Thoughts on Ken Ham's Creation Museum and Ark Encounter

I'll be honest. I've been pining to see the infamous Creation Museum since it first opened back in (or around) 2007. Back then, I'd recently come into my own as an atheist, embracing a freethinking and non-religious lifestyle after a young adulthood filled with oppressive and constricting ties to conservative religious thought. (Members of my family used to joke that I'd left my husband "for" Richard Dawkins.) Dawkins, along with many other prominent atheists, opined about Ken Ham's Creation Museum, located in Petersburg, Kentucky, which boasted a creationist worldview; Ham claimed to offer scientifically comprehensive ideas as to how the creation account from the Bible could be seen as a literal account of the start of the world.

This idea was not taken seriously among most, but many atheists journeyed out to Ham's museum to offer thoughts on it and share their experiences. More recently, the same thing happened when Ham launched a new theme park, 45 hours from the Creation Museum, called the Ark Encounter. While his museum was dedicated to giving legitimacy to the Genesis account of creation, the Ark Encounter was supposed to give guests first-hand experience as to how the biblical Noah's Ark might have looked, felt, and how it was managed.

Ken Ham, I'll point out here, is the founder of Answers in Genesis, which, according to its own website, "is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. [They] focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible -- particularly the book of Genesis -- regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth." Answers in Genesis is definitively "young earth," meaning that they adhere to the idea that the earth is no older than about 10,000 years (which comes directly from their interpretation of lineage as described in the Bible). They do not believe in the evolution of species, and have taken a key interest in using "science" (as they see it) to prove their biblical worldview.

Needless to say, I've heard plenty about the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter because of the atheist circles I tend to run in. I've had aspirations to visit both of them, myself, ever since hearing about their existence (mostly out of interest, but also because I'm fascinated by the junk science that young-earth creationists use to try and justify their beliefs).

Recently, I found myself in the fortuitous position of being able to visit both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. I was visiting one of my closest boyfriends, prominent atheist writer and debater Richard Carrier. Though we met when he was living in California, he now lives in Columbus, Ohio, and so once school was out this year I made plans to go visit him (and he'll be visiting me here in Vegas toward the end of summer). After I arrived in Columbus, we somehow got onto the topic of the Creation Museum (atheists, you know), and I came to the realization that Richard lived within a few hours' drive of both.

And, to top it all off, he'd never been to visit either of them. I mean, if your first visit to the Answers in Genesis theme parks can be accompanied by Richard Carrier's first visits, too, then why the hell wouldn't you drop everything and go immediately?

I joke, but, really, I was pretty excited. On the second day of my visit, we decided to drive down and visit both parks. This excursion began with a stop at the corner coffee shop where I could get a to-go coffee (Richard doesn't drink it), and the both of us could get a small something to eat for breakfast while we drove. And we then enjoyed a scenic drive from Ohio into Kentucky, listening to selections from such bands as She Wants Revenge and Damn the Witch Siren.

We finally arrived at the Creation Museum (our first stop), and parked, marveling at the life-size dinosaur statues. Now, Richard and I both knew going in that Ken Ham and his young-earth creationist team believe that dinosaurs lived with humans at the dawn of creation, but it was still fascinating to see this as such a hugely prominent part of the museum. Ham points to serpents and monsters mentioned in the Bible, and says that, in reality, they were what we now refer to as dinosaurs. And then he freaking runs with that mentality all over the museum. But I don't want to get ahead of myself -- first, here's a few pictures of Richard and I arriving at the museum and taking in all of the dinosaur-esqueness of it all.

Richard and I arrived at the infamous Creation Museum ready to meet this dinosaur.

The Creation Museum has SO MANY skeletal recreations of dinosaurs and other primeval creatures, all of which he tries to prove existed in this world at the same time as humans (per biblical stories). It's pretty wild.

Richard and I both paid the $60 necessary to secure admission to both the museum and the Ark Encounter (for later in the afternoon). This was honestly more than either of us wanted to give to Answers in Genesis, but this was not an opportunity to be passed up. So we did it, and began our tour through the Creation Museum.

The entire premise of the museum is that creationists and "evolutionists" (as we're called) use the same evidence, but begin with different starting points (as they say). Creationists begin with trust in the Bible, and that, therefore, colors their interpretation of any evidence they're presented with (that's not quite how they put it, but at least they're honest about the way they use scientific data). There are a great many exhibits that show the evidence for evolutionary biology, but then offer an "alternate" viewpoint from a biblical standpoint. These "alternates" are never backed up by legitimate scientific discourse. It's all basic speculation.

