Celebrate the Facts!
Located deep in the heart of Kentucky, a former slave state neutral in the Civil War, is a Christian Fundamentalist shrine known as Ark Encounter, an 800-acre multimedia complex centered around an ostensibly actual-size replica of Noah’s Ark. The fundamentalist Christian pilgrimage site, partially funded by public money, documents the recent creation of the world by a Christian God, provides Christian ‘talking points’ to convince doubters of creationism, and provides elaborate detail about the care and feeding of the animals, including the dinosaurs, housed on the boat.
Fundamentalist Christianity is a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literal words of the Christian Bible are accurate. In the United States, about 31% of the adult population feels the Bible is the literal word of God. Generally, those people use the King James Bible as the authoritative reference, a translation commissioned by the Church of England in 1604 under the sponsorship of James VI and I, hence the name.
In the Book of Genesis in this Bible, an all-forgiving and ever-loving God allegedly said ‘I will destroy from the Earth the people I have created. And with them, the animals, birds, and creeping things,’ in response to his displeasure with their wickedness, and chose to flood the Earth to rid it of this pestilence. However, God found a few people who were not utterly irredeemable – a 500-year-old man named Noah and his family and instructed them to build a giant ship, or ark, to house animals to seed the newly purified Earth.
After the flood receded, according to the account, God allegedly said, ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man or send a flood to destroy all living things, even though mankind’s heart is evil from childhood.’
Enter the Ark Encounter, a Christian pilgrimage site located in Williamstown, Kentucky. Answers in Genesis, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization quartered in Hebron, Kentucky, developed and peddled the project to the state and locality as an amusement park, worthy of state money because of sales tax and spinoff tourism revenue.
The State of Kentucky offered $18 million in sales tax rebates, and the City of Williamstown, a city with a population of 3,925 people, issued $62 million in bonds to help fund the park. Despite this financial support, Answers in Genesis has continued to litigate to minimize tax costs.
Ark Encounter attempted to dodge a 50-cent Williamstown ticket tax, intended to fund the local fire, EMS, and police services, by selling the property to an affiliated nonprofit for $10. The state of Kentucky annulled that transfer suspending the $18 million in sales tax rebates because the law requires the reimbursements only to a for-profit company. The local school district is also in court, alleging the property is undervalued and should be paying about $460,000 more a year in property taxes.
Ark Encounter is one end of a Fundamentalist Christian tourism corridor with the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, Kentucky the other. The Creation Museum is a 75,000-square-foot facility with about 150 exhibits, a 200-seat theater, a state-of-the-art planetarium, a petting zoo, and nature trails to substantiate accounts of Biblical literalism.
A 65-year-old Australian named Ken Ham is the brain behind both endeavors and the driving force behind Answers in Genesis, a company ostensibly intended to enable Christians to defend their faith and attack scientific evidence of evolution and the age of the Earth and universe. Aside from his fervent belief that the Earth is 6000-years-old and created by a Christian God in 6 days, he also disbelieves in climate change and feels homosexuality is a sin.
As a condition of employment, the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter staff of 900, including 350 seasonal workers, must sign a statement rejecting evolution and declaring that they regularly attend church and view homosexuality as a sin. Oddly, despite public co-funding of the endeavor,
The Ark Encounter is not a theme park, despite the zip lines and the petting zoo. Instead, industrial buses transport visitors one mile from colossal parking lots to the admissions center, where they pay a $40 fee to enter the park. The centerpiece is a replica of Noah’s Ark, built, of course, to the specific dimensions documented in the Book of Genesis. The massive model includes three decks of exhibits accompanied by a soundtrack to enhance the experience, along with plastic replicas of animals, including dinosaurs, in cages.
Included within the exhibits are depictions of a young woman falling away from a Christian God, of course then into a life of drugs, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity, ultimately redeemed by her acceptance of Jesus Christ. Large portraits of people coexisting with dinosaurs along with technical discussions of how this occurred. Series of murals instruct visitors with arguments to frustrate those dogmatic science types and convince them of the error of their ways.
It is easy to throw rocks at these odd beliefs as they are impossible, but they are also dangerous when mobilized in the public realm. Such endeavors as the Creation Science movement and the later evolution called Intelligent Design have been pervasive movements and have corroded primary and secondary education textbooks for years. There is evidence that primary and secondary school teachers have trimmed their discussion of evolution and presented some information on Creation Science or Intelligent Design.
More prominently, belief in fables does matter. It is not a difficult stretch to go from the idea of a Godhead creating a world from nothing then flooding it to kill everything and start over to a concept of an international elitist liberal political organization trafficking underage children for sexual purposes. About 27% of white evangelical Protestants say the claim that Donald Trump has been fighting a group of child sex traffickers is mostly or entirely accurate. About 62% of white evangelical Protestants believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, about 55% believe the ‘Deep State’ was undermining the Trump administration, and 49% believe Antifa was primarily responsible for the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.