Al­ter­na­tive Facts

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Sarah Kras­nos­tein

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.”

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