Dan Phelps, right, armed for battle, with his new friend, Ken Ham.
On July 28, 2012, Answers in Genesis (AIG) held a “Behind the Scenes” event at the Creation “Museum’s” Legacy Hall. The event was free but with RSVP required via the Ark Encounter website. I made it a point to register well in advance and ask for a space for a guest. I invited reporter Joe Sonka from LEO Weekly to come along since he has done numerous critical news articles and blog postings on the Ark Park. Indeed it was Joe who asked Governor Beshear and Ark Encounter representatives some embarrassing questions revealing that the Ark would have dinosaurs on it when the project was announced in December, 2010. What follows is my account of the event and summary of the status of the proposed park.
I arrived at 11:30 AM for the noontime event. The parking lot included numerous church buses and the museum was busy. Joe and I made it a point not to draw attention to ourselves or be disruptive; we were there only to learn the status of project. We had no problem finding the sign-in table for the “Behind the Scenes” event. A nice lady at the table found my name and checked it off. She gave us the event passes, and never asked Joe his identity. A young volunteer, who said he was 13 years old, escorted us to the event. He told us that he was an unpaid volunteer for one week and didn’t get any perks other than half-price coffee, not even a free snack at Noah’s Cafe. He was glad to leave the table and walk for a bit. On the way to Legacy Hall I noted a small, but nice meteorite exhibit and stopped to look. He informed us that iron meteorites are called “sky Iron” and that King Arthur’s sword was made from one. Joe asked if Arthur killed any dragons, but the young man wasn’t sure. He noted, though, that Beowulf fought dragons and killed a flying fire-breathing dragon that was probably a pterosaur.
One of the Creation “Museum’s” more ridiculous claims is that dinosaurs and other Mesozoic animals survived Noah’s Flood via the Ark and lived until historical times, when they became known as fire-breathing dragons and other mythological creatures. Recently the Creation Museum put up various billboards of dinosaurs around the country and included one of a fire-breathing dragon. The image is now sold on T-shirts in the Creation “Museum’s” bookstore. Additionally, they sell an assortment of dragon and knight figures as toys in the bookstore, which has a dragon theme with a faux medieval look to it. Apparently this fantasy is being passed along to children and their parents by the “museum.” Obviously Answers in Genesis has not thought through the idea of putting fire-breathing animals on a wooden boat. Perhaps they need to tell everyone that Noah owned an asbestos mine.
The well-equipped Legacy Hall seated about 500. The sound system was excellent, albeit set rather loud, and there were three screens for showing slides and videos. Several cameras were set up to record the event. Somewhat more than 350 people, including lots of families with younger kids, attended the Ark Encounter “Behind the Scenes Event”; there were very few empty seats.
Since we arrived at least 15 minutes early we were subjected to numerous advertisement videos. It seemed as if the volume was gradually turned up as noon approached. The mercifully short video advertisements included:
- Noah’s Ark “thinking outside the box” video, $14.95 for the DVD.
- Book Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard. The visual content of this video for this book was most remarkable in spite of the advertisement’s short length. The ad depicts teens at a party drinking and suggests they are having sex afterwards; eventually the girl becomes pregnant and seeks an abortion after the boy dumps her. He is using cocaine and after a failed marriage is in a rundown apartment contemplating suicide with a gun next to him. The narrator’s voice intones: “Nearly two thirds of students who attend church walk away when they turn 18.… Answers in Genesis will show you how to make a difference in today’s culture. Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer shows how to fight back for our families, church, and world.”
- Wild animal encounter and musical extravaganza at the Creation Museum. The show costs $5 ea. with Museum admission. There is a maximum $30 charge for a family.
- “Foundations” apparently a DVD of Ken Ham preaching,
- Buddy Davis’s “Amazing Adventures” DVD.
- 8-DVD set of anatomy videos “Body of Evidence” by Dr. David Menton. Shows how human anatomy proves the Bible!
- Incrediworld Amazement Park VBS (Vacation Bible School) curriculum by AIG.
Ken Ham - an Ark on Every Corner
Ken Ham started the event a little before noon. In spite of his stern manner, he is a good speaker with a clear, folksy, yet authoritative voice and an Australian accent. His purpose for this event was to explain the current state of the project and introduce some of the people involved in the Ark Encounter’s design. More importantly, he was also trying to find funding to get the project afloat.
