Guiding Atheists on a Tour of the Ark

This picture was taken as I explained to the atheist group our approach to counting the number of animals required on the Ark, and how we very likely overestimated the number.

This picture was taken as I explained to the atheist group our approach to counting the number of animals required on the Ark and how we very likely overestimated the number.

The opening day of the Ark Encounter turned out to be far more memorable for me than I ever imagined. Some atheists planned to protest this exciting event at a nearby interstate off-ramp. I ended up having the distinct privilege of giving a group of about 20 of these atheists and agnostics a tour of the full-size Ark reconstruction in Williamstown, Kentucky.

As the content manager for this incredible attraction, I had been looking forward to July 7 for a long time because I wanted to see how people responded to the various exhibits. I also looked forward to getting some time off—in the days and nights leading up to opening, our team put in many long hours, and I was even hanging signs in the ticket booths until nearly 11:00 PM on July 6. I did not plan on returning to the site the next day, however, Eric Hovind asked me if I would be willing to deliver some food to the atheist protest. I agreed to do that, have a few conversations, and answer some questions for a little bit before heading home, but things turned out far better than I had planned.

There may have been about 70 protesters at the event, and based on my observations and conversations, I estimate that about half of them were friendly and open to discussing our differences in a civil manner while the other half seemed to be more interested in ridiculing the beliefs of Christians and spreading false information about the Kentucky Tourism Development Act.

Many of these folks have been misled to believe that the state of Kentucky had contributed millions of dollars to the construction of the Ark. In reality, not a single dollar of Kentucky tax money has gone to the Ark Encounter. The sales tax rebate at the heart of some of the controversy allows the Ark Encounter to receive 25% of the sales tax it collects from guests over the next ten years at the property up to a set amount, if the park meets certain benchmarks.

This photo shows part of our Q&A session on the third floor. I would love to have several hours of Q&A with a group like this someday.

This photo shows part of our Q&A session on the third floor. I would love to have several hours of Q&A with a group like this someday.

Arrangements were made to take a group of the protesters on a tour of the Ark, and I was asked to lead them. Apart from one person who was a bit snarky for much of the tour, the group was respectful and seemed to enjoy their time on the Ark. They asked several questions along the way, and even agreed to a ten-minute Q&A session once we reached the third deck. The highlight for me was the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and Resurrection. Some people in the group needed to leave following that session while others stuck around to walk through other exhibits and ask more questions.

I think it is safe to say that the Ark team successfully anticipated every question they asked since we had already written signage addressing every issue they raised. Here is a sampling of the questions they posed along with a brief answer and the place on the Ark where the answer can be found.

  • Where did Noah keep the termites? Noah probably did not need to bring insects on the Ark, but even if he did there would have been plenty of room for them, and he could have provided wood for the little pests to chew on so that they would not eat through the Ark’s hull. (A sign about whether insects were required has been printed for the First Floor Animal Kinds area. A similar question has been asked about woodpeckers, and we have discussed including a woodpecker exhibit down the road.)
  • How did all the animals get to Noah? God brought them to him (Genesis 6:20). We believe there was one continent prior to the Flood, so they did not need to cross oceans to get to the Ark. (The single continent is discussed in the Flood Geology and we have made plans to include a sign specifically dealing with this question.)
  • How did they remove all the waste and get fresh water? The Ark shows a variety of systems based on common-sense methods for feeding and caring for large numbers of animals. (The Animal Care exhibit addresses these and many other issues.)
  • How was there enough water to cover Mt. Everest? I think I heard this question more than any other yesterday. The question assumes Mt. Everest existed at the time of the Flood. We would say that Mt. Everest was formed as a result of catastrophic plate tectonic activity during the year of the Flood. (This mountain-building process during the Flood is described in Flood Geology.)
  • Did Noah bring unicorns on the Ark? Yes, and we have already printed signs to help people understand this issue. No, Noah did not bring a white horse-like animal with a single horn protruding from its head, but he did bring two representatives of the rhinoceros kind, which is almost certainly the creature referred to in some older English Bibles that use the word unicorn.
  • How could Noah build something so large? Noah may have had plenty of help in building the Ark, and he may have already been a skilled shipwright when God told him to build the Ark. When we look at some of the incredible structures built in the centuries that followed the Flood, such as the Great Pyramid, we understand that our ancient ancestors were quite capable of building amazing structures, even after the “technological resets” of the Flood and Babel. (The Ancient Man exhibit addresses these issues in more detail.)

I truly enjoyed my time with this group of atheists and agnostics, and I believe most of them enjoyed the tour. Many of them thanked me for taking time with them, and a handful thanked me for treating them with respect. I was told that most Christians they had encountered had been rude and arrogant. I have witnessed Christians act this way toward atheists. Even at the protest there was a man who apparently thought he was fulfilling the Great Commission by shouting back at the more boisterous protesters.

It saddens me that some Christians act as if atheists and agnostics need to be shouted down and called names. Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34), love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39), and love our enemies (Luke 6:27). If we truly desire to reach the lost with the soul-saving gospel message, we need to care about them and treat them with dignity. They are made in the image of God, and Jesus shed His blood on the Cross for them.

I am grateful for the opportunity to meet these people yesterday, and my prayer is that God would use the things they learned on the tour to soften their hearts so that they would ultimately come to trust in the Creator whose existence they currently deny.

