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Ark Encounter

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The divine comedy
Creationism
Icon creationism.svg
Running gags
Jokes aside
Blooper reel
Even dry land couldn't save this Ark from tanking.[1]
You either live in reality or you spend $92 million building a giant Ark for rational people to laugh at.
Hemant Mehta[2]
...the fact that a huge team of professionals hired by AiG can build a boat-shaped building using modern construction equipment and sophisticated engineering software does not prove that one 500-year-old man built a similarly sized seafaring vessel thousands of years ago using a wood hammer and a rock.
—Tyler Franke, Christian blogger[3]

The Ark Encounter is a $102 million[4] amusement park in Williamstown, Kentucky; it features "a full-size Noah's Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible",[5] the world's third such structure, or, to be more accurate, "a boat-shaped building held together with riveted steel brackets". Ark Encounter opened in 2016 amidst controversy and chaos, as per usual for anything involving Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.

"Malarkey Encounter"[edit]

In 2010, Answers in Genesis started the "Ark Encounter" project about 40 miles from the Creation "Museum" and built a life sized ark[6] for it. The attraction is a for-profit venture part-owned by AIG subsidiary Crosswater Canyon Inc., who will supposedly be providing the day-to-day management of the park as well as maintaining at least a 20% stake in the business. Other, unnamed private investors were said to be providing the other 80% of the funding required.[7] Another $150 million[8] well spent! Plans dictated that the ark will be built precisely to the specifications described in the Bible, down to the cubit.[9] The result of this is that Creationist families will marvel in awe at the size of the boat, before a sudden, startling realization that it couldn't fit two of every animal.

Set to open in 2014, the Ark Encounter was to feature a petting zoo, a replica Tower of Babel, and the "historical" biblical journey from Abraham to the parting of the Red Sea.[8] Due to difficulties securing funding, this has since been scaled back to a "first phase" consisting of just the Ark itself, 30 pairs of stuffed animals that won't take up more space than is available,[10] and a smaller petting zoo. Even this smaller petting zoo risks serious animal health and animal welfare problems which the organizers apparently did not consider.[11] Other attractions are said to be scheduled for "future phases." With its super accurate account of history, the project is aimed mainly at being an educational experience for its soon-to-be-enlightened visitors (of which they expect 1.6 million a year).[8] Unfortunately, fundraising stalled at half the $24 million to start the first phase of the project, construction of the ark itself.[12] As of 2013, ground had yet to be broken on the project. Meanwhile, a Dutch creationist showed them how it was done by building another Ark replica in 2012.[13]

Also dubbed "Malarkey Encounter", "Unmarketable Encounter" and more,[14] the theme park opened in 2016, amid controversy, because bands from two public schools played at the opening ceremony, allegedly violating Constitutional church/state separation,[15] although the bands' performance likely would have been within the guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Education dating to the Clinton-era regarding proper separation of church and state, which explicitly state that schools should treat religious groups the same exact way as secular groups.[16] Despite years of planning and building the project did not appear successful.[17] Hemant Mehta wrote:

There’s a reason Ham didn’t use a picture from Ark Encounter’s actual opening day: The attendance was abysmal. It didn’t meet anyone’s expectations.[18]

Jerry Coyne said:

Maybe all the good Christians were in Church that morning and would show up later. Still it’s worrisome—to Ham, not me, as I’m delighted. Who wants big attendance at an exhibit devoted to purveying lies to children?[19]

Later visitors did not describe the site as truthful or accurate.[20] The sight of an Ark with a bulbous bow - a 20th Century invention for ships which have to move through the water - and a modern stern was not a good start.[21]

Problematic finance[edit]

I wanted it to fail. I didn’t want it to open. Now I’m counting down the days until it closes.
—Hemant Mehta[22]

The Ark Encounter applied for tax breaks to the tune of $43 million from the Kentucky state government. That was a bit steep but tax breaks were controversially granted.[23] Secular organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State see it as a clear violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Still, the state government claimed they had no right to deny the Ark Encounter tax incentives they would give to any other for-profit tourist venture of similar size in the state. There were delays beginning construction and difficulties getting funding, so the Ark Encounter missed deadlines tied to tax incentives they applied for and was forced to refile to secure them again. The plans for the Ark Encounter have been scaled down a great deal after their first application.[24] In 2014, Kentucky’s state tourism board gave preliminary approval for tax subsidies for the Ark Park.[25] Then it was announced that the project had lost the incentives from the state because they intended to discriminate on religious grounds.[26] As one commenter put it, "There very well may be dinosaurs on Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter boat in Grant County at some point in the future, but much like 'Noah,' it appeared he would now have to build this with his own money."[26]

Why does God need so much taxpayer help?

