As many of you may know, especially those who followed my live streaming earlier this week, I recently made a visit to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter and his Creation Museum in Kentucky. Ken Ham is probably the most well-known young earth creationist in America today. Over the past year, I’ve written quite a lot about Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis, in an attempt to make sense of what I consider to be a truly toxic movement within the Evangelical world. Just look around my blog, and you will find plenty of posts about Ham, AiG, and the Creation/Evolution debate as a whole.
In any case, since Ham officially opened his Ark Encounter on July 7th, and since I had a few free days, I couldn’t resist. I had to see it for myself. I have recently written a book about the young earth creationist movement entitled The Heresy of Ham, and so I owed it to myself to see in person the very thing I have been writing about this past year.
There ended up being so much to comment on, and so much that I found myself thinking as I toured both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, that it would be impossible for me to cram it all in only one post. Therefore, what I plan to do over the next week is to write three posts. This first one will simply be a narrative of my visit; and then the next two will focus on my observations and reflections of my visit. So, without further adieu…
And Then, I Entered the Ark…
On the morning of July 10th, my friend Ian and I drove up to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter that had just officially opened three days earlier. I’m sure that if we would have gotten there on opening day, we would have seen protesters from the Tri-State Freethinkers, and we might have even seen Bill Nye, who was given a personal tour with Ken Ham. But three days later, it was all pretty quiet.
In any case, we parked, went up to the ticket gate, and bought the $60 ticket that would admit us to both the Ark Encounter and to the Creation Museum that was about 45 minutes away. We then got on one of the shuttles and went to encounter Ham’s Ark. Now, it is true, as you drive up to the Ark, you are bound to say (or at least think) a catch phrase of Donald Trump, “It’s huuuge!” At the same time, the spectacle struck me as rather odd: I was looking at this huge boat in the middle of land-locked Kentucky. Nevertheless, I have to admit, it looked pretty cool.
After getting off the shuttle and taking some initial pictures of the Ark, we made our way into the Ark. As we got in line (which was pretty short at 10:00 am on Monday), we notice that there were numerous TV monitors that were playing a small reenactment from the life of Noah. Well, it wasn’t really from the life of Noah from the Bible. It was more a fictional speculation of what things might have been like for Noah as he was in the process of building the ark. The scene showed a middle-aged Noah pleaded with three rebellious teenagers to repent of their sins and come with him on the ark. The girl and both boys were tattooed, heavily make-upped, and generally looked kind of like what we might called “pre-flood goth kids.” Predictably, they sneered at Noah and made fun of him. When Noah expressed his frustration to his wife, she said, “There will always be some people who will just mock us!” (UPDATE: Since I only saw a few minutes while there, I didn’t catch that the “rebellious kids” were really “news reporters” from the pre-flood paper–PIT: The Pangea Independent Tabloid–who had come to interview Noah).
This struck me as odd in two ways. First, it seemed that the scene wasn’t so much a reenactment of Noah “back then and there,” as it was as a modern projection of the difficulties modern families have with modern children back on to story of Noah. Second, I found it odd that the very first thing you “encounter” at the Ark Encounter is being told, “Yeah, a lot of people are going to make fun of this!” Regardless of the issue of whether or not Genesis 1-11 is historical or not, I just don’t think it is wise, at the beginning of a speech, sales pitch, museum opening, or attraction, to say off the bat, “Yeah, this is going to seem really stupid to many of you!” It doesn’t really instill confidence, does it? Needless to say, it was an odd way to welcome people to the Ark.
Before we actually got into the Ark, we were told to stand in front of a green screen, so that we could get our pictures taken. At the end of the Ark Encounter, we were given the option of buying photo-shopped pictures of us in, and in front of the ark. As you can see in the picture here, there is a stegosaurus, pterodactyls, and velociraptors, alongside animals like monkeys, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, and tigers. The picture is someone misleading, though. You won’t see monkeys, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, or tigers on Ken Ham’s Ark; instead, you will see plenty of dinosaurs, along with some animals that have never existed.
The first part of deck one we encountered was a section that included a lot of cages. Although we couldn’t see anything in them, we heard a variety of animal sounds. The cages were interesting. They all had the kinds of feeders you would find at the gerbil cages at PetSmart, only these ones were made with clay.
In the next section, we encountered our first models of animals in bigger wooden cages. There was a “bear” kind, something like a “wild boar” kind, a “deer” kind, and a “sloth” kind, along with pterodactyls. There was also another pair of some kind of animal that I simply had no idea what they were supposed to be. This was another problem I found on the Ark Encounter: nothing was labeled.
Ken Ham claims that the animals on the Ark weren’t modern animals, but were rather “original kinds”—i.e. common ancestors of the variety of species we have today. Some of the animals on the Ark (like the “bear” kind) are recognizable. Ham would have you believe that over the span of a few thousand years, polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, brown bears—and every species associated with bears—descended from those two survivors of the “bear” kind on the Ark. But most of the animals on the Ark simply aren’t recognizable at all, and since there is nothing labeled, you don’t really know what you’re looking at.