According to Ham the Creation “Museum” was built as a reminder to people that the Bible is true and is a walk through the Bible. “How do we reach millions more?” said Ham. “Noah and his family had to go through a doorway in order to be saved and we need to go through a doorway to be saved. The Lord Jesus Christ said ‘I am the door’ … Imagine if we were to rebuild Noah’s Ark. … We want people to come and have an encounter with Noah’s Ark, but at the same time to have an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ham continued by stating that in 2009 CBS/60 Minutes and Vanity Fair Magazine did a web-based poll asking which archaeological discovery people would like to see made next. Apparently Noah’s Ark was the leading choice. According to Ham, since Satan got Eve to doubt, doubt leads to unbelief. Ham said, “The teaching of evolution, Big Bang, millions of years, telling people there never was global Flood, there never was an Ark, Noah couldn’t fit all the animals on the Ark anyway, so you can’t trust the account in the Bible, it has a dramatic effect on generations of people.”
Ham then played a short clip from the 2009 movie about Darwin, “Creation,” in which the Thomas H. Huxley character says to Darwin “You’ve killed God, sir! You have killed God!” Then Ham played a YouTube clip by physicist Lawrence Krause where he states (discussing nucleosynthesis of elements in stars), “Forget Jesus, the stars died so you could be here.” Then Ham played yet another YouTube video of a teenager who became an atheist after learning about evolution in high school biology. This was followed by still another video clip, of President Obama before his election saying that the United States is “no longer a Christian nation, at least not ‘just,’ we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” Ham certainly knows how to push his audience’s buttons. He continued by mentioning various court cases that took prayer, bible reading, and nativity scenes out of schools.
The evils in the world
With the audience sufficiently warmed up and frightened by various boogey men, Ham began selling them the Ark Encounter. He repeated the claims of the Beemer study done by American Research Group that 1.2 to 2.1 million people would visit the Ark Park the first year. They settled on 1.6 million people per year as the likely attendance figure. Ham stated, “Friends, if you owned a business, and you had that sort of response to your business, you’d build one on every corner, like McDonalds or something.” He went on to state, “The Lord has led us to a very special property. Interstate 75 one of the busiest north-south corridors in America from Canada all the way down to Florida. At an interchange at Williamstown, I think it is Exit 154, …you will see there that we have 800 acres.” He continued that this is within a one-day drive of 2/3 of the US population. He didn’t want to build in Florida where he would be competing with Disney World or Universal Studios.
Ham said that the largest all-wooden structure currently in North America is a Farmers Market in Indiana and was built by the Amish. The Ark will be much larger and also will be crafted by the Amish. “We’re doing an Ark raising!” Ham said imitating an Amish man.
Ham then claimed there will be a three-part PBS documentary on the Ark Encounter project called “Replicating the Ark,” produced/directed by Johan Bos. The first part is coming this fall. Ham claimed that when the Ark is built it will double the attendance of the Creation “Museum.” Ham then plugged an AIG-produced 70-minute DVD on the Ark available in the lobby.
Patrick Marsh - Head Design Director
The next pitch for the Ark was by Patrick Marsh. Marsh is Director of Design at the Creation “Museum” and for the Ark Project. Before coming to Kentucky he was the art director who designed the Jaws and King Kong attractions at Universal Studios in Florida and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
He started off his explanation for the design of the Ark Park by asking the audience “What if we are last generation?” Since, he claims, so many people have turned away from the Gospel, Ark Encounter will present an evangelical yet entertaining Gospel message. According to Marsh the project is really about evangelism to the unchurched. His goal is to build the Ark in as short a time as possible and present Noah’s flood as true history.
Marsh also wants to show that early man was not primitive and not a cave man. Marsh claimed that “Adam one of the most brilliant people that ever lived on this earth. In a very short period of time he named all of the animals that there were.” Marsh hopes the Ark will show that the antediluvian culture was an intelligent and sophisticated society. The park will also show that Noah could have built the Ark and taken care of the animals.
