Nation

Kentucky’s ark defies science but evokes a version of Christianity

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — In the beginning, Ken Ham made the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. And he saw that it was good at spreading his belief that the Bible is a book of history, the universe is only 6,000 years old, and evolution is wrong and is leading to our moral downfall.

And Ham said, let us build a gargantuan Noah’s ark only 45 minutes away to draw millions more visitors. And let it be constructed by Amish woodworkers, and financed with donations, junk bonds, and tax rebates from the state of Kentucky. And let it hold an animatronic Noah and lifelike models of some of the creatures that came on board two-by-two, such as bears, short-necked giraffes, and juvenile Tyrannosaurus rexes.

And it was so.

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Ham’s “Ark Encounter,” built at a cost of more than $102 million, is scheduled to open July 7 in Williamstown. Ham and his crew have succeeded in erecting a colossal landmark and an ambitious promotional vehicle for their particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, known as “young earth” or “young universe” creationism.

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But it was hardly smooth sailing. The state tried to revoke the tax rebates after learning that Ham would require employees to sign a “statement of faith” that would exclude people who were gay or did not accept his particular Christian creed. Ham went to court and in January, he won.

On a recent afternoon, the Australian-born Ham looked out on the workers in hard hats affixing pine planking to cover the Tyvek plastic wrap still visible on the stern. The ark stretches 1½ football fields long, rises as high as a seven-story building, and is said to be the largest timber-frame building in the world. Ham is betting it will become an international pilgrimage site, as well as a draw for the curious, the secular, and even the skeptics.

“The reason we are building the ark is not as an entertainment center,” Ham said in an interview in a cabin overlooking the construction site. “I mean it’s not like a Disney or Universal, just for anyone to go and have fun. It’s a religious purpose. It’s because we’re Christians and we want to get the Christian message out.”

The ark is also intended to serve as a vivid warning that, according to the Bible, God sent a flood in Noah’s time to wipe out a depraved people, and God will deliver a fiery end to those who reject the Bible and accept modern-day evils like abortion, atheism, and same-sex marriage. “We’re becoming more like the days of Noah in that we see increasing secularization in the culture,” Ham said.

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Yet his interpretation of what he calls “the Christian message” is derided by most scientists and educators, and resented even by some Christians who consider it indefensible and even embarrassing. Young earthers believe that God created the universe in six 24-hour days, and since all of history is only 6,000 years, humans coexisted with dinosaurs. An exhibit at the Creation Museum shows two smiling children playing in a lush garden next to two petite Tyrannosaurus rexes.

Bill Nye, best known as “the science guy” on television and in books, said in a telephone interview, “Humans and ancient dinosaurs did not live at the same time. It’s completely unreasonable.” Science has established that the earth is billions of years old, and no worldwide flood occurred in the last 6,000 years.

“We’re going to raise a generation of kids who are scientifically illiterate,” said Nye, who debated Ham at the Creation Museum in 2014, a matchup watched online by millions.