By Susan L. Trollinger and William Trollinger
The Ark Encounter, an evangelical theme park located near Williamstown, Kentucky, has welcomed between 4 million and 5 million visitors since its opening in July 2016. Hundreds of thousands more are sure to visit this summer.
This theme park boasts a re-creation of the story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible. As described in Genesis 6:14-16, God directed Noah to build this ark to spare eight humans and a male and female pair of every kind of creature from the flood that God was going to unleash on the world as a punishment for sin.
As scholars of fundamentalism and creationism, we have visited the Ark Encounter multiple times. We have also written a book, “Righting America at the Creation Museum,” about the ark’s companion site, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
What we find particularly striking about Ark Encounter is that it is a tourist site devoted to emphasizing – with great specificity – the wrathful nature of God and the eternal damnation that awaits unrepentant sinners.
What is Ark Encounter’s argument?
According to Answers in Genesis, the fundamentalist organization that launched Ark Encounter, and its CEO, Ken Ham, Ark Encounter is a centerpiece of AiG’s mission to “expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas and bedfellow: a ‘millions of years old’ earth (and even older universe).”
So, according to AiG, when Genesis 1 says God created the Earth in six days, it literally means six 24-hour days. Similarly, when the Bible says Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day and gives details about their descendants and how long they lived, this is interpreted as recounting real history. And all of this means that, according to AiG, the Earth is “about 6,000 years old.”
While scientists have estimated the Earth to be about 4.5 billion years old, AiG counters by claiming that radiometric dating is not reliable. Instead, they assert that the catastrophic biblical flood created all the geological formations that make the Earth look ancient.
Over the past few decades, this argument has become a doctrinal touchstone for many American evangelicals.
An enormous structure
We most recently visited the Ark Encounter on March 15, 2022. Measuring 510 feet (155 metres) long, 85 feet (25 metres) wide, and 51 feet (15 metres) high, the Ark Encounter is, to quote one visitor we overheard, “so huge!”
After purchasing tickets that cost US$54.95 per adult, we and other visitors boarded buses and made the ascent up a long hill. Getting off the bus, we walked to the Ark, keenly aware of how small we were in relation to this ginormous structure.
Inside the Ark, visitors walk through three enormous decks, encountering rows of clay food storage containers, burlap sacks and animal cages. They observe over 100 bays featuring placards and digital animations that, among other things, go far beyond the Bible to explain Noah’s training in shipbuilding, carpentry and blacksmithing. The same creativity applies to the various displays explaining how eight human beings on the Ark fed, watered and managed the waste of 7,000 or so creatures.
Visitors also walk through a life-size diorama of the plush living quarters of Noah’s family, where they learn about the skills, gifts and interests of Noah’s sons – details not included in Genesis. They also learn about Noah’s wife and his sons’ wives. The Bible never identifies these women by name, much less describes them. Nevertheless, the Ark gives them names, different ethnic complexions, biographies and even hobbies.
Notwithstanding the occasional placard acknowledging that designers have taken “artistic license” with these dioramas, we couldn’t help but notice how much of what is in the Ark is not actually found in the Bible.
But visitors to the Ark seem to embrace these dramatic additions to the biblical text. As religion scholar Paul Thomas observes in his new book, “Storytelling the Bible at the Creation Museum, Ark Encounter, and the Museum of the Bible,” the world created by the designers of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter satisfies the evangelical longing “for a time and place governed by biblical principles, even if that idealized time and place … never really existed.”
A very angry God
AiG requires all Ark Encounter employees to affirm a 46-point faith statement. They must agree, for example, that “gender and biological sex are equivalent and cannot be separated,” modern understandings of “social justice” are “anti-biblical,” and all humans “are sinners” and “are therefore subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.”
This emphasis on the overwhelming wrath of God is perhaps the most noteworthy feature of Ark Encounter as a tourist site.
Genesis 7:16 states that, as the flood waters rose, God slammed shut the door into the Ark. Once shut, all the humans and animals on the other side of the door were doomed to drown.
According to a placard displayed at Ark Encounter, there may have been upwards of 20 billion people on Earth at the time of the Genesis flood, a number that would have included children and infants, not to mention the unborn.
Another placard asks, “Was it just for God to judge the whole world?” The answer: “Since He is the one who gave life, He has the right to take life. Secondly, God is perfectly just and must judge sin. Third, all have sinned and deserve death and judgment.”
