A visit to the Ark Encounter.
Last fall I went to the Ark Encounter with a friend and my parents. We drove, and my parents had many hilarious photos taken of them by me. They are very patient and, by the time we arrived at the Ark Encounter, probably had a lot of personal compassion for what it would be like to be stuck with your family in a confined space for extended periods of time.
My poor parents. I mean, if you could see the photos...I took photos of them falling asleep in the car, falling asleep in the planetarium, falling asleep in the hotel lobby... Here's a photo of a photo. I'm that bad.
It was a fantastic trip with a variety of stops and adventures (including a glorious trivia tournament win on a ferry across Lake Michigan), but I want to talk about the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in this post. Each section below is a discussion of some of the different issues and reactions I have heard from people regarding these two attractions.
World Class Is Not A Lie
The Ark Encounter is often described as "world class" by Ken Ham and others associated with it. He says it so much it's clearly an attempt to associate that descriptive hand-in-hand with the two sites.
So, are they world class?
Yes. No lie.
I cannot even begin to describe the shameful levels of envy I had at the artistic quality of what I saw in both the Creation Museum and the Ark. Paintings, sculpture, gardens, dioramas, signage--endless high quality stuff. Their design and creative and fabrication staff is unbeatable. I am not joking.
|There is no more purely awesome diorama on the face of this earth than this one. Seriously. Someone make this Gladiator/Lost World hybrid movie.|
I've been to lot of museums around the world (art museums in countless major cities including a crazy little one in Leon, Nicaragua that had pigeons flying around a room with Picassos; the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin, and other art museums in Hamburg, Munich, etc.; the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS which is truly a must-see museum for everyone; the Museum of Natural History, et al., in NYC which was shockingly run-down; and a variety of regional museums like the Archway in Kearney, NE). These two are quality museums, every bit as good as any I've seen elsewhere.
|Everywhere you see these fantastic bits of detail that aren't even the main thing you're looking at. It was phenomenal.|
But let's say you don't consider them museums, but attractions. OK. Let's consider them that way.
My family knows I'm a Disney World obsessed person, and in the past decade I've been able to go there many times. I love the parks, the quality, the design, the themes and story behind individual parks, the cleanliness. I am nuts about those attractions, and I will drag you onto the thrill rides as much as I can. (Oddly, though, my favorite ride was The Great Movie Ride, which ended last year and is going to be replaced by some horrible Mickey/Minnie Mouse monstrosity.)
The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are just as good. They're smaller, yes. They don't have as much to see--yet. But the quality is unreal. As the Ark Encounter grows, it should be amazing if it sustains its current quality level. [Side note: I hope they do a kind of Epcot center ride that has a creationist approach. I think that would be an amazing addition to the Ark Encounter facility.]
So What If Ken Ham Rubs You The Wrong Way
About fifteen years ago (I'm guessing; my memory is terrible), my dad was part of a group using a study by Ken Ham, "Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution" or something similar. I have vague memories of dad talking about what he was learning, as does my lifelong friend, whose father was also in the group. That was the extent of it, until I came across an Answers in Genesis newsletter and remembered that, hopped on the website, and the rest is history.
I know that some people don't like Ken Ham. Some people love to dislike him, in fact. He has a dry sense of humor that, after a four months' stay in Australia back in 2002, I recognize. We got to meet him, and had our picture taken with him and a few others, after an afternoon session at the Creation Museum.
"Where are you from?" he asked us as we lined up for the photo.
"North Dakota," I said.
"Since you four are here, there's probably only seven left back in the state," he joked.
In this day and age, I guess people get offended at stuff like that, but I got the joke. The introvert in me could only wish there was a total of eleven people in my home state. But I know that people really go after Ham and use the way he comes off and how he doggedly holds his position as a reason to dismiss what he is saying.
Consider that in some situations, you need a bullish personality to get the job done.
In January, my friend and I went to a conference in Glendive, Montana. The speaker at the conference was Eric Hovind, a high-energy person that makes me, an introverted melancholy, become weary within minutes. But Hovind was genuinely interesting, authentic, and really cared about people, so it wasn't wearying after all. (He also taught us how to shoot rubber bands really far, a useful skill for family get-togethers). At one point during a time when he was talking about the state of creation ministries and all of the resources now available, he carefully described the early years decades ago when creation ministries were just getting started.
"It took a certain kind of personality to plow that hard soil," he said, alluding to some, uh, stubborn and maybe bullish folks who were pioneers and at the start of it all and clashed with each other, some of whom are still around and maybe don't fit in with the current culture of non-offense where we pussyfoot around the language to not anger or offend. "God uses the right people for the right time."
