Ken Ham, a modern-day Noah, whose surname calls to mind one of the ancient shipwright’s sons, has, along with the organization Answers in Genesis, constructed a full-sized recreation of Noah’s Ark. The park, known as the Ark Encounter, which stands as a monument to creationism, contains an extensive museum of all things related to the biblical story of the great flood and is, as its slogan states, “bigger than imagination.”
Following the specifications laid out in the Bible (Genesis 6:15), this landlocked ark measures 510 feet (155 m) long, 85 feet (26 m) wide, and 51 feet (16 m) high. Construction took seven years to complete with over 700 workers at a cost of roughly $120 million. Considering Noah is regarded to have taken 70 years to build his own ark, this was quite a feat.
Within the wooden walls of the ark is a three-story museum, jam-packed with a stock of realistic animatronic representations of Noah, his sons, and daughter-in-laws along with lifelike examples of some of the animals saved by the flood — including dinosaurs — all set to an original soundtrack. The exhibits cover a great deal of the Book of Genesis, including Adam and Eve, the fall of man, and the descent of humanity into such sinfulness that God chose to wipe the slate clean with a flood.
Designed by Patrick Marsh, a veteran theme park engineer who was responsible for Universal Studios’ King Kong and Jaws attractions, this theme park is a wonder to behold. The museum’s first floor offers educational information of the flood from a creationist perspective, the second features animal pens and an imagining of Noah’s family’s living quarters, and the third floor contains a large selection of exhibits including videos, a dissection of a faith-based graphic novel, and a restaurant theater where guests can see dramatic interpretations of scenes from Noah’s story.
After drawing about one million guests per year to his attraction, Ham now has set his sights higher than the 51-foot ark, in the hope of solidifying the Ark Encounter as a staple of America’s vacation destination. Ham told the Washington Post:
“How do you reach the general public in a bigger way? Why not attractions that people will come to the way they go to Disney or Universal or the Smithsonian?”
Answers in Genesis says they want to further develop the 80-acre grounds, adding a recreation of a walled Noah-era city, which would touch on the social climate of the civilized world before the flood. This is only the tip of the iceberg, Ham promises, as he has also expressed a desire to construct a second town — this one meant to reflect society in the era of Jesus Christ. Other installment ideas range from a 3,200-seat amphitheater to a 10-plagues-of-Egypt thrill ride.
It has not all been smooth sailing for the Ark Encounter. The park has come under harsh criticism, mainly for teaching creationist beliefs that the world is about 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were among the animals saved by Noah. Ham is undeterred by the critics, stating:
“Obviously, we’re in a minority,” he says. But “just because a majority believes in something doesn’t mean it’s right. People love darkness rather than light. If a majority believes something, I’m naturally suspicious because of the sin nature of man.”
Ham is always up for debating, and has done so with Bill Nye twice., during which Nye argues about nearly every exhibit at which they stop.
Setting aside the controversial nature of the educational aspects of the Ark Encounter, the feats of modern engineering that facilitated the construction of this megalodon of a ship is awe-inspiring. The animatronic models of Noah’s family are so lifelike that they are approaching the uncanny valley and the exhibits’ depictions of the technical aspects of ancient life are superb.
Ham believes that his theme park is a viable choice for vacation-goers of all faiths, explaining:
“It’s not unusual to meet someone who says, ‘I’m not a Christian,’ or ‘I’m an atheist,’ or whatever,’ but the comment that we get over and over again is, ‘You really present your message very tastefully.’” He added, “You’ve got to be risk-takers to do something like this, but I see it as stepping out in faith. There are people you couldn’t blow into church with a stick of dynamite that will come and visit an ark.”