The Ark Park will be built in phases. Other attractions will include Noah’s Village, which will represent the pre-Flood society; the Ark exhibits; a Galilean Village from the time of Jesus; the Tower of Babel (“we are going to talk about the races and nations and languages”); the Ten Plagues ride (the only ride in the park [I wouldn’t take my first born on this one!]); a kid’ s area; a petting zoo and aviary; live entertainment and restaurants. These will all be built on the rolling topography of the Outer Bluegrass.
According to Marsh, they will have a pagan temple with pagan ceremonies. Noah will come out and preach against the pagans. “Additionally there will be a lot of entertainment and serious things going on,” said Marsh.
Eventually there will be a lake adjacent to the Ark, and a parade will go around the lake twice a day. Marsh indicated there will be a depiction of the “Fountains of the Deep” breaking open in the lake.
Phase I will be the Ark construction zone, and the basics of parking and ticket taking will be set up. The queue line to the Ark will display the story of “Pre-Flood culture.” Woodworking and construction shops like Noah would have had will be shown, along with a blacksmith shop and a restaurant. Marsh wants to show that Noah was capable of building the Ark with the tools he had. Marsh said, “What we want to do is tell you the story of the pre-Flood It is so important to introduce you to the culture itself. Number one, as I said, we want to show that the culture was sophisticated, that the people were smart, that they were intelligent, they were capable, that they were artistic, as the Bible says. That they had the capability of working with iron and bronze and instruments. BUT of course they were EVIL. And we want to be able to bring that out as well. What was the greatest evil that they lived in? God detested it so much that he wanted to destroy the world.” Marsh never named the “evil.” Perhaps it was aggressive fundraising. Marsh continued by describing the Ark pre-show theatre. In the show Methuselah delivers scrolls with the history of world to Noah right before the Flood. As Noah is leaving to board the Ark, he is accosted by several women. Marsh did not elaborate what the women wanted, but this could be one of the most interesting parts of the park. It is remarkable that the Ark Park will be engaging in some non-biblical fantasies.
The Ark will sit 12 ft off ground, and visitors will enter from below. Therefore there will be a ground floor and three decks above. The first deck will be “the darkness floor” and feature “the spooky things” including spiders, snakes, and bats. All sorts of animals will be in cages along with supply barrels. The second deck will have more light and animal “kinds” exhibits. Because they will need elevators and various utilities, the replica Ark will not be as tightly populated with animals as the original. There will also be a discussion of the pre-Flood world; Marsh later displayed a map of Antediluvian world. There will be live animals including birds and a petting zoo, not to mention animal care and waste-disposal exhibits. One display will exhibit Noah’s workshop, showing the tools he might have had. One important exhibit will be the Ark Door where visitors will learn that they have to go through the door to be saved. There will be a children’s interactive area. Noah’s family life on the Ark will be depicted, even the kitchen and bedrooms. Vegetables will be grown on upper deck.
Marsh also explained that there will be a video account depicting the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent during Noah’s Flood, as well as an exhibit depicting the Rainbow covenant after Noah did animal sacrifice. The main theatre in the Ark Park will be the “Christ the Door Theatre.” This will be the “most highly evangelical theatre we have,” according to Marsh. Outside, there will be a live parade (what other kind is there?) of people dressed like animals and local pagans heckling poor Noah. I wonder if there will be employment opportunities for “Furries.”
Marsh then introduced the design team that will supposedly build the exhibits. The team, besides Marsh himself, will include Mike Zovath, VP of AIG (Mr. Zovath was not present); landscaper/horticulturist Tim Schmitt; and lead production designers Kristen Anderson, Travis Wilson, and Jon Taylor. These all are talented individuals who have worked at the “museum” for some time.
Answers from Ken Ham
At this point Marsh turned things back over to Ken Ham so he and other people on the stage could answer frequently asked questions about Ark. This event seemed scripted, and most of the questions were not very difficult.
Ham says the most asked question is, “When is the Ark going to be opened?” Ham never answered the question, but deferred it to the later presentation by Joe Boone. How many animals were on the Ark? AIG’s research group says 1000-2000 “kinds.” There will plenty of room for all the animals to fit on the Ark.