Really, has God been so lame spreading the good news that AIG must "counter the myths floating around about the Bible-upholding Ark Encounter," on a digital video board in New York's Times Square?

Does God need to be defended with the demagogic language AIG and its founder Ken Ham use in the holy war against "intolerant liberal friends," "secularists," "Bible-scoffers," and, the most telling, "agitators outside the state?"[27]

In fall 2013 AiG finally gave up trying to raise the necessary funds to build the Ark Encounter from their flock. The new plan was to do a bond issue together with the city of Williamstown to raise funds for the project.[28] Interestingly, the official bond issue site describes Ark Encounter LLC. as wholly owned by Crosswater Canyon Inc., the AiG subsidiary.[29] This suggests AiG's partners have now bailed out, forcing the project to be entirely debt financed. According to the project summary, the "first phase" of the project is projected to cost $73 million and AiG is providing the $13 million already raised from their credulous supporters in donations towards this. The whole of the remaining $60 million is to come from the bonds. They project the "future phases", i.e. everything other than the ark, will cost $52.6 million and hope the profits of the park over the first decade that it's running will pay for this. Remember the project is to be 80% debt financed. Isn't that ridiculously optimistic? AiG continues to use the original estimates of annual visitor numbers from when the project was announced, pegged at 1.6 million or up to 2 million if some decide on a two-day visit. Jie Yang, a professor of finance at Georgetown University, notes "Should the project be unsuccessful, AiG holds no responsibility in meeting the interest payments of these bonds and the bonds may default.".[30]

Kentucky refused state-based funding for the Ark Park, sparking a lawsuit and later a $190,000 legal bill which the state had to pay.[31] AiG claims that when the State of Kentucky is not actively funding a religious organisation (i.e. Ham's nonsensical creation circus) this is "religious persecution", or at least interferes with "religious freedom". This AiG version of "religious freedom" includes the right to discriminate based on religious belief (or lack thereof) when recruiting its staff.[32] Employees are required to disavow abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, premarital sex, gay marriage, transsexual rights. They must believe in Adam and Eve, that Genesis is literally true, the Global flood, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Satan as enemy of God and humanity, and a 6,000 year old earth. Employees may not believe in evolution science, must provide salvation testimony, and must dutifully attend a Bible-believing local church.[33] By contrast Kentucky citizens whose tax dollars help to finance 'Ark Encounter' hold a range of different beliefs about religion and ethics.[34]

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled in favor of Answers in Genesis in January 2016, and this appears to be the end of the dispute (unless Ark Park still manages to go bankrupt) because then-Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, who has been in favor of taxpayer support of the Christian religion, opted not to appeal the case.[35][36] Ken Ham stated deceitfully for an Australian television program that the funding was entirely from private donations. Australian television apparently missed out on fact checking.[37]

Disappointing result[edit]

Tourist trade round the attraction is far less than was hoped, and people in the area may wonder if the tax rebates gave value for money.[38] It seems Ark Encounter is attracting at best under 5,000 visitors a day, well below what was hoped.[39] On the bright side, some visitors have been enjoying cognitive dissonance by camping at nearby Big Bone Lick State Historic Site, the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology", where fossils from 13,000 BCE have been found according to the State of Kentucky.[39][40] Hemant Mehta expects attendance to fall further during the less pleasant times of the year and also expects falling attendance because visitors who have seen the attraction once will generally not come back.[41] Ark Encounter has not benefited the local economy despite the tax breaks they got.[42]

Claims[edit]

Back to the future[edit]

The 10-year plan for the park includes "a Tower of Babel, concept snack shacks, a 3,200-seat amphitheater and a 10-plagues-of-Egypt thrill ride. Frogs! Fiery hail! Locusts!"[43]

Controversy[edit]

Biologos, a Christian group that promotes theistic evolution, claims that Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis generally force people to choose between science and literal interpretations of the Bible. Biologos adds that people taught Biblical literalism can lose faith in Christianity totally when they find how science conflicts with literal interpretations of the Bible.[44]

Bill Nye fears that children are being “brainwashed”;[45] the "absolutely wrong idea that the Earth is 6,000 years old" alarms him.[46] The Freedom From Religion Foundation warned schools that field trips to Ark Encounter have no educational value and could lead to costly legal action over the 1st Amendment. Ken Ham got worked up about this and called it bullying,[47] he's now offering kids who are part of field trips entry for only $1 with teachers free.[48] A lawsuit would give further free publicity to Ark Encounter. Will there be legal fireworks?

