People have been asking what I thought of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter since I went with some youth and adults from our church in the middle of July. So I thought I’d do a response here. Our Youth Group went to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky from July 13-16. Veronica and I had been to the Creation Museum once before, but this was our first time going to the Ark Encounter.
The Creation Museum (opened May 2007) and Ark Encounter (opened July 2016) were both founded by Ken Ham and with help from other creationist scientists. He’s a prolific writer and presenter who argues for creationism over against evolution when using science to evaluate the evidence available to us in the world. Of course, when you look up information about him or the Creation Museum, you’ll see the word “pseudoscience” interjected after nearly every other word suggesting that they don’t really use science to do what they do when discussing the origins of the universe. Many in the scientific community are very hostile toward anyone who suggests any concept apart from evolution. As Dr. Tommy Mitchell, one of the presenters, jokingly said while we were listening to a lecture on dinosaurs, biology, and the complexity of anatomy, “I have an MD from Vanderbilt University and yet when I started working for Answers in Genesis I suddenly learned from other people in the scientific field that I don’t actually any degree. Amazing right? I never realized that I apparently didn’t actually have a degree when I started working here. If that’s true I guess Vanderbilt owes me some money for not actually giving me the degree I had earned before my name got connected to this place.”
Many people disregard the creation account and scientists who suggest that the evidence points to an intelligent creator rather than mindless evolution. The reason for this is largely due to presuppositions. If you begin your argument with (if you presuppose that), “There is no God,” then, of course, all of your interpretation of the evidence is going to point you away from ever suggesting that there could be a God who created everything from nothing. You’re going to go from thousands…to millions…to billions of years to try to give enough time for something to happen that cannot happen whether you have evidence or not. Some people try to make the scientific theory work with Christianity by suggesting theistic evolution which says, “God started things and then things evolved.” The problem is, that conflicts with the Scriptural account (so you start questioning the authority of Scripture) and it undermines the entirety of the role of death, life, and God in the world. Theistic evolution suggests that death is a necessary part of life, but the entire narrative of Scripture points to death being the consequence of sin rather than the model that God used to bring about life. The THEORY of evolution doesn’t have solid proof to support it, instead, there is physical evidence to which assumptions and theories are applied without any hard data. This is a much broader topic to be discussed, but the point is this; a lot of this discussion starts not with evidence, but with presupposition and being honest with the evidence as you’re looking at it. I have a book in my office all about this stuff if you’d like to borrow it. Or you can find it online. It’s called The Lie of Evolution.
Christians have no problem with science. Science is great. Science was often called “natural theology” throughout history as it was the study of God’s creation. So the issue here isn’t Christians being antagonistic toward the idea of science (though that’s how it’s usually presented). The issue is the philosophy that goes into the interpretation of the evidence by many in the scientific community. What is often called “science” is actually a worldview called “scientism” which suggests science is the source of all truth. As Christians, we don’t have a battle between science and faith. Our faith is in historical fact revolving around Jesus’ historical life, death, and resurrection, and the historical accounts of Biblical history. Too often the scientific community puts forth one idea and then shuns those who disagree rather than having an open ear to alternative interpretations of the evidence that we have before us.
The Creation Museum is worth going to at some point. They do a spectacular job of making their case for a young earth, the role of the flood in the creation of sediment layers and fossilization, and connecting creation to the rest of what we see in the world today. They demonstrate how vital the Biblical account of the universe’s origin is for our lives every day. If there is no point to life, if there is no moral basis to humanity then there is no right or wrong. Instead, you only have “I like” or “I don’t like” based purely on preference and nothing else. If you remove creation and the God who did the creating, you lose morality and worth in life. Evolution is the standard taught in most – if not all – schools and it is weaved into nearly all of pop culture when discussing the origin of the universe. We’re told again and again we don’t matter and there is no rhyme or reason to live. The Creation Museum does a good job pointing out the problems in this theory and how it affects all that we do as a society and the world.
If you go, you’ll want to take about two days to comfortably make it through the whole experience. Between short films, presenters, the planetarium, the outdoor gardens, and the core “7 C’s” museum tour, the two days will keep things at a nice pace for you and whatever group that you may go with.
The Museum takes creative license with the dioramas, but they do their best to be faithful to what we understand about people and the world. They also do a good job of being honest that they’re using artistic license with their models. They have whole sections talking about how we can only answer what bones tell us. We don’t know the color of a dinosour…unless its pigmentation was preserved some how. We don’t know what a dinosaur ate…unless we find food in the stomach, and even that doesn’t guarantee it was a normal part of the diet or if it just happened to try something different right before it died. So they do well explaining themselves along the way. One of my favorite exhibits is actually all about “Lucy” (the supposed “missing link” between man and ape). Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Lucy. Now check out the Creation Museum’s discussion about creative license and a few bones. It’s amazing how a small number of bones can be interpreted so differently. You can check out a number of good segments from IssuesEtc,… all about creation as well.
