A waste of 100 million dollars: Why the Noah's Ark replica in Kentucky should never have happened

Ken Ham (L) and Mark Looy, fuonders of Answers in Genesis, at the Noah's Ark attraction Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.Reuters

If you spend a hundred million dollars on something, you'd better make sure you're getting good value for money. Especially if 18 million dollars of that comes in the form of tax relief. I'm not sure those behind the new Noah's Ark theme park in Kentucky, which opened this week, have got a good deal.

Sure, they've got a life-sized replica of the Ark, complete with dinosaurs and many of the other trappings of entertainment in late capitalist America – a petting zoo, restaurants, shops etc.

None of this represents money well spent, though, if the central conceit of the park is misguided. Which it is.

Noah's Ark is a story with which much of the world's population will be familiar. It is inspiring to billions of people and one of the foundation narratives of the Jewish and Christian faiths. It's an important story to be wrestled with. Like so many of the parts of the Hebrew Bible, it is a rich narrative which works both as the basis for a children's story and university seminar discussion.

What it shouldn't be is a battering ram to be used in a savage culture war.

Ken Ham, from the organisation behind the Noah's Ark theme Park, Answers in Genesis, claims the idea is to get people to consider the value of scripture. He told CNN, "I find some of the aggressive secularists try to shut down people talking about the Bible... So for us it's 'How can we get a message out there about the Bible?'"

Getting out the message about the Bible is a laudable aim. But Jesus managed it without so much as a roof over his head. Paul managed it while he was being beaten with rods, stones, shipwrecked and much more besides. St Francis did it in poverty. Martin Luther did it with a piece of paper. Jonathan Edwards did it with barnstorming sermons. Corrie Ten Boom did it until she was thrown into a prison camp by the Nazis. Pope Francis does it with humility.

None of them seemed to need a 100 million dollar boat to get people talking about the Bible.

Ken Ham may think that the Ark is the best way of getting the Bible on the agenda, but what it's really doing is entrenching a division in American society which is ever more serious.

I'm not a literalist – meaning I don't believe everything that happened in the Old Testament literally happened exactly as described. Yet that is an honourable position to hold – to think that the story of Noah and the flood actually occurred as described. What is not honourable is using it as a point-scoring exercise.

Ham and his fellow travellers divide the world into good people and bad people. In the good camp are those who take the Bible absolutely literally. They affirm creation in six 24-hour periods and (in all likelihood) a whole swath of other conservative cultural shibboleths.

In the bad camp are the people Ham takes aim at in the quote above: 'secularists' (is he aware that the founders and framers were secularists, for the most part?). In this camp, Ham would no doubt place people who affirm a litany of other liberal presuppositions.

The huge replica of Noah's Ark opened this week(Ark Encounter)

Here's the problem. Many Americans don't fall easily into either camp. Many Christians won't. They may have diverse opinions on sexual ethics, on life issues, on evolution, on hell, on what role government should play in society, on healthcare, and indeed on science.

What Ham and the Noah's Ark theme park seek to do is to draw the line firmly in the sand. The culture wars are ongoing and instead of trying to diffuse them and reach across the divide, the Noah's Ark theme park aims to bolster one side of the argument and vilify the other side. The worst part is the vast, vast majority of scientists disagree with what's being presented at the park – this makes the project look naïve at best; wasteful, deceitful and dishonest at worst.

The Bible doesn't need a theme park to 'get the message out there.' "Defend the Bible?" asked CH Spurgeon. "I'd sooner defend a lion. You don't defend the Bible; you open its cage and let it roar." This isn't what the Ark does. It closes down discussion and says that one narrow, anti-scientific perspective is the 'Christian' one. Well, it isn't. Many Christians affirm God's creative hand in the cosmos AND the theory of evolution. Should a hundred million dollars come my way any time soon, I can think of a hundred million better ways to spend it than on a giant boat, built to fight a culture war we shouldn't have been having in the first place.

Follow Andy Walton on Twitter: @waltonandy