PZ Myers is also unimpressed:

Bill Nye is not going to be persuaded by the fake Ark, because he knows what the actual evidence is, and seeing the place lying at every point is the opposite of persuasion — it’s active dissuasion to anyone knowledgeable at all. It’s a giant affirmation of ignorance, and so the ignorant will revel in it, while everyone else will be repelled. This is why I’m not afraid to encourage scientists and atheists to visit: what needs to be done to correct its influence is informed discussion of its fundamental dishonesty. To do that, we need to witness it. But unless we fail to educate the public, this foolishness is ultimately doomed.[49]

Admission is a whopping $49.95 (plus tax) and for many/most potential visitors the cost of travellng there is comparable or higher. By no means will every scientific atheist want to pay out to see the "Ship of Fools".[50] Still, all that is needed is a sufficient number of atheist visitors to debunk the museum thoroughly. Children or gullible adults who have seen 'Ark Encounter,' or read descriptions, may benefit from accounts by scientifically minded people who also saw it. Books and online material point out how unreasonable the Noah's flood story is as well as many other problems with Noah and the flood. This also helps and costs far less.

An atheist group tried to erect a billboard describing Noah's flood as genocide and drawing attention to necessary incest if after the flood Noah's family procreated. The company dealing with the billboard refused, arguing the advertisement was offensive, fraudulent, inaccurate or a few more similar options. Jim G. Helton who is involved in the campaign agrees the Bible quote, "So God said to Noah, 'I am going to put an end to all the people.'" (Genesis 6:13) is offensive and that is the only relevant writing on the revised billboard. Helton also agrees the Bible is offensive, misleading, fraudulent but regrets the group have not been able to exercise First Amendment rights and put the poster up. "I guess the Bible is too offensive for a billboard." (Hemant Mehta)[51]

Ark Encounter is by far the largest wooden structure in the world. Therefore, nobody anywhere in the world has experience of how fire would behave in such a large wooden structure. The fire risk is likely impossible to estimate. Ken Ham is unwilling to pay the town where the Ark is situated for safety features, including a fire truck, that are needed to protect people who work there and visitors.[52]

