Encountering the Ark Encounter

Noah’s Ark was a big boat. Take off its roof, fill it with water, and Columbus’ Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria could float around in it. Although impressive, to most people this kind of comparison means little. But your first sight of the ark in Williamston, Kentucky, will give you an unforgettable impression of the massive size of the Ark Noah spent 100 years building.

Answers in Genesis (AiG) raised the 24.5 million needed for its full size ark replica and the funds needed for related facilities, in about 4 years. The first wooden beams were set on the concrete foundation in mid-summer 2015. Amish woodworkers joined the construction crew to build the largest wood frame structure in the world by January. Internal finishing and installation of exhibits (constructed off site) were completed before the Ark Encounter’s opening in June 2016.

Some may quibble over insignificant points. The exact length of the cubit Noah used can be debated. The Bible’s description of Noah’s Ark is a rectangular wooden box, with a side door and a window. The tapered bow, rounded stern, pitched roof and window placement in the replica may bother some, but AiG’s research justifies the design they chose. In fact, their reasoning is far better than many who have tried to illustrate Noah’s Ark.

Noah’s Ark was made of gopher wood. We have no idea which tree produces gopher wood—possibly an antediluvian tree nonexistent today? The hull of AiG’s ark is made of radiata pine from New Zealand treated to withstand insects and rot.

Noah’s Ark was covered inside and out with pitch. AiG’s ark is pitch-less. Even to make it look pitched would take 450 gallons of stain and add over $250,000 to the cost. It also would need re-staining every few years. The treated pine is weathering to a woody gray. If you must, think of this as a pre-pitched replica.

Noah’s Ark needed pitch to be water tight and thus able to float. AiG’s ark will not float. Its backside connects to concrete columns housing elevators, fire escapes, air conditioning ducts, modern restrooms; facilities not found in the original. While not seen from the outside by visitors, these additions are essential to a modern themed attraction.

AiG uses themed attraction to describe Ark Encounter and their future plans for the rest of the 800 acre tract. Already added is Ararat Ridge (a petting zoo featuring camel rides), zip lines, gardens, restaurants. Future developments include recreations of Bible-era villages and a Tower of Babel. Some have suggested this will never be finished. If the tower replica is biblically accurate, that is true; however, the themed attraction of it, if the Lord tarries, probably will be finished.

This projection is based on AiG’s success with themed attractions. Their Creation Museum, which opened in 2007, has exceeded attendance expectations. Some days it has 4000 guests. Over one million people visited within its first three years. Ark Encounter had a million visitors its first year. The Creation Museum has experienced increased attendance since Ark Encounter opened, even though the two attractions are 45 minutes apart by car. While you might be able to walk through both in a day, you would not experience much at that pace. It appears that people come and spend the time needed to visit both.

The Ark’s Inhabitants

In the 1700s, Carl Linnaeus thought he was identifying the kinds God created as he classified organisms into his species (Latin for kind). Actually, he was placing organisms into similar groupings. This was ideal for identifying and naming them, but had little to do with what God created or what was on the Ark. If the Linnaean species is used to compute the Ark’s population, the number is quite large: 35,000+ was often suggested. Consider that just the canines (dog, wolf, fox, etc.) on the Ark could have numbered over a hundred.

Baramin, a relatively new term, comes from two Hebrew words meaning “he created” and “kind.” Baraminologists use modern genetic and other scientific data to group organisms into baramins. They suggest a single pair of canine baramin on the Ark and the present wolves, dogs, foxes and similar species are their descendents. Baraminology greatly reduces the Ark’s animal population. Over the years, AiG has dropped its estimate from 13,000 to about 7000.

Visitors enter the ark and pass by various cages and containers containing animal models. They look familiar, like distant relatives of known species. That is the point. AiG is, essentially, selecting various animals to illustrate baramins.

