Theme Park Undermines Science Education by George Wolfe
This past July, a theme park opened in Grant County, Kentucky which features a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark as described in the book of Genesis. The exhibit, entitled “Ark Encounter,” is an extension of the Creation Museum which promotes a biblical view of creation that undermines science education and the teaching of evolution.
Years ago, and as a result of my trips to India, I became intrigued with symbols and myths that are shared among cultures. The study of cross-cultural symbolism and mythology reveals how ancient cultures did not live in isolation, but rather, had considerable contact with one another as a result of migration, trade and military conquests. It also shows how myths became more developed and elaborate as they were initially passed on through oral tradition.
Ancient myths describing a great flood are an example of such development. One version of the flood myth is found in the Hindu Purana, where Vishnu, the god of preservation, incarnates as a giant fish to pull a boat containing Manu, the father of the human race, so he can survive the deluge.
In Greek mythology, at the end of the Bronze Age, Zeus decides to flood the world after realizing humanity was essentially wicked. He chooses Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha, to ride out the flood and afterwards, repopulate the world.
The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh gives a description of the size and shape of the vessel, the dimensions of which describe a large cube. In this version, it rains for 6 days and seven nights.
When we compare these versions of the great flood myth with the account given in the Bible, one can easily see how the myth became more elaborate as it was shared between cultures. In the Genesis monotheistic version, the ark is given a more maritime size and shape even though it turns out to be well over the length of a football field, and the rain lasts 40 days and nights. In Jewish numerology, the number 40 represents transition, transformation and renewal. (Other examples include the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, and Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert).
The great flood myth helps us understand how ancient cultures perceived the world and passed on their worldview through storytelling. The variations of the myth that I have mentioned here are rooted in an ancient cosmology that viewed creation as arising from the formless primordial waters, a metaphor found in both the opening verses of Genesis and a creation poem in the Hindu Rig Veda. Or as its says in the Upanishads, creation arose “out of the infinite ocean of existence.”
According to this ancient cosmology, creation manifests in cycles or ages. At the end of its previous cycle, it underwent dissolution, “dissolving” back into its eternal source. A flood myth was no doubt the best way to depict creation returning to the primordial waters to begin a new creation cycle, while also symbolizing the “cleansing” of humanity.
It is unfortunate that the Ark Encounter theme park completely overlooks the symbolism contained in the flood myth. Furthermore, it ignores the contribution science has made to our modern-day cosmology of the expanding and evolving universe that is far more complex, mysterious and intriguing.
Ark Encounter promotes biblical literalism and the creationist’s fable, even to the absurd degree of claiming dinosaurs co-existed with humans!
It is vital we guard against confusing religious myth and science. We should instead be educating our children to appreciate the role myth can play in helping us better understand ourselves, the worldview of ancient cultures, and the enduring hope we subconsciously hold for humanity’s renewal.
George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.