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An atheist shoots a commercial at creationist Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter

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It is a monstrosity. A $100 million lie directed at children. What better place to show the importance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s work than this taxpayer-funded monument to ignorance? So we shot our latest commercial at the Ark Encounter:

Ark park cover photo3333smallHow can you not join FFRF after that dinosaur roar ending? It’s time. Obviously, I had to visit this godforsaken place to shoot the commercial. Here were some of my takeaways.

Trying to deny reality isn’t paying off

It’s been a rough few months for Ken Ham, and not just because we atheists infiltrated his creationist lair. His ark opened to a dismal crowd, and the numbers were so bad that he had to revise his attendance estimates after three months. Grant County, which gave Ham $175,000, and nearly 100 acres of land for $1, is upset because the ark has “not brought [the county] any money.” Williamstown, the town nearest to the ark, made a similar complaint months ago.

Oh, and let’s not forget that FFRF forced a Virginia town, Christiansburg, to cancel its city-planned, city-sponsored trip to the ark. That’s the kind of important work we hope you’ll support. Ken Ham angrily tweeted this picture of FFRF three times to protest our work upholding the Constitution:

We actually kind of like Ham when he's angry, he promotes us.
We actually kind of like Ham when he’s angry, he promotes us.

I visited the ark on a weekday in February—not what you’d expect to be a busy day—but still, it was deserted. There was nobody on our tour bus. There were no lines. I half expected to see a clichéd tumbleweed spiraling through the exhibits. We ate a truly terrible buffet lunch in the ark’s cafeteria, which was also desolate.

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There was one large group of people at that table behind me, but they were contractors working on expanding the park. From noon to 12:30 pm, what should be the busiest time, perhaps 35 people came through a dining room that seats 1,500. Ham gets upset whenever people delve into the park’s lousy attendance, but if he wanted to dispel what were genuine misconceptions, he would simply release the numbers. He hasn’t.

When he was seeking public tax benefits and incentives, Ham hired a company that predicted his park would get 2 million visitors every year; about 5,800 people each day. The state hired an independent company that estimated about 325,000 for the first year that dropped to 275,000 a year after that. That’s about 900 a day, and then 750 a day thereafter.

The reality we witnessed, even accounting for a February weekday crowd, favors the state’s study. I asked one of the workers in the forsaken commissary how many people they expected to visit the park that day. “About 450,” she responded, about 1/13th (or about 8 percent) of Ham’s predicted average. Clearly Ham’s wishful thinking isn’t influencing reality.

A childish defensiveness permeates the park

The tone of the exhibits is defensive, overly so. Every sign brought to mind a child caught standing over a pillaged birthday cake, icing smeared all over his face, vehemently denying an obvious truth. Take this sign, one of the first we encountered:

There go those damn skeptics, persecuting believers again.
There go those damn skeptics, persecuting believers again.

“Skeptics often mock the concept of the Ark and its animals, so they develop questions designed to make the Ark look foolish. However, when one thinks about the ark from a biblical perspective, the skeptics’ questions end up looking foolish.”

A belief in the literal truth of the ark story is foolish; this belief doesn’t need any help from us. Let me translate this sign for you. “Skeptics think the claim that this really happened is false, as dictated by reason, common sense, science, logistics, and about a million other simple facts. But, if you ignore reason and facts and just listen to the bible, we’re right!” This is nothing new and it doesn’t take $100 million to regurgitate it yet again.

But that’s the argument: Ignore that reasonable voice, listen to your preacher. Genesis 7:20 says that the waters submerged the world’s highest mountains in 15 cubits (22 feet) of water. We are supposed to ignore the many nagging questions that claim presents. Questions such as:

  1. Is there even enough water to rain that much? I’ve done the math. It would take, conservatively, about ten Atlantic Oceans to rain as much as the bible claims. That’s about 1.35 quadrillion Olympic-size swimming pools. Put another way, the flood needs about 250 percent more water than exists on the planet.
  2. Maybe god, thinking ahead to Catholic mass, “transsubstantiated” all the air between the land to the level at 22 feet above Everest into water. If so, the ark was surfing at nearly 30,000 feet above the normal sea level for a year. How did these people and animals breathe at that elevation? Other than a few bird species that fly that high, such as the bar-headed goose, the animals and humans would’ve suffocated. The air is too thin for oxygen to transfer to blood vessels in your lungs at a rate that will keep you alive, let alone conscious.
  3. How did they withstand the -40 F temperatures at that altitude?
  4. How did the animals survive after the flood? The flood would have wiped out every ecosystem and all the food that went along with it. So as soon as those animals got off the ark, the only thing they’d have to eat is each other and, for those who made it past that starving time and out of the first post-flood generation, the only individuals they’d be able to procreate with would be their siblings. Inbreeding isn’t all that successful.
  5. Same question for humans.

And about a million other questions. Ham’s park attempts to answer the most obvious questions, such as: “How did Noah fit nine million species on the ark?” But Ham fails at this. Miserably. The answers all boil down to that sign: The bible is right, everything else is wrong. And in trying to answer the skeptics, the entire ark comes off as whiny, uptight, and petulant—just like the child and the ruined birthday cake. Reality simply cannot be denied, even with $100 million.

Unconvincing from “in the beginning” to the end

The first real exhibit consists of a bunch of empty cages. Rather than animals, speakers play a soundtrack that includes animals squawking and squealing, with a storm in the background. The visitor is meant to feel what it would be like on the ark, but, if anything, it’s underdone.

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Think about what it would be like on that boat with thousands of defecating, caged animals, one window, no ventilation system, no lights, and the worst storm in history raging. And think about living like that for a year.

