A Walkthrough and Review of the Ark Encounter
By Dan Phelps, President, Kentucky Paleontological Society
1 Ark Encounter Drive
(Off I-75 Exit 154, KY 36)
Williamstown KY 41097
Hours & Pricing
Hours of operation (ET)
- Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Sunday Noon – 6 p.m.
- Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
- Adult $40.00
- Senior $31.00
- Children (5–12 yrs) $28.00
- Children (under 5 yrs) Free
- Parking $10
On July 7, 2016, five and a half years after it was first announced, the Ark Encounter theme park (also known as the “Ark Park”) opened near Williamstown, Kentucky. Since I wrote a review of the nearby Creation “Museum” for NCSE soon after the “museum” opened in 2007, I thought it would be appropriate to do a similar review of the Ark Encounter. I have been very involved in combating the Ark’s tax rebate incentive and other government perks given the Ark since it was first announced in December 2010. For details of the history of the project, I suggest looking at numerous posts on The Panda’s Thumb blog and elsewhere.
This review is written so people who don’t want to fork $40 over to Ken Ham will have some idea of the contents and flavor of the Ark Park. I didn’t attempt to answer creationist arguments in depth in this review. I recommend the Index of Creationist Claims or Isaak (2007) or other discussions in Scott (2004) for information on why specific creationist claims are wrong. Furthermore, I hope the egregious ignorance being promoted by the park will stir scientists and others to become involved in opposing creationism in Kentucky and elsewhere. Many in the scientific community tend to think that Answers in Genesis only promotes misinformation to a small fundamentalist segment of Christians, but the examples of jaw-dropping crank pseudoscience and non-science and the militant fervor in which they are promoted suggest that the Ark Park is tapping into a deeply-held anti-intellectualism that is becoming more influential in our society. Besides the egregious non-science being promoted as science by Answers in Genesis, I am concerned by the manner in which local and state politicians bowed to the Ark Encounter’s every whim. Indeed, since the Ark Encounter project was publically announced, Answers in Genesis has had far more political influence than any real scientific organization in Kentucky. The following is my account of the contents of Ark Encounter theme park on opening day.
On the way to the Ark Park, on I-75 near Exit 154, special signs were in place warning of possible backups on the interstate off-ramp. No such backup occurred. Once off the interstate, I passed the beginnings of the anti-Ark protest sponsored by the Tri-State Freethinkers. Numerous members of their group were already present to hold signs and show their displeasure with not only the anti-science content of the Ark Park but also the state and local government support the project had received. I had misgivings about the protest, because a protest by various atheist and secular groups had given Answers in Genesis (AiG) a large amount of publicity when the Creation “Museum” opened in 2007. I even discussed my misgivings with the head of the freethinkers group several weeks before the opening. Any mistake or rude behavior could have fueled Ken Ham’s publicity machine. Fortunately, this group was somewhat better organized than the one from 2007. There was a large (at least for rural Kentucky) police presence near the peaceful protest as I drove by. I counted three local law enforcement vehicles and at least as many state police vehicles parked nearby. Most of the press the secular group received was neutral or positive and they got their point across to the media. Although the protestors may have given Ken Ham a small amount of free publicity, the Ark had already received generous amounts of uncritical exposure in the local and national press by this time. Still, these types of protests have a great potential to backfire and give creationists free publicity.
The Ark Encounter is located on Kentucky Highway 36 just west of the I-75 interchange. Interestingly, its large sign was only partly complete when I arrived at 9:30 a.m. and almost complete after 3 p.m. when I left, giving the impression that work was continuing on the park even as it opened. The lot for Ark Encounter optimistically has approximately 4,000 parking spaces. I would estimate it was rather less than half full by 9:45 a.m. Vehicles from a number of states were present. Later AiG announced that approximately 6000 people visited the Ark on opening day, including during the special evening hours.
QUEUE FOR TICKETS AND BUS RIDE TO THE ARK
There was a long line to enter the ticketing area to board the buses, in spite of having a ticket printed out in advance from an internet purchase. Then there was another long line to get to the ticket window where I received a paper wristband for park entry (Figure 1). It was a little surprising that there were no extra goodies such as free AiG materials and other swag for first-day attendees. Ken Ham has said the opening of the Ark is an important event in the history of Christendom; I suppose that merely being there was a good enough reward. I did get a pamphlet showing a map of the facility and a deck plan of the Ark.
Soon I was able to board one of many large buses that drove on a slightly winding road to the far side of a large artificial pond in front of the Ark. The bus stop is a nice opportunity to see and photograph the Ark (Figure 2). At 155 meters long it is difficult to fit into one photograph from a closer distance. One thing oddly apparent that wasn’t visible in previous photos of the Ark on AiG’s website and elsewhere is an odd staining on the side of the Ark building where some of the wood has already darkened. I’m not sure whether this is water damage from recent rains or moisture from the humid Kentucky summer. Photographs of the Ark while it was still under construction just a few weeks before did not show the staining.
Some of the details of the appearance of the Ark are interesting. Since Genesis only gives a brief description of the Ark as a rectangular box with dimensions in cubits, AiG’s version has some odd details, presumably added by their staff’s “research.” First, there is an oddly shaped bow that is vaguely reminiscent of the bulbous bow of a modern supertanker or even the prow of an ancient Greek or Roman ship (Figure 3). Since the Ark wasn’t supposed to be a powered vessel plowing through the ocean, this feature is strange. Another invention that doesn’t seem useful is the ridgelike wooden “sail” on the upper deck near the “stern.” Ark Encounter’s website claims this would have kept the Ark pointed into the wind and thus waves as well. However, this isn’t really true, as wind and waves don’t necessarily come from the same direction during a storm. I suspect that someone at AiG thought these features looked good and stuck with them, rationalizing their usefulness in hindsight. The AiG version does look more attractive, if not as seaworthy, than a rectangular barge, and since the entire thing is an invention based on an ancient myth, it probably doesn’t matter.
ENTRY AND “THE NOAH INTERVIEW”
As one walks towards the entry of the Ark, there is a guest services building where one can rent lockers, strollers, and wheelchairs. There were also several lemonade and popcorn vendors. Near the “bow” were zip lines which were not open yet. A path around the back of the Ark near the “bow” led to the entrance of a rather long queue line. The Ark was very busy with the opening day crowd, so the docents were only letting a limited number of people inside the building at a time, presumably for safety.