For example, let's say that I was trying to prove the story of Peter Pan was true. So I told you that I was going to look at historical evidence through that particular lens. And then I presented evidence that there was this pirate ship that went missing once upon a time, so that was obviously evidence that it went to Neverland and became the infamous pirate ship captained by Mr. Hook. That's sort of how the Creation Museum felt after a while.

Richard took my picture in front of a pair of statues, these ones of school children, who were marveling to each other that they'd never heard this history in school before (unfortunately, I don't have copies of that picture). Then, we made out in the "creation hallway" (a dark hallway lined with stars that was supposed to, I guess, represent the universe before God created anything beyond stars and a universe).

We then walked through the Garden of Eden. There were animatronics for all of the animals, and also for Adam and Eve (they had surprisingly smooth skin, and Adam's hair was cut short like a modern-day Mormon missionary). We were led through an interpretation of "the fall," when Eve is tricked by the evil serpent into eating a piece of fruit (and my goddess, I could write an entire blog post on the story of "the fall" and the deeper meanings and symbolism relating to society and culture, but that's for another time). It is explained how all of humankind, forevermore, is cursed because of that damn fruit and Eve's decision, and you then get to walk through an animatronic version of the early days after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden.

The entire thing was well done from a theme park perspective. I mean, it was like walking through one of Disneyland's dark rides. It's easy to see the narrative, and some of the visuals were excellently done. Except, of course, Disneyland isn't trying to pass off that Alice in Wonderland came from a page of history. Answers in Genesis is always trying to pass that off. That was the one fact that always kept me grounded throughout our museum tour. It was so surreal.

I was surprised, too, that there was actually a great deal of time dedicated to legitimizing the Noah's Ark story at the Creation Museum. But I won't go into that too much right now -- I'll save most of that for when I describe what the Ark Encounter was like.

Richard and I finished exploring the museum (which featured lots and lots of "monster" stories from the Bible and lots and lots of apologetics equating that to dinosaurs), and had lunch. We got sandwiches from Noah's Cafe (that's what they called the place) and then wandered the ill-designed gardens on the museum grounds until we decided we'd had enough and were ready to head on down to the Ark Encounter.

Now, Ken Ham is obviously no Walt Disney. You'd think that the Ark Encounter would be close, if not absolutely adjacent, to the Creation Museum. Not so. The Ark Encounter was a further 45-minute drive away from the museum. I drove us down there (the one time that day that I did some driving).

Now, there's lots of controversy over the Ark Encounter park, because Ham received state funding for the park in exchange for creating jobs and a thriving vacation economy that theme parks tend to bring to cities. However ... Ham then refused to hire anyone that wasn't a young-earth creationist Christian willing to sign an affadavit confirming as much (pretty unconstitutional, actually). Also, the returns he promised to the city through park attendance has not even come close to being met (which I'll get into in just a bit).

Anyway, we arrived at the Ark Encounter and parked. The parking lot, much like any theme park anyone has ever visited, was designed to accommodate very large crowds. One of the first things we both noticed was that it was rather empty.

We made the short walk up to ticketing so we could get wristbands and pay for parking (yep, we paid to park in that empty parking lot). Then, we waited for a bus that would drive us up to the actual theme park.

Richard and I waited in this establishment for the bus that would get us up close and personal with Noah's Ark. Lol.
In all honesty, I was expecting a theme park. That's what I've heard the place was designed to be -- a real theme park with lots to do, but the focal point being the Ark.

That's not what it was. It wasn't even close to a theme park. It was a giant Ark, smack in the middle of nowhere.

There was what appeared to be a snack shack, which was closed. Across from the Ark was some kind of restaurant and visitor's center. And the very bottom of the Ark itself was a gift shop (all theme park rides have to empty into a gift shop!). We looked around the shop for a bit. Interesting fact -- both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter sell copious amounts of fudge. Like, enough fudge to send me into a diabetic coma eight hundred times over (and I'm an actual Type 1 diabetic, so I can make that comment without being callous).

Anyway, though, we finally decided to head into the Ark itself. We walked around the huge structure trying to get a decent photo of it (this was hard to do, as it's so damn big).
I got, like, part of it in a photo.

As we walked around, we marveled at the huge queue that had been built. As a Disneyland enthusiast, I'm pretty well-versed in how waiting areas are designed, and how long you can expect to wait for an attraction based on the waiting area. The queues for the Ark had obviously been designed for hours and hours of waiting. You wander through garden areas, and then beneath the Ark itself, where you can also watch videos of Ark construction.