We actually don’t have to imagine it because we have reports of what it was like. Not from the bible, but from the African slave trade. Olaudah Equiano provides one of the most detailed accounts in his book, Interesting Narrative. Here’s a representative passage:

The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous to remain there for any time, and some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air; but now that the whole ship’s cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died…

Like the first exhibit, everything is meant to show how plausible the ark story is, but applying the slightest thought shows just how unconvincing it all truly is. How does one fit those 9 million species? According to Ham, Noah didn’t. He took on animal “kinds,” which doesn’t appear anywhere in the scientific taxonomy. The breakdown goes: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. You’ll notice that “Kind” isn’t on there. But “Kind” does appear in the bible, so Ham hangs his creationist hat on that hook. However, the bible also classifies bats as birds in Deuteronomy 14:18, so it’s not the best perch. Anyway, Ham says that Noah took on kinds that later evolved (he painfully tries to say it’s not evolution), into all the species we see today.

My favorite exhibit, by far, was the “Pre-Flood World.” Ham intends this section to show that the world was so evil that it deserved to be slaughtered. It is meant to show humanity’s wickedness. The “Senseless Slaughter, Abuse of Creation” mural is a prime example.

This gleeful gent killed a few triceratops. Ham's god killed him, and every other human for this crime. Then he killed all the triceratops. And every other animal.
This gleeful gent killed a few triceratops. Ham’s god killed him, and every other human for this crime. Then he killed all the triceratops. And every other animal.

This fellow killed a triceratops and is obscenely happy about it. Ham is trying to argue that the “senseless slaughter” of animals is “wicked.” But Ham built the ark because his god senselessly slaughtered almost every single creature on Earth! God is infinitely more wicked than this gleeful gent. Ham built his park to venerate the same wickedness he’s condemning. The mural perfectly, if inadvertently, encapsulates the cognitive dissonance religion requires.

Bottom line: This is meant to prove the bible true, but amid the mental acrobatics required to believe such nonsense, it collapses.

Which is actually quite nice, because, as the serpent in the ark says: “If I can convince you that the flood was not real, I can convince you that Heaven and Hell are not real.” True enough.

That serpent is so wily. Can you see the family resemblance?
That wily serpent and the atheist. Can you see the family resemblance?

When biblical literalism ignores the bible

Believers frequently overlook the inconvenient parts of the bible and Ham is no different. For most of the ark, Ham sticks to the bible. But not all of it. There is at least one huge error and one huge omission.

The error is that the ark isn’t waterproof. Genesis 6:14 says that the ark is “covered inside and out with pitch.” Ham’s ark is not. Pitch is a black, tar-like waterproofing substance. As you can see, Ham took the terrible liberty of ignoring his god’s word and leaving out the pitch.

Yikes. Ken Ham left out the pitch. He ignored the bible, even though he's said,
Yikes. Ken Ham left out the pitch. He ignored the bible, even though he believes, “God’s people need to unashamedly and uncompromisingly stand on the Bible.”

Why is Ham selectively ignoring the word of his god? Because the ark wouldn’t look very inviting were it smeared with tar. But it’s interesting that he is at least capable of choosing aesthetics over apologetics.

I found Ham’s omission disappointing, though unsurprising. Ham missed this atheist’s favorite part of the ark story: the end. We all know most of the story: God is so angry with his playthings that he murders everyone. And not just people, but every animal too. To his credit, Ham does not shy away from the fact that this story centers on what would have been the most colossal genocide in history.

A $100 million monument to a genocidal manic. Yikes.
A $100 million monument to a genocidal manic: “And everyone died except the 8 people in the ark.” Double yikes.

Everyone but Noah, his unnamed wife, his three sons (Ham, Shem, and Japheth), and their three unnamed wives, is murdered. The supernatural barbarian saves this family because, as he tells Noah, “you alone are righteous before me in this generation.”

Believers assume that “righteous” means moral, but that’s because they forget the end of Noah’s story. After the family disembarks, Noah plants the first vineyard, gets soused, and passes out. Naked. His son, Ham, stumbled on the scene. When Noah awakens from his stupor, he’s angry that Ham stumbled upon his nudity. Instead of self-introspection, Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan—his own grandson—to be a slave:

Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

He blesses his son Shem and then says, “let Canaan be his slave.” He does the same for his son Japheth:

“May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.”

This is god’s chosen man—the man who god personally selected to survive a worldwide genocide—condemning an innocent child to a life of slavery. Canaan did nothing, he was simply the son of Ham. For that matter, Ham didn’t do anything either. Noah hurls the curses because he is a drunken sailor who can’t keep his clothes on. Ham just happened to stumble on the drunkenness.

What kind of morality is this? Who would worship such a tyrant? Who would construct a $100 million monument to this immorality? It turns out, nobody. Even Ken Ham, an intransigent biblical literalist, ignores this ending, as far as I could tell.

One other fun fact about the conclusion of Noah’s tale. We always think of the animals going onto the ark in pairs, but that’s not quite right. Seven pairs of some animals—“clean animals”—boarded the ark. Why? So that Noah could kill and burn them as sacrifices to his god for not killing them in the flood:

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, . . .

These poor animals and birds survived the biblical flood, god’s flood, so that Noah could kill them to appease that god.

If you agree our secular government should not support this creationist stronghold and our public schools should not take students to this monument of ignorance, it’s time to join FFRF. What are you waiting for?.

Oh, and I almost forgot. According to Ken Ham, there were dinosaurs on the ark.

Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I don’t think so.

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