While waiting to enter the Ark, visitors can watch a video being shown simultaneously on perhaps ten different flat-screen televisions located so at least one screen is visible to everyone. The video was called “The Noah Interview.” It was an interesting piece of propaganda and is good only for preparing you for the inanity to come. I saw the video perhaps one and half times while stuck in the line. Unfortunately, there was enough noise that I couldn’t catch everything that was said. The premise of “The Noah Interview” is that a reporter from a newspaper in the evil antediluvian world has come to interview Noah, with her heavily tattooed scribe and an artist in tow. The reporter is a snide, snarky, contemptuous woman who lacks any journalistic integrity in her biased quest to make poor reasonable Noah look like a nutcase (Figure 4). I suspect the video is Ken Ham’s swipe at reporters who have asked him uncomfortable questions about the Ark and tax rebate incentives. During the video, Noah, on the verge of exasperation, calmly answers the reporter’s mocking questions and gives details about the Ark and the coming Flood in the process. Noah keeps being interrupted by his hired help during the interview. One of Noah’s workers brings him a white, unfossilized, theropod dinosaur skull and suggests some use, which I couldn’t quite hear (perhaps using the teeth to cut the gopher wood?) (Figure 5). Another pair of Noah’s workers get into an argument resulting in some knife play (after all they are evil antediluvians with a lust for violence). Eventually, the reporter completes her interview and it is revealed that even the artist is also biased and has made the calm, reasonable Noah look like a raging kook. The “ham” overacting and lack of subtlety in this video were beyond annoying. It was even more over the top than the “Men in White” video shown at the Creation Museum, if that is possible. The credits indicated that “The Noah Interview” is a “Grooters Production.” I suspect the video, or at least portions of it, will eventually be available on-line, or Ken Ham will hawk it for sale at the AiG website. Sartre once said “Hell is other people.” He didn’t have to wait in this line watching this awful video.
At long last I reached the end of the line to walk up the ramps and into the Ark. The docent said to the people in front of me, “I’ve seen this movie, how many times…everything upstairs is just like it—top notch.” I felt a little ill.
At the top of the ramps leading to the first floor of the Ark is a Green Screen “Foto FX!” area. Everyone entering the Ark has their photo taken in front of the green screen and given a ticket so they can buy a print of the photo in the gift shop later. The photo shows visitors against a superimposed background such as the Ark or inside with various animals, including a Stegosaurus. I didn’t check my photo at the end of the “voyage” because of the long line. Eventually, I was able to find a low-resolution version of my photo online. An 8” X 10” print in full resolution was approximately $14.95. This is probably a very profitable venture.
At long last I was finally in the Ark proper. The first deck was poorly lit and many of the displays lacked labeling. Most of the displays were of small animal cages and of cargo such as a food and water in storage containers. One could not see inside most of the animal cages, but there were sound effects being played to indicate quite a racket. Fortunately, there was no smell, other than freshly cut lumber. There is an interesting wood carving mimicking an ancient Near-East style (but with lettering in English) depicting the Ark with dinosaurs and pterosaurs. One of the first large dioramas in the museum is unlabeled, but is of an animatronic Noah praying with his family (Figure 6).
Several of the larger cages on this deck have mannequins of extinct animals in them; one has a pair of Permian synapsids known as caseids (Figure 7); another cage has a pair of pterosaurs (presumably Quetzacoatlus or a similar genus). Since these are unlabeled, I wondered what the typical visitor would think they were. It is at this point that we learn that Noah took numerous extinct animals, including dinosaurs, pterosaurs, Late Paleozoic synapsids such as Dimetrodon, and various Cenozoic mammals with him (Figure 8). The Ark’s signage asks us: “Have 99% of All Species Gone Extinct?” and tells us that the “…amount of documented extinct species only numbers in the thousands—not in the millions or billions” (Figure 9). Since the average visitor will not have a grasp of basic paleontology or access to The Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology or reference books on vertebrate paleontology, they will not be equipped to even begin to see how incredibly ignorant this claim is. This is one of the first “scientific” claims being made to Ark visitors, and it is incredibly wrong.
Further signage on Deck One tries to explain how freshwater organisms managed to survive the Flood (Figure 10). Remarkably, the offered explanation is that 1) there could have been unmixed layers of freshwater and saltwater during the Flood, 2) that the oceans before the Deluge were less salty than today, and that 3) ancestors of modern animals were somehow tolerant of varying salinity because a small number of modern animals can survive in varying salinity. If you wonder why the Ark Encounter includes so many “just so” stories like this to keep the Biblical Flood story as a plausible historical event, reality be damned, remember that the Statement of Faith signed by all AiG “scientists” and other employees. The Statement of Faith says in part: “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.” So there! Shut up, you skeptic!
Yet further signage discusses how there were probably fewer than eight-five “kinds” of dinosaurs on the Ark and that Noah took young, small animals to save space (Figure 11). Nearby is a cage with two small sauropod dinosaurs (Figure 12). Oddly absent from the Ark Encounter is the creationist claim that some dinosaurs breathed fire and are responsible for dragon legends (the Creation “Museum” has displays devoted to this fantasy). Perhaps Ark Encounter doesn’t wish to discuss the awkward idea of fire-breathing dragons on a wooden boat. Who knows: maybe the Williamstown fire marshal objected. Besides, Noah could have always had an asbestos mine somewhere.
Next a sign asks and explains how Noah kept the polar bears cool: he only took a pair of the bear “kind”; polar bears weren’t on the Ark, you Doubting Thomas. So polar bears have originated since the Flood, which AiG claims happened in 2348 BCE; yet, somehow, this isn’t evolution. Further signs on Deck One deal with which animals were clean versus unclean, whether seven or fourteen flying and clean animals were taken aboard, and how ace creation scientists determine how many “kinds” there were. Really exciting stuff (yawn).
One of the last exhibits on Deck One is an as yet unlabeled cut away model of Noah’s Ark (Figure 13). It reminded me of a slightly more complex version of one of the illustrations in the book Arca Noë (1675) by the seventeenth-century Jesuit scientist/scholar Athanasius Kircher (Figure 14). For all the pretenses to be “scientific,” creationism really hasn’t changed much in recent centuries.
THE PRE-FLOOD WORLD
Deck Two had far more displays and slightly better lighting than the rather boring Deck One. The first exhibit is of the “Pre-Flood World.” (For some reason I don’t recall seeing the term “antediluvian” used anywhere on the Ark.) The Pre-Flood World exhibit starts with the Creation and goes to the Garden of Eden and on to the evil world that existed right before the Flood. Most of the displays were wall signs with some small-scale but intricate dioramas. Interestingly, much of the wall signage was not protected in any way, and on several occasions I told children not to touch the displays. As much as I don’t care for AiG’s message, I think it is important that people understand proper museum etiquette, even while in a fake museum. Sadly, the fact that many children (and, alas, some adults!) would touch the signs is evidence that a large segment of the public rarely has interaction with real museums. After the six-day-then-R&R creation, Adam is depicted as having a great time hanging out in the Garden of Eden with his borophagus dogs, saber-tooth cats, and five-toed horses while stegosaurs and sauropods cavort in the background and pterosaurs make a fly-over (Figure 15). At some point Adam gets bored with his pets and God makes Eve out of one of his ribs. A somewhat larger mural (Figure 16) shows a nekkid Adam and Eve (from behind with considerable mist) bathing near a waterfall while huge sauropods and a small herd of Parasaurolophus hang out nearby. The ubiquitous pterosaurs fly by. Of course, Eve screws everything up. Adam and Eve are cursed and after getting kicked out of the Garden make a burnt offering sacrifice. Oddly the Genesis account doesn’t mention this, but Ark Encounter reveals (I’m not making this up!), that the sacrifice was of what looks like two small camptosaur or iguanadontid dinosaurs (Figure 17). Actually, they are probably supposed to be lambs, but I know that I wasn’t the only visitor to have thought otherwise.
