By Logan Blakeslee
Astute readers of this publication may recall my article “Creationism in America: Faith turned Fanatical” from February of 2023. For those who have not read it, I highly suggest skimming through it before reading this follow-up, as it provides the context necessary to understand the basics of Young-Earth Creationism in the United States. With that said, I will now regale you with my experiences at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.
I recently had the privilege of being invited by a subsidiary of the Leadership Institute, called the Christian Leadership Program, to an event which took place from 11/18/23–11/19/23. The event was named the Ark Statesmen Conference, which was intended to equip young Christians with an interest in politics with the skills to change public policy in a more… spiritual direction. It was impossible for me to turn down an opportunity like this, especially as it was taking place at the new focal point of Young-Earth Creationism, a subject which I already had strong interest in. I was determined to see Noah’s Ark with my own eyes.
I must first thank the Leadership Institute and its sponsors for the trip. My cozy accommodation at the Marriott Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, free bus and shuttle transportation, and my complimentary ticket and meal voucher for the Ark Encounter itself are things that I am deeply grateful for. Without L.I.’s generosity, this trip would have cost me a small fortune. For conservative and Christian students out there, you should really take a look at what other amazing opportunities L.I. has to offer. I will also thank the kind staff at the Ark Encounter for always being polite, helpful, and informative. I met a cashier at the gift shop from Vestal, NY and she was very courteous! Northerners could learn a thing about hospitality from these folks.
That aside, my analysis of the Ark Encounter will feature a great deal of criticism. In my previous article, I was perhaps too generous to Young-Earth Creationism and its stipulations, or perhaps Ken Ham (founder of Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter) is not the right person to lead the movement. I will jump into my critique after describing my time at the attraction, which was an overall fascinating experience.
My travel group of fellow conference participants, around sixty in total, arrived at the Ark Encounter around 10 A.M. to an awe-inspiring view of the reconstructed vessel sitting atop a hill in the distance. The massive structure dominated the rural landscape, which in itself was very beautiful and pristine. Our travel bus looped up a winding road, bringing us to the top of another hill that gave way to a nearly empty parking lot. I could not count more than 100 cars in a parking lot which could fit 4,000, and this surprised me. There had only been about two or three other tour buses besides our own that day.
I acknowledge that this low rate of attendance is probably the result of it being a slow travel season. Not many people venture out to these kinds of places in late November due to work or school. Fortunately for my group, we did not have to wait in line for entry. We got off the bus and spent three hours in a conference room in the basement of the “Answers Center” next to the ark. The Answers Center is the place to listen to live lectures given by creationist researchers, although sometimes it hosts concerts and other events. It also sports a sizable gift shop full of books and other collectibles.
During this initial phase of the conference, we discussed ways to fundraise or raise awareness for events that promote conservative ideas on college campuses. The advice that was offered is tried-and-true, even if it may sound repetitive. We discussed how to get in contact with media outlets in order to promote stories that highlight conservative experiences at universities. Much of the content that was discussed would be intimately familiar to attendees of CPAC, Revolution (Young Americans for Liberty), AmericaFest (Turning Point USA), or other right-leaning conventions.
At 1 P.M. , we were dismissed and given the ability to explore any area of the attraction as we pleased. I followed some of my peers as we approached the massive wooden ship and boarded it. Words fail to describe the feeling of standing in front of the world’s largest wooden structure. The craftsmen behind this project did not disappoint in their work. The ark’s length is 510 feet, its width 85 feet, and its height 51 feet. A large ramp is connected to the hull, but visitors must enter from a different ramp beneath the ship. Upon entering, one can see countless displays which explain life on the ark and how Noah could have cared for so many animals during the Great Flood, or as I call it, the Deluge. There is an incredible amount of detail and thought put into every corner and exhibit. The visuals and artwork are astounding.
The ark is arranged into three decks which have different themes. To progress, one must proceed up a series of ramps that run throughout the ship. The first two decks are largely similar, containing a wide variety of model animals, both living and extinct, in wooden cages. These cages are surrounded by ceramic pots and jars and candles and other things which help explain how living beings inhabited this great vessel. The second deck does feature a theater of sorts, and I saw a short film depicting Noah being interviewed by a nonbeliever shortly before the Deluge. The actress for the nonbeliever kept slipping between a Southern and a British accent, and the jokes didn’t land quite right, but the actor for Noah seemed like a wholesome fellow.