In any case, on the first deck, as throughout the Ark Encounter, there were lots and lots of written explanations on the walls, explaining how Ken Ham’s claims of the universe being 6,000 years old, a literal universal flood 4,000 years ago, etc. could have happened. That’s another thing that becomes evident if you take the time to read all of it: there are a lot (and I mean A LOT) of may haves, probablys, and could have beens throughout the displays. Simply put, most of what you find on the Ark Encounter is highly imaginative, fanciful speculation, without one shred of evidence.
Decks Two and Three
Deck two was where most of the hypothetical animal kinds were stored: the number of dinosaurs were pretty much equal to the other fictitious beasts, most of which were undiscernible. Although I knew Ham was going to have dinosaurs on the Ark, I assumed he would have at least displayed them in a separate section from the other animals. But no—amazingly, we found flesh-eating dinosaurs in cages right next to animals that resembled chipmunks, giraffes, and ponies.
The animals were in the middle of deck two. Up and down the sides were various displays depicting Noah and his sons working in the in-Ark blacksmith shop and library (with an animatronic Noah explaining how he is recording all the evil deeds that had been done before the flood; there was even a globe in the corner). There were other displays arguing that ancient civilization knew the earth was a spherical, that they had advanced technology, that there was only one ice age that happened immediately after the flood (that lasted for 200 years—approximately 4000 years ago—before Babel, and that was responsible for killing off the dinosaurs that Noah had saved on the ark). All of these displays were full of the same things Answers in Genesis puts out on their website and blogs, but with artwork, and a whole lot of may haves, probablys, and could have beens.
There was a walk through exhibit detailing what the pre-flood civilization was like. They hunted triceratops for their tusks, and performed child sacrifice to a golden snake-headed god.
On the third deck we found the living quarters of Noah and his family, complete with explanations of who each one was: Ham (Noah’s son, not Ken) was an expert engineer who designed the waste removal and fresh water systems on the ark; his wife Kezia, was a medical expert who fell in love with Ham as she helped him recover from an animal attack. Shem was a scholar and astronomer; Japheth was the tallest of the sons, and was an excellent farmer.
The displays were well done, and needless to say, highly imaginative—but not in any way, shape, or form, actually biblical. Now, the Ark Encounter gets away with this by posting on the outside of many of these displays a small plaque that tells people that they are taking a certain amount of artistic license in their displays.
Well, that’s all fine and good, if it wasn’t for the fact that the stated purpose of the Ark Encounter is to try to convince people that Noah’s ark and a worldwide flood is historically and scientifically provable and true. But make no mistake, there is no actual historical or scientific evidence anywhere in any of the displays in the Ark Encounter. There is just a lot of may haves, probablys, and could have beens, along with very colorful and artistic renderings of dinosaurs on the ark with human beings, pterodactyls being released out of the ark, along with the other birds, big dinosaurs perishing in the flood, evil pre-flood people killing triceratops for their husks, and a lot of fictitious “animal kinds” that leave you thinking, “Now, what is that supposed to be?”
There was a number of other specific displays and claims that I will probably comment on in the next few posts, but the overall Ark Encounter is what I have just described: a lot of scientific and historical claims with little or no scientific or historical evidence. Instead, there is a lot of baseless speculation, unrecognizable and fictitious animals, and highly imaginative examples of artistic license. I could well understand and even appreciate the liberal use of artistic license if the whole Ark Encounter project was an attempt to creatively display the stories in Genesis 1-11 in order to emphasize the theological and worldview themes and lessons of those chapters.
After all, those chapters are incredibly important stories that lay out the fundamental worldview regarding the nature of God, the goodness of creation, and the inherent dignity yet tragic sinfulness of mankind. Throughout Church history, these stories have been creatively and artistically interpreted in a variety of ways in order to bring the reader to those fundamental truths, and that is great.
But Ken Ham has decided it is his mission to “prove” Genesis 1-11 scientifically and historically. But as is obvious, especially as you walk through the Ark Encounter, as soon as you start going down that road, you are faced with a host of impossibilities and unresolvable problems. And since there is no scientific or historical proof for Ken Ham’s claims, he resorts to “artistic license” in his attempt to scientifically and historically “prove” his claims. That, though, is a boat that just doesn’t float.
Not only that, but it also draws people’s attention away from the purpose and power of the stories in Genesis 1-11. Instead of challenging people to consider things like, “What does it mean we are made in God’s image?” “Why is it important that God address evil?” “What does it say about God that He attempts to redeem mankind, despite mankind’s propensity to destroy His creation?” –instead of asking these questions, Ken Ham has chosen to focus describing how the pre-flood civilization killed triceratops for their horns, and how Noah and his sons could have invented and used an imaginative waste disposal system while on the Ark.
Finally, even though it was only the fourth day it was open, I couldn’t help but notice how empty it was. I got the feeling I was walking around in a half-empty mall. It was clean, and looked nice, but there simply just wasn’t much there. True believers in Ham’s young earth creationism will no doubt visit the Ark, but I doubt anyone else will in the long run. In fact, I predict that within a year or two, the Ark Encounter is go by the way of the various sideshow attractions you occasionally come across from time to time, like the world’s largest ball of twine, in Cawker City, Kansas. It will be a curious oddity at best.
UPDATED NOTE: I rescind my prediction that it will tank within a year or two…it will be a little longer than that.