So I guess, if "that guy" rubs you the wrong way, all I can say is you can seek Jesus and the truth fully from your heart with nothing stopping you, or you can let people stand in the way as an excuse to not believe. However, that's going to make a really lousy reason when you stand before God and answer for your life. "That guy seemed like a jerk. He wasn't nice."
I have to take my own advice.
As a single woman, I am not able to fully participate with the gifts God has given me in some denominations (e.g. Baptists) because they do not think women are allowed to teach/preach to a grown man. I have zero interest in children or food, and am not married, so in these denominations, I really don't have any place or purpose.
I could let that be an excuse to abandon my faith entirely, or I could let it push me into a "progressive Christian" realm where sin doesn't really exist and everyone is all OK where they have a place for a person like me (church, wake up -- this is a lesson in its own right), but neither are acceptable. There's a pastoral/church leadership conference at the Creation Museum this fall, for example, featuring John MacArthur. MacArthur doesn't allow women to attend such conferences at his own church because he doesn't believe women are allowed to be pastors or have leadership roles. Women can attend one service at that conference with their husbands, and that's it (from what I understand). I don't know if I'd be welcome at that particular conference at the Creation Museum or not. I emailed and asked, but didn't hear back. Dr. Georgia Purdum, a molecular biologist, is speaking at the conference, so it's not like women aren't there. I simply don't know if I'd be welcome there or not.*
So, should I get all worked up and start a hashtag and make demands and freak out on Facebook? Should I refuse to submit to all male authority in every situation just to prove a point and be "empowered"?
Even if I wasn't allowed to attend for whatever reason, that is not and cannot be an excuse to stand in the way of pursuing the truth of Jesus Christ and using the gifts God has given me in the way he has opened for me. "But God, Rev. MacArthur said a man was my spiritual leader and cover but I'm single, and I couldn't attend the conference, and that wasn't fair and so I just gave up altogether and didn't use the gifts you gave me and didn't pursue knowledge of you because some men said I couldn't."
Yeah, not a good excuse.
Don't like the guy? Don't like being excluded? No excuse.
It's kind of like I've said about flying: aviation is mostly a macho Type A man's world. Just because there are a rather lot of sometimes sexist jerks, that didn't stop me from getting my private pilot's license. A jerk on the ground doesn't keep me from flying in the sky; the laws of aerodynamics don't change just because someone shows you an anchor.
It's A Giant Waste Of Money
A common response to the Ark, from Christians and non-Christians, is that the massive amount of money spent on it could have been better used elsewhere. Below is just one example; this idea is easy to find anywhere on the internet in discussions about the project.
The economist I was referencing there was Michael Novak. I don't think I had the Catholic aspect right, but that's not the relevant part. Novak called on Christians to offer:
“a theology of creativity rather than a theology of liberation.” He suggested that way too many church leaders have bought into the idea that there is a set amount of wealth in the world that cannot be increased and must therefore be fairly distributed. “The really unusual insight of Adam Smith is in effect a theological insight—that the world is not a finished system. If it were finished, then the urgent need would be for a distributive system. But God made the world differently, with the potential for constantly creating new wealth.” -- Joel Belz, "System for Sinners", World Magazine, March 18, 2017.
In other words, God is pretty big and all-powerful and there's enough to go around even if we are limited in our understanding of quantities available.
When the Ark Encounter opened in July 2016, I read the expected articles about it. There was mockery from the non-religious, but there was also mockery from Christians. Both saw it as a monstrosity, silly, pointless, a waste of money that could have been used otherwise.
Some ranted about separation of church and state (which is not in the Constitution, but in Jefferson's letter to Danbury Baptists) since Kentucky gave the Ark some incentives. The Ark has been working out well for tourism dollars in Kentucky, apparently, so maybe a little less freaking out on that one.
So let's get back to the "spiritualized" griping, about how that money should be used for something better, because that kind of thinking will really twist you into a knot and make you tear into other Christians with a different leading from God, if you think God has limited resources.
I know why this thinking that there are limited funds is popular, particularly in this age of social justice where our Gospel is one of anti-poverty and temporal concerns rather than spiritual; we think it's on us to solve all poverty, that we are going to do it with the work of our hands rather than God. We unconsciously admit that we don't think God's got the whole world in his hands, and that he can't quite handle it all without our $25 a month to dig a well somewhere. We unconsciously admit we equate God with ourselves, a weird idolatry, assigning our limitations to God.
