by William Trollinger
Last Friday a reporter visited my office to interview me about the KKK in 1920s Ohio. He came here having just visited Ark Encounter, and so I naturally asked him for his impression of Ken Ham’s big boat. His response: “A monument to stupid.”
So it seems fair to ask the question: Do we really need another huge temple to the idea that the Earth was created around 6,000 years ago? I ask because it appears that the Answers in Genesis (AiG) tourist sites – the Ark and the Creation Museum – are about to get some major young-Earth-creationist competition. And it will be located less than five hours south of the Ark.
As we have noted here many times before, AiG – in an effort to secure financial support for the building of the Ark – sold the little town of Williamstown (KY) on the idea that they would attract at least 1.2 million of visitors in the first year of operation, and that there would be an annual attendance increase of 7% for the next decade.
And the sales job worked. In hopes that the flood of visitors would revive their economically shaky (to say the least) town, Williamstown floated $62m in junk bonds to enable AiG to build the Ark. What made this deal particularly sweet for AiG is that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes instead has gone to paying off the bonds. (Talk about a government subsidy!)
Well, Ark attendance has fallen far, far short of its projections. It has never reached the 1.2 million mark that was projected for year one. And while, according to AiG’s own projections, 2022 should see 1.8 million people pouring into the Ark, as of August 31 (that is, after the end of the summer tourist season) there had only been 528,105 visitors to the giant, non-seaworthy boat. (Thanks to the City of Williamstown and Dan Phelps for these numbers). And as was made clear in the terrific documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, Williamstown has definitely not reaped the economic benefits they hoped for in floating the bonds and foregoing the property taxes.
And very soon now, the AiG tourist sites will face a new challenge.
The David Rives Ministries describes itself as “the most trusted name in Biblical scientific research” (would AiG agree with this statement?) providing “true facts” to counter “atheists” who use “evolutionary theories” to “claim they have refuted the Bible’s accuracy.” And Rives does seem to be everywhere in the land of young Earth creationist media, with his (to give just a few examples):
- Genesis Science Network, which “airs to millions globally”
- Creation in the 21st Century, which airs weekly on the Trinity Broadcasting Network
- The Creation Club magazine, distributed bimonthly
- Genesis Science Minute, a daily radio feature
- Changing the Narrative, a weekly podcast
- Secrets Beyond the Rim, a documentary on the Grand Canyon as a product of the Flood as described in Genesis 6-8
But now, the David Rives Ministries are moving beyond media. The organization has purchased the more than 100,000 square foot Renaissance Center (Dickson, TN) from Freed-Hardeman University, and is in the process of transforming it into a tourist site. According to Rives,
upon opening [in 2023] The Wonders Center & Science Museum will be the largest science museum in the world that upholds biblical values . . . Plans . . . include replicas of life-size dinosaurs, hands-on experiments for children, space-themed exhibits, and a rare historical collection of artifacts, including ancient Bible scrolls . . . [plus] an incredible 140-seat Planetarium [that] will allow visitors to experience the cosmos in real-time as well as view shows with groundbreaking visual effect.
Wow. Sounds a lot like the Creation Museum, only bigger.
Now, let’s be clear. At Rives’ Creation Superstore, described as the “World’s Largest Origins-Related Store” (Rives definitely has an affinity for hyperbole), books and DVDs by Ken Ham and other AiG folks are for sale. Put another way, AiG and the David Rives Ministries are clearly on the same team.
That said, one has to wonder what The Wonders Center & Science Museum means for the AiG tourist sites. Will it negatively affect Creation Museum attendance? Will Ark Encounter fall even further short of AiG’s attendance projections?
Or will this new museum inspire visitors to hop in their cars to make the five hour trek northward to visit Ken Ham’s monuments to a young universe?
We shall see.