The most interesting exhibits were the ones that tried to give an impression of life before the Great Flood. Intricate murals on the walls portray a civilization that practiced constant warfare, child sacrifice, slavery, polygamy, and every sort of hedonism imaginable. This provides the justification for God delivering judgment on humanity. There was even a diorama of a dinosaur fighting a gladiator, which was objectively cool. I appreciate the genuine passion that the artists behind these exhibits had for the subject matter.
Equally fascinating were the exhibits which explained the mechanics of the Deluge, which coincided with powerful volcanic eruptions that triggered earthquakes, tsunamis, and caused the continents to drift apart. Fossils are described as mostly being the result of the flood, with countless plants and animals being buried under vast layers of sediment carried by moving water. These ideas are the basis of Flood Geology, which seeks to prove the biblical account of events by studying rock formations across the globe.
The third deck contained numerous cages for birds, as well as the living quarters of Noah’s family. Farther along were some of the oldest copies of the Gospels in existence, dated between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This was set up to promote the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which opened recently in 2017. One section of the ark described how (Protestant) missionaries brought the Bible to different parts of the world and how (Protestants) translated scripture into different languages. Needless to say, I was dismayed by the omission of Catholic contributions to spreading the good news.
Taking an elevator to exit the ship, I ventured out and tried some of the smaller activities nearby. The first was a bewildering lecture on how the Bible explains race and racism, while also insinuating that Darwinism is responsible for racial oppression in the modern age. However, the woman giving the lecture, Avery Foley, was kind enough to let me take a photograph with her and answer some of my simpler questions. Like everyone else working at the Ark Encounter, she was considerate and very polite.
Afterwards, I went for a ride on a carousel with a mix of modern animals and dinosaurs. I may have been too large to enjoy it properly, but I thought it was very cute. Then, I hopped into a VR simulation of the Great Flood which lasted a little over ten minutes. The simulation cost around $16, so I only recommend it if you have extra cash to spend. Following this, I had a top-notch buffet dinner at Emzara’s Kitchen, named after Noah’s wife. This was honestly one of my favorite dining experiences and each of the selections tasted very good.
After dinner had ended, I was sad to learn that the petting zoo had closed and I didn’t have nearly enough time to visit the zip-line. In lieu of these things, I went back to the gift shop and purchased a book on dinosaurs that was autographed by Ken Ham himself, mysteriously priced the same as a regular copy. My voyage had come to an end, so I returned to my group for the bus ride back to the hotel.
It would take too long to fully describe everything I saw and did during the Ark Statesmen Conference, but having had some time to reflect on it all, I observed innumerable instances of slander against secular scientists who specialize in biology and geology. Too many times I read of how mainstream science is done with a philosophical agenda to remove God from public thinking. Too many times I saw blatant mischaracterization of what science actually provides or how it’s conducted. The problem with the Ark Encounter and its parent company is that it works backwards on science.
Science is fundamentally about taking evidence and forming a hypothesis which can be falsified. Creationism seems to bend scientific conclusions in order to fit its own agenda. For example, one exhibit in the Ark Encounter described how Archaeopteryx, a feathered dinosaur which was once believed to be an ancestor of modern birds, was just a normal bird despite having hands, a snout (rather than a beak), a lizard-like hip, and a stiff tail. Ken Ham writes extensively about how dinosaurs didn’t have feathers and evidence to the contrary is just distortion in the fossils, or that science can’t explain why a flightless animal would evolve feathers. Whenever that explanation fails, he just lumps feathered dinosaur species into the category of “normal bird.”
Likewise, he adamantly believes that dinosaurs didn’t create nests in order to nurture their young. I speculate that this is due to the implication that dinosaurs having birdlike behaviors hurts the argument against evolution. I was repeatedly frustrated by the disdain shown to paleontology and its repeated demonstration that birds originated from dinosaurs, or at the very least, shared a lot of similarities with them.
Time after time, Ken Ham teaches his followers to respond with “you weren’t there” to a secular scientist whenever a claim is made about the age of the Earth. His arguments are ridden with logical fallacies and I was far more impressed with the work and debate style of his peers, particularly Bodie Hodge for his concise explanations of Flood Geology. Additionally, I am disheartened by Answers in Genesis’ position on other theological issues, such as their denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity and frequent misunderstanding of orthodox traditions.
I could go on about this and other complaints for pages and pages. Young-Earth Creationists rightly point out that American culture is ripping apart and Western society is becoming a hostile place for Christianity. Still, I am not convinced that the answer is to mislead others by constructing a grand conspiracy run by the ghost of Charles Darwin. I think that the correct answer is to trust in the Holy See and affirm every stance held by the Catholic Church, but that’s for another article.