On rebuilding Noah’s Ark and drinking old Burgundy

By Charles Foster

In North Kentucky, forty miles from its Creation Museum (where you can see Eve riding on a triceratops and videos in which weeping girls blame their moral degeneracy on their failure to believe in the verbal inerrancy of Scripture), ‘Answers in Genesis’ is building a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark. It’s an expensive business. The total bill will be $24.5 million, of which $845,910 has been raised to date. ‘Partner with us in this amazing outreach by sponsoring a peg, plank or beam…’, pleads the website. A peg will cost you $100, a plank $1000, and a beam $5000. But if you buy a beam, you’ll also get a model of the Ark personally signed by Ken Ham, the President of ‘Answers in Genesis’.

What’s the point of all this? It’s evangelism. ‘Independent research has shown that millions will come to see it, and learn how it and the Flood were real events in history.’ On that point at least, the research of Answers in Genesis is probably, and depressingly, correct.

I doubt very much whether there is any reader of this blog who does not think that this is ridiculous. I expect that there are many who think that it is obscene. I am one of them. But why do I think that?

The answer I came up with was that today about 40,000 children died of hunger, that the day’s donations for pegs and planks would probably have saved them, that Christians are supposed to care about dying children, and that for the North Kentuckians to conclude that it was more important to convince people of the literal truth of the Noah story showed (a) that they had seriously calloused consciences, and (b) that they’d completely lost the plot of their own Christian story. I noted the darkly pleasing irony : Noah’s Ark was supposedly used to save mankind, and yet the money spent on this Ark was money not spent on the real saving of real people. Ham’s Ark, then, dooms rather than salvages.

I enjoyed my anger, since it seemed more righteous than most of my angry episodes. But then a friend pointed out that the money I spend on wine, one particular woman, and song, would keep quite a few from the grave. No doubt the good Young Earth Creationists rescue some too. Only some of their money goes on the Ark. The Ark is their frivolous, eccentric hobby which gives a gruesome pleasure to mockers like me.

So is there any difference in principle between my entirely non-essential expenditure and their allocation of some of their money in trying to persuade people that the Universe is 6000 years old and that Noah’s Ark landed on Ararat 4500 years ago? Aren’t they, in fact, rather better motivated than I am when I write cheques to Berry Brothers? OK, the Creationists are historically wrong; OK, they’ve failed to read properly their own creed’s insistence on helping the poor. But their ignorance and confusion surely mitigate, not aggravate, their moral culpability in failing to spend their money more usefully. I, on the other hand, having had the thoughts expressed in this blog, have no such excuse.

At the end of Schindler’s List Oskar Schindler weeps as he calculates how many Jewish lives he could have bought had he sold his gold pin or his car. I have had that scene on continuous loop, trying to escape from the terrifying logic of his arithmetic. I can see no escape. Certainly Ken Ham’s  absurdities can’t help me.

Will the burgundy stop flowing? I doubt it. I’m a hypocrite. But it does mean that I’ve bookmarked Toby Ord’s site.

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5 Responses to On rebuilding Noah’s Ark and drinking old Burgundy

  • Dette says:

    Great stuff – I too enjoy a bit of righteous anger and a good burgandy. Joining GWWC hasn’t totally stopped me being a hypocrite, but on the other hand it hasn’t greatly reduced the flow of wine, and it definitely hasn’t impaired the availability of women and song!

  • G. Owen Schaefer says:

    You overlook a possible side effect of evangelism like the ark-building: that the converted may end up donating more to charity. There is indeed some empirical evidence that more religious individuals (in the US, anyway) are more likely to donate to charities. (e.g., http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577)

    While money spent on evangelism may only inefficiently convert to increased charity giving, it is likely to do so more efficiently than spending money on fine wine. So while it is arguably still better to give directly to charity than to support evangelism, it may still be better (at least in terms of charitable contributions) to support evangelism than fine wine.

  • Michelle Hutchinson says:

    Given the assumptions which I presume are held by those building the ark, I believe that they could argue that their building of it is not only allowable (even in the face of global poverty), it is the best thing that they could be doing. You mentioned with regard to the creationist museum that it contains films of “weeping girls blam[ing] their moral degeneracy on their failure to believe in the verbal inerrancy of Scripture”. This indicates that they believe that, at least for some people, taking the Bible literally will make the difference between their living a sinful life, and their living a moral life. From this we can infer that persuading some people to take the Bible literally will lead to them going to Heaven rather than Hell. (And that is without the belief that people who lead a moral life would still go to Hell if they didn’t believe the Bible literally – a belief I imagine many of those building the ark hold.) Therefore, building the ark rather than stopping people from starving saves the immortal souls of some, at the expense of the physical bodies of others. Christian teaching often implies that people’s souls are much more important than their bodies, indicating that saving a few of the former might be equivalent to saving many of the latter. And indeed, if Heaven is paradise for all eternity, and Hell is torment for all eternity, just one person diverted to Heaven from a path which would have led them to Hell would appear to be worth any finite amount of suffering prevented on Earth. I don’t say this to support the building of the ark, rather that some beliefs may have more worrying implications than are often acknowledged.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Owen and Michelle,
    Many thanks.
    Your remarks on the wider implications of fundamentalism make me wonder if the original blog was rather too kind. The Ark might not be harmless frivolity – a sort of theological golf. If the Ark works as an evangelistic device, it might well cause harms other than the mere dissemination and consolidation of ignorance. Bigotries tend to metastasize widely and dangerously, don’t they?
    Charles

  • Arif says:

    I think you were right the first time. The comparisons I think you are/should be making is not between one or other unnecessary item of expenditure, but between sacrifice of one’s own expenditure for the sake of others being positive/negative or effective/ineffective.

    Having overcome our “natural” or “low” desires for personal satisfactions in order to do something for others, we still retain the moral desire (though some would cast it as similarly selfish) for our contribution to be effective and meaningful in some sense. Building the ark is not meaningful for you, so it seems to waste a lot of moral effort that could otherwise have been spent effectively.

    If it is done in sufficient quantities, I can understand waste as obsene as well. However I am not sure I would go as far as claiming this example to be particularly harmful.

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