The question in the New York Times today is, does public funding for creationism violate the separation of church and state? Duh. As usual, the Times gets into elaborate hand-wringing over obvious questions. (Though such funding may not be illegal since a recent Supreme Court decision.) On the other hand, if the project does pump the projected $500 million per year in tourist dollars into the area, I see why the governor is into it.
But let's talk about the proposed attraction. Though their ideological agenda is a bit stomach-churning, Answers in Genesis does represent some "best-practices" in building a museum. They did a national survey to assess the attractiveness of their museum concept. They have a well-organized, accessible website with great graphic design (I love the font!) and a clearly-identified audience that will be bombarded with a sophisticated fundraising campaign (you can become a 'Peg', 'Plank', or 'Beam'-level supporter for donations of $100, $1000, or $5000).
The Ark Encounter will be a 800-acre (320 ha) mix of amusement park, mall, and zoo with lots of multimedia action:
- The Walled City: Along with plenty of shopping and food, guests experience Bible events through various themed venues situated on 40 acres.
- The Ark: A full-size wooden Ark.
- Noah’s Animals: Live shows with animals from around the world, and a large petting zoo.
- Children’s Play Area: A highly themed, interactive environment where kids can explore and play.
- The Tower of Babel: A 100-foot-tall themed building with exhibits and a 500-seat 5-D special effects theater.
- Journey Through History: This themed attraction takes visitors on a trip through events of the Bible, experiencing spectacular special effects.
- The First-Century Village: This attractive area presents a town as it might have appeared in the Middle East.
- Aviary: three bird sanctuaries presented in a natural setting, plus a nearby butterfly exhibit.
- Special Events Area: A venue for large gatherings; this area will also showcase some of the Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building techniques used to build the Ark complex.
The introductory video is fascinating. Experimental archaeology is the basis of the whole project: since the overriding mission is to prove that the Book of Genesis is a historical text, building Noah's Ark and showing that people and animals could actually have lived inside will serve as "proof" that the story is not just a myth. Lived experience is much more persuasive than text, and millions of people will leave the park believing that the biblical stories could have actually happened. It's a totally accessible, non-elitist approach to presenting a historical vision.
Don't get me wrong, it's a vision based on the false assumption that myth and history are the same thing (though archaeologists used to do this, sometimes with success: cf. the life of Heinrich Schliemann!). As someone who likes the Bible and Jesus and goes to church now and again, I am appalled and frustrated at the way these guys completely misunderstand Genesis and Christianity. But they are good at presenting their vision. Their art director worked for the 1984 Olympics and at Universal Studios, for chrissakes!
Contrast this to a climate for museums with real historical artifacts, where selling off their collections seems the only possible way to pay for basic infrastructure in the current economic climate. But what do you see in those museums? A bunch of static objects in cases. You have to read a book or two before you visit, or you won't understand anything. You're expected to be silent and worshipful no matter how bored or confused you feel. God forbid you try to touch or interact with the exhibits. As I've said before, ever since the cultural élite stopped going to church, art and history museums have tried to fill the gap and give us that experience of awe and reverence. But they do a bad job of it. The creationists, on the other hand, know how to tie history and religion together into a lived experience that is fun, kid friendly, and compatible with modern lifestyles. I wish I could say that of the rest of the museum world.