Perched on the hills of northern Kentucky, in a town whose population is smaller than the enrollment of Southern Seminary, is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark, in the truest sense a monument of biblical proportions. Using a 20.4-inch cubit, the Ark Encounter measures 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 91.5 feet high — the largest timber frame structure in the world — with bamboo flooring covering the 140,000 square feet of museum space inside.
The $100-million first phase of an 800-acre biblical theme park that will eventually include a Tower of Babel replica, the Ark Encounter is scheduled to open July 7 as a nod to Genesis 7:7, but the ambitious project takes a page from another story: “If you build it, they will come.” Ken Ham, founder of the apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis (which operates the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum 40 miles away), expects more than 2 million visitors each year, which he says will make the attraction “one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era.”
“The @ArkEncounter will challenge people to come face to face with the reality of God’s righteous judgment and His gift of salvation,” Ham tweeted earlier this year, in the midst of a legal dispute over whether the park could receive $18 million in state tax incentives. A federal judge ruled in January the Ark Encounter could receive the incentives despite hiring only professing Christians, and in April the state’s tourism department approved the group’s request.
Prompted by Ham’s resolve in the face of mounting skepticism, the Towers team toured the Ark during a media preview in May. We invited SBTS Old Testament professors Russell Fuller and T.J. Betts and philosophy professor Theodore J. Cabal to experience the attraction themselves and offer their take on the issues.
Inside the Ark: Bible, Science, and Evangelism
Although Ham guided the media (some of whom remained skeptical the project could be completed) through each floor of the Ark, the museum itself will feature a self-guided tour with signs and interactive displays. Each floor contains exhibits on the historicity of the Genesis Flood narrative, the kinds of animals on the Ark, and Noah’s life and family. Like AiG’s Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter will present evidence supporting young earth creationism, the belief that God created the world 6,000 years ago.
“The history in Genesis has come under particular attack in this era and so we’re trying to emphasize history which is foundational to all of our doctrine,” Ham said during the tour, noting the planned expansions for the park — a walled city, first-century Middle Eastern village, and Tower of Babel — will help defend the biblical account. “Even the Tower of Babel helps us understand … why the gospel is for every tribe and nation.”
Contrary to popular criticism, Answers in Genesis sponsors scientific research and the Ark Encounter displays the fruits of those efforts. Ham says he hopes the exhibits debunk an evolutionary view of history that assumes Noah was unintelligent merely because he lived thousands of years ago.
Ham defended his employment of Amish craftsmen and use of modern tools like cranes to build the Ark by raising the impossibility of knowing what tools and assistance Noah used. Ham supported this statement with the examples of other ancient structures like Mesoamerican ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids which an evolutionary view of history cannot explain.
“For too long there’s been all these bathtub arks, almost like it’s a wonderful little fairy tale, but we’re going to really portray this as history and Noah as an intelligent man,” Ham said, even suggesting Noah may have been an experienced ship builder prior to the Ark.
He also elaborated on the Ark Encounter’s promotion of speciation, which says that all land animals descended from as few as 1,400 “kinds” on the Ark. For Ham, “kinds” is a biblical term that is similar to the family-level of species classification (e.g. dog-like creatures), and sometimes extends even to order (e.g. carnivores). “Speciation can happen quite quickly,” Ham said, emphasizing this view is entirely distinct from evolution, which “involves adding new information into the genetic code.”
In addition to a defense of the Bible’s historicity and young-earth creationism, the Ark Encounter’s third floor will host an exhibit from the Museum of the Bible promoting the truthfulness of Scripture and provide an evangelistic emphasis by connecting the door of the Ark to the door of salvation in Jesus Christ. Ham says that the $100 million invested in the project, all consisting of bond offerings from AiG investors and donations, will be a “phenomenal spiritual return on investment” because of many non-Christians who will visit the attraction and hear the gospel.
Following the tour, the SBTS professors all agreed with Ham’s assessment of the Ark Encounter’s evangelistic potential and encouraged seminary students and church leaders to support the project.
Fuller, a Hebrew scholar and young-earth creationist, said the attraction could be a great opportunity to share the gospel with skeptical friends and co-workers.
“When you’re at something like this, it’s much easier to talk about the Bible and about God with people,” Fuller said. “I think the opportunity to witness is much easier.”
Also a young-earth creationist, Betts said the foundations for interpreting Genesis are believing God created everything and that the Bible is the inerrant and authoritative guide. “The answers really are in Genesis,” he quipped. And while Betts said it is acceptable to use only Scripture and remain uncertain of science, he stressed the importance of being informed on the issues in light of the looming popularity of the Ark Encounter.
“If you’re going to be a church leader it could only help you, especially to understand where people are coming from,” Betts said.
But supporting the Ark Encounter shouldn’t be limited to one’s conviction on the age of the earth, said Cabal, an old-earth creationist whose new book “The Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Shouldn’t Divide over the Age of the Earth” releases in the fall. Christians should pray for the Ark Encounter to succeed and recognize the significance of what it represents.
“I think the Ark not only is an amazing accomplishment architecturally, but just as the original Ark stood as a symbol of warning to a decadent world, a world headed to judgment, I think with some irony so does this one,” Cabal said.
Beyond the Ark: A Symbol of Judgment and Salvation
“Genocide and Incest Park: Celebrating 2,000 Years of Myths,” reads a proposed billboard by the Tri-State Freethinkers, intended to be displayed on the interstate next to the Ark Encounter. Although the ad was rejected, the atheist group raised more than $10,000 for its campaign, just one sample of the ridicule heaped upon AiG’s undertaking to bring the Bible to life.
Yet, if anything, the controversy shrouding the Ark Encounter only increases awareness about the project and energizes supporters. The attraction itself was forged in the crucible of public controversy. In February 2014, Ham engaged in a sold-out debate with Bill Nye the Science Guy on creation and evolution that attracted more than 3 million viewers online. Although the mainstream media awarded the victory to Nye, Ham had the last laugh — weeks after the debate, Answers in Genesis announced it would begin construction on the Ark Encounter.
Cabal said the persistent controversy about the attraction will motivate people to think about the Bible and the reason for the Flood. And more importantly, the ridicule of the park proves the timeliness of the Ark Encounter’s message of judgment and salvation.
“To me, the Ark stands as a symbol for what the world scoffs at, when ultimately it scoffs at Christ and the cross,” Cabal said. “They ridicule all of us for believing any of this stuff.”
But just as the Ark Encounter serves as an indictment on an age that rejects the Bible, it also stands as a message of salvation for all those who place their trust in Jesus as the sole deliverer from God’s wrath.
“Today we certainly see an increasing number of aggressive secularists who vehemently mock those of us who stand on the truth of God’s Word in Genesis concerning creation and the Flood,” Ham said in an email, noting the parallels between the sinful culture of Noah’s day and the Western world. “It’s a great time to build an Ark, not one that will float, but to be a themed attraction as a reminder of the historical account of the Flood in Genesis, as well as to present the saving gospel message that has its foundations in Genesis.”
When the Ark Encounter debuts to the public July 7, it will open for 40 days (9 a.m.–4 p.m.) and 40 nights (5 p.m.–midnight) before beginning daytime-only hours Aug. 16. More information about the attraction, including ticket prices and resources, is available at arkencounter.com.