In my experience, most Christians who take a more sophisticated view of science and Genesis, see young-earth creationist groups like Answers in Genesis (AiG) as relatively harmless.
Their unscientific ideas generally appeal to those who are already inclined toward such ways of thinking, generating capital for them to funnel into … attracting more people who are already inclined toward such ways of thinking. Most of the time, it’s easy to think of it as an isolated and largely innocuous aberration.
However, every so often, the young-earth groups come up with an idea that is just so plainly, utterly, obviously wrong — in every sense of the word — that it demands a response from a larger subset of believers. To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of the Christ we claim to follow — a man who was hated by the religious establishment of the day precisely because he called them out for their hypocrisy and refused to let them claim divine fiat for their immoral actions.
I'm speaking of the so-called Ark Encounter. If you're not familiar with the project, it's the latest brainchild of Ken Ham (of recent "Ham on Nye" fame) and AiG, a planned "biblical" theme park centered around a scale, wooden replica of Noah's ark, constructed according to the instructions in Genesis (except this one will be built by teams of modern-day professionals rather than a single, unskilled old man, won’t be seaworthy, and won’t hold two of every unclean animal and 14 of every clean one).
Ham and his team have been discussing these plans for years, but few outside their devoted following paid them much heed till now, probably because the project’s well-publicized funding issues led us all to believe the thing would never be built. But, according to a statement by Ham last week, enough investors are on board to “start” construction on the 510-foot-long, boat-shaped building. The cost of completing the first phase of the theme park has been estimated at more than $70 million.
In honor of the big announcement, I spent some time Googling around on a few real ministries (i.e., charitable organizations that help the needy in Jesus’ name) to see what they might be able to buy with such an enormous sum.
For example, Habitat for Humanity could build almost 40,000 new homes for poor families in India. World Vision could give away more than 100,000 dairy cows (along with the nutritious milk and valuable income they provide) to starving children and their parents in Liberia. Samaritan’s Purse could mobilize nearly 1.2 million emergency medical kits to serve the poor and needy all over the world.
The list goes on and on. The need is vast, of course, but $70 million could make a significant impact. Undeniably, it could save lives, prevent or cure disease, open access to clean water, and feed hungry kids. But instead, it will build an ark — a useless, wooden “ship” that is about as capable of braving the high seas as the Taj Mahal. I’m sure the fact that such a structure is materializing somewhere on the other side of the world will bring great comfort to those starving to death in rural Africa and Asia.
Now, Answers in Genesis is a private organization, and thus, it can spend the money it raises however it sees fit. However, when it is explicitly Christian resources that are being contributed and expended, surely we who bear the same name are entitled to criticize and lament such an absurd and profligate waste.
The group’s stable of apologists has responded to such criticism of their bold vision. While they grudgingly acknowledge that “taking care of the poor is an important ministry,” they maintain their ark will be a powerful evangelism tool, and will even help accomplish Christ’s “great commission,” to “make disciples of all nations.”
AiG may honestly believe that, but those who are more lucid-minded among us can surely see that the simplistic, science-denying Ark Encounter— which holds zero appeal for non-Christians beyond, perhaps, some sense of morbid curiosity — is not exactly an effective means of evangelism. Nor does the construction of a theme park really follow the biblical model of discipleship.
The bottom line is that God’s heart is revealed to us in Scripture, and it is for the needy, the lost, the blind, and the oppressed. Christ built no arks while he dwelt among us; instead, he fed the hungry, cared for the sick and served the poor, and he commanded us to do the same.
If Ken Ham and his cronies want to make believe that their personal mission to reaffirm certain beliefs some Christians already hold is more important than the clear scriptural mandate to give all we can to the less fortunate, then so be it. But we cannot let them claim that the Bible is behind them in that regard, because it simply is not.
Tyler Francke is a print journalist and freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest. He is the founder and lead contributor of God of Evolution — a blog promoting the harmony of biblical Christianity and mainstream science — and author of Reoriented , a novel due to be released in 2014 by TouchPoint Press.