July 7th, 2016 was the opening day of Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, his follow-up attraction to the infamous Creation Museum. His goal was to build a replica of Noah’s Ark and to demonstrate to visitors of this attraction that the flood story is no fairy tale and was completely feasible. Ultimately, he wants to use this attraction to win souls to Christ. He seems to believe that if he can convince people that the flood really did happen, then he can convince people that Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead. A bit of a stretch?
The building of this disturbingly expensive boat, the anti-scientific agenda behind it and the tax-payer money going toward it in tax incentives did not go unnoticed in the secular community. In fact, Dan Arel started writing blog posts in protest of it from the beginning and the Tri-State Freethinkers organized a protest for the opening day and tried to have a billboard put up that said, “Genocide and Incest Park.” They couldn’t find a billboard company to put it up, but not due to lack of effort.
The protest was on the morning of July 7th and it went very well! Not only did members of the Tri-State Freethinkers show up, but we had people from all over the country there to stand up for the separation of church and state and for science and reason.
Some of the big names that were there were David Smalley and Brandy Madden of Dogma Debate, David Silverman, Dan Arel, Dan Barker, Aron Ra, Tracey Moody, Callie Wright and Larry Decker! It was an amazing turnout!
When I showed up to the protest that morning one of the members of our group approached me and my protest buddy, Amanda Irwin, and informed us that there were some Christian counter protesters there and that we should not engage with them because we were not there to debate and wanted to keep things peaceful.
Well, that worked at first, but eventually some of us got engaged in debates, some of which made it onto the news and YouTube. I hadn’t planned on talking to any of the Christians there, but found myself engaged in a couple of one-on-one, deep conversations with them anyway. They were calm, meaningful discussions about faith that I actually quite enjoyed.
During one of the conversations I and the girl I was talking to were both tearing up talking about our experiences. It was a very touching moment and one I will not forget. The thing I often remind myself of is that we’re all just humans trying to figure out the world around us. We shared our disagreements and debated a few issues, but sometimes you just have to push all the divisive stuff to the side and connect with someone on a deeper level. We did that and it was beautiful.
The other Christian I spoke to was Jake of Institute on the Constitution, who came with Eric Hovind (leader of the counter protest). Jake and I had a nice conversation about epistemology (how you can know a thing). We also shared a little about our stories – his conversion to Christianity and my deconversion out of Christianity. I enjoyed that exchange and he seemed to as well. Later when Eric Hovind was offering to buy tickets to bring some of us onto the Ark Encounter for a guided tour, Jake offered to buy mine. I accepted.
21 atheists went on a tour of the Ark that day after the protest and I was one of them. Our Christian tour guides were very kind and responded to our many questions with respect and patience. I can certainly give them kudos for that. Their answers were non-sense, but at least they were nice about it.
Throughout the Ark Tim stopped to explain what they were trying to demonstrate through the different exhibits and, of course, we had questions and challenges at every stop.
The artwork and exhibits themselves were professional and some were even quite beautiful, but what they represented was not quite so beautiful. I saw many kids throughout the tour and it was upsetting to me to realize that they were being cheated out of an accurate science education, like I was.
One kid I was actually happy to see there was Talissa Smalley! She loves animals and knows a lot about them so the inaccuracy of the exhibits was driving her crazy. She kept running up to me and telling me how ridiculous and implausible everything was. She’s 12 and she’s more reasonable than these people.
This was the inside of a small display case. These were all miniature figures with incredible detail. Though I was impressed with the artistic talent used to create this display, it was supposed to demonstrate how evil the world had become. Does drinking, dancing and fornicating really give God a good enough reason to drown the world in an horrific flood?
I’m glad that I got an inside look into this masterpiece of ignorance, but I left there disturbed and depressed knowing that this monstrosity will be used to indoctrinate children and solidify the delusion for adults.
On the shuttle ride back to the parking lot I got into a short conversation with the woman sitting next to me. She was a Christian and was talking about how amazing the Ark was and how she could completely understand how Noah fit so many animals in there. I politely disagreed and explained a little bit about my reasoning. She was surprised, but still friendly until I mentioned that I used to be a Christian and used to believe that the Noah story was true until I did my own research. At that point she became hostile and started telling me that I never had faith and was never a true Christian. She started yelling over me and wouldn’t let me speak. Then as she exited the shuttle she turned back to me and said, “God bless.”
I wasn’t angry at the woman. I realized in that moment that my very existence as an apostate is perceived by her as a threat to her faith. The Bible says that a true believer cannot turn away from God (I John 2:19) and I represented a contradiction to her ‘infallible’ Bible. It made her defensive and go into attack mode. I was just happy to be there to put a kink in her armor and hopefully get her to question, even just for a second, what she has been brainwashed into believing.
What I took away from the day is that even though Ken Ham is getting away with this monstrosity, he is not getting away with it without a nationwide outcry against it. We changed the story. We drew attention to the issues with this ‘theme park’ and brought the question of ethics into the spotlight.