Ark Encounter: RNS creationist park coverage is way ahead of the Times

"The Ark Encounter: Where All the Yahoos in Kentucky Love It and All the Smart People Elsewhere Are Against It."

No, no, that isn’t really the title of the new creationist theme park. It's the reaction of a fellow GetReligionista after reading yesterday's article by the Religion News Service.

I can see where my colleague gets that from the way RNS covered the opening of the park, where Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, has built a full-size replica of the biblical barge. But despite a few flaws, I still like the story -- especially compared with some of the competition.

The RNS piece is a luxuriant 1,500 words, enough to cover several facets.  And it gives us an expansive, non-cynical description:

The park’s centerpiece features three decks of exhibits explaining Answers in Genesis’ views of the biblical flood account and life-size figures depicting what life on the ark might have been like for Noah and his family — an extravaganza Ham described as "beyond Hollywood."
The park also features a two-story restaurant, aerial zipline cables and the Ararat Ridge Zoo with goats, ponies, emus and more animals. The next phase of park construction likely will include a walled city "that takes you back to Noah’s day" with shops, restaurants and street performers that visitors will walk through as they approach the ark, said Michael Zovath, chief action officer for Answers in Genesis and project director for the Ark Encounter.
But the Ark Encounter is "not just for entertainment," said Ham, president and CEO of Answers in Genesis.
It’s to "proclaim God’s word and the gospel," he said. It’s meant to show — in keeping with Answers in Genesis’ ministry, focused on issues such as creation, evolution, science and the age of the Earth — that the biblical flood account is historic and the Bible is true in regard to history and science.

But the RNS piece goes beyond p.r. It recounts the "rough waters" -- criticism by "freethinkers," legal tussles over tax breaks, disagreement from Christians who don’t read the Bible as literally as Ham & Company.

The story starts an interesting discussion of various Christian views toward Genesis -- starting, of course, with "young earth creationism," the belief of Ham and others that the planet is no more than 6,000 years old, and that belief in a global deluge is crucial to belief in the Bible as the Word of God.

Having introduced us to the idea, however, RNS doesn't spell out other views, like the "day-age theory" or theistic evolution. A professor from the University of Dayton says that there's more than one biblical worldview, but gives no examples.

RNS also quotes the president of BioLogos, an association that promotes theistic evolution and a symbolic interpretation of Genesis. But it just has her saying that "Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham do not speak for all Christians."

And to my surprise, the article cites the Tri-State Freethinkers, a skeptic group, but little more. RNS cites the group's criticism of the park's "anti-science" mission and "discriminatory hiring practices," but it's just a statement lifted from its website. Why not give them a call for some fresh quotes?

Curiously, RNS brings up a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, which found that "65 percent of Americans believe humans have evolved over time." Interesting number, but as long as it was doing numbers, why not cite a Gallup poll about the Bible from the previous year? Gallup found that three out of four Americans still believe the book is the Word of God, but with interesting differences: some take it all literally, some say "multiple interpretations are possible," some say "not everything in it should be taken literally," and some say it's just "fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man." That would have been good background.

With all the above flaws, the RNS story is still superior to the snide advance story in the New York Times. That article bristles with sarcasm quotes around phrases like "statement of faith" and "the Christian message." And look at the mocking top of the story:

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — In the beginning, Ken Ham made the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. And he saw that it was good at spreading his belief that the Bible is a book of history, the universe is only 6,000 years old, and evolution is wrong and is leading to our moral downfall.
And Mr. Ham said, let us build a gargantuan Noah’s ark only 45 minutes away to draw millions more visitors. And let it be constructed by Amish woodworkers, and financed with donations, junk bonds and tax rebates from the state of Kentucky. And let it hold an animatronic Noah and lifelike models of some of the creatures that came on board two-by-two, such as bears, short-necked giraffes — and juvenile Tyrannosaurus rexes.
And it was so.

Yes, this was an article meant for adults. 

Young-earth creationism "has remained a marginal creed within Christianity," the Times says, It's also "resented even by some Christians who consider it indefensible and even embarrassing." Like whom? It doesn't quote anyone; all it does is link to the BioLogos site.

The Times did take time, however, for live quotes from Jim G. Helton, president of the Tri-State Freethinkers. He derides Ham's "Genocide and Incest Park" and adds that "The moral of the flood story is horrible" and not "appropriate for a family fun day."

That shows the difference between quoting observers and quoting people onsite. In its coverage, RNS gets very different feedback from actual families.

A woman from Michigan says the sight of the Ark brought "tears to my eyes, because, wow, this was real. It's a piece of history."

And a family man from California gets the last word in the RNS story: "If there are people who are skeptical and confused, a lot of their questions could be answered just by walking through the exhibits."

Good angle. I wish RNS and the Times had asked if any of the freethinkers planned to do that, instead of just raining criticism from afar.

Thumbnail picture courtesy of A. Larry Ross and Associates.

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