In two weeks, the doors to Noah’s Ark will open once again — but with a few key differences from the original Biblical story. This version of the “ark” is really an ark-like theme park in Northern Kentucky. Costing over $100 million, the park will be part entertainment and part religious education. Its owners established the Bible-themed park, called Ark Encounter, with the goal of convincing visitors that the Biblical story of the flood is a literal version of a historical event.
The new version of the ark was not intended to be a floating solution for divine flooding, since it has a concrete floor and is supported by concrete pillars anchored into the ground. Launching the ark would require a unique series of natural disasters culminating in a flood that engulfs landlocked Williamstown, Kentucky, 600 miles from the nearest beach. The ark is the showpiece for Ark Encounter, which educates visitors through elaborate exhibits and offers an adjacent Ararat zoo, zip lines, a 1,500-seat restaurant, and a gift shop.
The aptly named Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), built Ark Encounter just a few miles from his Creation Museum, which attracts nearly half a million visitors a year and teaches a young Earth theory of creation. Ham is a powerful voice in his circle of like-minded Biblical literalists. Young Earth Creationism played an essential role in the ark project.
The reproduction of Noah’s naval wonder cost over $100 million and generated almost as much controversy as the original. The ark became the focus of controversy when, in 2014, Ham invited pop-scientist Bill Nye to debate the question, “Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins?” The scientific community was dismayed, claiming that by agreeing to the debate, Nye validated creationism, thereby handing a victory to Ham before any words were spoken.
The video was a viral sensation and Ham later announced that the publicity generated by the debate spurred fundraising, allowing the ministry to begin construction on the ark. Ham told the Lexington Herald Leader that the goal of the immense project was to show the true scope of Noah’s Ark, and that it’s possible to build a structure that could hold the 16,000 animals believers estimate survived the Biblical flood.
Even in the planning stages, controversy over the ark led to a prolonged court battle. The exhibit sparked concerns about separation of church and state after Governor Matt Bevin approved $18 million in tax breaks for the project, according to a report by Fox 17 Nashville.
Critics also objected to the park’s plan to hire only Christian workers. Potential employees must sign a “Statement of Faith” which disavows same-sex marriage, premarital sex and adultery. These conditions are acceptable for religious institutions, but AiG had applied to participate in the Kentucky Tourism Development Program. The conditions were approved after it was reasoned that the park was part of a religious institution and not a tourist attraction.In January, US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky upheld AiG’s right to religious preferences in its hiring while still qualifying as a toruist attraction.
Though it has its commercial aspects, it is clearly Biblically inspired. Touted by its creators as the world’s largest timber framed building, it adheres to the dimensions described in the Bible.
And this is how thou shalt make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. Genesis 6:15
A Biblical cubit (ama in Hebrew) is the length from the elbow to the fingertips of an average man. The exact length is unknown, but it is generally accepted to be between 19.8 – 20.6 inches long. Based on this estimate, the builders of the reproduction made their ark 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet tall.
Logs up to 50 feet tall were harvested from as far away as British Columbia and Oregon. All together, 3.3 million feet of wood, or 612 miles’ worth of planks, were used in the ark. As for the builders, instead of Noah’s sons, Shem Ham and Japhet, the new ark employed 75 Amish craftsmen and hundreds of other workers who had to be trained in traditional woodworking, Ham said.
To commemorate the Biblical flood which inaugurated the original, the Kentucky ark will have extended hours for the first 40 days and 40 nights.
Mark Looy, co-founder of Answers in Genesis, told Chatanooga news site Nooga that future plans at the park include a replica of a walled city from 2300 B.C., the Tower of Babel, a first-century Middle Eastern village, a journey through history from Abraham to the parting of the Red Sea, and a walk-through aviary.
The ark replica is not the first to gain global attention as a tourist attraction. Another landlocked ark, located in Hong Kong, was built as a Christian creationist theme park. A floating replica, built by Johan Huibers in the Netherlands, is scheduled to sail 5,200 miles this summer from its berth in Norway to Rio de Janeiro. Earlier this month, a half-size replica Huibers built collided with a Coast Guard vessel in Oslo Harbor while being towed to a new location.