There is eloquence in its absurdity: “a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible”, pristine timber on a vast expanse of dry grass, waiting for the storm. Although it feels right, it is wrong to call this the middle of nowhere. Thirty minutes from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Ark Encounter is “within a day’s drive for almost two thirds of the US population”, according to Answers in Genesis (AiG), the Christian fundamentalist ministry that built the ark. This is the middle of everywhere. Completed in 2016 for more than $US102 million, financed through donations and junk bonds, and aided by tax rebates from the state of Kentucky, the “largest timber-frame structure in the world” has a footprint 155 metres long and 26 metres wide, and it rises nearly 16 metres high. Inside: three decks of animatronic tableaux featuring Noah’s family, their animals (hippos, horses and stegosauruses among them), and carefully curated exhibits for kids and teens on Why the Bible Is True. Ark Encounter implores them to suspend disbelief, less as a matter of faith and more as a matter of fact. This is the latest brainchild from Ken Ham, the former Queensland high-school science teacher turned founder and CEO of AiG. “Burdened to tell others the facts supporting a biblical view of creation,” as his official bio puts it, Ham indefatigably promotes, to children especially, a literal interpretation of Genesis as the basis for biblical authority in all areas of life. The ark is the “sister attraction” to Ham’s Creation Museum nearby, where dinosaurs cavort in the lobby alongside a cave boy and girl. Everyone coexisting, as the six “PhD scientists” on AiG’s staff assure you they were, at the dawn of time, 6000 years ago. AiG’s director of research is Dr Andrew Snelling, who moved to Kentucky from Brisbane six years ago. Snelling is a member of the Geological Society of Australia, Geological Society of America and Creation Geology Society. His publication list includes “Uluru and Kata Tjuta: Testimony to the Flood” (which appeared in the journal Creation in 1998) and hundreds of similarly “peer-reviewed” pieces, and ends on his undergraduate and doctoral theses (the latter, “A Geochemical Study of the Koongarra Uranium Deposit”, University of Sydney, 1980). Though he did take first, second and third prizes for technical excellence at the Fourth International Conference on Creationism, he has not rested on his laurels. Unlike Ham, whose five doctorates are honorary, Snelling actively researches. Having resolved a recent dispute with the US National Park Service after his application to sample rocks from the Grand Canyon was initially rejected (due to what Snelling describes as “worldview discrimination”), he is now getting thin sections of the rocks cut, and will soon have them under his microscope. We meet before he flies to speak at a Brisbane conference, with Ham, on “creation-apologetics”. In his office at the museum, surrounded by rock samples and books (The Geology of New South Wales and Isotopes: Principles and Applications), Snelling is perfectly professorial in the precision of his speech, his lack of enthusiasm for eye contact and the trajectory of his pointer finger when he talks. He explains that his fascination with geology stems from a childhood holiday to Tasmania. Another foundational experience: “The Genesis Flood, published in 1961, was influential on Ken and for me … I looked at that when I was a teenager. That’s what, in a sense, formed the ripples out in Australia.” Snelling has worked for mining companies, and for CSIRO and ANSTO. “I started working with Ken Ham in Brisbane at the end of 1983 for the forerunner to the minist—” here he corrects himself, “the Answers in Genesis organisation.” In his work, Snelling argues that radiometric dating methods are unreliable: “The rock evidence overall is consistent with a young Earth.” “Yes, it’s taking the Bible as an actual historical account, but it’s testing it,” he explains. “That’s one of the things that Ken, and the organisation, is very strong about: we don’t hide what our starting position is.
“What we want to do today is discover the true history and reality of Noah’s Ark and the flood.”
“People can decide for themselves whether those are valid assumptions.” In addition to multimedia exhibits touting “the evidences for a young Earth” and deriding evolution, the Creation Museum features a pizza place, planetarium, extensive gift shop, zip-line, and a petting zoo featuring Cletus the zonkey and Zoe the zorse. AiG states that more than three million visitors have attended the museum since its 2007 opening, and expansions are planned. From the cashier at Uncle Leroy’s Fudge stand to the “PhD scientists”, every one of the employees and volunteers who look after the school groups and the predominantly white, middle-aged visitors is required to sign AiG’s Statement of Faith, confirming, among other things, that, “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.” “How’re the ark and the flood often presented to children?” asks Dr Georgia Purdom, content administrator for AiG, who holds a doctorate in molecular genetics from The Ohio State University. “Is it just a story, or is it something more? What we want to do today is discover the true history and reality of Noah’s Ark and the flood.” This is her second lecture to museum visitors today. “Almost without fail, the ark is shown as fairytale-like … Some of you say, ‘They’re just kids, it’s okay.’ I’m like, Yeah, they’re just kids. Which is why it matters even more how you present things, because they’re very impressionable. “The fact is that Satan is saying, ‘If I can convince you that the flood wasn’t real, then I can convince you that heaven and hell aren’t real.’ That’s what Satan does, right? Gets people to question God’s word … “Now, what animals do you think I get asked about most when it comes to the ark?” “Dinosaurs,” intones the chorus. “They’re air-breathing, land-dwelling animals. So, there’s no doubt they were on the ark … “Some people say, what did T. rex eat? Well.” She sighs deeply. “This is about survival, not about leisure. Some animals can survive on vegetarian diets for a certain period of time.” As a young biologist, Purdom struggled with one idea in particular: the Earth’s age. “If God used evolution,” she said, explaining to me how she resolved her uncertainty, “there would be millions of years of death and suffering before Adam and Eve came into existence to sin. So rather than being a punishment for sin, death was around before sin. And that’s totally inconsistent with the Bible. That was like a big light bulb went on in my head … It’s plain, it’s in scripture, it’s not rocket science.”