The staff is very kind and helpful, food and such is affordable, and it’s a great experience. Sometimes, they seem a bit too intense on points that we cannot know for sure, but overall they do a great job. What I mean to say is, they present visual concepts of the ark (we’ll get to the Ark Encounter in a moment), models of what the flood looked like, land masses before and after, how the flooding caused land masses to split, etc. Like evolution, we can’t see those things and re-create and test them, so some of the before and after the flood visuals and ideas about environments and such require a bit more theorizing than others. That’s not to say there isn’t evidence that can point to the concepts they present, but when we read the following passages in Genesis 9, we don’t get all of the scientific info with it.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
Perhaps there was a dramatic environmental shift that took place. Perhaps there was a greater land mass that was joined together before “the great deep burst forth”, but we can’t see it so to put some of the “this is how the earth looked in that day” is tough to prove. Like evolution, we cannot go back and observe or repeat the tests to prove. What we can do, is look at how things happen in nature and justify that there are other options than “the river carved this gorge over millions of years.” They use the example of volcanic eruptions that carved out canyons in a matter of minutes, so when we see a canyon we can’t just assume it took millions of years to form. We can present alternative perspectives when looking at the evidence, but at times they almost make it seem like they’re saying, “If you’re a Christian, here’s how you must interpret the science regarding the Ark and how things worked when the flood occurred,” rather than simply saying, “Here’s another way you can understand the evidence.” Now I’m not trying to say, “Noah wasn’t real” or “Creation didn’t take place a matter of thousands of years ago rather than millions over the course of 6 literal days.” The point is, there are some parts of their discussions where they, perhaps, push too hard – especially Ark and flood-related stuff – so that, instead of showing God’s power, they use human reason coupled with our understanding of science to show how it all works together when there are sometimes when we can only sit back and say, “God made it happen and we don’t know how.” We see this happen at other times as well from well-meaning Christians who want science to explain it all when science won’t always be able to explain it all. The plagues in Egypt, for example, or the star over Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth. People come up with tons of scientific explanation to make it palatable to our human reason rather than saying, “Hey here are some possible scientific explanations, but ultimately God made it happen and we don’t know how.”
When we talk about coming up with the age of the earth or universe as a whole, it’s kind of tough to do regardless of the methodology used to try to accomplish it. Think about it. When God created everything in 6 literal days, and in that time created things in a mature and aged state, then our scientific analysis isn’t going to reflect that when dating things. (Note: They are literal days. While Yom “day” in Hebrew can be used for longer periods of time, Hebrew scholars through the centuries have said that Yom, here, is a 24-hour day. Not only that but each verse says, “Evening and morning” in relation to the day to solidify that these are normal 24-hour days.” Plus, the genre of Genesis is one of history, not poetry. While there are points of prophecy or poetry along the way, the creation account does not feature the character of exaggerative poetry, though people want to say the rest is historical…just not that creation stuff). If God spoke a giant cedar tree into existence, then the scientific analysis that tells us it’s at least 68 years old isn’t actually going to be reflecting how long it has been in existence. God made man…not embryo on the 6th day. If we could go back to that day and test Adam to guess his age he might come out as 18 or 25 or something, but he still would have just been created. When talking about the universe as a whole in relation to the earth we can analyze the speed of light and can calculate how long it would take for the light of a star to reach the earth, but that still doesn’t tell us when the star was created, it just tells us how it works now. Even if it takes 5 million years for the light of a star to be visible to us, that doesn’t mean the universe if 5 million years old, it simply means that’s the scientific reality of how the created universe now works. God created the heavens and the earth and in doing so made the lights visible to us. Whether you’re dealing with evolution or creation, the scientific method cannot answer some questions since the origin of the universe can’t be observed, repeated, or measured (See the Issues, Etc links above for deeper discussion on those matters and how the genealogy accounts of Scripture also don’t necessarily answer the age question).
Overall the Creation Museum is pretty neat and beyond some conversations here and there about exhibits, it’s good.
The Ark Encounter is a different story. Same people, same group, and yet a very different experience. The Ark, in its entirety, requires a ton of artistic license. The very shape, style, appearance, etc of the ark all have to be represented using creative license. We know the dimensions, but the construction of it and the interiors are all up to interpretation and opinion. To see it from the outside is certainly impressive, but it’s not “THE ARK” it’s a dimensionally accurate creatively designed attraction.
The Ark has three levels to explore inside and you’re kind of herded through a one-way track from bottom to top. Off of the path are exhibits that you can venture into, but if it is crowded, you can feel very crammed in there. You don’t feel that you can stop and look because of the people behind you and if there are people moving slowly in front of you there’s no good way to get around. You have moments like that in the Creation Museum, but they’re rare because of its more open design. We were also there on a Saturday morning, so perhaps it’s not as bad on weekdays. There are some interesting exhibits, one that points out how many manuscripts of Scripture we have compared to other books and yet the Bible is way more questioned than other books. Also, there was an exhibit pointing out that a plane went down in the 1950’s and was then covered by layers of ice. To just do core samples would suggest the ice was thousands of years old, but of course, the plane is not that old. So they did well making the point that it doesn’t always take a whole year for a layer of ice to form (the same with sediment) so to suggest that 10 layers of ice automatically equals 10 or 1000 years isn’t actually science, it’s presumption. They also had good exhibits talking about what “kinds” are when we hear that there were “two of each kind” of animal were brought upon the Ark.
