Thoughts from My Visit to AiG’s Ark Encounter & Creation Museum

Those who have visited Answers in Genesis’ Ark Encounter or Creation Museum will have their own perspective on the experience and its value. I’ve just returned from my own first-time visit to both and have some observations and thoughts for those who haven’t yet made the pilgrimage.

Is it just a big entertainment business making a few people rich?

Revenue is an inherently tempting thing. Just getting a paycheck every couple of weeks brings hazards as well as blessings. One of the hazards is that as revenue increases, my life and work might become increasingly about revenue.

We’d be fools to think that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis are invulnerable to that temptation. There are also signs that could be viewed as evidence that AiG is on that road.

The growth above is in addition to AiG’s already-expansive ventures into Sunday School, VBS, and homeschool curriculum.

Because of how evangelical ministry tends to drift, I had concerns about this before I went to Ark Encounter (Ark) and the Creation Museum (CM). Being there didn’t erase those concerns. I hope and pray that AiG won’t be sucked into the “more and more, and bigger and bigger, is better” trap that afflicts so many megachurches and other large ministries.

That said, I don’t believe that right now, AiG is just an evangelical entertainment biz, pandering to the lowest common denominator of evangelical thrill seekers and belief-validation seekers.

Some reasons why:

  • If you’re going to do infotainment at all, you should do it right.
  • Doing it right is expensive.
  • AiG is shooting for top notch quality, and usually achieving it.

Pretty much everything at Ark is top-notch and nearly everything at CM is also (Exception: The planetarium show on aliens is much in need of an update. The show on the scale of the universe more than makes up for it, though!).

Both sites—which are a good 40 minutes apart by freeway—are kept in excellent condition and surrounded by extremely beautiful gardens. Both are full of exhibits that are as good as any I’ve seen anywhere. I’m not a museum buff, but Ark & CM rival the best museums I’ve toured in visual appeal, clarity, variety and thoughtfulness of the exhibits.

I imagine it would be hard for passionate non-believers to get past that and appreciate the quality of the exhibits, but it’s probably not hard for Christians with different views on the events of Genesis to appreciate.

Are these sites effective apologetics or just preaching to the choir?

Multiple aspects of both Ark and CM surprised me—a few examples:

  • Though it has “theme park” like stuff on site (zip line, camel rides for kids, a VR show of some sort, etc.), the Ark itself is pretty much a museum housed inside an exhibit … a cool idea by any standard.
  • The love of Christ and the gospel pops up all over in all sorts of ways, both subtle and intentionally non-subtle. In places, the gospel is portrayed with extraordinary beauty and grace. I teared up a bit more than once.
  • The level of detail! Multiple times during our day there, my critical thinking circuits would go, “Hmmm, but what about this…?” only to later find that very question directly addressed. The evidence and reasoning in the answers is selective—it has to be—but AiG seems to have thought of all the questions.
  • With a few givens in place (e.g., “kinds,” no hibernation, cubit size), I found the project persuasive as a demonstration of one way Noah’s ark could have done the job literally as described in Genesis.
  • Tone: The tone is mostly educational, not polemical. I also saw less inappropriate dogmatism than I expected.

But are these sites effective apologetics? Several points on that.

  • Ark is definitely more infotainment-oriented than CM.
  • Both are clearly aimed at general audiences, not intellectual elites, though CM is a bit more toward that end of the scale.
  • Both are clearly aimed at declaring the whole gospel story and educating Christians about Genesis—not mainly equipping believers for debates with skeptics or winning over critics on intellectual grounds.
  • Ark is not presented as a “you can believe Genesis now that you’ve seen it” thing. It’s more of a “you can understand Genesis better now that you’ve seen it” thing.

If you go to learn, you won’t be disappointed. If you go hoping to use something there to win your agnostic or atheist friend to Christ—there’s good stuff for that also, but probably not in the “conversion by winning the debate” vein.

Could it be better in some ways?

You can always find ways to make something better.

