Recently the small town of Williamstown, Kentucky, located about 40 miles south of Cincinnati, was in the national news for an unusual reason: the grand opening of Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter,” a 510-foot boat that claims to be the largest timber structure in the world.
Ham is the Australian-born president of Answers in Genesis, an organization dedicated to promoting what it considers to be the biblical understanding of the creation of the world around 6,000 years ago.
There has been some controversy about the “life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark.” Significant tax incentives were provided by the state of Kentucky and the local government as a way of creating jobs. Those working at the attraction were required to sign declarations of faith, raising questions about separation of church and state.
A colleague of mine asked on Facebook whether the more that $100 million it took to build the attraction could not have been put to better use. Someone replied to him, “What’s the harm?”
A part of me agrees with the question.
If you want to spend $40 per person to see a big wooden, land-locked boat, you can do that. In fact, there are discounts for seniors or for also buying tickets to Ham’s Creation Museum, located nearby.
Some in the science community argue that the harm lies in presenting myth as fact, especially to elementary school children who come on field trips.
One of the things you will see at the Ark Encounter is human beings coexisting with dinosaurs even though the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago and human beings as we know them have only been around for a couple of hundred thousand years.
As for the earth being only 6,000 years old, a trip to the Grand Canyon will show you the layers of geological record that point to a much longer period of time.
While the debate between scientists and so-called young earth apologists will no doubt continue, I have a different, non-carbon-dated bone to pick with the Ark Encounter and the biblical interpretation in represents.
Whatever happened to faith that reaches beyond fact? Why is it that so many people need to see their sacred stories as factual record? Is there something even deeper and more meaningful to the story than a history lesson?
There are a lot of reasons why I ask the questions.
For one, according to the Bible, Noah was 600 years old when he built the ark without all the cranes and trucks and construction workers in Kentucky. He lived another 350 years after the flood.
For another, there are flood stories in diverse cultures around the world. The one in the Hebrew Bible has its roots in Sumerian and Babylonian culture. On this side of the globe, flood stories abound.
This may seem obvious to some, but sacred story is story. It is not science, it is not journalism, it is not history.
Like the foundational stories told in your family and mine, our sacred stories tell of our relationship to that which is greater than our imaginations, that transcend the temporal world and help us derive meaning and purpose.
And as the old saying goes, a good story teller never lets the facts get in the way of the truth.
Steve Hammer is pastor of Esperanza Lutheran Church in the Ahwatukee Foothills and can be contacted at www.myesperanza.org