What was the shape of the Ark? The Bible states only the size and that it was made out of gopher wood. AIG designed a boat that “floats well” and added the fin on the back to point it into the wind.
The Bible says the Ark was built out of “gopher wood.” What will Ark Encounter use? They will use Michigan pine, fir, and cedar. The timbers will be 18 in to 2 ft thick How many “bays” (rooms) will be on the Ark? There will be 44, 18 x 12 ft bays for each of the 3 decks, 132 total.
How many people can fit in the Ark replica? 10,606 total guest occupancy is allowed (by unnamed local authorities) inside the Ark. 11,291 if people are on the roof as well.
Joe Boone - Director of Advancement
Ken Ham then introduced Joe Boone as the person who will raise money to build the Ark. According to About Us on AIG’s website, Boone joined AIG in 2006 and was previously president and past owner of a fire truck manufacturing business. He also spent time as a volunteer fireman with his local fire department. He is a licensed CPA and manager with a large CPA firm in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Ark Encounter will need lots of money; it is a for-profit company. They are looking for both donors and “qualified investors.”
Phase I will cost about $73 million. AIG has already invested $6 million (mostly the land purchased in Williamstown), leaving $67 million to raise in total. Future phases (The Walled City/Noah’s Village, Children’s Area, Zoo and Aviary, Tower of Babel/4D Theater, and Journey through Biblical History) will cost $53 million over the first 10 years and will be self funding. AIG will provide $24.5 million to Phase I. AIG is non-profit and will accept donations and sell Lifetime Charter Boarding Passes, or “Memberships.” The rest will be raised as a private investment “opportunity.”
AIG will manage both the non-profit and for-profit aspects of the Park in order to maintain the ministry message. AIG will control all decisions and operations.
The membership aspect involves donations sponsoring pegs, planks, and beams on the Ark. For the donation you get a certificate with your name and a serial number. They also have a “Charter Boarding Pass Program,” where you can get individual ($2,000) or family ($3,000) lifetime free admission. Additionally, you may sponsor individual exhibits (from $10,000 and up). Ark Encounter will be a private placement investment offering and will not be publicly traded, so no one from the public will have ownership of the park. According to the slide Boone showed, it will be exempt from SEC registration. Investors will have to sign an acknowledgement form that they “will be on board with the mission and purpose” of the Ark Encounter. Accredited investors have to meet certain requirements and have $1 million net worth or $200K annual income ($300K if joint). The Accredited Investor can be an individual or a couple, a trust (including self-directed IRAs), a Donor-Advised Fund (as a program related investment), a private foundation, qualified 501(c) (3) organizations, or private businesses. The audience was told that if they didn’t qualify, they probably know someone who does and were encouraged to get information on the project to distribute.
Boone then discussed how far along the project is. AIG needs $24.5 million and has raised $7.49 million. When the for-profit investments are added to this figure, another $15.5 million are available. This means that approximately $23 million of $67 million has been raised. Ark Encounter will break ground when $45 million is raised. Boone claims that raising this amount will take another 12 to 24 months. When ground is broken, it will be another approximately 24 months to construct Phase I.
Boone then pitched the Ken Ham DVD on the Ark Encounter, which Ham mentioned earlier. He seemed to indicate that this was a pre-release of the PBS special that they claim will be aired in the fall. They presented the DVD in a way that makes one suspect that the “documentary” might be something they offer to PBS stations and it may be up to local stations to air the video. The DVD will also include bonus video of Ken Ham’s DVD “Science Confirms the Bible.” Boone also plugged special Ark Encounter promo items available in the lobby: T-shirts, back packs, water bottles, that “you can pick up on your way out.” Parents were encouraged to buy these for their kids to support the Ark. Boone concluded by stating “you are storing up treasures in Heaven when you get all these goodies for your family” and [investing in or donating to the Ark] “is an incredible ‘Kingdom Opportunity’.” With that, the sales pitch was over for the time being.
Information, Photo Op, and Aftermath
Reporter Sonka and I left the hall and perused the books for sale and got copies of the various sponsorship and investment “opportunities” brochures. I talked to a representative of Ark Encounter and was given a copy of the portfolio for accredited investors. We turned in our contact information including home and e-mail addresses. Ham came through the lobby, and I managed to get a photo op for Joe and me with him. When I took Joe and Ham’s photo I said, “Don’t say cheese, say ‘diny-sore!’” He had no idea who we were.
