What’s the Ark Encounter?
The Ark Encounter is an alleged Bible based theme park located in Kentucky, America. It is a product of the Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham; Ham is also the founder of the Creation Museum (the sister of the Ark Encounter). Basically the Ark Encounter is an enormous wooden ship (built according to the dimensions of the ark recorded in the biblical Genesis account) that is intended to be both a museum and a monument. Many Christians, it seems, are on the same boat with Ham on this one as they are praising it to be the latest and greatest biblical attraction.
What floats Ham’s boat is that his, and his colleagues, preferred exegetical method is to take some of the Bible narratives absolutely literally, as if they read as strictly scientific and historical accounts. What this has led them to is the belief that the universe was created by God in six 24-hour periods and that the Earth is just some 6000 to 10 000 years old. Ham and his followers are what are known as Young Earth Creationists (YEC). The YEC also disputes any evidence for evolution and an old Earth/universe.
Ham claims that the Ark Encounter is a “family-oriented, historically authentic, and environmentally friendly” attraction (1). If he is successful it will “equip visitors to understand the reality of the events that are recorded in the book of Genesis.” A walk through the ark will, in no unclear way, show visitors that Ham believes there was a real global flood, that Noah and his family really did build a ship of the same size and dimensions as written in Genesis 6, that all of the animals brought by God to Noah did fit inside the Ark, including the dinosaurs, and that God saved Noah and his family and the animals on the Ark.
What’s Good About It?
Since this article takes a critical view of the Ark Encounter, I also wish to give some credit where I think it is due. In short the actual monument looks awesome. It is splendidly detailed, and it attempts to bring an ancient biblical story out from the Bible and into the world. The ship is jam packed with life-size dinosaurs and creative little biblical scenes. Since the Genesis account says very little about what happened on the ark it required Ham to take some artistic license. Add into the equation a petting zoo, shops and restaurants, and we have something quite fun and entertaining. I might be a little biased here since I am a huge fan of the Jurassic Park series. Who doesn’t want to wrestle a velociraptor on a big boat?
However, with that out of the way we shall consider some critiques.
1. The Monumental Waste of Money.
Ham believes that the Ark Encounter will get people to consider the value of scripture. For example, he claims that “some of the aggressive secularists try to shut down people talking about the Bible… So for us it’s ‘How can we get a message out there about the Bible?'” Thus to avoid a sinking ship he believes that constructing a massive 100 million dollar structure will plug the hole.
But that’s a lot of money. Andy Walton, writing for Christian Today, brings us to biblical New Testament roots arguing that “Getting out the message about the Bible is a laudable aim. But Jesus managed it without so much as a roof over his head. Paul managed it while he was being beaten with rods, stones, shipwrecked and much more besides” (2). He also urges us to realize that “ St Francis did it in poverty. Martin Luther did it with a piece of paper. Jonathan Edwards did it with barnstorming sermons. Corrie Ten Boom did it until she was thrown into a prison camp by the Nazis. Pope Francis does it with humility… None of them seemed to need a 100 million dollar boat to get people talking about the Bible.”
I also wonder what Ham believes Jesus would think about all this? Essentially spending such a lump sum on a structure deprives putting food into the stomachs of the poverty-stricken, forwarding the church’s effort of sending missionaries into the world, building houses and providing basic needs for so many. Instead, we have a 100 million dollar museum with a petting zoo and a couple of shops to show for 100 million dollars. Tyler Francke is quite scathing, “As a Christian, this kind of absurd, profligate waste (by an organization that purports to serve Christ, no less) absolutely disgusts me” (3).
What is more valuable to Jesus? A single human being or a big wooden ship? Since Jesus had himself pinned to a cross for the salvation of humans, I’d say humans. Instead, what we have with the Ark Encounter is very much a monument of YEC arrogance that is made to be confrontational and up in the face of the American public. That is a bad thing to do. It will only further polarize more people, harm the gospel’s vitality, and force people to choose science over salvation (more on this in a moment). At the end of the day it will only be successful in affirming the beliefs that YECs already have. Francke bitingly concludes, “I’m sure that the children starving to death in Sudan and Chad and Ecuador and many, many other places, will find great comfort in the fact that a ludicrously expensive wooden ship (that can’t even float) is materializing somewhere on the other side of the world.”
