My recent column about touring the new Noah’s Ark theme park generated a flood of emails and Facebook posts, especially after it was reposted on several news websites around the country.
I even got an email from a woman in the Netherlands. She sent photos of another Noah’s Ark replica that has been sailing around Europe. Its Dutch creator hopes to transport it to Brazil this summer for an evangelistic tour of Latin American.
Curiosity led me to visit Kentucky’s $100 million Ark Encounter theme park in Grant County. It was built by Answers in Genesis, a fundamentalist Christian ministry run by Australian Ken Ham that in 2007 opened the Creation Museum near Cincinnati.
Answers in Genesis is a group of “young-Earth” creationists who believe that every detail and time frame in the Old Testament is literally true. By their reckoning, Earth is about 6,000 years old, and dinosaurs would have been aboard the ark.
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Much media coverage of Ark Encounter has focused on debates between Ham and atheists. But I visited the ark as a Presbyterian. Like the Roman Catholic Church, most mainstream Protestant denominations don’t see much conflict between Christianity and science.
I found two things fascinating about the Ark park: the superb craftsmanship of the structure, and the mental gymnastics Answers in Genesis uses to try to explain to visitors how this Bible story could have been literally true in all its improbable detail.
Some exhibits in the ark also offer “evidence” of how the Earth really could be only a few thousand years old, rather than the 4.5 billion years that scientists estimate.
Answers in Genesis works hard to make its theology look like science, but it isn’t. Scientists observe evidence and conduct experiments to reach conclusions. Answers in Genesis starts with conclusions and tries to muster evidence to support them.
As expected, I got a lot of email from Christians who believe in young-Earth creationism. Some wanted to make lengthy theological arguments. Others doubted my faith, said they were praying for me or told me I was going to Hell.
Many of their arguments came down to this: I believe in the Bible, so everything it says must be literally true. It is as if God himself wrote every word in modern English and shipped it straight to them via Federal Express.
A related argument was this: If you can’t believe every word and detail in the Bible, how can you believe any of it? If some things aren’t true, couldn’t it all be wrong? To me, that is more the argument of an atheist than a Christian.
One man forwarded a realistic-looking internet hoax “news report” about the discovery of Noah’s Ark. It pulled together the work of various explorers over the years who have found debunked “ark remnants” in the mountains of Turkey.
But I also got emails from many mainstream Christians who thought the Ark park was either an amusing oddity or an embarrassment. A man from Kansas wrote that Christians who can hold doubt and faith in the same place seem to have found a freedom that fundamentalists feel the need to fight against.
(Many readers also suggested that if Christ had had that $100 million, he would have used it to feed the hungry, heal the sick and comfort the afflicted.)
I heard from many Christians, including several scientists, who said they view science and faith as complementary, rather than contradictory. They don’t see evolutionary biology as contradicting God’s role in creation, but rather helping to explain how it works.
A 94-year-old priest and World War II veteran wrote to say that he has been an “evolutionist” since he studied biology in Catholic seminary in the 1940s.
A veteran geologist said his Christian faith isn’t compromised by his knowledge that Kentucky’s coal and limestone deposits are hundreds of millions of years old.
Several Christian ministers wrote to say the Bible is a work of literature, theology and ethics, not science. They said there is an entire field of study, hermeneutics, that deals with interpreting Scripture. Is a story literal or allegorical? What is the author trying to tell his audience in that place, time and culture? After all, the Bible was written by men in many languages over a couple thousand years and has been endlessly translated and transcribed.
No doubt, the Ark Encounter will keep atheists scoffing and Christians pondering this question: Should the Bible be used to seek inner truth or literal truth?