Gallery[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. The Year In Science 2016. "Hey, down here! I built an Aaaaak!"
  2. Ken Ham: Evolution is a “Religion of Death” by Hemant Mehta, June 26, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  3. Friday Fun: Ken Ham Says Science is Satan’s ‘Primary’ Weapon In Our Day. godofevolution.com, 13 November 2005.
  4. A Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, Dinosaurs Included by Laurie Goodstein, July 26, 2016, The New York Times
  5. About the Ark at arkencounter.com.
  6. Ark Encounter
  7. Investors of the Lost Ark by Joe Sonka, August 1st, 2012, Leo Weekly
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 The Ark Encounter website's "Frequently" Asked Questions
  9. The fact that the cubit is not an exact measure means this is fairly meaningless, since the 450ft Ark in Hong KongWikipedia built in 2009 can also claim that, even though it is 450ft while the AiG Ark is 510ft
  10. They wouldn’t have this bathroom problem if only god would kill the evil people by PZ Myers, 27 June, 2016, Pharyngula
  11. Noah’s Extremely Bad Animal Husbandry Advice by Gwen Pearson, December 3rd, 2013, Wired
  12. Stern, Mark Joseph. "Darwin, dinosaurs and the devil." watoday.co.au, February 13, 2013.
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Johan's Ark.
  14. We Fixed Ark Encounter’s Misleading Billboards by Tracey, August 10, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  15. Two Public School Marching Bands Played at Ark Encounter’s Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony by Hemant Mehta, July 7th, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  16. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html
  17. I shoulda gone to the Ark Park today #OhNoahHeDidnt by PZ Myers, 7 July, 2016, Pharyngula
  18. Creationist Ken Ham Caught Misleading People About Ark Encounter’s Attendance on Opening Day by Hemant Mehta, July 15th, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  19. Skimpy attendance at the Ark Park? by whyevolutionistrue, September 2nd, 2016, Why Evolution Is True
  20. How Are People Describing Ark Encounter? Let’s Just Say “Accurate” Didn’t Make the Cut by Hemant Mehta, July 28th, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  21. Ken Ham's Version of Noah's Ark is Horribly Designed by John, June 27th, 2016 Friendly Atheist
  22. Ken Ham Isn’t a Big Bad Ogre: Why I Feel Bad About Ark Encounter by Tracey, July 22nd, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  23. $43 million tax break approved for Ark Encounter theme park May 20th, 2011, Lexington Herald-Leader (archived from May 21, 2011)
  24. 'Ark Encounter', Noah's Ark Theme Park, Hopes To Show Biblical Flood Was 'Plausible' by Mary Wisniewski, May 31st, 2013, HuffPost
  25. Ark Park In Kentucky Receives Approval For Tax Breaks September 2014, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  26. 26.0 26.1 The Lost Ark: Kentucky will not grant tax incentives to Ark Encounter by Joe Sonka, December 10, 2014, Insider Louisville (archived from December 27, 2014)
  27. Herald-Leader editorial: Few questions for Answers in Genesis December 11, 2014, Lexington Herald-Leader (archived from April 12, 2015)
  28. Answers in Genesis - Bond issue letter August 26, 2013, Ark Encounter (archived from March 11, 2014)
  29. Ark Bonds. "The bond issuer will be the City of Williamstown, KY and the co-borrowers will be Crosswater Canyon, Inc., a non-profit organization controlled by Answers in Genesis, and Ark Encounter, LLC (co-borrower; solely owned by Crosswater Canyon, Inc.)." Retrieved on 5 September 2016. (archived from December 16, 2013)
  30. Ark Encounter, a creationist theme park, is selling junk bonds. by Mark Joseph Stern, November 12, 2013, Slate
  31. After Losing Battle Against Noah’s Ark Theme Park, Kentucky Officials Pay $190,000 Legal Bill by Hemant Mehta, June 25, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  32. Ark Encounter Sues State by Matt Young, December 10, 2014, Panda's Thumb
  33. Non-Christians Need Not Apply by Mark Joseph Stern, October 27, 2014, Slate
  34. CNN Slams Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter for Being a State-Sponsored Ministry That Only Hires Christians by Hemant Mehta, June 21, 2016, Friendly Atheist Kentucky's magnificent, controversial ark by Carol Costello, June 21, 2016, CNN
  35. Noah's Ark Park wins battle for tax incentives by Dylan Lovan (7:34 a.m. EST January 26, 2016) Courier-Journal
  36. Ky. ‘Ark Park’ Wins Legal Case Securing Tax Incentive Package (March 2016) American's United Church & State.
  37. Australian News Report on Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is More Fluff than Facts by Tracey, May 23, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  38. Surprise! Ark Encounter Isn’t Providing the Economic Boost Local Communities Were Expecting by Hemant Mehta, August 7, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  39. 39.0 39.1 Ark Encounter Is A Financial DISASTER, Ken Ham In A Panic by R. L. Paine, August 14, 2016, Liberal America.
  40. Big Bone Lick State Historic Site
  41. Creationist Ken Ham Just Lowered Attendance Estimates for the First Year of Ark Encounter by Hemant Mehta, September 16, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  42. Referring to Economy, Grant County (KY) Official Says Ark Encounter Has “Not Done Us Good At All” by Hemant Mehta, February 26, 2017, Friendly Atheist
  43. A giant ark is just the start. These creationists have a bigger plan for recruiting new believers. by Karen Heller (May 24, 2017 at 10:08 AM) The Washington Post.
  44. BioLogos Responds to the “Ark Encounter” by Deborah Haarsma, July 9th, 2019, Biologos
  45. Bill Nye says he hopes that the Ark Encounter goes bankrupt and closes before it is completed by Dan Arel, July 10th, 2016, Danthropology
  46. 'Absolutely Wrong': Bill Nye the Science Guy Takes on Noah's Ark Exhibit by Erik Ortiz, July 16th, 2016, NBC News
  47. Ken Ham: FFRF Is “Bullying” Schools By Warning Them Against Taking Field Trips to Ark Encounter by Hemant Mehta, July 13th, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  48. Ken Ham: If Students Visit Ark Encounter As Part of a Field Trip, I’ll Only Charge Them $1 by Hemant Mehta, July 14th, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  49. Smug and delusional by PZ Myers, 9 July 2016, Pharyngula
  50. Ark Park: a meme by whyevolutionistrue, July 9th, 2016, Why Evolution Is True
  51. Censored Version of Atheist Group’s “Genocide and Incest Park” Billboard Also Rejected by Vendor by Hemant Mehta, June 8th, 2016, Friendly Atheist
  52. Creationists Have Sold Ark Encounter. To Themselves. For $10. To Avoid Taxes by Hemant Mehta, July 17th, 2016, Friendly Atheist