Remarkably, Ark Encounter has placed a “keepsake photo” placard near the door that, in the Ark’s depiction, sealed the fate of all those on the other side. As we have witnessed every time we have toured Ark Encounter, happy visitors line up to have their photos taken in front of this door.
According to AiG, this ancient divine slaughter prefigures a future divine slaughter. As the Ark Encounter website puts it, “God will judge this wicked world once again, but this time it will be by fire … God always keeps His promises – judgment will come.” According to AiG, we can escape this fate by believing in Christ, but for the billions (past and present) who have not or do not, the result is “everlasting, conscious punishment in the lake of fire (hell).”
As historian Doug Frank makes clear in his 1986 book, “A Gentler God,” this understanding of a wrathful God is alive and well in American evangelicalism. Frank’s argument is supported by a 2014 Pew Research report that revealed that 82% of American evangelicals believe in a literal hell.
Millions of evangelicals visit Ark Encounter for all sorts of reasons, including, perhaps, its sheer immensity. That said, the message they get from Ark Encounter is clear and simple.
The wrathful God has determined that those who do not accept Jesus as savior, those who are resolutely on the wrong side of culture war issues like abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, will pay for their sin eternally.
Susan L. Trollinger is Professor of English at the University of Dayton. William Trollinger is Professor of History at the University of Dayton.
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Separation between church and state!
Too many are trying to cross that line and force their belief system on others.
Believe what you believe and leave me alone.
There’s so such thing as separation of church and state. Look it up. Not in the constitution nor declaration.
Pierre Tristam says
The author of the Declaration disagrees, as do two centuries of First Amendment law until the recent take-over of the Supreme Court by the Federalist Society, a wholly cowed subsidiary of the Supreme Judicial Council of Iran.
It is clear that the “god” depicted in the Ark Encounter is not anti-abortion. Rather the opposite in that except for eight humans he/she murdered all the fetuses of all the pregnant women on the planet (according to the story).
On the lighter side, the Ark Encounter along with the Creation Museum result in a paradox. According to Creationism, all creatures on this planet were created by god in the six days before god rested on the seventh day. All living species are subject to parasites and diseases. Humans are or have been afflicted by scabies (a mite), lice (insects), fleas, tapeworms, guinea worms, hookworms, pinworms, etc. Without some unexplained special creation after the flood, all these parasites would have had to have afflicted Noah and his family. Let’s face it, according to this belief, Noah had to have been a lousy person. Perhaps that is why after the Flood, Genesis 9:21, “And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.”
As to a real earth wide catastrophe, PBS is scheduled to air on NOVA the BBC video: “Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough” on May 11.
BIBLE BELIEVER says
praise the lord jesus christ for truth , so it was in the days of noah so
shall be for the comming of the son of man people were eating drinking
and given in marriage untill the day noe entered the ark. and knew not
untill the flood came and took them all away;so shall also the coming
of the son of man be. matthew 24-37-39
Bill C says
The Bible is just one of many origin myths which predate the Abrahamic origins of Christianity. Just one example, the Isis, Osiris, Horus myth of Egypt includes resurrection and a “holy family”. The Ankh Cross, also known as the Key of Life, represents the concept of eternal life, which is the general meaning of this symbol, and is related to the “Eye of Horus” symbol. If you ever visit “The Hanging Church” in Old Cairo, they claim it is built upon the cave where the Holy Family hid when they fled to Egypt. A two minute walk away is a Synagogue where they claim it is where Moses was found in a basket and rescued from the Nile.
Michael Cocchiola says
Notwithstanding the absurdity of this supposedly biblical theme park, people do have the right to delude themselves as they please. But, they do not have the right to push their delusions on me or anybody else with enough education in science to dismiss this evangelical fantasy world. 6,000 years, indeed. I’ve got socks older than that.
Someday there will come a true fight for education vs. belief. I can only hope I’m around to join that fight.
In DeSantis’ Florida that ship has done sailed. Evangelical dingbatism is wholly codified.
But we wildly embrace the notion that a man can choose to be a woman or a woman a man – science is somehow disregarded as insensitive in that case, even though there is enough science to cease all conversation on the issue, 6000 years not needed.
Pierre Tristam says
Biology is not infallible. No one is “choosing” to be this or that, as you dismissively out it, but opting to correct a biological error and live as they feel, not as they are biologically (and, in the case of religious and ideological zealots who yet manage to call themselves freedom lovers, dictatorially) forced to live.
