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Encountering the Ark

 The Unicorn is a Mythical Beast.

— James Thurber, The Unicorn in the Garden

Although my readers do not come to this space to get ideas for vacations they may wish to take, many of my readers may be looking for respite after suffering through the last 12 months of what is known as presidential politics.  Herewith my suggestion for something to do after voting. The suggestion I offer should serve as a way to go gently from the complete insanity of the presidential election, to something only slightly less unreal, as we all seek a soft landing back into the real world.  The destination to which I direct my readers as they attempt to return to normalcy, is located in Williamstown, Kentucky.

Williamstown is home to the world’s largest replica of Noah’s Ark.  It was built at a reported cost of $100 million, which even when put into the context of how many hundreds of millions have been spent on this election, seems like a lot of money.

The site where the ark resides is called “Ark Encounter,” and the promotional materials designed to entice visitors, describe it as a “Christian evangelistic outreach intended to bring the Ark of Noah’s day to life.” Since there is not sufficient water in the immediate vicinity of the park to float the ark, tourists boarding it will not enjoy exactly the same experience enjoyed by Noah and his companions. Nonetheless, it will give visitors an idea of what a huge ark it was.  A visit, says the literature, “equips visitors to understand the reality of the events that are recorded in the book of Genesis.”  Understanding those events will, of course, be completely different from trying to understand the events that will lead to the election of a new president in only a few days’ time.  As educational experiences, however, it is obvious that both are of equal value.

The first thing of which prospective visitors should be apprised, is that the phenomenon described in this piece is NOT the same as the experience that people visiting America’s largest waterpark in the Wisconsin Dells will enjoy.  That place is called “Noah’s Ark,” but it is nothing more than an enormous amusement part and in its literature is described as the “Largest Water Park in America.”  It is quite different from “Ark Encounter” which is not meant to be amusing but educational. Whether “Arc Encounter” achieves that goal is probably in the eye of the beholder and if the beholder is of a scientific bent, it is probably less of an educational event than if one subscribes to the beliefs of former presidential candidate, Ben Carson. Nonetheless, a description of the physical structure will almost certainly create a sense of excitement in the reader and inspire the reader to plan for a visit.  According to the literature, the arc is “seven stories tall, a football field and a half in length” and is the “largest timber-frame structure in the world.”

A visit to “Ark Encounter” will prove enlightening in any number of ways.  A little known fact is that Noah was accompanied by, among other animals, dinosaurs that were kept in cages on the ship. The proprietor and designer of the ark, Ken Ham, told a visitor that there were only about 55 different kinds of dinosaurs on board Noah’s ark but in total there were about 8,000 different kinds of animals plus an equal number of their mates on board. In addition to the variety of dinosaurs that accompanied Noah, the exhibit suggests that unicorns were among the animals Noah was preserving. The effort at preservation of the unicorn as a species was apparently a failure, since no unicorns are known to have survived after the animals on board the Ark were released.

For much of what I am able to recount, I am indebted to Minda Berbeco, the former Programs and Policy director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). (Since describing her visit to “Ark Encounter,” Ms. Berbeco has left NCSE and is now the director of the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club.)  Ms. Berbeco, who wrote about her visit to the Arc for Science League of America, observed that on Arc Encounter there are models of polar bears and, according to the information accompanying their exhibit, is an explanation that is contrary to the belief of people like Ms. Berbeco or people at the San Diego zoo where live polar bears are found.  The description at “Arc Encounter” says polar bears are well suited to living in warm climates and do not need to be kept cool.  That explains why, on Noah’s Ark, where there was no refrigeration, the polar bears did just fine. The foregoing gives the reader only a taste of what awaits the visitor at the “Ark Encounter.”  There is a great deal more to be learned from the exhibits on display and the accompanying texts.

All in all, the Ark and the election are a good news-bad news scenario.  The good news is what is taught on “Ark Encounter” did not actually happen. The bad news is the presidential campaign of 2016 did actually happen.

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