Was God in the Ark? Commonly Misused Bible Verses: Genesis 7:1

Genesis 7:1 is often misunderstood and misused by Christians seeking to address questions about the Ark and the Flood.

Genesis 7:1 is often misunderstood and misused by Christians seeking to address questions about the Ark and the Flood.

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post. This was anticipated, thanks to extended work hours as we prepare to open the Ark Encounter on July 7 and many late evenings working on my next book (to be announced very soon). This post is designed to address a comment I’ve heard from many well-meaning Christians that just doesn’t really make the best sense of Scripture.

As far as we know, the Ark had no built-in means of propulsion or steering. Noah wasn’t trying to go anywhere, since the whole world was underwater, so the Ark just needed to float and keep its passengers safe. Many Christians have offered a less-than-satisfactory response while responding to certain skeptical questions, such as the following: How could the Ark have avoided striking hazardous objects in the water? How could Noah’s family taken care of so many animals?

Commonly Misused Verse: Genesis 7:1

What is this unsatisfactory response? I have heard many Christians claim that we need to remember that God was in the Ark with Noah, because in Genesis 7:1 the Lord told Noah to come into the Ark. Therefore, God must have been in the Ark so Noah had nothing to worry about. Case closed, right? Um, not so much. Let’s take a closer look.

Look at how Genesis 7:1 is translated in three different English Bible versions and pay attention to the bold word in each.

And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. (KJV, bold added)

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. (ESV, bold added)

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time. (NASB, bold added)

How could three English Bibles translate one little Hebrew word (bo’) differently? Many Christians will pick their favorite version, assuming that it translates the word properly and that the others must be wrong. But this is a rather poor approach to addressing issues like this one. A better practice would be to dig a little deeper to see what the word really means, which may help us understand why the versions translate the word differently.

In this particular case, all three words are acceptable translations of the Hebrew word. For example, the King James Version translates bo’ as “come” in Genesis 7:1, “go” in Genesis 11:31, and “enter” in Genesis 12:11. How are we to know which is the appropriate translation? Well, the word simply refers to a movement from one space to another, but it does not indicate where the one giving the command is located. As such, the context must determine whether to word should be understood as a command to “come,” “go,” or “enter.”

The safest translation keeps the instruction to move neutral with respect to the position of the one giving the command. In this case, “enter” works well since the text does not tell us where the Lord is in relation to Noah. “Enter” does not demand that the Lord to be inside or outside the Ark. So the New American Standard handles this well.

Objections

A couple of objections need to be addressed. First, I hope no one would consider making this argument, but I’ve seen worse so I’d like to head it off here. If you are considering citing Genesis 7:1 to claim that God was in the Ark so the word should be “come” then you are begging the question. The claim that God was in the Ark is based primarily on “come” being the correct translation, and yet that is the point you must prove.

Second, God is omnipresent, so of course He was in the Ark in a general sense. This is not the issue at hand. Yes, God is everywhere present at once, but this does not mean that God’s divine presence (manifesting as the Shekinah glory or as the Angel of the Lord) was in the Ark with Noah’s family during the Flood or just prior to the Flood when this instruction was given. Ironically, if one wants to use this argument to suggest that the word must be translated as “come” because God was in the Ark, then the argument backfires. Since God is omnipresent, then that means He was outside of the Ark, too, so “go” also fits perfectly.

Contextual Clue

Whenever questions arise about the rendering of a given word or phrase, it is important to check if something in the context of the passage that would help determine the proper translation. In this case, Genesis 8:1 argues quite strongly against the idea that God’s divine presence was in the Ark.

Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. (Genesis 8:1, NKJV, italics added)

This doesn’t really look like the type of wording we would expect to find if God were in the Ark with Noah. Instead, the fact that God “remembered Noah” makes it pretty clear that He was not in the Ark.

To clarify, when the Bible states that “God remembered” Noah or anything else, it does not mean that He had forgotten something. It is often an expression of God’s faithfulness to a covenant He had made. He established a covenant with Noah in Genesis 6:18, guaranteeing the safety of Noah, his family, and the animals on the Ark. In Genesis 8:1, His faithfulness to keep that covenant is shown by the fact that He starts to bring the Flood to an end. See also the passages where God remembered Rachel (Genesis 30:22) or His covenants with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Exodus 2:24, 6:5; Leviticus 26:42), and the Israelites under Moses (Leviticus 26:45).

Genesis 8:1 marks an important turning point in the Flood narrative. Up until that point, the waters devastated the earth so that the first world perished. But beginning with 8:1, upon God’s remembrance of Noah, the Flood begins to assuage. Allen Ross stated, “To say ‘God remembered Noah’ is to say that God faithfully kept his promise to Noah by intervening to end the flood.”1

Conclusion

While it is a pleasing thought to consider God being in the Ark with Noah, the text of Scripture seems to suggest that He was not on board. As such, “enter” in Genesis 7:1 (NASB) makes good sense of the Hebrew text. This term avoids creating tension between Genesis 7:1 and 8:1 by not placing Him in the Ark, while still leaving open the possibility that He may have been there.

Finally, Christians should refrain from using this verse as the solution to issues about the Ark’s safety. Yes, God can work miracles, but the Bible gives us no indication that He performed some in regards to the Ark during the Flood. He gave Noah some specific instructions about the Ark, and then we are told that Noah did what God commanded (Genesis 6:22). It makes little sense to have God tell Noah to spend years building an Ark to certain specifications if God was just going to miraculously see them through the Flood anyway.


  1. Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 197.