly operating budget of more than $25 million. Ham said the marketing budget is about 2% of that, about $500,000 a year. Though they are waiting for all the bills to come due for this campaign, he said he expected it to cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
Silverman noted that his billboards were not video and cost approximately $25,000 last year. He said another campaign was in the works for this year.
"They're throwing down the gauntlet, and we're picking it up," Silverman said, adding that his group would "slap them in the face" with it.
Ham said that despite criticism from other Christians for being negative and the usual criticisms from secularists he received on his social media accounts, the advertisements have been a success.
"We wanted people talking about them, and we wanted discussion about this. We wanted people thinking about God," Ham said.
The Creation Museum and the theory of Young Earth creationism are widely reviled by the broader science community.
In a YouTube video posted last year titled "Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children," Bill Nye the Science Guy slammed creationism, imploring parents not to teach it to their children. "We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future," he said. "We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems."
The museum responded with its own video.
For the past 30 years, Gallup Inc. has been tracking American opinions about creationism.
In June 2012, Gallup's latest findings showed that 46% of Americans believed in creationism, 32% believed in evolution guided by God, and 15% believed in atheistic evolution.
For as long as Gallup has conducted the survey, creationism has remained far and away the most popular answer, with 40% to 47% of Americans surveyed saying they believed that God created humans in their present form at one point within the past 10,000 years.
The Creation Museum said it recently welcomed its 2 millionth visitor since its opening in 2007.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.