Just 10 days after the grand opening of the Ark Encounter on July 7th, I traveled down to Kentucky to pay a visit to Ken Ham’s latest evangelistic outreach endeavor. It was a Friday and I arrived less than one hour after opening and spent the better part of six hours on the Ark Encounter premises. I have shared some of my thoughts about the Ark Encounter previously (Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Opens to a Flood of Press but Few Visitors than Anticipated; The Ark Encounter: Depicting a Real Flood with Unrealistic Images; The Ark Encounter Common Ancestors: The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds). Today I take you on a visual tour of the Ark Encounter theme park, share a few more thoughts about the exhibits, and suggest some needed improvements.
This was my first glimpse of the Ark as I pulled onto the Ark Encounter property. The Ark is a bit over 1 mile away in this picture.
The park information pamphlet with map and rules includes an indication of how many people the Ark Encounter hoped to attract for its opening. Notice that tickets were originally intended to be valid for only half the day presumably to accommodate more people. They must have printed these pamphlets months before the opening because as much as a month before opening they had already changed to selling tickets for the whole day after it became apparent that the attendance would not meet their optimistic estimates.
A line of buses were prepared to take us from the parking lot to the Ark and other attractions.
Here I am posing in front of the Ark after departing the bus. When I toured the ark the ramp up to the door was still under construction but it has since been completed.
While waiting in line to enter the Ark there was a 20 minute mini-movie running entitled, The Noah Interview. I took the two images above. The first shows one of Noah’s sons concerned that they are going to have to house huge dinosaurs and Noah assures him that they will be taking small juveniles versions. The second is of the woman who is interviewing Noah. There is so much that could be said about this movie but you should just see if for yourself. You can watch it on YouTube HERE.
I was quite struck by the amount of empty space on the Ark. There were several decks that had areas that looked just like this while I was there. I am not sure if this is space that they plan to fill with future exhibits or if they thought that so many people would visit and they needed to keep plenty of overflow area for people.
The Ark didn’t just have to carry representatives of living animals but also had to carry all the extinct animals as well. There is an assumption that no extinction of kinds could have occurred prior to the Flood and thus all kinds that God created must have been represented on the Ark. Thus dinosaurs and many other extinct groups of animals had to be accommodated.
Everything about the creation was perfect. The idea that God’s original creation was a perfect paradise is central to the YEC theology. As many theologians have pointed out, the author of Genesis doesn’t say the creation was perfect but rather that it was “very good.” There are words in the Hebrew language that could have been used to convey perfection but the author chose to speak of the creation being good. I don’t understand why it is so hard for Answers in Genesis to simply use scriptural language. Instead they import strong interpretive language into their scenes.
In keeping with the theme of the Ark Encounter that only representatives of a “kinds” were on the Ark, this poster informs the visitor that polar bears were not on the ark but rather only one pair of bears which then gave rise to offspring which adapted to an arctic climate.
Countering the “bathtub ark” is a major theme of the Ark Encounter. There is a whole room devoted to showing how Christians are doing a disservice to their children by falsely portraying Noah’s Ark in a child-like manner. There are 7Ds of Deception explained. Below is just one of them.
The pre-flood world if viewed as one in which people cared nothing for God’s creation. The destruction of the environment is clearly displayed here with the burning forests and the trophy hunters taking horns of triceratops. As an aside here, note that the animals in this picture are dinosaurs. It’s as if dinosaurs rules the world before the flood. Any chance that the AiG folks get to put a dinosaur on display they do so.
Over and over again, the visitor to the Ark and readers of AiG literature are faced with the two worldviews argument. It’s all a matter of seeing the data with the correct glasses.
Here we see the creation orchard model of origins applies to languages. Just like “kind” the Ark presents language groups – like kinds – have a supernatural origin but then after that origin those languages have been free to evolve into many related languages.
Before getting to the displays that try to explain how all the worlds diversity of animals could have been preserved on the Ark this display tries to dispute the existence of vast numbers of extinct species. The last sentence here “The amount of documented extinct species only numbers in the thousands…” is just false. Fossils species are a huge problem for the Ark feasibility but the Ark Encounter tries to dismiss them.
Yes, there was an Ice Age but only one. Like so many other displays, answers are presented as if they are just the result of different worldviews.
It isn’t enough to talk about the age of the earth. The Ark Encounter feels it has to provide answers to other questions such as global warming and ice ages. Here we see an attempt to dismiss anthropogenic climate change.
Some very simplistic estimates of the populations size before the Flood.
There is a whole room dedicated to explaining how the people before Noah probably had advanced technology. Mostly it came down to the saying the bible is silent or doesn’t speak against such technology so we are free to speculate that such technology exists. It is also an admission that everything we do know about ancient technology isn’t enough to explain how such a vast vessel could have been built and so postulating greater technology than is known is required.
With a botany background I found the displays about plants to be interesting. So much emphasis is placed on animal “kinds” and how they evolved into many species after the flood. The animals on the ark are all strange ancestors of today’s animals. But what about plants? Apparently the plants were just like those we see today. Not only that but all the crop food that is displayed on the Ark were all clearly modern varieties of domesticated crops.