As someone who has given thousands of dollars over the years to feed and educate children in other countries, dig water wells, and see the results (some good, some bad, some scams), I've had to rethink my approach to money and what it means to be a faithful giver versus a guilty giver. We are to give as God directs, not as we feel guilty. Conversely, we are not to lambaste other Christians for giving and supporting things that our bondage to guilt won't allow us to.
I am currently sponsoring a child through a Christian aid agency that I was quite literally guilted into sponsoring, and their mailings and emails are full of guilty "can't you just help one more?" approaches. If guilt were sugar, my conscience is diabetic. I'm worn out on emotions from all of these types of pleas, and the reality is that the times God has clearly prompted me to give were never like that. Guilty giving isn't cheerful giving, and God loves a cheerful giver.
As I pointed out there was a part of me that thought that way at one point, that the millions used to build the Ark Encounter could have been spent for food, schooling, water systems, etc. For most of my 20's and 30's I struggled to find the balance between being a good steward of the resources God gave me and thinking that God has limited resources. It's the difference of being faithful with what God gives and also believing in His unlimited power beyond what I can imagine. My paltry bank account isn't the same as his account. The limitations of what I can do and imagine aren't his limitations.
In a way, giving is more a statement and exercise for us. God wants us to give to be obedient and as a heart issue, not because he's limited by what we do or don't do. If we don't give, he'll still get the work done with or without us.
If Putting Me Down Makes You Feel Smarter, Whatever
This is often about being the punchline to other people's jokes. If you feel smarter by making fun of others, congratulations. Somewhere a seat in a third grade classroom is opening up to make room for you.
When Christian professor Karen Swallow Prior tweeted the following, I understood immediately.
A bit amusing how scandalous it was--within a group of Christian writers and artists--when, upon being asked, I affirmed I'm a creationist.— Karen Swallow Prior (@KSPrior) August 6, 2017
The comments below her tweet are mostly well-behaved, but even in the jovial mocking is the running theme of "if you believe that God created (and a young earth!)" you may not be all that intelligent. A kind of wink-wink "let's humor her, but we can all still get along" thread.
I guess I'd rather have someone just outright name-call instead of patronizing me. The latter is a double helping of insult, a mix of "you're stupid" and "you're also emotionally fragile" that attempts to lead you out of your state of stupid by cajoling.
I can take non-Christians berating and mocking me. It's to be expected, and is minor in the realm of life experiences. One of the greatest kindnesses God did for me was to experience serious rejection and teasing most of my elementary and high school years. Horrible at the time, but it got me used to not caring whether people liked me or not, or whether they made fun of me or not. After 20 years of writing on the internet, there's nothing insulting you can say to me that hasn't been said.
It does stink, however, when Christians do it, when they use the arguments and techniques and even name-calling of unbelievers to put down others in the body of Christ. I'm working on a book about my experiences of blogging for nearly two decades, and I'll talk about this problem in greater detail in it, but suffice it to say that the body of Christ has a problem with self flagellation.
Those Ginormous Illiterate Dummies
There are all kinds of people who believe all kinds of things from all kinds of backgrounds for all kinds of reasons.
While at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, I saw large homeschooled families, and some groups where the women had skirts/dresses, and head coverings. I saw an insane number of tour bus groups. I saw young, old, light skin, dark skin, folks who were on foot, and folks in wheelchairs, folks in pants, folks in shorts, folks in dresses. Everyone was welcome.
Despite all of these varieties of people and cultural backgrounds, there is one underlying assumption that seems to be made by those who joke about the two attractions online, or those atheist groups who protest outside the entrance, and that assumption is that anyone who goes to these attractions, except if their purpose is to mock them later online or leave bad reviews, are all stupid and unthinking. Only idiots believe that stuff, is the point they try to make.
I know a lot of idiots who leave one-star reviews on Amazon based on the speed of shipping instead of the product, or who leave a one-star review about a facility because of their ideology and not the quality of the facility. Same thing.
Well, I am a Christian conservative Pentecostal woman from a rural state, so surely I must be a big stupid dummyhead whose husband does her thinking for her (I'm single, folks, not married). That's the current stereotype, isn't it? We're a bunch of rubes up here, trying to figure out why a round wheel works so much better than the square one. The fact that I grew up going to church about three times a week--on top of all that other stuff--means I'm probably a big fan of bleeding sick people to get out the bad blood and stop the cholera outbreak in my village, or thinking if I eat the right clean foods and get lots of sunshine and exercise and keep a full stock of essential oils on hand, I won't get tetanus if I step on a rusty nail, right? People like me don't even science, bro -- that's the going thought.
