Close encounters of the creationist kind: By Andrew Seidel

FFRF attorney shoots commercial at Ken Ham’s $100M Ark Encounter

By Andrew Seidel

It is a monstrosity — a $100 million lie directed at children. What better place to show the importance of the FFRF’s work than this taxpayer-funded monument to ignorance? So we shot our latest commercial at Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter.

Here were some of my takeaways.

Low attendance

It’s been a rough few months for Ham. His ark opened to a dismal crowd, and the numbers were so bad that he had to revise his attendance estimates after three months. Grant County, which gave Ham $175,000, and nearly 100 acres of land for $1, is upset because the ark has “not brought [the county] any money.” Williamstown, the town nearest to the ark, made a similar complaint months ago.

Oh, and let’s not forget that FFRF forced a Virginia town, Christiansburg, to cancel its city-planned, city-sponsored trip to the ark.

I visited the ark on a weekday in February — not what you’d expect to be a busy day — but still, it was deserted. There was nobody on our tour bus. There were no lines. I half expected to see the cliché of a tumbleweed spiraling through the exhibits. We ate a truly terrible buffet lunch in the ark’s cafeteria, which was also desolate.

There was one large group of people at that table behind me, but they were contractors working on expanding the park. From noon to 12:30 p.m., what should be the busiest time, perhaps 35 people came through a dining room that seats 1,500.

When Ham was seeking public tax benefits and incentives, he hired a company that predicted his park would get 2 million visitors every year; about 5,800 people each day. The state hired an independent company that estimated about 325,000 for the first year, dropping to 275,000 a year after that. That’s about 900 a day, and then 750 a day thereafter.

The reality we witnessed favors the state’s study. I asked one of the workers in the forsaken commissary how many people were expected to visit the park that day. “About 450,” she responded, nearly 1/13th (or 8 percent) of Ham’s predicted average. Clearly Ham’s wishful thinking isn’t influencing reality.

Childish defensiveness

The tone of the exhibits is defensive, overly so. Every sign brought to mind a child caught standing over a pillaged birthday cake, icing smeared all over his face, vehemently denying an obvious truth.

Take this sign, one of the first we encountered: “Skeptics often mock the concept of the ark and its animals, so they develop questions designed to make the ark look foolish. However, when one thinks about the ark from a biblical perspective, the skeptics’ questions end up looking foolish.”

A belief in the literal truth of the ark story is foolish; this belief doesn’t need any help from us. Let me translate this sign for you: “Skeptics think the claim that this really happened is false, as dictated by reason, common sense, science, logistics and about a million other simple facts. But, if you ignore reason and facts and just listen to the bible, we’re right!” This is nothing new — and it doesn’t take $100 million to regurgitate it.

But that’s the argument: Ignore that reasonable voice, listen to your preacher. Genesis 7:20 says that the waters submerged the world’s highest mountains in 15 cubits (22 feet) of water. We are supposed to ignore the many nagging questions that claim presents. Questions such as:

  • Is there even enough water to rain that much? It would take, conservatively, about ten Atlantic Oceans to rain as much as the bible claims.
  • The ark was surfing at nearly 30,000 feet above the normal sea level for a year. How did these people and animals breathe at that elevation?
  • How did they withstand the -40 F temperatures at that altitude?
  • How did the animals survive after the flood? The flood would have wiped out every ecosystem and all the food that went along with it.

Ham’s park attempts to answer the most obvious questions, such as: “How did Noah fit 9 million species on the ark?” But Ham fails miserably at this. The answers all boil down to that sign: The bible is right, everything else is wrong. And in trying to answer the skeptics, the entire ark comes off as whiny, uptight, and petulant — just like the child and the ruined birthday cake. Reality simply cannot be denied, even with $100 million.


The first real exhibit consists of a bunch of empty cages. Rather than animals, speakers play a soundtrack that includes animals squawking and squealing, with a storm in the background. The visitor is meant to feel what it would be like on the ark, but, if anything, it’s underdone.

Think about what it would be like on that boat with thousands of defecating, caged animals, one window, no ventilation system, no lights, and the worst storm in history raging. And think about living like that for a year.

Like the first exhibit, everything is meant to show how plausible the ark story is, but applying the slightest thought shows just how unconvincing it all truly is.

How does one fit those 9 million species on the boat? According to Ham, Noah didn’t. He took on animal “kinds,” which don’t appear anywhere in the scientific taxonomy. The breakdown goes: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. You’ll notice that “Kind” isn’t on there. But “Kind” does appear in the bible, so Ham hangs his creationist hat on that hook. Anyway, Ham says that Noah took on kinds that later evolved (he painfully tries to say it’s not evolution), into all the species we see today.

My favorite exhibit, by far, was the “Pre-Flood World.” Ham intends this section to show that the world was so evil that it deserved to be slaughtered. It is meant to show humanity’s wickedness. The “Senseless Slaughter, Abuse of Creation” mural is a prime example.

Ham is trying to argue that the “senseless slaughter” of animals is “wicked.” But Ham built the ark because his god senselessly slaughtered almost every single creature on Earth! God is infinitely more wicked than this gleeful gent. Ham built his park to venerate the same wickedness he’s condemning. The mural perfectly, if inadvertently, encapsulates the cognitive dissonance religion requires.

As the serpent in the ark says: “If I can convince you that the flood was not real, I can convince you that Heaven and Hell are not real.” True enough.

Ignoring bible

Believers frequently overlook the inconvenient parts of the bible and Ham is no different. For most of the ark, Ham sticks to the bible. But not all of it. There is at least one huge error and one huge omission.

The error is that the ark isn’t waterproof. Genesis 6:14 says that the ark is “covered inside and out with pitch.” Ham’s ark is not. Pitch is a black, tar-like waterproofing substance. As you can see, Ham took the terrible liberty of ignoring his god’s word and leaving out the pitch.

I found Ham’s omission disappointing, though unsurprising. Ham missed this atheist’s favorite part of the ark story: the end.

We all know most of the story: God is so angry with his playthings that he murders everyone. And not just people, but every animal, too. To his credit, Ham does not shy away from the fact that this story centers on what would have been the most colossal genocide in history.

Everyone but Noah, his unnamed wife, his three sons (Ham, Shem, and Japheth), and their three unnamed wives, is murdered. The supernatural barbarian saves this family because, as he tells Noah, “you alone are righteous before me in this generation.”

Believers assume that “righteous” means moral, but that’s because they forget the end of Noah’s story. After the family disembarks, Noah plants the first vineyard, gets soused, and passes out. Naked. His son, Ham, stumbled on the scene. When Noah awakens from his stupor, he’s angry that Ham stumbled upon his nudity. Instead of self-introspection, Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan — his own grandson — to be a slave.

He blesses his son Shem and then says, “let Canaan be his slave.” He does the same for his son Japheth.

What kind of morality is this? Who would worship such a tyrant? Who would construct a $100 million monument to this immorality? It turns out, nobody. Even Ham, an intransigent biblical literalist, ignores this ending, as far as I could tell.

Oh, and I almost forgot. According to Ken Ham, there were dinosaurs on the ark.

Freedom From Religion Foundation