The 1500 seat restaurant next to the Ark. At 1pm when we had lunch there was a short line and about 50% of the lower level seats were filled. We went up to the practically empty upstairs seating area and enjoyed the view of the Ark and Kentucky countryside.
The backside of the ark was still not finished when I visited though recent pictures suggest that this last section is now complete.
Above is a screenshot of the very last scene from “Noah’s Interview” that we watched before entering the ark. In this scene Noah’s wife concludes by saying “Well, scoffers gonna scoff.” As strange ending. Rather than enticing the visitor to come and learn the emphasis is on the skeptic and seems to defend the Ark against critics. It’s as if to say “You are ready to enter the Ark and if you don’t accept what we present here then you are just a scoffer. Scoffers are going to scoff and we wash our hand because you will have seen the truth and rejected it.”
Possible Ark Encounter Improvements
The Ark Encounter is very new and they are doubtless still working out what is working and what needs to be done better. I would like to make a few suggestions for improvements based on my experiences at the Ark Encounter.
Get more real: Real things are better than fakes made to look real. The ark is made of real wood. It’s pretty impressive, it smells like wood, and is really great to be in the structure itself. 50 years from now the aged wood will give it that National Park lodges feel. But the wood is one of the few real parts of the ark. Everything else in the Ark reeks of something that is obviously fake trying to look real. The displays are plastic or overlaid Styrofoam.
But authenticity is hard to generate when the Ark that is being depicting comes from a world for which there is no physical remains to display. There is not a single cultural item that remains from the YEC pre-flood world or the Ark itself.
But one way that some realism could be brought to the displays is to include real fossils. A key conclusion of AiG’s interpretation of Genesis is that fossils represent organisms that have died and therefore existed post-fall. They are the most visible reminder of the massive death and decay you claims was wrought by Adam and Eve’s transgression. The Ark Encounter shows pictures of fossils and talks about them so why not display real dinosaur bones, real trilobites and real crinoids. Kids and adults are much more interested in looking at, and better yet, touching something that is real history.
A few fossil displays on the 3rd deck would give kids something to ooh and ah about. A massive slab with crinoids, some huge ammonites and a piece of a dinosaur would be great. There is more than enough room for these displays. Also, I think the Ark Encounter missed out on a great fossil opportunity – the new fossil sluice notwithstanding. I would have built some stone benches around the Ark make of upper Ordovician Cincinnati limestone which could be quarried from the Ark Encounter property itself. Cut and polished, these rocks are chock full of fossils and you could have an interpretive sign to explain their significance.
Real help for real questions: Tour guides! and more tour guides. The Ark has questions posted on the walls and then provides very simply speculative answers that one would expect from a vacation bible school curriculum. Anyone who has really thought much about the Noahic story and read any books on creationism and science will not be satisfied by the simplistic answers. They will have many more questions. Who is there to answer those questions?
AiG prides itself on answers for practically every question. But where the Ark Encounter focuses on provide detailed answers are to practical – by secondary – questions such as, where did all the poop go? I had many questions but it was apparent that the employees in the Ark were not there to answer questions about the displays but rather there to just be caretakers of the facility directly people to bathrooms and cleaning up spills. Maybe tour-guides are in the works. I have to imagine that it could take a long time to find and train a group of relatively low-paid workers the ins and outs of young earth creationism. The vast majority of YEC believers who could work at the ark probably couldn’t explain most of the displays beyond what is written. It takes quite a bit of work to understand the flood geology model of earth’s history and the YEC paradigm, in general, to be able to answer questions that aren’t the stock questions about how dinosaurs died and why there aren’t human and dinosaur bones found together. I find that even YEC “experts” frequently contradict their own colleagues when forced to answer novel questions. So maybe it isn’t possible to provide experts advisers but with so little signage and so few details on the signs surely many people have to be leaving with more questions than answers.
More interactive exhibits. My kids would have been bored to tears on the Ark. Yes, there is a small petting zoo and some real animals to see but once you board the ark it’s not easy to go take a break. You are pretty much stuck in there for the long haul. If you leave the only way back in is to go back to the entry point and get back in the queue to board. Fortunately there aren’t as many people coming to the ark as there were planned because if you had to wait an hour to get in you would not want to leave until you are done but on the ark there is so little to do with kids that they will go insane before you are done. Assume that if you really want to learn from the displays you are going to need a minimum of 2 hours and probably 3 hours. Kids need distractions once in a while. You can’t just promise your kids that in three hours you will be able to touch a lama and ride a camel and expect them to read 50 more signs. I suggest more interactive things to do. There is plenty of room on each deck that is not being put to use. You could have a playground in there with some interactive play equipment. Like a “use wooden pulley system to put up pilings for the ark. Be a Noah’s helper! The Ark felt like a museum except that it was full of imaginary and fake items. I can look at a painting by van Gogh because I know he painted it. It’s harder to look at manikins that represent speculation. Kids can’t just look at stuff, they have to feel and touch. And I am not just referring to 6 year olds. I’m talking teenagers too. How about a dump your own waste system in which you get to clean fake poop out of system and dump in into a bin which will be taken out of the ark? Again, a “help out Noah” sort of a thing.
After a long day, I headed north to go back home. On the way I took this picture of the sunset over corn fields.