School field trips to creationist Ark? Sink that idea right now

A view from the front of the gigantic Ark
Pseudoscience inside

John Minchillo/AP/PA

In a quiet corner of Kentucky, what claims to be the world’s largest timber-frame structure is hard to miss – a “life-size Noah’s Ark” that reportedly cost $100 million.

Called Ark Encounter, the 155-metre long “theme park” features stuffed creatures and a petting zoo. It opened its doors last month, billing itself as a family-oriented educational treat. That makes it sound like a good place for schools to send students.

Not so fast, though. The park’s promotional material also describes it as “a Christian evangelistic outreach intended to bring the Ark of Noah’s day to life,” which “equips visitors to understand the reality of the events that are recorded in the book of Genesis”. It is, in fact, a hard-core creationist extravaganza replete with pseudoscience. It is no place for field trips.

But that hasn’t stopped its founder Ken Ham from urging publicly funded schools to come and take a look.

One of the exhibits inside the Ark showing a dinosaur-like creature in a small wooden pen
Inside the Ark

John Minchillo/AP/PA

Throughout the Ark, wordy signs, animatronic mannequins and strident videos all insist that it is no Sunday school tale, but a “historically authentic” boat that existed just as Ham and others on the young-earth creationist fringe imagine it.

Perhaps because of disappointing visitor numbers so far, it is offering reduced rates – $1 a student and free tickets for accompanying teachers – to tempt schoolchildren through its doors. Schools and parents should know that a visit wouldn’t educate or entertain, it would misinform and browbeat.

Publicly-funded schools certainly should not take their charges to the park. The US Constitution prohibits government bodies, including schools, from endorsing one particular religious belief over others. Ark Encounter is all about endorsing Ham’s particular reading of Genesis as the literal truth. The constitutions of nearby states, from which a trip might be feasible, echo that proscription.

Flood of misinformation

What’s more, everything in the park is designed to promote scientifically impossible ideas that contradict everything that scientists know. From astrophysics to zookeeping, the visitor is deluged with misinformation. It may be impossible to find a single sign in the park that is free of scientific errors.

To give a single example, Ark Encounter is founded on the notion that all the walking and flying animals alive today descend from specimens caged aboard a boat so unwieldy that it surely would have twisted apart in the roiling waters of a biblical flood. It is a notion that founders on the rocks of genetics, biogeography and naval engineering.

Just as pernicious as the scientific errors and the religious proselytising is a subtler form of indoctrination. The relentless message to visitors is that our world is as fallen and wicked as Noah’s, and that the destruction of the flood – including the obliteration of all humans other than a virtuous few – was not just acceptable but praiseworthy.

Under the pretence of illustrating a beloved tale shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, Ark Encounter presents a message as socially divisive as it is scientifically inaccurate, instilling fear, hatred and hopelessness. Those are lessons no school or parent should want their students or children to take on board.

Terms of Undeerment

I studied a bit of wildlife “management” in college and the one thing that comes across loudest and clearest in that discipline is how animals are not to be regarded in the context of their place in a healthy, freely functioning ecosystem, but by what value they have as a “game” species. Our fellow beings are viewed in terms of “population densities,” a convenient way of ignoring the welfare of individual animals. 

Wildlife “mangers” have dreamed up their own language—their own special terms—to degrade animate non-humans to the level of rocks or soil. A deer isn’t a precious creature, it’s a “resource,” and killing one isn’t murder, it’s “harvest.” As a scientist, the biologist is expected to look upon their fellow animals as a geologist would see a vein of minerals to be melted down to feed the hungry human machine, rather than as fully-formed sentient beings with their own self-interests in whether or not they are exploited or made to suffer. 

The late, great Edward Abbey (author of such inspirational works as The Monkey Wrench Gang and Heyduke Lives) imparted, “To speak of harvesting other living creatures, whether deer or elk or birds or cottontail rabbits, as if they were no more than a crop, exposes the meanest, cruelest, most narrow and homocentric of possible human attitudes towards the life that surrounds us.”

photos copyright Jim Robertson

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