Noah’s ark now rests in Kentucky! Or rather, a $100 million “Ark Encounter” building shaped like the biblical boat has attracted millions since opening there in 2016. The 510-foot-long structure, crafted by Amish under the direction of fundamentalist Christian Ken Ham of Australia, brings the Genesis story into focus. But its hundreds of engaging exhibits demand a literal interpretation of the bible that leaves little room for other viewpoints. Ark Encounter insists that God created the universe in 4004 BC in six twenty-four hour days, that Noah’s flood literally covered the highest mountains on earth, that all animals alive today had ancestors on Noah’s ark.
Exhibits at Ark Encounter present and swat down scores of possible objections to such a literal reading. Q: How could Noah get millions of species onto one boat? A: He only had to get representatives of each “kind” of animal (Genesis 6:19), meaning one pair of the “cat kind,” one pair of the “horse kind,” and so on. After the flood many related species emerged from each of these “kinds” in a process that emphatically was not evolution. Q: How to explain fossils that scientists say are millions of years old? A: Such fossils actually formed within one year under the weight of flood waters. Q: How did Noah get massive dinosaurs on board? A: He didn’t; he took juvenile dinosaurs.
Ark Encounter wagers the whole of Christian faith on this literal reading of the Genesis creation and flood narratives. “If we cannot believe God concerning how He made the universe,” one exhibit pleads, “then why should we believe Him about the salvation offered through Jesus Christ?”
In the Ark lunch line my wife and I met a young couple who homeschool their children. “This is our seventh visit to Ark Encounter,” the father volunteered. “We use their books for our science classes.” I admitted that I worry when Christians drive a wedge between bible and science. “What happens when children raised with such views get to university and learn that the earth is more than four billion years old?” I asked. Will they lose their faith? His quick reply was, “We are preparing our children to withstand such views.”
I wanted to say how much I believe that the bible is true, but that its truth sometimes is deeper than a literal reading. With liturgy and poetry, the Bible teaches the truth that a loving God formed the cosmos and pronounced it good. Hence we should care for God’s planet and pay attention to our responsibility for pollution, destruction of species, and climate change. Genesis explains the who and the why of creation; science gives glimpses of how creation may have happened: a Big Bang, then eons of evolution—awesome events that should summon us to praise our Maker. Genesis 6:11 says God rebooted the human experiment with a flood because there was so much violence—which might inspire us to end wars and limit access to guns.
Do I recommend that others visit Ark Encounter? Perhaps. But enter that amazing replica with more spiritual imagination, critical thinking, and respect for modern science than you’ll find there at exhibits designed by well-intentioned people.
© 2019 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************************************
Join me for a Journey of Hope tour to Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019: https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ . In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the place at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus Fortress where John the Baptist died.
In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the setting of Jesus’ childhood in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll also sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice for Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.
A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem ( https://christatthecheckpoint.bethbc.edu/ ) or a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberammergau and //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/)