2. The Really, Really Bad Science.
Philosophically I clearly wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with Bill Nye. Nye is a naturalist, I am not. But I do agree with the observations he makes following his tour of the Ark Encounter. Nye said that “on the third deck (of the ark), every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong. Not just misleading, but wrong” (4). However, he doesn’t stop there recounting that it is “much more troubling or disturbing than I thought it would be.”
I agree with Nye especially on this point because “You have hundreds of school kids there who have already been indoctrinated and who have been brainwashed.” Nye takes issue with the YEC belief saying that it “is the absolutely wrong idea that the Earth is 6,000 years old…” Walton agrees saying that “The worst part is the vast, vast majority of scientists disagree with what’s being presented at the park – this makes the project look naïve at best; wasteful, deceitful and dishonest at worst.”
Walton’s clearly not wrong as no scientist in any field, anywhere in the world, agrees with what is being presented by Ham and his Ark Encounter museum. No professional expert in geology, stratigraphy, geophysics, physics, paleontology, biology, anthropology, and archaeology believes that the Earth is just 6000 years old, that dinosaurs lived alongside man, and that there was a global flood. Nearly no scientist agrees with the anti-evolution polemic being presented in the museum.
3. The Credibility of the Gospel.
What ends up happening here is that Ham poses a dilemma for spiritual seekers as well as Christians: either one chooses to believe what Ham does (the YEC will then allege that this is the only faithful interpretation of scripture) or modern science. It is thus not difficult to realize that most people are not going to choose absurd religious beliefs held by certain Christians due to their theological interpretation of the Bible. This is a recipe for disaster and, in all certainty, goes to account for the mass exodus of young Christians leaving the church. Mark Woods realizes this, he explains that “I have to regard as his theological error has led to such a massive waste of Kingdom resources that it can’t be described as anything other than tragic. It’s not just the money, though $100 million could do untold good if it were applied to evangelism or poverty relief or development. It’s the intellectual investment so many good people have put into defending the indefensible. It’s the damage to the credibility of the gospel among people who know the world is nearly 14 billion years old, not 6,000, and won’t take Jesus seriously if they think they have to believe otherwise” (8).
4. A Monument to Celebrating Genocide.
Again, Ham harms genuine seekers by putting them in the firing line of historical scholarship. I’ve read quite a number of scholars concerning biblical interpretation, especially when it comes to the Exodus and the Genesis Flood. No historian, alongside just about every scientist in the world, believes that there was a global flood. This would include the vast majority of Christian biblical scholars I have interacted with. Peter Enns, a renowned biblical Christian scholar, believes that “the flood story, though rooted in history, is dressed up in mythic clothes from head to toe” (5). The consensus view is that the biblical flood story has its origins in older Mesopotamia myths that were likely themselves triggered by a localized flood event. The point is that the author used this fact to his advantage. His theological motif was to prove that his god, Yahweh, was superior over the gods of the other nations. Yahweh was so in control of nature, his creation, that he can obliterate every living being on his Earth, as well as restore order, in no time. Key to this narrative is the seriousness of sin, God’s heartache over his human creatures that choose to sin, and that God, being righteous, judges that sin. The inspired theology behind the story is rich, but it is not based on a historical event. The late Christian scholar James Barr explains that scholars realize “Such material [is not considered] to be historical or scientific: it belongs to legend… It belongs to mythology, or to the psychology of ancient peoples, or to literary symbolism, but it certainly is not historical or scientific chronology” (6).
Let us hook this in a bit. What is the implication? The implication is that God did not, in absolute genocidal fashion, kill every single human being, and every single animal, (outside of the ark) on the Earth. This is because the account is not constructed upon a historical event. So to ask the question of its historicity concerning the flood misses the point of its message as well as its place in the Bible. But this considered, many Christians do actually believe in a global flood and obviously Ham would be one of them. If this is true then Ham has essentially set up a monument celebrating divine mass genocide. Alexis Misra therefore rightly poses a question, “If evangelicals believe this is a true story and that millions perished in the cruelest way, why is there rejoicing and not sorrow? Why is it treated as a tourist attraction rather than a memorial?” (7).