After the Curse, the world just gets worse and worse, wouldn’t you know? The pre-Flood world was overrun with giants who fought with the sinners—there are murals and Bible verses about “giant in the earth” to prove this. Of course these early people just get seriously evil and start a snake-worshiping cult reminiscent of the Snake Cult in the first of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan the Barbarian movies (Figure 18). My favorite cheesy sign in the entire Ark is in this section. Apparently, the sinful antediluvian people abused nature and senselessly slaughtered certain animals just for their horns. In this case it is a whole herd of ceratopsian dinosaurs, including baby ceratopsians. All the dinos were killed and dehorned by the smirking and evil SOBs! No wonder Triceratops and other ceratopsians are extinct (Figure 19). But wait, it gets even worse! According to the next small diorama, the pre-Flood women were doing even more heinous things while their men were out killing dinosaurs. Namely, they were taking their new-born infants to a Snake Cult™ temple to be sacrificed (Figure 20). There was no label explicitly saying so, but I feel confident that a label will be eventually added here somehow linking this made-up activity to Planned Parenthood. Further pre-Flood decadence is shown in the next diorama of a pre-orgy party (Figure 21). In the future this diorama definitely needs to be depicted with live actors and have a musical score to go with it. Ken Ham could make some real money if he would put up a live-action, no one under 21 admitted, antediluvian den of iniquity tent next to the Ark. Perhaps when the rest of the place goes bankrupt and the Trump Ark Casino opens on the site, this will be the floor show. At last God gets really pissed and the Flood comes after Ken, oops I mean Noah, builds the boat. One of the last murals in this section shows the evil people about to get drowned as Ken’s, oops, I mean Noah’s boat starts to float. Unintentionally (?) funny is the one guy shoving his wife or girlfriend into the water to drown. Perhaps the Antediluvian world had tough alimony/palimony laws (Figure 22). I’m embarrassed that I guffawed at the woman in this mural being swallowed whole by the shark (alas, my photo of this was too blurred to reproduce here).
The next display was titled “Spooky Animal Encounters”. Aimed at young children, it consisted of speculation of what it was like at night on the Ark. There didn’t seem to be too much creationist dogma here: just a few fake nocturnal animals, sound effects, and green fluorescent eyes glowing in the dark. Children seemed to be having a good time here after the excruciatingly boring content of the Ark so far.
MORE ABOUT KINDS AND BARAMINOLOGY
Further signage explains how many animal “kinds” were on the Ark (Figure 23). Since the creationists know it would be impossible to fit the enormous diversity of life in the world today on the Ark let alone an even greater number of extinct species, they do everything possible to limit the number of animals aboard. Thus, young-earth creationists have created “Biblical taxonomy” (or baraminology) with “created kinds” (also known as baramins) to replace conventional biological taxa. According to the signage, “kinds” are a “group of related animals not related to any other animals.” Moreover, “[s]tudies [not cited on the sign—DP] beginning in 2012 estimate that among land-dependent vertebrates there are fewer that 1,400 known living and extinct kinds. In a worst-case scenario, it is projected that Noah was responsible for fewer than 6,700 individual animals—most of them small and easily maintained.” After the Flood these limited number of animals evolved into modern species. Since AiG claims the Flood was in 2348 BCE, you might think that these studies are proposing some form of hyper-evolution with incredibly fast speciation. But no! According to the sign in the Ark Encounter, “These changes within kinds demonstrate the mercy, creativity, and foresight of the Creator” (Figure 24). And in another sign: “OBSERVABLE PROCESSES SHOW SPECIATION WITHIN KINDS, NOT EVOLUTION OF ONE KIND INTO ANOTHER KIND” (emphasis in original). So there! This isn’t evolution, Darwin boy!
For good measure, Biblical creationism is brought in at this point in a sign headlined “One WORLD two VIEWS,” which contrasts the Biblical Creation Model with the Naturalistic Evolutionary Model. Guess which wins? According to the sign (Figure 25), evolution can’t explain how life came from non-life (actually this is a separate concept from evolution, although creationists often conflate evolution with abiogenesis). Some evolutionist “prominent scientists” have proposed panspermia—ha! The fools! It is furthermore argued that because naturalism is the foundation of materialism and materialism can’t explain morality, the laws of logic, and the laws of nature, evolution comes up short. The sign says: “no one can swing by a grocery store and buy two ounces of logic, a bag of natural law, and a carton of morality.” So there! You dumb Darwin worshipper, you! And don’t you dare consider theistic evolution because it contradicts various Bible verses. The sign ends with a swipe at Christians who accept theistic evolution: “If we cannot believe God concerning how he made the universe, then why should we believe him about the salvation offered through Jesus Christ?” So there! Burn, you loser!
ANIMAL MODELS IN CAGES
In this section of Deck Two of the Ark are several more cages with animal models, including pairs of juvenile Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus (Figure 26), a dicynodont synapsid, and what may have been a Cenozoic mammal known as a chalicothere. Since these were as yet unlabeled, I wonder what many of the visitors thought they were supposed to represent. Some of these animal models appeared well-done; others looked a bit on the cheap side. Leave it to AiG to make exciting prehistoric animals boring.
TAKING CARE OF THE ANIMALS, WASTE DISPOSAL
The next section discusses how Noah and his family took care of the animals. Signs claim about 850 animals per human passenger, which “would have involved a lot of work.” On the Ark, I learned:
- Moths were specially raised for insectivorous animals.
- Fresh water was collected from the roof and channeled where needed via bamboo or copper pipes.
- Vampire bats didn’t exist yet to drink blood.
- Koala bear ancestors didn’t necessarily eat eucalyptus leaves as their modern descendants do.
- Anteaters also eat fruit and weren’t dependent on ants and termites.
All of these claims, and more, were made in rapid succession. There were an amazing number of things “proven” by mere assertion in this section.
As for the consequences of the animals’ diet, poop was taken care of via slotted stalls and a complex collection system. Pee went into a liquid waste system.
Several videos depict the solid (poop) and liquid (pee) waste systems in more detail. Apparently, Ken’s scientists, wearing their “Biblical Glasses,” have given this excrement topic considerable thought. The solid waste is mucked and taken by wheelbarrow to be moved to a conveyer system powered by one of the Ark’s animals walking on a treadmill that leads to a vertical shaft on the Ark that opens to the floodwaters in a “moon pool”—the whole system clearly a sort of Flintstonesque technology. Liquid waste was handled in a similar manner with pipes and animal treadmills, but could also have used the pressure created by waves in the moon pool to effectively “flush” the giant urinal (Figure 27). But what did Noah’s family do about the stench? Didn’t it smell horrible and wasn’t everyone in danger of dying from the concentrated ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and various poop gases? No problem at all! The moon pool could have effectively pumped air in and out with the waves, and ventilation could have been further facilitated via convection currents from the animals’ body heat. Also, there could have been other methods involving burning animal waste in a flue and chimney system or even animals powering mechanical bellows or fans! (Figure 28). All of this special pleading rang hollow. I don’t see how any adult could see the preceding explanations as anything more than unrestrained and implausible fantasy; a Biblical version of a Flintstone cartoon. Since AiG depicts itself as scientific, it could easily test some of these ideas by bringing the entire petting zoo on board and turning off the HV/AC for a few days while training the animals to operate bellows and treadmills. Heck, just do it for a day. Let’s see how the guests would like a real “Ark Encounter.”
