The Ark Encounter opened in 2016 and is Bible based theme park located in Kentucky, America. It is a product of the Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham. Ham is a young-Earth, Bible-science creationist who is also the founder of the Creation Museum (the sister of the Ark Encounter).
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 as well as a monument. Some Christians are on the same boat with Ham given that many believe it to be the latest and greatest biblical attraction.
What floats Ham’s boat (forgive me for these whimsical puns) 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 attempt to dispute any evidence for the scientific theory of evolution and an old Earth/universe.
Ham claims that the Ark Encounter is a “family-oriented, historically authentic, and environmentally friendly” attraction, and if he is successful it will “equip visitors to understand the reality of the events that are recorded in the book of Genesis” (1). A stroll through the ark will 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.
Can one credit the ark with doing something good?
I suppose one can give some credit although its mostly on aesthetic features. As a physical structure itself the monument seems impressive, inside and out. It is detailed, and it attempts to bring an ancient biblical story out from the Bible and into the real world. The ship is full of artifacts such as life-size dinosaurs and creative (and I do mean creative) biblical scenes. Since the Genesis account says very little about what happened on the ark it required Ham to take a great deal of artistic license. Add into the picture a petting zoo, shops, and restaurants, and the ark is for many visitors something quite fun and entertaining. However, in my personal view this is drowned out by all the negatives.
1. The Monumental Waste of Money
Ham believes that the Ark Encounter will get people to consider the value of scripture. 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?'”
In other words, to avoid a sinking ship he thought that constructing a massive 100 million dollar structure would patch up the hull. But that’s a lot of money. Andy Walton, writing for Christian Today, says 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… 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” (2).
This is true. Rather than splurging denarii on monuments and overseeing building construction, the Apostle Paul got himself shipwrecked in the process of reaching unbelievers with the Gospel. One wonders if the 100 million dollars could have been better used uplifting the poor and sick while sharing the Gospel. How many missionaries and evangelists could have been sponsored by such finances in their efforts of not only helping and assisting the sicking, looking after orphans and the the poor, but also getting “a message out there about the Bible,” to use Ham’s own words? I find that it is incredibly sad that 100 million dollars of money, which could have been better used than on a theme park, has been wasted in cement and wood. 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).
The Ark Encounter is also divisive in a way that sending missionaries to help the poor and sick is not. The Ark Encounter is predicated on a very problematic and controversial interpretation of the Bible which not only further alienates unbelievers (who take much joy in mocking young-Earth creationist beliefs) but too causes Christians embarrassment. As such, I believe the Ark Encounter is not really about “getting the Bible out there” as opposed to “getting Ken Ham’s view of the Bible out there.”
Surely for Christ a single human being is of much more worth than a wooden ship (of any size), and surely Christ would find far more pleasure in feeding a single empty stomach than splurging dollars on 50 wooden ships. 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.”
I believe that the Ark Encounter will prove counterproductive for Ham. For every Christian who is amazed by its presence there will likely be seekers being further distanced from the Gospel, and many Christians becoming confused in equating ludicrous young-Earth creationist beliefs with modern science, history, and just about every field which conflicts with young-Earth ideology.
2. The Science
Bill Nye, a naturalist and claimed public science representative (without qualifications to show for it, and I simply quote him here since he represents what most academic experts would say about the ark) with whom I don’t share many beliefs, toured the Ark Encounter which attracted some media and public attention. Nye said that “on the third deck (of the ark), every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong. Not just misleading, but wrong” (4). He also said that the Ark Encounter is “much more troubling or disturbing than I thought it would be.”
It is hard to explain just how bad young-Earth science is. A 6000 year old Earth, a global flood, dinosaurs living alongside human beings, Adam and Eve being the first human beings and progenitors of the human race, and so on, are just some of the beliefs held by this camp. To most people (and just about every scientist and historian) these beliefs are absurd, which explains why young-Earth creation science has increasingly bled numbers and why it has been relegated to fringe groups like Creation International or Answers In Genesis. Adherents to these beliefs and views within the public space are at an all time low. It is at its lowest point in the USA, and is nearly non-existent in other countries like Canada and England. People are realizing that they cannot hold to these beliefs in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, there also appears to be a moral element in play here which Nye noticed himself when he said that,
“You have hundreds of school kids there who have already been indoctrinated and who have been brainwashed… [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.”
