by William Trollinger
GQ’s Jeff Vrabel toured Ark Encounter a few days after its July 7, 2016 opening. In his hilarious and insightful article on his Ark visit Vrabel begins by observing that:
Noah’s ark is the first left after the gas station, down the street from the Mexican restaurant . . . Given that it constitutes a $100 million boat-shaped Bible theme park and the self-proclaimed “largest timber-fame structure in the world,” I’d expected a more dramatic approach. Maybe some animatronics. At least a little traffic.
Because we are approaching the anniversary of the Ark’s opening, we recently made a third visit. While we were not keen on returning, it turned out to be a very productive trip. Over the next month, we will have a number of posts on the troubling and strange world of young Earth creationism as presented by Answers in Genesis (AiG) at Ark Encounter.
But for this post, we will remain outside the Ark. And we can report that the Ark Encounter exit off I-75 remains as undeveloped as the day Jeff Vrabel visited last July. El Jalisco’s and the gas station are still there, plus two sleepy hotels that clearly need updating. That’s it.
Nothing is happening there, and nothing is happening just down the road in little Williamstown. In a May 24 Washington Post article Karen Heller reports that
A year after the ark opened, downtown Williamstown, about two miles from the tourist attraction, still isn’t much more than a collection of resale and “antiques” shops and shuttered storefronts. At lunchtime on a spring weekday, Main Street was devoid of pedestrians, tour buses, or open restaurants, except for a coffee shop with a tattoo parlor in the back.
Every day that goes by, it becomes increasingly obvious that AiG misled (at best) Williamstown city officials. In 2013, the town issued $62m of junk bonds and then loaned the proceeds to Ark Encounter. Over the next thirty years, ¾ of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes will instead be used to pay off the loan.
Of course, groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State are deeply troubled by the fact that this fundamentalist theme park is afloat thanks to this large government subsidy. But Ken Ham resolutely refuses to acknowledge this point, which is why we keep bringing it up. See, for example, his recent article, “Atheists Taking Over the Ark? Time to Debunk More Lies!,” in which he addresses “just a couple of the many outright lies” in the Freedom From Religion Foundation video, “Atheist Exposes Ark Encounter”:
Lie #1: The Ark was “built with millions in taxpayer subsidies.”
Truth: Not one dollar of state taxpayer money has been used – the Ark’s construction has been totally privately funded . . . All the funds for building the Ark came from our supporters who made donations (about 43,000 people/families) and other supporters who funded the bond offering. Also the numbers visiting the Ark are exceeding our expectations this spring.
Two questions regarding this highly problematic statement:
- Linking “supporters who made donations” with “supporters who funded the bond offering” elides the essential difference between these two groups: the former made gifts to Ark Encounter, and latter lent money – lots of money – to Ark Encounter and thus expect to be repaid, with interest. Given that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes will go to paying off the loan, in what sense can Ham claim that the Ark is “totally privately funded”
- Ham told the Washington Post reporter that the Ark “is on target . . . to attract more than a million visitors in the first year.” Given that he and other AiG representatives repeatedly predicted 1.4m-2.2m visitors in year one, in what sense can Ham claim that the numbers “are exceeding our expectations”?
In his attack on FFRF Ham sniffs that “when Christians ask me why atheists spread false information, I remind them that . . . non-Christians are spiritually blind and are ‘willingly ignorant of the truth.’”
The phrase “people in glass houses” comes to mind here.