The next displays are dioramas with mannequins and signage depicting aspects of Noah’s skills. We are shown Noah’s library, woodshop, and blacksmith shop. Apparently Noah didn’t bring too much personal stuff on the Ark because he “lived in the exceedingly wicked pre-Flood world” and he didn’t want to preserve many bad memories. But on the same sign it states that “… Noah and his family may have brought items reminding them of good things, such as their loved ones, spiritual heritage, or God’s creation.” Since this is all made up, the Ark Encounter can have it any way its planners wish. Perhaps the most absurd thing in Noah’s library was the unlabeled and crudely made “globe” depicting what is probably supposed to be the pre-Flood supercontinent (Figure 29). The woodworking and blacksmith shops were nicely made, but once again, boring.
NOAH, THE MADE-UP BACKSTORY
A section of mostly signage and murals titled “Who Was Noah?” follows. Many of the displays in this part of the Ark are Bible citations and quotes. Since the Bible only has a limited description of Noah and his family, AiG “research” is required to fill in the missing details. These details are provided by the steaming shovelful. One sign under “Artistic License” states, “This exhibit provides a plausible backstory based on clues from Scripture to explain how the Lord may have prepared His faithful servant to fulfill such an important mission.” In this artistic version of Noah’s story, we learn that he was raised a farmer; but, after seeing small ships, he longed for adventure. He became an apprentice shipbuilder, learned all the appropriate skills, and married the daughter of his employer. If anyone else invented embellished stories about anything in the Bible, AiG would have a conniption. In fact, Ken Ham along with his AiG “researchers” have gone ballistic on the AiG website complaining about recent Hollywood movies about Noah. For example, go to the AiG website and search for the 2014 Noah movie directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe in the title role. Take note of the numerous posts they made complaining about the movie’s extrabiblical fantasies; then compare those with the extrabiblical fantasies that ended up in Ark Encounter.
FAIRYTALE ARKS: THE HORROR!
The Noah exhibit is followed by a very colorful and brightly-lit room devoted to the “Fairy Tale Ark” (Figure 30). One would think this was a playful display aimed at children, but in fact it was a rather paranoid and irrational attack on Ark-themed books aimed at children. Most of the display is a huge collection of colorful children’s books on the Noah’s Ark story. Since most of these show small Arks and happy, smiling, animals and omit mass destruction, drowning, and bloated corpses, the books are horrible threats to the faith of both children and adults (Figure 31). Apparently, kiddie books on the Ark are evil for seven reasons: 1) they are “Disregarding God’s Word” by showing the Ark as cute and too small; 2) they are “Distorting the Message” by showing a fun boat ride instead of “holy God judging an exceedingly sinful world with a cataclysmic Flood”; 3) they are “Deceptively Cute,” for “cute things are not necessarily innocent or harmless, and good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences”; 4) they end up “Discrediting the Truth,” allowing unbelievers to mock the Bible and provide “ammunition to enemies of our Lord”; 5) they are “Destructive for all Ages”; after all, cute Ark-themed crafts are also aimed at adults; 6) they are “Disorienting the Reader,” sometimes having text citing biblical measurements while showing cute fairytale Arks; and 7) they are “Defaming God’s Character,” because “By treating Noah’s Ark and the Flood as fairy tales rather than sobering reminders of divine judgment on a sin-filled world, these storybooks frequently trivialize the Lord’s righteous and holy character.” The level of fanaticism in this one obsessive and strident display room is breathtaking. I feel sorry for the kids who go in this room hoping to see something interesting.
THE MISSING “CHRIST THE DOOR THEATER”
Having been an “Ark critic” since the project was first announced in 2010, I was surprised that the Deck Two exterior door display with the “Christ the Door Theater” was not complete. On several occasions, including an August 2012 fundraiser for the Ark at the Creation Museum (as I discussed on The Panda’s Thumb), this theater was pushed by Ark designer Patrick Marsh as the “most highly evangelical theater we have.” Plans for this “highly evangelical theater” were often mentioned during the controversy over the Ark receiving the tax rebate incentive. Ken Ham has promoted this display as very important to the Ark’s message to both donors and investors. Yet Ark Encounter set sail without it. The door is there for the eventual display (Figure 32). While I was there, several people gave the door handle a tug. I wonder what donors thought. Nearby were several posters addressing various theological questions including “Is God cruel?” “Why is death the punishment for sin?” “Was it just for God to judge the whole world?” and Why does a loving God allow so much death & suffering?” Numerous scriptural references are given to answer these questions. The posters conclude that people are really awful and that “as sinners we all deserve to die.” I guess that I’m a bit of a softie compared to God (or more likely AiG). I don’t really wish so much as a hangnail for Ken Ham—perhaps I’d welcome problems of a financial nature due to low attendance for the Ark and Museum, but I certainly don’t want anything physically bad to happen to Ham or anyone else at AiG. AiG’s version of God looks a bit peevish and vindictive.
There was much empty space remaining for future expansion on Deck Two. I headed up the ramp to Deck 3
LIVING QUARTERS AND FAMILY MATTERS
The first exhibit encountered on Deck Three is the living quarters for Noah and the family. Signage at the entrance repeats that much of the display was created using “artistic license,” which is certainly an understatement. One sign asks, “Why Are the Living Chambers So Nice?” and answers the statement by saying that they were quite nice because “As far as we know, the Lord did not inform Noah how long they would be on the Ark, so the family would probably have prepared for an extended time inside the Ark. Also, they worked hard caring for the animals every day. Having a comfortable place to relax and refresh would be extremely beneficial for keeping up morale and energy for all the hard labor they faced.” The numerous displays proceed to show the bedrooms of each human pair on the Ark. Noah, his wife, and their three sons and daughters-in-law each are given a fanciful backstory. For example, we are told that Ham (Noah’s son, not the other guy) suffered a vicious animal attack before the Flood and thus has weapons to defend the family (a Glock 9 mm under his mattress?). Each woman on board is given a name (they weren’t named in Genesis). Displays show the kitchen, pantry (they were all vegetarian), Mrs. Noah’s (Emzara’s) loom, and numerous bird cages. In spite of earlier displays explaining the hard labor in taking care of an average of 850 animals each, including mucking stalls, there isn’t a bathtub or shower to be found in the living quarters. Mysteriously, the mannequins of the family all look clean and neatly dressed. Most of the living quarter displays showed a great attention to detail and were obviously carefully constructed. Alas, as with much else on the Ark, and in spite of the fine workmanship, this section was a bit dull and contrived.
The next section, titled “Flood Geology,” was one of the main displays I wanted to see. How would the Ark Encounter explain the Earth’s geology using the Biblical Flood which they say happened in 2348 BCE?