3. The Credibility of the Gospel
Ham, I believe, ends up posing a severe challenge to spiritual seekers as well as Christians. How so? Simply in that either one chooses to believe what Ham does about the Bible (the Ark Encounter is more about Ham and his young-Earth beliefs than it is ever about sharing the Gospel) or modern science.
Quite naturally, many are going to go with science. This is not because science and the views of the scientists are anti-Christian (which many within Ham’s camp contend) but because science is what has all the evidence in its favour over creationist beliefs. Many people will also see through what is clearly an awful interpretation of the Genesis account even if it is historical. Further, many of those who are already Christian will end up leaving the church. These believers are often brought up within insulated home and church environments, and when they go into the world they lose their faith. Why? Because they have been taught to think that one must either choose the Bible (Ham’s Bible) or science. No wonder why there is an exodus of young people from the church. I would not entirely put the blame on Ham as several factors explain this trend, but Ham and his Ark Encounter are one major reason for it. Mark Woods explains,
“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 in Celebration of Genocide
The Ark Encounter, when reduced to its core, is based on a mythological account of mass genocide brought on by an angry deity. Yes, it does qualify as genocide, and constitutes only one of several genocides God is thought to have committed in the Old Testament. But it almost certainly did not happen. Christian biblical scholar Peter Enns says that “the flood story, though rooted in history, is dressed up in mythic clothes from head to toe” (5). Given the advances of science as well as biblical and historical scholarship it is almost impossible to challenge this view. The Genesis creation story (and the Flood which occurs later in the narrative) belongs to myth with a clear theological motif for the author to show that Yahweh is superior to the gods of the other nations, particularly that of the Babylonians (after all, Genesis was penned while the Israelites were being held in exile by Babylon). The story serves to show that Yahweh is in full control of nature, his creation, that he can obliterate everything should he so wish, as well as restore order. It is also a story that deliberately contrasts itself with other mythologies. Whereas, for example, the Babylonian god Marduk enslaves humanity, the Genesis author goes to some length to show that God loves human being, and even creates them in his image.
The inspired theology behind this myth is rich, but the flood and Adam and Eve are almost certainly not based on historical events. It is also certainly not a historical or scientific account of human and Earthly origins. 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).
To ask the question of its historicity concerning the flood misses the point of its message. But despite this many Christians do still believe in a global flood, which Alexis Misra sees presents its own set of problems,
“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).
“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.”
5. It’s a False Picture of Christianity
Ham and his followers believe that their way of seeing the Bible, Christianity, the flood and science is the only true way. So much so that they’re willing to spend 100 million dollars on a monument. Their narrative presented here (and elsewhere) is essentially that to be a faithful Christian one has to believe as they do. Anything else brings into dispute the authority and inspiration of the Bible, and also Christianity’s truth. However, a black and white perspective such as this does not speak to reality at all. Walton observes that,
“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.”
However, this is of course omitted by Ham. Why? Because the Ark Encounter is about Ham and his views of the Bible, and not ultimately about Christ or God, or those within God’s kingdom who hold to different views on peripheral topics (the Flood is one such topic). 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. Essentially it all starts with Ham, and God gets tacked on at the end.
However, Christianity has had rich history (and presence) of interpretive measures when it comes to certain biblical texts, including Genesis (as well as those which pose moral dilemmas such as God’s commanding of genocide in the Old Testament etc.). As such, it is no surprise that there are Christians who believe the universe (and the Earth) are old, that evolutionary theory is compatible with belief, that God did not really flood the Earth, and so on. What I believe is that these views and interpretations should be debated respectfully. Let no-one be like Ham and his followers who tell Christians (who believe differently to them) how unChristian and unfaithful they are. In saying this I am not at all supporting interpretations that are clearly opposed to Christianity in its fundamentals. What I am saying is that Christians do not need to accept Ham’s narrow criterion for judging what constitutes a faithful Christian.
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.