The problem with the Ark was the heavy reliance and emphasis on what was done creatively and the desire to be able to explain it all (as I mentioned above). They have a small comment about how “we don’t know much about Noah and his family from Scripture, so we have to use some creative license,” but they constantly had scientific statements next to fanciful stories with little if any distinction between the two. For an example of what I mean, check out this page on the Ark Encounter website about Noah’s Daughter-in-laws. There’s no indication that any of this is based on anything except, “We thought it would be fun to name her XYZ and make him an XYZ by trade.” There are certain traditions that provide names and histories about these people (none of them canon or anything, but documents none-the-less), but none of them appear to be used as a part of the fantasy they created in the Ark Encounter. Part of the ark was to show how it can all be scientifically explained so each son had to have different skills in order to be able to build. Each wife had to be able to carry out certain tasks along the way. Rather than suggesting “God made it possible to build” or “God taught them” or something, they had to be able to explain it all. And it’s funny because the desire is to show how great God is for choosing these people for this task, and yet they end up reducing God’s power by making it all super explainable rather than leaving it up to “We just don’t know for sure.”
Apart from the fantasy story presented heavily throughout, their soteriological underpinnings were more evident. That is to say, their theological stance on what salvation is and how it takes place was very prominent. While the Creation Museum presents itself as a museum and sticks to discussing science in relation to Scripture, the Ark really pushes decision theology. It’s a popular but incorrect teaching that has had peaks throughout history, but in America took root in the mid to late 1800’s with Charles Finney and revivalism. It teaches that man can choose to save himself and therefore must be manipulated to do so. As Christians, when we look at Scripture we see that we don’t talk about salvation as something we do for ourselves nor can we be manipulated to make that choice. Not at creation, and not today. Ephesians 2:8 tells us this: “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The point is, we don’t have altar calls after a long manipulative service so that people can “give their lives to Jesus” because it’s the Holy Spirit doing the work. We share God’s Word and then the Holy Spirit brings people to faith or people reject the message. If the Holy Spirit works faith in them and they say that they believe in Jesus and trust in him as their savior, praise be to God, and if they don’t we continue to pray. Even if we say, “I believe” it’s not our work doing so, it’s God’s Holy Spirit working through us to bring us to that point.
The Ark had two big screen videos during the tour. Each presented this ultimatum, “Noah and his family walked through the door into the Ark to be saved from death. Jesus is the door to life, are YOU going to walk through?” The Creation Museum’s videos present evidence and information, the Ark’s videos, though, were dramatized stories trying to manipulate people to Jesus. Now, they did talk about God’s law, they did talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, but there was a very revivalist tone in it. Salvation isn’t left up to Christ it is left up to you and the decision that you make, and that’s where the problem is. If salvation begins with us, then we’ll always be asking whether we did enough, said enough, meant it enough, rather than just trusting God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation.
Tied into that is something that was absent and again showing a particular theological stance. In the New Testament, we read this in 1 Peter 3
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
“Baptism, which corresponds to this [Noah story], now saves you…” That wasn’t found anywhere in the Ark Encounter because Ken Ham and the other Christians behind the Ark and Creation Museum don’t confess sacramental theology. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are just symbols for them. So how do you tie the Ark to Christ? You tie Jesus’ statement about being the door to life, to the ark having a really big door that saved people from the flood. “Jesus is like the big door that rescues. Noah and his family entered the Ark through the door to salvation and Jesus is the door to salvation now…so will you enter?” Rather than “God washed away sin saving Noah and his family and so on, and now in baptism, God washes us clean still.” That doesn’t fit their theological framework so it doesn’t make it into the Ark Encounter as one of the big tie-ins. That’s not to say that it’s bad to talk about Jesus or salvation, it was just the tone and manner in which they did it that rather than going to a museum and digging into facts, you went to a long exhibit of made-up details with an altar call at the end hoping that you’ve been convinced about the flood so that now you will become a Christian.
Now we could have a long discussion about cages, luxurious rooms, and other details that were left up to creative licenses in the Ark, but that can be for a discussion in person. Ultimately, we were a bit let down by the Ark which was much more of an attraction than a serious museum presenting facts from history. Most of it was repetitive of the Creation Museum, and the stuff that was new seemed out of place when compared to the Creation Museum’s high quality.
We look forward to doing the trip again, but we’ll probably only do the Creation Museum rather than doing the Ark as well.
If you have questions, let me know.