Friday, July 7 marked the one-year anniversary of Ark Encounter, the Answers in Genesis (AiG) theme park near Williamstown, Kentucky. Below are twelve “takeaways” from the Ark’s first year:
Artistic license: For a place so dedicated to the notion that the Bible is true and errorless, and should be read literally, it is striking how so many Ark exhibits stray far beyond the biblical text, even inventing names, talents, desires, and ethnicities for Noah’s wife and the wives of Noah’s sons. The lesson at the Ark seems to be that literal is literal, except when it is not.
Risible exhibits: In a place that is so dark and disturbing (see below), it is a relief that there are places where it makes sense to laugh. One such place is the new “Why the Bible is True” exhibit, the main section of which consists of a giant cartoon in which the hero proves to his friends that the teachings of their World Religions professor are false with a photo on his phone of two placards from the selfsame exhibit.
Killing 20 billion: Ark Encounter is unsubtle in its commemoration of divine genocide. Not only is there an exhibit dedicated to exposing traditional children’s books about Noah’s Ark as Satan’s work – because they do not emphasize the righteous genocide — but according to one flat screen display upward of twenty billion human beings were justifiably slaughtered in the Flood.
Enervating interior: For a place that is so creative in its treatment of the biblical text and that focuses so much on genocidal slaughter, it is surprising that the Ark is quite boring. The size and the carpentry are remarkable, but the content – empty bins and ceramic jugs, and lots of placards with lots of text – is pretty dull.
Not the Creation Museum: As with Ark Encounter, the Creation Museum is – as we document in Righting America – a dark and disturbing place. But the museum is much more complex and much more interesting than Ark Encounter. Not only does the museum deal with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babel (along with the Flood), but it is also much more explicit in its culture war rhetoric.
Changes and additions: Among the 2017 additions to Ark Encounter is “a pre-Flood village” that at the moment features a small building serving hot dogs and brats, some new landscaping, and a buffet at Emzara’s Kitchen (which last year was organized like a fast-food restaurant). Will these modest changes really contribute to a doubling of Ark attendance (see below)?
Ostriches, lizards, and wallabies: The Ark Encounter website gives much attention to its Ararat Ridge Zoo: “With fun for the kids and biblical teaching for all ages, the Ararat Ridge Zoo is a must-do at Ark Encounter.” But even with the addition of a few animals, a GQ reporter’s assessment last summer that this is “tobacco country’s saddest zoo” seems on point.
Underwhelming first day: We were at Ark Encounter’s opening day, expecting chaos and crowds, and concerned that there would be so many visitors that we might not be able to get in. But not only was there no chaos, but we were stunned by the fact that the shuttle buses were nearly empty, and — as we documented with photos — there was not one person at a ticket window. On opening day, the Ark did not live up to AiG’s hype.
Numbers of visitors: This has been an ever-changing story, with few firm numbers, and no evidence. To recap: Ken Ham predicted 1.4-2.2m visitors in the first year, and one month after the Ark opened he announced the number would be closer to 2.2m than to 1.4m. But as the six-month mark approached Ham announced Ark attendance was approaching 1/2 million; now he is claiming (without evidence) 1m visitors. That’s 400,000 visitors short of his original low-end prediction. But he makes up for it by asserting that attendance will double in the second year.
Tax subsidy: In 2013 the small town of Williamstown issued $62m of junk bonds, loaning Ark Encounter the proceeds so it could get the project started. What makes this such a good deal for the Ark – and dangerous for Williamstown – is that over the next three decades 75% of what it would have paid in property taxes will go to paying off the loan. Furious with media reports about these bonds, Ham refuses to acknowledge that, in effect, Ark Encounter received a large government subsidy.
Empty Williamstown: Given the subsidy Williamstown provided the Ark, it is very sad to report that the small town has seen very little in the way of development. According to Cincinnati.com’s Scott Wartman, there is much “angst” in Williamstown regarding the Ark’s “fail[ure] to deliver on the promise of economic progress.” For Ham’s part, he blames the town itself for the lack of development, as well as secularists and atheists who – with their “negative, misleading, and outright false reporting” – are “influencing business investors in . . . a negative way.”
Restaurant and reenactors: From the beginning Ham and company planned to place a large restaurant on the top of the Ark. When we visited last year there was much excitement about the projected Brazilian steakhouse. This plan has apparently been scrapped, replaced by a projected 800-seat restaurant “where guests will be entertained by Noah-era reenactors, a Bible-inspired dinner theater.”
Noah-era reenactors? Are they re-enacting scenes from before, during, or after the drowning of twenty billion people?
Only AiG would think this is a good idea.