As expected, the Ark Encounter promotes the same mushy-headed relativism towards scientific knowledge as the Creation “Museum” does. In the first sign in Flood Geology they claim that “Creationists and evolutionists study the same evidence.” And those conclusions are “strongly influenced by our worldviews.” According to the Ark, the “Evolutionary Worldview” explanation for rock layers (do they mean the geologic column?) depends “on gradual processes over the course of millions and millions of years” and the “Biblical Worldview” “sees overwhelming evidence that they were rapidly laid down during the yearlong global Flood described in Genesis.” Of course this strawman ignores that modern geology is willing to accept that depositional rates are sometimes high in many environments and is willing to accept a catastrophe when the evidence for one is good. More importantly, the creationist’s appeal to some sort of relativism of “worldviews” is nonsensical as it ignores that science is willing to reach conclusions based on evidence, wherever it leads, while the parody of science practiced by AiG, the “Biblical Worldview,” has its conclusions decided in advance. Hence, the transparent dogmatism of the AiG Statement of Faith mentioned previously. An even more interesting example of AiG’s close-mindedness is their self-published simulacrum of a science journal, Answers Research Journal (ARJ). The “instructions to authors” for ARJ makes (PDF) the following incredible admission that dogma trumps evidence: “The editor-in-chief will not be afraid to reject a paper if it does not properly satisfy the above criteria or if it conflicts with the best interests of AiG as judged by its biblical stand and goals outlined in its statement of faith.” No genuine scientific journal would demand such anti-scientific requirements in a manuscript submission.
The next panel, discussing uniformitarianism (Figure 33), misrepresents the idea, at least the modern understanding of the idea, by claiming that it depends on slow and gradual processes. There are so many other things that do not have anything directly to do with uniformitarianism that are brought into this one panel that it is impossible to discuss them in detail. The first is the claim that there are no transitional fossils; this has been dealt with in book-length rebuttals (e.g., Prothero 2007). The supposed problem for uniformitarianism on this sign asks: “Why are there are time gaps with no erosion between some layers of the column?” This doesn’t make sense. The “problem” appears to falsely assume that unconformities do not really exist. The third “problem” for uniformitarianism, according to this sign, is that “[d]ue to the repeated churning of soil by tiny organisms, a process known as bioturbation, gradual processes of depositing sediments would not permit distinct rock layers to form.” It is difficult to understand what is being stated. If AiG is referring to fossil terrestrial soils, they often do not show definite bedding: similar lack of bedding occurs in modern soil profiles and is one way in which fossil soils are recognized. If they are referring to bioturbation in marine sediments, the question also has false assumptions. What is known as nodular bedding can be observed associated with bioturbation in both ancient limestones and in modern sediments. Entire fields of geology known as sedimentology and ichnology (the study of trace fossils) deal with the interactions of sediments and organisms. AiG has accomplished little here other than giving some confusing (and confused) talking points to their followers.
The next sign is AiG’s cartoon explanation for the order found in the fossil record known to earth scientists as faunal succession (Figure 34). The sign attempts to explain the faunal succession as a series of different ecosystems being buried by Noah’s Flood. Similar claims have been made by creationists since at least the 1920s and have never reflected the reality of the rock and fossil record. Rocks and fossils show a complex succession of both terrestrial and marine environments with different floras and faunas occurring in similar environments at different times; nothing even similar to the simplistic claims of young-earth creationists is found in the rock record. Here in central Kentucky, the stratigraphic column exposed in surface exposures is more than 300 meters thick and consists of many long intervals of limestones and calcareous shales which in part are chemically and biologically deposited. In the subsurface, wells drilled for research and for oil and gas exploration reveal that northern Kentucky, including the area beneath the Ark Park, has at least a 1.5 km of sedimentary rocks between igneous and metamorphic rocks (the basement) and the surface. Moreover, not one human was stupid, clumsy, or unlucky enough to get buried in the Paleozoic strata alongside trilobites, and none of the dinosaurs, for example, ended up in Paleozoic or Cenozoic marine deposits. Furthermore, plants, including spores and pollen, show what looks like an evolutionary succession in the rock record—although plants would not be capable of somehow outrunning the rising Flood waters. Again, the creationists provide a simplistic version of geology and paleontology to an uncritical and unsuspecting audience that lacks the background to evaluate the claims made by AiG.
Several signs are devoted to the evidence of ancient water flow on the planet Mars. AiG accuses geologists of being part of some sort of conspiracy by accepting flooding on Mars while denying the Biblical Flood on Earth. Of course, conventional geology is willing to accept flooding, even catastrophic flooding, on this planet or anywhere else when the evidence is good. The fact, however, is that there is no evidence for a catastrophic worldwide flood occurring only 4300 years ago (circa 2348 BCE). Such a flood is not only disproved by geology, but also by biology, archaeology, and history.
The preservation of beautifully preserved ichthyosaur fossils from the Lower Jurassic of Germany, including some that died giving birth, are claimed to be evidence of rapid, catastrophic burial according to one sign. Of course the Ark visitor is not informed of the extensive research on these fossils by paleontologists and sedimentologists. The Holzmaden bituminous limestones and finely laminated shales are nearly black in color and have a strong organic component showing that they formed in oxygen-starved waters in very calm conditions. In many fossils there is evidence the dead ichthyosaurs sat on the bottom for periods long enough to be covered with bacterial mats that preserved the animal’s outline. Such processes are inconsistent with the catastrophic Biblical Flood being claimed by the Ark Park and are ignored in the sign.
Polystrate fossils, usually trees that penetrate numerous layers of strata, are trotted out as evidence of catastrophism (Figure 35). Of course a strawman claim is presented that foolish geologists claim the sediments surrounding these trees formed over long times but somehow the trees did not rot during this slow burial. In reality, geologists recognize that most polystrate trees were buried rather rapidly, often near the banks of streams with high rates of sediment deposition. Polystrate lycopod tree stumps with roots and examples of the large horsetail plant Calamites are often found in Kentucky’s coal-bearing rocks. Geologists don’t claim these formed catastrophically, at least not in a worldwide flood, only from local river floods, perhaps over a period of decades. Polystrate fossils being relatively rapidly deposited is not inconsistent with the modern understanding of uniformitarianism. Finally, the sign mentions the Specimen Ridge Fossil Forests from Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone fossils show evidence of multiple soil layers with rooted tree trunks resulting in a succession of fossil forests (see the discussion and references here).
Another odd geological claim on display is that certain rock units are found not only across continents, but over a multiple continent area (Figure 36). It is claimed that sandstones resting on crystalline basement rocks are found in various places and thus formed as Noah’s Flood swept sand across the continents. Thus the sign claims that the Tapeats Sandstone of the Grand Canyon correlates with the Mt. Simon Sandstone in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, the Sauk Sandstone of Libya, and the Amudel Shelomo Sandstone of Timna, Israel. All these sandstones occur above crystalline basement deposits of igneous and metamorphic rocks and probably represent a similar depositional environment. However, they all didn’t form at the same time as the Ark Encounter claims. For example, the Tapeats Sandstone in Arizona is Lower Cambrian, while the Mt. Simon Sandstone is Upper Cambrian in Wisconsin and extends into the Michigan and Illinois basins further east. In places in the Illinois Basin the unit reaches a thickness of 750 meters; it is covered by more than 4500 meters of sedimentary rocks in deep wells in western Kentucky. These sandstones are what are known as transgressive units. They represent slow changes in sea level and migration of depositional environments, not sudden catastrophic changes in sea level and rapid transport of sand. (Interestingly, creationists haven’t explained where these well-rounded, sometimes very thick, sand deposits originated. How could this material have eroded out of older rocks, had fine clay and silt particles winnowed out, and become well-rounded in massive quantities in the 1600 years between the Creation and the Flood?) The concept of marine transgression is well-known to geologists who study stratigraphy (the branch of geology that studies layered rocks and their relationships). Such concepts have important practical uses in petroleum geology and in finding rock units suitable for sequestration of carbon dioxide. It is fascinating that Ark Encounter is presenting these complex claims to the general public, while not even trying to convince geologists.