Joe and I were both numbed by the many outlandish and ludicrous things we had heard. On the way out I even passed on the opportunity to have my photo taken on the saddled Triceratops and exited the “museum” via the bookstore.
Apparently we had not been recognized while in the “museum,” but the card I filled out got the attention of the Creation “Museum’s” Chief Communication Officer Mark Looy. By the time I got home, only a few hours later, I had an e-mail from Mr. Looy:
Greetings. Thank you for attending our Ark Encounter briefing today. I noticed the info card you filled out.
I trust you will re-consider the possibility of engaging one of our scientists in a public debate, such as geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling. You indicated in the past: “Why would any scientist waste their time debating morons?” You have written thousands of words about the Creation Museum, and have appeared nationwide on PBS TV to speak so publicly against us, so apparently we are worth some of your time. Yet you have so far refused to defend your views in a public debate. Would you reconsider if the debate were held in a public university using an impartial moderator (e.g., a TV or radio journalist)? Thank you.
The last time AIG attempted to goad me into debating them I explained that a debate would make it seem as if there were something valid to actually debate. AIG’s “scientists” are welcome to write scientific papers and submit them to journals where real science is actually debated. If any of the “scientists” at the Creation “Museum” were to get an article published in the Journal of Paleontology or The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology documenting the existence of fire-breathing dinosaurs/dragons or showing that Tyrannosaurus was originally a vegetarian (as the “museum” claims), I would be glad to write a reply/rejoinder to such an article. If Answers in Genesis has any real science to show the world, they should be doing it in peer-reviewed science journals instead of blowing their money teaching little kids that Beowulf fought fire-breathing pterosaurs and other ignorant drivel.
On August 10, 2012, I received Certified Mail from Ark Encounter Attorney John E. Pence asking that I confirm that I have qualified as an “Accredited Investor” or return the documents by August 15. I would love to discuss these documents here, but Ark Encounter claims the documents are confidential, even though I was encouraged to show them to interested parties. Suffice to say the contents are similar to the public presentation we had just witnessed and equally reflective of reality.
On August 1, Joe Sonka’s LEO Weekly article Investors of the Lost Ark was published. Sonka documented some of the things we experienced, but also discussed the financial woes Ark Encounter is having with fund raising. Sonka calculates that, at best, the park will take 12 to 24 months to break ground, then another 24 months to complete construction. This means that it will be late 2015 or sometime in 2016 before the park opens, if ever. It also suggests that the $43 million in tax rebates from the Commonwealth of Kentucky could expire. Presently, Kentucky will only rebate sales tax for what has been spent constructing the project by May 2014. It is always possible that they will attempt to get an extension.
I will leave it to the reader to judge the validity of the innumerable claims made at the Ark Encounter event by Ken Ham and his associates. Unfortunately, no one at the meeting, as at the meeting in Williamstown a year ago, asked any hard questions. These should have included, at a minimum:
- What happens if the projections for attendance and economic impact turn out to be totally off base?
- What happens if the project is built and fails? What happens if it never gets built?
- Who keeps the invested and donated money if the Ark Park isn’t built?
- If the park fails, will Ark Encounter return or sell back the 100 acres sold to them by the City of Williamstown at a discount price?
- What happens to the nearly $200,000 given to the Ark Encounter by Grant County’s economic development arm if the park fails or never is built?
- How is Ark Encounter going to use 800 acres of land in Williamstown? This looks like far more land than is needed.
- What good will the $11 million I-75 exit upgrades be if the 1.6 million visitors a year fail to show up?
- How much tax rebate, if any, will Ark Encounter now receive from Kentucky?
- If Ark Encounter doesn’t receive the Kentucky tax rebate, can they now discriminate in hiring? Even a rural area like Grant County is religiously diverse, and not all the citizens there would believe the version of Genesis promoted by AIG.
- Why aren’t reporters from the Grant County News doing more to investigate the ever-changing nature of the project?
I am certain readers of this article can think of many more questions about this project and comment on it.