Later on the tour, visitors pass the accommodations for the Ark’s human passengers. Rather than a uniform, generic decor as seen on modern ships, the ark’s staterooms express different tastes for the four couples. AiG assumes that Noah’s daughters–in-law came from different post-Babel groups. The wider human gene pool presumably enhanced postdiluvian diversity. These chambers are large and have a lavish feel. The Ark’s human passengers may have served as crew and zoo staff, but apparently AiG feels their downtime was comfortable.

Feeding, watering, and “cleaning up” a self-contained, 7000-animal floating zoo for over a year with a limited staff (eight, to be precise) presents challenges. God told Noah to make “rooms” in the Ark and to take “of all food that is eaten. . . and it shall be food for thee, and for them” (Genesis 6:14,21). Details of how it was done are lacking. There are other problems. A watertight boat with a single window would have insufficient ventilation to keep Ark inhabitants alive. Supplying fresh water and dealing with waste disposal seems insurmountable. Skeptics have doubted the Bible’s account of the Ark based on the impossibility of it.

To answer these and similar concerns, some Bible believers have relied on Genesis 8:1 “And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark.” They claim “remembering” suggests God was working a miracle. If He wanted live animals to come out of the Ark, they were not going to suffocate, starve, dehydrate, or kill each other, or their keepers while in Noah’s care. Some have speculated that God had the animals hibernate during their yearlong voyage.

While AiG recognizes the possibility of a miraculous explanation of the Ark’s physical workings, it has sought to find other possible answers. Displays in their ark point to ingenious ways to answer the skeptic’s objections. These methods do not involve complicated machinery or modern technology. Remember, Noah had one hundred years to work out such details.

Why Build An Ark?

Shortly after passing the animal cages, visitors are treated to a video of an antediluvian reporter and her team interviewing Noah. Humor engages and disarms the audience, but the penetrating questions and Noah’s responses reveal much Biblical truth. God’s purpose in having Noah build the Ark is presented and receives the scorn one would expect from the antediluvians described in Genesis. No sermon or tract could better communicate these concepts to a modern audience.

Later, another video features the same actors. This time a skeptical modern reporter seeks to interview the builder of the ark replica the audience is in. Again, penetrating questions and responses reveal Biblical truth, and the parallels between antediluvian and modern society become apparent. The video starts as an attention getter, but becomes a compelling, modern presentation of the gospel.

Before leaving the ark, the gospel message is again presented as visitors pass through an enlarged graphic novel. The story presented in this currently engaging format portrays modern, everyday people: some who reject the Bible’s message and others who accept its offer of salvation, and the effects of their decisions.

AiG says it exists “to proclaim the authority of the Bible.” They seek to do this “using apologetics in . . . world-class attractions” and other media. Their stated goal is for believers to be “equipped to defend the Christian faith and nonbelievers . . . challenged with the truth of the Bible and its message of salvation.”

Those who have visited AiG’s themed attractions will have to agree that the money spent creating them was effectively used to accomplish these goals. Not everyone will agree with every AiG position. (Even getting two Christians to agree on all Biblical points is virtually impossible.) At their attractions, AiG’s positions are clearly presented in understandable ways. Could their positions have been printed? Of course, and those books are available in the gift shop. But if only available in print far fewer would be exposed to them.

Since themed attractions communicate with the young and the elderly, those with a passing interest and those seeking deeper understanding all at the same time, they are an effective modern communication method. Themed attractions of the world present everything from pantheistic ecology to sexual freedom in an effort to change visitor’s thinking. AiG’s themed attractions present Scripture and the gospel in an effort to change visitors.

A lengthy visit to Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum should be on every Christian’s bucket list. You will learn and be inspired. Return visits will reveal points you previously missed and new exhibits will present even more. Since themed attractions are so popular, seek to bring unsaved friends and pray that this presentation of the gospel is the one which the Holy Spirit will use to reach them.

For more information, see Answers In Genesis or Ark Encounter.

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By William Pinkston

Mr. William Pinkston teaches science at Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. He is a member of Faith FPC.