Curiosity finally got the best of me. I had to drive up I-75 and see Noah’s Ark.
I found the ark to be an impressive piece of woodcraft, which made me feel better about paying $40 to see it. (It cost an additional $10 to park in the 4,000-space parking lot, which was only a fraction full.)
Answers in Genesis, the ministry that built the $100 million Ark Encounter theme park, calls it the world’s largest timber-frame structure. It also is a slick piece of propaganda, but more about that later. First, let’s talk about woodcraft.
The ark contains 3.1 million board feet of timber and is literally of biblical proportions: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 81 feet tall. That is roughly the size Genesis 6:15 says God told Noah to build it: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits tall.
A cubit was a form of ancient measurement: the distance from a man’s elbow to the end of his middle finger. Ark Encounter’s extensive souvenir shop sells a wooden cubit stick (exactly 20.4 inches, $19.95).
Unfortunately, the ark’s top deck, which should have great views of the Grant County countryside, isn’t finished yet. Neither is the zip line. I skipped the petting zoo.
As I walked the ark’s three decks and long connecting ramps, the space was filled with dramatic music reminiscent of Hollywood Bible epics of the 1950s. I saw dozens of wooden cages, some with fake animals, and scores of clay jars and burlap bags showing how supplies might have been stored.
Then there were exhibits explaining and trying to rationalize Answers in Genesis’ literal interpretation of the Old Testament. The ministry rejects evolution, insisting that God created the Earth and all life in six days about 6,000 years ago. Scientists think it happened more slowly over 4.5 billion years, so explaining away all that time takes effort.
Answers in Genesis also insists that the story of Noah’s Ark is true precisely as Genesis described it. That seems to require the assumption that Noah and his family lived among dinosaurs, like the Flintstones, and took some of them on the ark.
The Ark Encounter often strains logic. Yes, a family of ancients with primitive tools and limited skills could have built this colossal boat, gathered two of every kind of creature on board and kept them afloat and alive for a year. And if Genesis says Noah was 600 years old when he did all of this, then, by God, he was!
It is easy for atheists to mock the Ark Encounter and its companion attraction, the Creation Museum near Cincinnati. Much of the media coverage has focused on that dichotomy.
But I didn’t come to Ark Encounter as an atheist. I came as a mainstream Christian, and two things bothered me: Answers in Genesis’ claim that its pseudo-science is “true” Christianity, and some critics’ assumption that all Christians are anti-science rubes.
Answers in Genesis’ young-earth creationism is the product of a strain of evangelical Christianity only about a century old that now seems to thrive on authoritarianism, conservative politics and feelings of persecution.
Neither the Roman Catholic Church nor most mainstream Protestant denominations see a fundamental conflict between evolution and faith. Most Jews see evolution as compatible with Judaism, which is based on the Old Testament.
Theologians believe the Bible was divinely inspired, but many acknowledge that it was written, edited, translated and interpreted by disparate men over thousands of years amid huge cultural shifts and before much was known about science. They don’t claim that every word in modern translations is literal fact.
Spiritual understanding is a personal thing, and it is up to each individual to decide what he or she believes. Here is my view:
The Bible is a book about faith and ethics, not science. Noah’s story is a work of theology, not ancient journalism. Science is about the how; religion is about the why. One often picks up where the other leaves off.
I don’t see God as a cosmic magician, but as a force who works through nature. But I also don’t view the miracle of life, the wonders of the universe and the complexity of human experience as evolutionary accidents.
Fundamentalists argue that any doubt of biblical accuracy is a rejection of Christianity. But the New Testament repeatedly says that what is required for salvation is acceptance of Christ. You aren’t required to believe in a big boat with dinosaurs.
Answers in Genesis has built an impressive ark, and those who believe its theology are welcome to it. For me, though, this pseudo-science doesn’t hold water.