A type of unconformity (an erosional surface representing a gap in time) known as a paraconformity is illustrated (Figure 37) and asserted to somehow be inconsistent with geologic time. A photo inset of an outcrop showing the contact between the Hermit Formation and the overlying Coconino Sandstone in the Grand Canyon claims there is no evidence of erosion between the two rock layers. Because there is a several-million-year gap in ages between the two units, AiG implies that geologists are inventing an imaginary erosional contact to explain away missing time in the rock record. However, Ark Encounter is lying by omission about the full nature of the contact between the Hermit Formation and Coconino Sandstone. One of the standard references on the geology of the Grand Canyon states that the contact between the two units is indeed sharp, but that “[c]racks 20 or more feet deep at the top of the Hermit frequently are filled with the overlying sandstone” (Blakey 2003, p. 149). Furthermore, when geologists looked at the contact between the Hermit and Coconino Sandstone over a larger area, they discovered that there are additional geological formations above the Hermit Formation to be found over a large area of the Colorado Plateau (Blakey 1990). Once again the “gotcha” Flood geology promoted in the Ark Encounter concentrates on a misinterpretation of one small area, while ignoring geology over a larger area that doesn’t agree with creationist dogma. If Flood geology is a real discipline, why is AiG presenting it to visitors of a theme park instead of publishing it in mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journals?
A “Fossils and the Bible” sign takes a swipe at Christians who accept that the earth is billions of years old (Figure 38). Wasn’t Ark Encounter’s refusing to hire such dastardly, terrible people as mainline Protestants and Catholics enough punishment? Now this? I liked the graphic of the Ark floating near the mountain that is deep under water on one side and bone dry on the other. There is something so surreal and banal about both the Creation “Museum” and the Ark Encounter. One would think they would be trying to win over their fellow Christians instead of claiming that they believe crazy strawman concepts like what is illustrated in this graphic.
Next it is claimed that tight folds in the rock record—“warped rocks”—prove that strata were still soft when bent and thus prove sedimentary rocks were rapidly deposited (Figure 39). This is one of the more bizarre geological claims made at Ark Encounter. Because creationist dogma claims that sedimentation occurred really fast during the flood year, most rocks didn’t have time to lithify. According to Flood geologists, most of plate tectonics occurred in the Flood and tectonic folds occurred while the rock was still soft sediment. Thus they ignore or misrepresent a large amount of structural geology. This is especially peculiar, because the physics of how solid material, including rocks, bend is well understood and has nothing to do with religious dogma. The branch of physics known as rheology deals in part with how solid material behaves, including flowing plastically, under high confining pressures. Folding of solid rocks is understood to occur by plastic deformation, which happens slowly and usually under great confining pressures deep underground. Plastic deformation can give way to the brittle deformation that forms fractures and faults under the right conditions. Conditions under which solid rocks fold have been experimentally reproduced under laboratory conditions (see, for example, Friedman and others 1980). The creationist claims about folded rocks still being soft are beyond wrong and makes one wonder if they are proposed in order to confuse and baffle non-scientists. If not, what do such basic misunderstandings of science say about the competence of creation “scientists”?
A sign illustrating Flood Geology deals with the cutting of the Grand Canyon (Figure 40). An inset compares the Grand Canyon to the observed cutting of unconsolidated ash by streams after the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens (a hint as to why this is a poor comparison: unconsolidated volcanic ash is really soft and erodes easily). Another inset claims that high cliffs show that the canyon was carved quickly. (Yet one poster earlier, we were told that the rocks of the Grand Canyon were still soft sediments when folded. How can these steep cliffs have formed from still soft sediments without major slumping?) Another inset expresses a simplistic argument from incredulity that the relatively small Colorado River cut the canyon.
A series of beautiful backlit displays illustrates and summarizes the creationist worldwide flood, showing the breaking up of the fountains of the deep, drowning dinosaurs, a very rapid collision of the Indian Plate with Asia (AiG has most of plate tectonics occurring in less than a year), and the release of pterosaurs from the Ark, all in bright illustration (Figure 41a–c). Ultimately, a new world is made: “In approximately one year, the wicked pre-Flood [world] consisting of a supercontinent is destroyed and a new world with seven continents rises from the waters. They are covered with layers of fossil-filled sediment deposited by water, testifying of the biblical account in Genesis. Noah’s family is given an opportunity to start over—to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.”
Young Earth Creationists reject outright the abundant geological evidence for many glacial advances and retreats in the last two million years of earth history. AiG has only a single Ice Age occurring as an aftereffect of Noah’s Flood of 2348 BCE, with all continental-scale glaciation occurring within a few hundred years of the Flood. Ark Encounter has an entire series of displays to promote this fantasy, which is not only wrong geologically, but is contradicted by archaeology and history as well. As in many other exhibits, Ark Encounters claims that the different conclusions between its claims and standard science are based on different worldviews (Figure 42). However, science has developed the idea that there have been numerous ice ages based on multiple lines of data, while Answers in Genesis’s creationism has a predetermined idea based on the Bible (the Flood) and, because the evidence for ice ages is now so well-recognized by most people, it shoehorn a single ice age into a short time span to save dogma. This isn’t a matter of “worldviews”; it is evidence-based reasoning against religious dogma and special pleading.
A prime example in how incompetently AiG deals with evidence comes from the discounting of the importance of ice cores drilled in Greenland and Antarctica. Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica contain a record of hundreds of thousands of years of the earth’s climate; they are some of the most important data in understanding this subject. For example, cores sampled by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) record 740,000 years of climatic history, and further coring has the potential to provide data on more than the last 900,000 years (see the overview here). AiG does everything it can to discount ice core data, even repeating the story of the “Lost Squadron” of airplanes that landed on a glacier in Greenland during World War II and were discovered forty-eight years later buried under 80 meters of ice (Figure 43). Thus the young-earth creationists claim that the ice forms much more rapidly than scientists claim. However, this creationist claim was debunked with data more than twenty years ago. The planes landed on an active, moving glacier, near the shore of Greenland, where there are high rates of snowfall. In contrast, ice cores are taken in the stable interiors of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps where the rates of snow accumulation are tiny compared to the coastal regions of Greenland (for more information, see the discussion in the Index to Creationist Claims or Matt Brinkman’s article on ice core dating).
The “Ice Age” displays at the Ark end with a sign discounting anthropogenic global warming and stating that “experts can be found on either side of the climate debate.”
