Ark encounters modern science

Jul 22, 2019 by

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Noah’s ark now rests in Wil­liams­town, Ky. Or rather, a $100 million “Ark Encount­er” building shaped like the biblical boat has attracted millions since opening there in 2016.

At 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high — based on the measurements in cubits found in Genesis — the ark replica at Williams­town, Ky., is the largest timber-frame structure in the world, according to the Ark Encounter. — J. Nelson Kraybill

At 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high — based on the measurements in cubits found in Genesis — the ark replica at Williams­town, Ky., is the largest timber-frame structure in the world, according to the Ark Encounter. — J. Nelson Kraybill

The 510-foot-long structure, crafted by Amish under the direction of fundamentalist Christian Ken Ham of New Zealand, brings the Genesis story into focus. But its hundreds of engaging exhibits demand a literal interpretation of the Bible that leaves little room for other viewpoints.

Ark Encounter insists that God created the universe in 4004 B.C. in six 24-hour days, that Noah’s flood literally covered the highest mountains on Earth, that all animals alive today had ancestors on Noah’s ark.

Exhibits at Ark Encounter present and swat down scores of possible objections to such a literal reading.

Q: How could Noah get millions of species onto one boat? A: He only had to get representatives of each “kind” of animal (Gen. 6:19), meaning one pair of the “cat kind,” one pair of the “horse kind,” and so on. After the flood many related species emerged from each of these “kinds” in a process that emphatically was not evolution.

Q: How to explain fossils that scientists say are millions of years old? A: Such fossils actually formed within one year under the weight of flood waters.

Q: How did Noah get massive dinosaurs on board? A: He didn’t; he took juvenile dinosaurs.

Ark Encounter wagers the whole of Christian faith on this literal reading of the Genesis creation and flood narratives. “If we cannot believe God concerning how He made the universe,” one exhibit pleads, “then why should we believe Him about the salvation offered through Jesus Christ?”

In the Ark lunch line, my wife and I met a young couple who homeschool their children. “This is our seventh visit to Ark Encounter,” the father volunteered. “We use their books for our science classes.”

I admitted that I worry when Christians drive a wedge between the Bible and science. “What happens when children raised with such views get to university and learn that the Earth is more than 4 billion years old?” I asked. Will they lose their faith? His quick reply was, “We are preparing our children to withstand such views.”

I wanted to say how much I believe that the Bible is true but that its truth sometimes is deeper than a literal reading. With liturgy and poetry, the Bible teaches the truth that a loving God formed the cosmos and pronounced it good. Hence we should care for God’s planet and pay attention to our responsibility for pollution, destruction of species and climate change.

Genesis explains the who and the why of creation; science gives glimpses of how creation may have happened: a Big Bang, then eons of evolution — awesome events that should summon us to praise our Maker. Gen. 6:11 says God rebooted the human experiment with a flood because there was so much violence — which might inspire us to end wars and limit access to guns.

Do I recommend that others visit Ark Encounter? Perhaps. But enter that amazing replica with more spiritual imagination, critical thinking and respect for modern science than you’ll find there at exhibits designed by well-intentioned people.

J. Nelson Kraybill is president of Mennonite World Conference and president emeritus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. See more writing and information about his upcoming tours to Israel-Palestine at peace-pilgrim.com.


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