I've stepped on a rusty nail before. Believe me, I'm up-to-date on vaccinations.
I don't think anyone who knows me would consider me a thoughtless person who skips and stumbles mindlessly into ideology and belief. I've had evolution and billions of years drilled into my head my whole educational career, so I'm not unaware of those arguments; they are what I knew most. I'm not unintelligent. I've read a book or two in my time. I have a driving curiosity. I'm not without moments of deep, searing introspection. Like others who have been casually dismissed, I'm not these things that are assumed of a person who believes that, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And I'm not alone.
There are many scientists (yes, "real" ones, with advanced degrees, from regular universities and the Ivy League), artists, and people of all kinds who believe as I do, or are at least interested in pursuing perplexing discoveries that don't clearly support evolution or billions of years. We all have different interests, different motivations, different "intelligence levels"-- just like those who don't believe in creation.
Frankly, I can think of some real uncouth language-stilted idiots who believe in evolution. You can collect them easily on social media or various online forums. I don't hold that against the rest of those who believe in evolution and/or billions of years. I don't know why there is an assumption that anyone who believes in creation is part of a vast collection of thoughtless dunces, but the internet loves to make a joke out of the intelligence quotient of Christian believers without owning their own evolution village idiots.
And frankly, if that's how it is, I don't care. You don't get to mock me into silence. I'm going to keep doing what I can to at least get people to consider another approach to all that they've been told. Call me stupid all you want. Tread water in that one place. I'm going to continue on.
This current culture is so obsessed with being "woke" and part of a "resistance" and yet they all look, talk, and think the same things about the same things. Please. What are you resisting when you're part of the big lowest common denominator crowd? You resist nothing. You are literally going with the current.
Why Does This Matter?
Why does it matter to me, that this is a created world?
The first thing I learn about God is that He is a creator, and that he is creative. That means something to me as an artist and writer. It really does. I can't explain how much I think about that connection.
I also find out that there is a purposeful beginning.
There were times in my life, as I struggled to think my way through what I believed, that the idea of merely being an accident as a part of billions of years of slop and slime did very little to make me want to continue living. To think that animals and creatures have been ripping each other apart and dying for millions of years before humans came onto the scene and that God would define that as "good" was horrific. To think that I am forever bound in the brutal gears of naturalism, that my life and existence are defined by the natural order alone as a fart on some timeline--that contributed to thoughts that I'd rather just exit this life early instead of slogging along on to the end and cease to exist at that later date. Why go through the pain when it doesn't matter, anyway? Just fast forward and be done.
In college, I took a class called "Perspectives In Ultimate Reality." I don't remember much about it except that the teacher's name was something like Slvia and that she wore a lot of flow-y diaphonous tops and seemed to be medicated and floating about four inches off of the floor. Frankly, I needed the credits to graduate. We read a lot of books of which I only remember reading Voltaire's Candide. I enjoyed the book; laughed out loud in several parts, in fact.
I could say a lot about Candide from the perspective of God as creator, but that's its own blog post. I do remember, in my paper resulting from the book, that I stated that if there was no God, I saw no reason to continue living on this earth.
Sylvia wrote in the margins, with a purple pen and a flower at the end, that this was such a wonderful earth and so full of promise and love, surely there was ample reason to live without needing to believe in a God myth and his purposeful creation. Maybe Sylvia never saw pets die gruesome deaths, farmer friends suffocate in grain bins, classmates die in bloody drunken automobile accidents, or didn't have a melancholy personality in which there is always a slight depression present ever-present even on the edges of the most joyful days. Maybe Sylvia never had to earn money by cleaning up restrooms after people puked or smeared crap on the walls, or work extra jobs and night shifts just to pay back student loans or rent for a crappy apartment in a sketchy neighborhood. I don't know. I certainly didn't agree with Sylvia.
In one of my many Science Fiction digest books, I read a story of a newly discovered planet in which Earth sent representatives to go discover how they had managed to be at peace for generations and be such a good-natured people. As the story goes on, we see on this planet a loving, peaceful Utopia of rosy-cheeked people who work hard and are jovial at all times. The representatives were in awe until they discovered how it had been accomplished. Each child had a suicide device surgically implanted in them at a young age. It would end their life easily and painlessly. When they were older, they were told about this option. In this way, they had allowed sad, depressed, ill, weak, and broken-spirited people to kill themselves while only the extroverted and upbeat people beget the next generation. The Earth representatives were horrified, with one thinking about his moody and artistic daughter and all that she could offer but probably never would if she had this easy suicide option. And then he looked around at the planet and realized all that it was lacking. For all its happy and jovial people, there was a shallowness to it all, something only those who had killed themselves would have provided. These were both worlds without God, with overt evolution themes and an uneasy undercurrent of understanding there was something more than naturalism.