The story of the “confusion” of languages at the Tower of Babel is taken seriously by young-earth creationists, again showing that it is not just biology, the earth sciences, physics, and astronomy that are under attack, but also archaeology, history, and linguistics. According to signage in this section, after the Flood everyone spoke the same language and didn’t spread over the earth like God commanded them and the animals to do. The animals spread out, but the dumb people just hung around a Podunk place called Babel and, annoyingly, kept multiplying and refused to leave. They really liked the good life in Babel with nothing better to do than to multiply (a rather popular activity) and work on a tower to Heaven (I for one would have preferred staying home and working on, ahem, multiplying). The Old Testament God was rather easy to annoy, so the people got off easy with having their languages confused, rather than being killed or maimed in some unimaginably horrible way. AiG has a sign claiming that God created a maximum of ninety language families at Babel from which modern languages are derived (unnamed researchers have shown this!). They also claim that those pesky evolutionists believe languages have common ancestors and evolved in a tree-like pattern (I’m not sure conventional linguists accept the simple version of the evolution of languages Ark Encounter claims they do—I thought the interrelationships of languages would be much more complex—but who knows with those cunning linguists). The signage (Figure 44) blames the different interpretations on, you guessed it, worldviews. Have I mentioned that Ken Ham hopes to have a large-scale version of the Tower of Babel with a movie theater inside it erected adjacent to the Ark when new phases of the Ark Encounter are added in a few years? He is already raising money.
Ark Encounter claims that the various races of humanity derived from the descendants of Noah’s sons after Babel. One sign reads, “All the humans who settled the earth after the Flood descended from Noah’s three sons. Yet the human gene pool split up after Babel. [What does that last sentence even mean?—DP] In just a few generations, varying combinations of previously existing genetic information resulted in distinct people groups, each with superficial differences, including different skin tones and eye shapes.” AiG, the Creation “Museum,” and Ark Encounter all have been commendable in their stand against racism, even if for non-scientific reasons, whatever else they get wrong. Alas, they sometimes blame science for racism, but they didn’t do so on board the Ark as far as I could tell.
Further posters in the Babel section talk about pyramids, ziggurats, and earth mounds in other parts of the world. Interestingly, they don’t mention the accepted ages for any of these archaeological structures, nor do they provide their own dates. Amusingly, there is one poster discussing the pseudoscientific belief that aliens built the pyramids of Egypt, stating, “Our ancestors scattered from Babel, and the similarities in the design and purpose of these towers seem to reflect a common origin—the Tower of Babel” (emphasis in original).
ANCIENT MAN, BRILLIANT OR BRUTE?
The next section, mostly posters, makes an anti-evolutionary argument by showing our ancient ancestors weren’t dumb. Evolution supposedly teaches that our ancestors were “unintelligent grunting brutes,” while the Bible reveals early people to be highly intelligent. Thus there could have been “significant technological advances,” including metalworking that allowed Noah to build the Ark (just like Ken Ham!). A poster puts forth AiG’s view on the size of the pre-Flood population, stating “Some people [who?—DP] believe the population remained relatively low because the people were extremely corrupt and violent. The world may have been filled with wars, diseases, and other factors that kept the population in check. Others [again, who?—DP] believe that the population reached into the billions. With such long lifespans, families could have been very large, and the population growth rate may have been much higher than today.” The estimates they present run from the rather exact figures of 147,551,508 to 19,947,270,231. Once again, since this is based on no evidence, AiG can present any figures it wants.
Further posters about ancient humans mention the Great Pyramid of Giza (no age is given other than its being constructed “in the first few centuries after Babel”) and Stonehenge (again, no date given). Since AiG treats the evidence from archaeology and history the same way it does biology and geology, conventional time scales are ignored to save religious dogma. Thus it is claimed, “The caveman, hunter-gatherer, farmer, and city-builder definitely existed, but they existed at the same time. In fact each of these types of people can be found in the world today.” Furthermore, we are told that “The concept of ‘prehistoric’ events, animals, and people contradicts the biblical worldview.” And “[s]o the concept of prehistoric does not make sense from a biblical perspective.” The human fossil record is dismissed by claiming they are either “… fully ape (e.g., Lucy and Ardipithecus); fully man (e.g., Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon) or complete frauds (e.g., Nebraska Man and Piltdown Man)” (Ardipithecus not italicized in the original). Take that, you heathen con artist paleoanthropologists!
The next section compares various flood legends and Arks. Of course other stories from other cultures are mere myths and legends and so much bunk, while the Flood and Noah’s Ark in Genesis are THE TRUTH™. Most scholars would think that Genesis copied and embellished older stories, but AiG’s superscholars show that those other two hundred-plus stories are just a “distorted version of the same event.” They conclude so because “1. SINCE THE BIBLE IS GOD’S Word, it is accurate in all it records. This accuracy is not limited to matters of faith, but includes every subject the Bible addresses, including history. 2. ONLY THE DIMENSIONS OF the biblical Ark provide the ideal size, strength, stability, and comfort for a ship built to protect the people and animals during the Flood. 3. MANY FLOOD LEGENDS highlight a mountain, animals, and boat structure common to the people of the region. However, the Bible does not localize the event.” A video compares the Ark and other aspects of the Flood stories with those of Gilgamesh and Akkadian and other myths, and of course Noah’s boat wins the competition! Yahoo! Go, Team Noah! Tomorrow we will learn how the Ark could have won the America’s Cup race.
The next section is devoted to God’s covenant with Noah and his family after the boat docked. God promises not to send any more worldwide floods and uses the rainbow as his sign. Artificially aged art work in a pseudo-ancient Sumerian (?) style (Figure 45) is the highpoint of this small section. By the way, a poster here explains that humans are finally given permission to eat meat. My, those dinosaurs look tasty! Noah’s got the meat!
HISTORY OF THE BIBLE
One of the last exhibits on Deck Three consists of probably the best series of displays and least crazy things in the entire Ark. The History of the Bible section has displays of various historic bibles on loan from the Museum of the Bible, which will eventually open in Washington DC. This section doesn’t explicitly promote creationist “science” and is simply a wonderful collection of genuine editions of the Bible, including very old specimens and various editions. These were used in various cultures from every continent (including the same edition of a Bible Ernest Shackleton had on the Endurance while in Antarctica). Although the history of the Bible isn’t a subject that particularly fascinates me, I found this section a pleasant relief after all of the AiG crank pseudoscience and fantasy presented in the rest of the Ark. Unlike the other displays in the Ark, this section had genuine items of interest. On opening day, Ark Encounter did not have any natural objects (such as rocks, fossils, or biological specimens) or genuine historic artifacts on display, except for the Bibles in this section.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT $TORE
After Deck Three, you may be able to take elevators down, but I chose to walk down the ramps to the lower decks and exit through the gift store. A portion of the gift store featured “fair trade” merchandise made by people from poorer nations of the world. But most of the bookstore hawked more typical AiG/Ark Encounter merchandise such as t-shirts, stuffed animals, toy dinosaurs, key chains, mugs, and general kitsch. Also for sale was an enormous amount of creationist literature and videos, similar to that found in the Creation “Museum” bookstore. I must admit to being taken aback by the inane “Noah’s Cubit,” a mass-produced stick in a box, for sale for only $19.95 (Figure 46). I wasn’t clear as to the difference between “Noah’s Cubit” and what looked like a slightly larger “Construction Cubit” for the same price.
From the Gift Store you can leave under the Ark’s stern, perhaps even more misinformed than when you entered, and at least $40 poorer.