She goes on, explaining that “The staggering death toll that occurred according to the Bible’s [flood] was enough to make me a certified skeptic… so surely, hardcore inerrant-Bible-believing evangelicals would be doubly sickened by it, no? No. They’re not – quite the opposite, in fact. They have built a “world-class” (their words, not mine) attraction out of it… In the Bible, God obliterated humanity, and that should be a heart-wrenching realization for evangelicals. It was a far greater horror than that committed by even Adolf Hitler, and building a monument commemorating this atrocity is like modern-day Germany proudly displaying a gas chamber.” I fail to fault Misra’s thoughts.
5. It’s a False Picture of Christianity.
YECs like Ham tend to believe that their way of seeing the Bible, Christianity, the flood and science is the only true way. To be a faithful Christian you have to believe as they do. However, this black and white way of seeing things is a problem since, as Walton explains, “Many Americans don’t fall easily into either camp. Many Christians won’t. They may have diverse opinions on sexual ethics, on life issues, on evolution, on hell, on what role government should play in society, on healthcare, and indeed on science.” But this is nowhere hinted at by Ham.
This is the definition of fundamentalist intolerance meted out not only against other Christians but the world at large. According to Ham if you doubt his way of seeing Genesis then you are doubting the Bible, and if you doubt the Bible you’re doubting God. However, in response to this I wish to leave with readers that Christianity has a rich history full of diverse interpretations of how to interpret certain passages, and how to interpret disciplines like science, history and the rest. We have theistic evolutionists, Old Earth Creationists, Young Earth Creationists, and all in between. We don’t need to accept Ham’s narrow criterion for judging what constitutes a faithful Christian. In saying this I am not at all advocating, or supporting, interpretations that are clearly heretical. What I am saying is that trying to box Christians into an us-versus-them way of seeing things is a false representation of Christianity.
6. Ham and his Ark Encounter’s Double Standard.
In point 2 we touched on some of the views of Bill Nye. Obviously Ham would disagree with him, in fact, Ham says that “Bill Nye doesn’t want parents to be allowed to teach their children about God. He wants to brainwash kids, to indoctrinate them, in his naturalistic (atheistic) religion of meaninglessness and hopelessness.”
The obvious point here being is that this is exactly what Ken Ham is doing. Through the museum he is making it his goal to indoctrinate and brainwash kids into believing things about the world that are clearly false. The theory of the mind philosopher calls this a false belief. When such overwhelming evidence is stacked against a belief, and when unanimous professional consensus, in just about every domain of expertise, rejects a certain belief, then that belief is rendered a false belief. In other words, that belief does not correspond to reality. However, what we have with the Ark Encounter is the promotion of false beliefs, beliefs that only Ham and the YEC believe in.
I won’t argue that Nye does not have a naturalistic bias, he does, but Ham is clearly holding to a double standard by accusing Nye of things that Ham is doing himself. And just to note the obvious, naturalism is not a religion…
1. Woods, M. 2016. Ken Ham’s Noah’s Ark: Evangelistic supertool or colossal waste of money? Available.
2. Walton, A. 2016 A waste of 100 million dollars: Why the Noah’s Ark replica in Kentucky should never have happened. Available.
3. Francke, T. 2014. What Ken Ham’s ‘Ark Encounter’ money could buy instead. Available.
4. Arel, D. 2016. Bill Nye on the Ark Encounter: ‘every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong.’ Available.
5. Enns, P. 2014. The Bible Tells Me So. p. 152 (Scribd ebook format).
6. Barr, J. 1987. Biblical Chronology, Fact or Fiction? Available.
7. Misra, A. 2016. A Close Encounter of the Ark Kind. Available.
8. Woods, M. 2016. Ibid.