If by your comment you are indicating that you are heterosexual, please enlighten us all and recall exactly when in your youth you could have gone either way, and consciously CHOSE your sexual orientation. Uh, yeah, that didn’t happen now did it? A person’s sexuality is not a simple choice to be made like a light switch to be turned on or off.
The dude says
Why do you hate freedom so much?
Pierre Tristam says
This ark tourist trap is a grim, sadistic view of humanity that shrugs off genocidal extermination as well deserved and retreads self-loathing mantras as spiritual sadomasochism. It’s the Wahhabi or Taliban brand of self-hate smeared in evangelical translation. But as church-state things go, they don’t apply. Precisely because we have church-state separation they’re free to do with their acreage what they please. More power to them. If the bible is the great founding fiction, their fabrications are no different, if shorn of the bible’s poetry and often unparalleled literary art. The ark thing is indistinguishable from, say, the Star Trek franchise or Marvel comics, in that it creates a brand of superheroism (god and only god) and super evildoers (everyone else), making it duller and not too bright but not much different in form. If there’s ever proof of the non-evolution of intelligence, this sort of tourist trap and its millions of dupes are it. Still, for all their simplicity and near-endless implausibilities, there’s more art and truth in a single Star Trek scene than in any of the fabrications the authors describe here. But again: more power to them. This is what pluralism is about. Just don’t impose it on us in the public realm. That’s unfortunately where these zealots go wrong. They presume that the message they’re peddling to willing dupes belongs in schools, in the workplace, on public grounds. That’s what’s driving the assaults on school libraries, on the freedom of sexual identity and the rest of it. But what do they care? If they’re glorifying the genocide of 20 billion souls (as that ark does at its most inhumanely horrific), why should they give a shit about making life miserable for the gay or transgender kid at school? They see it as their latest children’s crusade. And we know how the original one ended, don’t we. Like I said: no evolution in intelligence whatsoever. God help us indeed. (Or maybe not: it’s not as if god has been much help to date.)
Deborah Coffey says
Excellent, Pierre. I really fear for our country will all these pathetic believers who apparently cannot think anything through to a logical end. If we do indeed have a vengeful, angry God, it is these very souls He will punish for all their hatred, meanness, and cruelty to others.
I agree with the science fiction analogy. Assuming there is no “god” or are no “gods”, then all religion is fiction. That is perhaps why there are so many religions. Also why there are so many “gods” which were once worshiped and are now just memories or considered myths. Fiction can be good and uplifting. Fiction such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, depicts a battle between good and evil. Religion similarly depicts this sort of battle. However, the fundamentalist view of “god” as presented in the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are more like a Stephen King horror story.
If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic should have convinced any reasonable person that evolution is true. It is a perfect example of an organism rapidly evolving to take advantage of an overly prolific species. A virus which infects some obscure bat species in China is not very successful. If the bats die out the virus also dies and becomes extinct. However, by jumping to a species with a population of nearly 8 billion, the virus avoids extinction. By constantly mutating (as RNA viruses do), COVID can even infect the same people more than once.
Napoleon Bonaparte is reported as having said: “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” Or in the case of the Ark Encounter, at least fleece the poor of $55 each.
Book of Enoch says
According to Hebrew doctrine like the Book of Enoch, the Nephilim were a breed of giants and super-humans who performed deeds of exceptional evil. Their large size and power probably came from the merger of (fallen) angelic “DNA” with human eugenics.
Learn your history of Humans from ALL the Books of religions not just one. The CREATOR destroyed the EVIL on this planet and started over. Your damn lucky IT did or your sorry ass would not be here today.
IMO. . .The Bible= Metaphorical stories created by men in order to create a moral code, and to civilize and control the masses. . . taken literally only by the ignorant.
The parable of “Noah and the Ark” should IMO be looked upon as a lesson in the power and strength of faith in ones convictions. When all is said and done, it is after all a basic tale of a man with a task he was determined to complete in the face of overwhelming adversity.
If one looks deeper, one could also possibly see in this story a reflection of the fact that ones “religious faith” will require power and strength of conviction… again in the face of overwhelming adversity. And since we are talking “Old Testament” here, it is a reminder to the Jewish people of faith that that faith will require much strength in the face of persecution.
As for building an actual arc? Speaking from a “New Testament” perspective, I cannot help thinking there’s something foolish in the undertaking… wouldn’t the resources spent be better utilized? Perhaps feeding the hungry or shoeing the shoe-less? Just my opinion.
By the way… does that thing really float???