A portion of the stern was covered with cloth (Figure 47). I wasn’t certain if it was just unfinished or if there was some sort of rain or other damage to the wood. Additionally, many of the concrete supports still had cement board covering in place. Presumably, these incomplete details will be finished soon.
Adjacent to the Ark is a 1500-seat restaurant named “Emzara’s Kitchen,” after the imagined name for Noah’s wife. I didn’t go in, but I have seen photos of numerous taxidermy animals on display in the restaurant. Eventually, this will be joined by an additional 600-seat restaurant on the as yet inaccessible top deck of the Ark.
I didn’t visit the petting zoo. I regretted not doing so; real animals would have been far more interesting than anything in the boat. Ham has said that future phases of the Ark will include a Tower of Babel Theater, a replica of a walled first-century village, and an actual ride through the Ten Plagues of Egypt. (The rain of frogs might be interesting, but I think I would skip the river of blood. You might want to leave your first-born sons at home).
By the time I left, it was after 3:30 p.m. and the lot was greatly thinned out. No one appeared to be waiting in line. AiG has claimed 6,000 visitors on opening day and 30,000 people visiting the ark in the first six days (averaging 5,000 visitors/day).
It was obvious from many of the unlabeled and not-yet-in-place features that the July 7, 2016, opening date snuck up on AiG. In all likelihood, they needed to open, and therefore gave their workers an impossible task. I must admit that the construction of the Ark-shaped building is impressive. Ken Ham has plenty of room to expand his fantasy Ark.
Alas, the content of the Ark is even more non-scientific and anti-scientific than the Creation “Museum.” I never would have thought that possible. Some of the most over-the-top claims made in Ark Encounter aren’t just attacks on conventional science and history, but are simply made up. Ark Encounter claims “artistic license,” but if a real natural history museum were to engage in the same level of invention of details and made-up stories as are present in the Ark, AiG would be having a field day attacking such a museum. AiG and Ken Ham’s blog have attacked what are admittedly fictional movies for playing loose with the meager descriptions of the myth of Noah and the Flood in Genesis, yet it is somehow acceptable when the Ark Encounter embellishes the story with unbridled flights of the imagination.
The contents of the Ark Encounter are no threat to science or how science is practiced. Indeed, AiG, the Creation “Museum,” and now the Ark Encounter are insulated in their own world, providing attacks on conventional science and history while not participating in either. However, the Ark is another attack on science education—and AiG now has numerous political connections in Kentucky. Soon after the Ark opened, a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent numerous school systems in the region warnings that taking student trips to the Ark for school-sanctioned trips was unconstitutional religious indoctrination. Ken Ham soon afterwards reacted by offering public school field trips to the Ark with $1 admission for students and free for teachers. It is unlikely that any school system would foolishly risk a lawsuit by engaging in Ham’s publicity stunt, but it does illustrate that AiG is likely to become more active in getting their ideas into regional public schools. A larger problem is that many teachers in the region are likely to softpedal, or totally omit, topics in science classes (and now perhaps history also) that might upset the children of conservative and fundamentalist Christians who have visited or support Ark Encounter.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
I will leave it to readers to decide if they wish to visit Ark Encounter. In my 2007 review of the Creation “Museum,” I gave several reasons for and against visiting. Since Ark Encounter is somewhat more expensive than the “museum” and is supported by the tax rebate incentive, I would say that if you really need a dose of creation “science,” go to the “museum” rather than the Ark. As before, if you go to either of AiG’s attractions, agree with yourself in advance to spend or donate a greater amount at a real natural history museum or science venue. I’m sure that NCSE wouldn’t mind you sending a few dollars their way as well.
PESSIMISM—HAM HAS TWO CREATION “MUSEUMS”
On a pessimistic note, I have to state that the concept of separation of church and state and the influence of scientific organizations in Kentucky has been diminished by the Ark’s political rise. Several people have referred to Ken Ham as the “Ayatollah of Appalachia.” Unfortunately, that joke isn’t far off from reality. No scientific organization, not even the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, has even close to this level of influence with any aspect of state or local government. With the opening of the Ark, Ham basically has two creation “museums,” one shaped like his mythical boat. He won the $18.25 million tourism tax rebate incentive and the right to discriminate in hiring for the Ark.
He and his Answers in Genesis ministry have support at the highest levels of Kentucky’s government, including Governor Bevin, who did not appeal the Tourism Cabinet’s defeat in the lawsuit over the tax rebate incentives. Kentucky’s lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton, showed up to assist in the Ark’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and voiced her support, saying: “We are so blessed that this great, great attraction was built here in Kentucky, it’s just an honor to have this here. We hope to see millions visit Kentucky, to visit the Ark Encounter over the next few years. I can’t wait to see inside.”
State Senator Damon Thayer and State Representative Brian Linder have written local newspaper columns in support of Ark Encounter. Moreover, Thayer tried to pass legislation to have school starting dates changed statewide to help Kentucky tourism and has specifically cited helping the Ark Encounter as a reason.
The state is spending $11 million of its transportation budget to upgrade the I-75 exit near the Ark, based on exaggerated attendance figures projected by one of Ham’s cronies and co-authors, Britt Beemer. Beemer is the source of the claim, oft repeated by Ken Ham, that the Ark is projected to have an attendance of 1.4 million visitors (and possibly 2.2 million) the first year. This ignores lower attendance numbers calculated by the unbiased Hunden Strategic Partners research company. Ark Encounter paid $58,000 for the Hunden study when it submitted the Tourism Incentive Application to the Tourism Cabinet. The Hunden study projects a much more modest number of Ark visitors—325,000 the first year, rising to about 425,000/year the third year, then declining to 275,000/year (see Figure 4-3 in the Hunden study (PDF)).
Ham has massive support in Grant County and in Williamstown’s city government. The City of Williamstown issued $62 million in bonds so the Ark could be financed. The Ark received a steep property tax reduction for the next thirty years from Williamstown. Williamstown created a special Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone for people working in and near the Ark wherein 2% of their wages go back into paying for the Ark. The Ark received nearly $200,000 from the Grant County Industrial Authority because someone local blabbed that the Ark was buying real estate and caused land prices to rise. The Ark bought 100 acres of land for $1 from the Grant County Fiscal Court so Ham would build the Ark in Williamstown instead of elsewhere.
Initial attendance the first week the Ark was open was claimed by Ken Ham to be approximately 5,000 people/day. The Ark will need to average approximately 4,000 people/day to meet the low end of the 1.4 million visitors per year claim repeatedly claimed by AiG. It doesn’t seem likely that attendance will remain high once school is back in session. Furthermore, although Kentucky has beautiful autumns, our winters are not a prime tourism season. Will there be large crowds in January to early March? So what happens when the 1.4 million a year fail to show up? AiG appears to have much money now, so the Ark will not go broke within, say, a year, as some have projected. However, can the Ark continue to bring in enough visitors to remain viable?
The Ark Encounter is a second iteration of Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum,” this time in an Ark-shaped building. Since AiG is now the world’s largest producer of creationist books and videos, the success or failure of the project may have large implications on how much influence young-earth creationism will have over education in the United States. The very fact that the Ark has opened and has had the support of local and state government should be a cause of concern for anyone worried about education and the separation of church and state.
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