Sylvia was wrong, in my opinion. I'd probably have ended it long ago if I really thought this was all there was, that we exist by accident and cease to exist when, after millions of years of improbable evolution, some random bus mows us down in a crosswalk in Podunk, USA. Lots of people would end it all, and do.
And that's why this all matters.
Naturalism is a meat-grinder (read Terry Bisson's short story "They're Made Of Meat"). It's accidental carbon, it's flashing nerve signals, and then it's no existence. And while some people can find some beautiful motivation to exist as a sparkling package of meat for 80 years before their ashes are sprinkled on a hill to provide mulch to some invasive noxious weed, a lot of people can't. I would even say most/all can't, though some are really great at self-delusion.
I say these things only to make sure Christians who think this topic of creation is merely an intellectual issue of no great importance understand that in this time of rampant suicide, medicated depression, and self-destructive behavior, this is about life and death. It isn't just an intellectual argument. Some of us aren't rosy-cheeked and jovial, and dismissing this topic is killing us off.
It's The Economy, Stupid
The last point is sort of irrelevant, in my opinion, because time will tell the story. It has to do with how the Ark Encounter has helped with its regional tourism.
I've seen blowhard comedian John Oliver's constipated mockery of the Ark Encounter, covered in the guise of tax incentives and abuse (ask Oliver about his use of tax loopholes to purchase a nearly $10M NYC penthouse and why he thinks he ought to be a righteous lecturer on that topic), and the interview with the Williamsburg mayor saying they've seen no economic boost, despite Kentucky tourism repeatedly saying otherwise.
When we arrived at the hotel for our stay in Kentucky, the woman asked why we were there, and she pretty much finished my sentence and said they'd been getting lots of tourists for those two attractions and that's why they were building more hotels.
If it's all about the economy, the reality is that there has been economic boost to the area. Repeatedly the hotel staff and restaurant staff at places we frequented commented they were getting a lot of people coming for the Ark and Creation Museum. A new tourism position for faith-based tourism was created to address this growing influx. Florence, Kentucky is seeing plenty of new hotel construction.
Yet every journalist who wants to make a negative point about the Ark seems to go to nearby Williamstown; they need to be interviewing the other cities around the area and ask them about the tourists coming in for the Ark and the Creation Museum.
I suspect, as the attractions grow and (hopefully) Williamstown develops hotel properties in their town, tourists will stay there. Right now, there are few hotel options, and most people are staying in Florence and driving 30 minutes. A town can't sit there and expect tourists to flood them with money with few hotels, restaurants, and other such businesses. The Ark Encounter property is expanding, and the larger it gets the longer a visit will be, meaning people would prefer to not have to drive 30 minutes back and forth for a multi-day visit if closer accommodations existed.
And, to the Ark Encounter's credit, when you leave the parking lot, there is a massive sign telling you about every business in Williamstown. Seriously, what tourist attraction lists a hair salon as one of the local businesses on a sign on their property, or throws any town that kind of a bone? None. I've never seen it elsewhere.
If Disney World built itself next to a town of 100 people with few businesses, tourists aren't going to flock to the town just because it exists. There has to be services there, and a reason for them to stick around. That means restaurants, hotels, and family entertainment for the evenings after the Ark Encounter has closed. That currently doesn't exist in Williamstown, and being negative in the media isn't going to change that. The Ark isn't going away; I don't know why they want to badmouth it except out of hatred or a grudge towards anything remotely associated with the Christian faith.
|Camel, compliments of the Creation Museum mini-zoo.|
*UPDATE, 20 MINUTES LATER, FOR REALS:
I just got an email saying the conference is open for all. :-)
UPDATE 5/23/2018: A commenter on Facebook reminded me that I ought to say that while I'm not willing to budge on God as the creator (not using evolution), I'm not going to get into a fisticuffs over young or old earth. (I probably won't get into a fisticuffs over anything related to this, really.)
I do believe in the young earth aspect because there's some intriguing science and information out there that I'm finding pretty solid. I also find an odd sense of greater hope in thinking that this is a young earth rather than bajillions of years old in regards to the idea of the timeline of God's promises coming to fruition, and Jesus coming soon (soon is soon if it's a YE, but not quite as "soon" if we've been chugging along for billions).