We slowed ourselves down in order to watch some of the video, but, in the end, this attraction was a proverbial "walk on." There was no waiting at all. We wound our way through the switchbacks and finally up to the entrance of the Ark.

The first scene featured animatronics of Noah and his family (his wife, their three sons, and their wives) praying before the start of the mass genocide that their god was about to commit. (Emma Watson was, unfortunately, nowhere in sight).

Richard and I then began our self-guided tour of Noah's Ark. Some of the first things we saw were cages of animals (both dinosaurs and modern-day animals). There were plaques giving descriptive information on animal "kinds," and how animals hadn't "micro-evolutioned" in Noah's day, giving him ample opportunity to get them all on the Ark. According to Answers in Genesis, there were not various types of cats (lions, tigers, pumas, etc.), but only a general, original cat kind that Noah saved, which then "micro-evolutioned" into other kinds of cats later on. For real.

Richard and I made out in the ship's hull. Honestly, making out at both attractions was the highlight of the trip. But I digress.

The rest of this attraction was dedicated to explaining how the Ark worked and how Noah's family survived during the flood. There was a section that discussed Noah's sons and their wives, and how each wife was from a different lineage (essentially, white, brown, and black). This was used to explain racial diversity on the planet. After the flood was over, one son and his white wife parented all white people; another son and his brown wife parented all brown people; and the last son and his black wife parented all black people. No shit. This was a real exhibit.

Racism was a very real theme at both attractions, though, believe it or not. The exhibits discussing it pointed to Darwin's theory of evolution as an excuse to treat people like shit because "survival of the fittest" (and to hell with the ways we've evolved to live in cooperative societies and as empathetic people, I guess). It then, of course, discussed Christianity as the only viable way to treat all humans as equal (despite the very clear history of the Bible being used to justify racism, sexism, and horrific genocides).

One of the most interesting areas, though, was the children's area. There was a small corner dedicated to children's ministry and Ark storytelling for children. But the signs in that area absolutely floored me.

This sign flat out admits to children that their god committed genocide.
The first sign that I decided to capture in a photo declared that all living people in the world were killed by the flood, all except the eight chosen people on the Ark.

Like ... what?! How do you even explain that to children?

"How come babies and children had to die?"

"Well, sweetheart, because all people were tainted with the sin of Adam, so, despite the fact that God made them that way, he had to kill them all."

That's pretty much the legit story behind it, though (until, of course, God was able to sacrifice himself to himself in order to make right the human problem he created in the first place). But I digress. Again.
The other sign I had to get a photo of was a basic fear-based sign made to encourage children to never doubt the faith, lest they be led astray by the evil powers of the devil.

This is, essentially, saying, "It doesn't matter if this doesn't make sense to you. If you don't believe in it, you're falling into the devil's trap, and you'll soon be led straight to hell."

I mean, keep in mind that these signs were in the children's section. What other message could they have possibly been trying to send, other than an attempt to scare kids into always believing?

After the Ark, Richard and I tried to get a few better pictures of the thing. Honestly, it's massive. And even the numerous exhibits inside, there's still a whole lot of wasted space (as well as many small snack shops that were all closed when we were there because, obviously, paying employees to man them was not justified when attendance was so low.

Ken Ham has actually, quite recently, blaming atheists for low attendance at his Ark Encounter. Richard and I, of course, were not the first atheists to attend Ham's museum and Ark Encounter, and have something to say about the both of them. Other atheists have been more vocal about their thoughts (particularly, the state funds Ham received for his sectarian projects). Here's the thing, though -- surely, Ham's believes that his god is more powerful than a handful of atheists speaking their mind about his attractions, doesn't he? Who cares what we atheists do or say? Shouldn't God provide for this cause if, indeed, it is true?

But anyway, Richard and I ended our day, drove back to his place in Columbia, and had some wine. We may have watched Call of Cthulhu (or that may have been the following day -- I don't remember). But we did spend the greater part of a day out at Ham's attractions.

The Creation Museum greets you with the mantra, "Prepare to Believe." I was prepared, my friends. I tried so hard to enter that museum with an open mind. But it is so demonstrably absurd with even just the slightest understanding of the scientific process and evolutionary theory.

Here's another photo of the Ark, from a distance. It was so damn big that I never did get a good photo of the entire thing. But balls to the wall if I didn't at least attempt it.

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