Infotainment. The blending of “theme-parkiness” with “museuminess” involves some trade-offs. If you dial down the entertainment aspect, you reach fewer people, including some who would be drawn into more thoughtful engagement with the ideas. But the entertainment aspect feeds the skepticism of those who are approaching the big questions more intellectually and suspect the projects are just fun and games and money. I’d like to see CM become even less theme-parky, though it’s already noticeably less so than Ark.

Counterarguments. At multiple points in both Ark and CM, but especially CM, I was aware that there are alternate views and counterarguments against what AiG was presenting. I couldn’t recall what they were and thought the exhibits might be enhanced by acknowledging these more and maybe pointing inquirers to where they can dig deeper into those debates. For example, CM is emphatic that earth must be 6,000 years old because the genealogy in Genesis notes the ages of individuals when they died—so there can’t be gaps. The exhibit leaves it at that.

You can only say so much in exhibit format—and many of CM’s exhibits are already a lot of reading. So I sympathize. Still, maybe there’s a way to use tech to allow guests to tap a Dig Deeper icon and find out why, for example, some still see maybe tens of thousands of years in Genesis but still consider themselves young earth creationists.

Assumptions. Ark is extremely well imagined, and I use “imagined” intentionally. It’s full of detailed explanations of how waste disposal, food distribution, ventilation, water, and more may have been engineered to allow eight people to care for around 800 animals each. Some brilliant engineers had to work through all of that—which means Noah, his family, and whatever other resources he could access, would also have to have done a lot of brilliant engineering.

I don’t find that difficult to believe. There was plenty of time to design and test systems, find failure points, and design new ones, etc. Also, though “Noah built the ark,” we don’t have to believe he never hired anybody for design, materials, and labor.

But a huge portion of the project is built on the assumption that God didn’t simply put all the animals into hibernation. I’m aware of the counterargument that Genesis doesn’t mention hibernation, so we’re filling in gaps from our own thinking on that. But if you visit the Ark you can hardly help but realize Genesis also doesn’t mention intricate waste disposal, food distribution and water management systems! Any view that takes the flood and ark account as historical/factual has two choices:

  • Leave the details to God: “It’s not important to me how God made it all work.”
  • Imagine a great deal to theorize how it all could have been done.
A portion of a small animals exhibit from Ark…

A portion of a large animals exhibit at Ark …

Is it less biblical and theologically sound, or more presumptuous, to imagine hibernating animals, a smaller cubit, and a smaller ark that isn’t so thoroughly engineered? (AiG’s attitude is that maybe hibernation happened but it wasn’t necessary.)

One other fact that hit me during these visits is that the AiG concept of “kinds” (Gen. 6:20, 7:14) means they do believe in the evolution of species. They would strongly prefer not to say it that way, because they define “evolution” as the complete naturalistic, molecules-to-man package. But in AiG’s view, a “kind” is a broader category than a species, and we have far more species today than Noah had “kinds” in his day. That would mean that after the flood, specimens of each kind evolved into the many species we have today—by natural selection (see photo of CM exhibit).

Given the relationship of kinds to species and the role of natural selection, maybe we need to stop being so broadly negative about “biological evolution,” and learn more nuanced ways of communicating the differences and similarities between creationist and naturalist views of life on earth.

Should you go?

You don’t have to be convinced that AiG has all the details right to benefit from the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. At the very least, these projects are thought-provoking, interesting, and well integrated with the theology of God’s grand plan of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration (CM uses the “Seven C’s” of Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation).

Believers don’t need to see a full scale ark model to be firm in their faith in God and His Word. Ark and CM are not about that. They’re about learning and deepening understanding as well as viewing the world in a more God- and gospel-centered way.

I think you should go. Should you bring your agnostic or atheist friend? That depends on a lot of factors, but it could certainly be a route to some thoughtful conversations about the big questions of what life is, why we’re here, what’s gone wrong, and what it all means.

A small animal storage area from Ark …
The graphic novel style gospel exhibit at Ark …

(Photo credits: Me and my Pixel 5.)

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