Of all the biblical episodes, Voltaire thought none required more faith than the story of Noah’s Ark: “The history of the deluge being that of the most miraculous event of which the world ever heard, it must be the height of folly and madness to attempt an explanation of it.” If only he had visited Ark Encounter—a Christian theme park that opened this summer in Kentucky and boasts a “life-sized” reconstruction of Noah’s Ark. Seemingly impossible details have been fanatically researched and naturalistically explained by Answers in Genesis (AiG), a literalist Christian organization that’s also responsible for the nearby Creation Museum. With roughly 40 percent of Americans believing in creationism, the park shouldn’t be dismissed as mere Christian kitsch. Rather, it represents a recent and powerful trend in evangelical thought, a kind of fundamentalist realism. To visit the park is to see how conservative Christianity of the 21st century finds strength not simply in miracles, scripture and sermon, but in timber, mannequins, blueprints, and feasibility studies.
In over 100 exhibits on the ship, visitors learn how each difficulty might have been surmounted: How could eight people feed so many animals? Through an elaborate system of drains and chutes, as illustrated by an interactive video. And what about the stench? Solved easily enough—Noah just needed a ventilation system powered by the tides. And the daily tons of animal waste? Noah could dispose of that with a treadmill-cum-conveyor belt powered by elephants. But how did he fit elephants on the ship? And all those dinosaurs? They were babies at the time. And if visitors doubted that a wooden ship carrying all this cargo could withstand an apocalyptic flood, a placard explains that the ship’s dimensions, as specified in Genesis, has been proven by naval engineers to be the perfect compromise between comfort, stability, and strength. In one video, entitled “Sink or Swim,” visitors can watch animated simulations of ships from other diluvial myths being tossed in rough water. They all sink, often to the sound of terrified screams.