Uncle Karl Giberson sinks Ken Ham’s Ark

Uncle Karl Giberson earned his avuncular title by being civil and reasonable, especially for an evangelical Christian. But then sometimes he turned mean and lost his “Uncle” monicker. I’m restoring it today, at least temporarily, on the basis of a nice piece he wrote for Beacon Broadside, a website run by Beacon Press. The title tells it all: “Noah’s Ark Park Keeping Christians in the Eighteenth Century.”

What’s good about his approach—Giberson is a trained physicist, and, along with Francis Collins, one of the two founders of the failed organization BioLogos—is that he uses evidence to dismiss the Ark story. Although Uncle Karl’s objections aren’t new, remember that his readership consists largely of fellow Evangelicals, many of whom buy the Ark story whole hog (or rather, two whole hogs).


The story of Noah’s Flood, more so than any other major story in the Bible, has been known for centuries to be impossible. Many lines of evidence make this clear. As far back as the seventeenth century’s great age of exploration, questions arose about how all the newly discovered animals could possibly have gotten to their existing locations if they were once on a boat that that docked in the Middle East. In Ham’s retelling, four thousand years ago there were just two kangaroos and both were located in Turkey, on Mt. Ararat where the ark came to rest. How did they hop across the ocean to Australia?  And as explorers expanded the catalog of animals, it became clear they could not have fit in the ark, even if they could have gotten there.

Explorers soon discovered that the north and south poles could not have been under water just four thousand years ago. Once the height of the Earth’s great mountains was determined, calculations showed that there wasn’t enough water to cover them. Plants were discovered that could not have survived being submerged in salt water. The list goes on. The story of Noah’s Flood is simply not possible, and educated thinkers in the West began abandoning it more than three centuries ago.

Almost every new science that emerged in the wake of the Scientific Revolution created additional problems for the story. Evolution ruled out the possibility that all the races could have evolved from Noah’s family in just a few thousand years. Geneticists determined that the human race could never have consisted of just eight people. The discovery of continental drift showed that, by the time of Noah’s flood, the continents were in their present locations, making it impossible for the animals to have accomplished the necessary migration both onto the ark, and then back to their present locations.

These challenges to a literal reading of the story of Noah were the collateral damage of scientific progress, so much so that to insist today on the historicity of Noah’s flood requires the rejection of many mainstream scientific ideas.

. . . Ham seeks to convince his audience that Noah, with a crew consisting entirely of seven family members, cared for two of every species—he uses the uncertain biblical term “kind” in place of species—for over a year. Noah’s tiny crew fed the animals, watered them, cleaned up their waste, healed their illnesses. This strains credulity. Just the two elephants alone would have needed at least 15,000 gallons of fresh water—water that would have to be stored, since the water outside the ark would have been salty. And, not being refrigerated, the water would have to be prevented somehow from becoming contaminated.

And don’t forget those penguins, which would have to hop or swim all the way from Turkey to the South Pole (or the Galápagos, swimming around South America). For a much more complete description of the Ark’s scientific problems, I again urge you to read the informative and humorous piece by Robert A. Moore, “The impossible voyage of Noah’s Ark.”

Finally, Karl raises one of the most serious problems with the Ark story: a theological one. Why, if God could have reformed humanity (as he did Pharaoh, by “softening his heart”), did he have to drown the entire population of H. sapiens, save eight people, and kill every other living thing on Earth? After all, you can’t make the case that all those animals sinned! The only viable conclusion is that god was a genocidal and animal-hating maniac:

Noah’s story, as a tale for children, has a certain adventurous charm, and I was fascinated by it as a kid in Sunday School. Much of that adventure came back to me when I visited Ham’s other project, the Creation Museum, a story I recount in Saving the Original Sinner. But I have to confess that I am horrified by the story as an adult and wonder why it took me so long to see just how horrifying the story is. Taken literally—the entire point of Ham’s new park—the story suggests that God drowned all the children on the planet for their parents’ sins. Even if we assume that all adults outside of Noah’s family were terrible sinners deserving to be drowned, the collateral damage in the deaths of innocent children and animals dwarfs every major genocide in history combined. If Noah’s story is literally true, God is a monster.

Giberson makes only two trivial errors in his piece. One is the claim that Noah carried “two of every species” on the Ark. As Karl surely knows, Genesis 7:2 says that for “clean” animals, seven pair were to be brought aboard. (Generally, “clean animals” are those that could be eaten; you can see a list here.) Giberson also says that admission to the Ark Park is $60. That figure is actually for joint admission to The Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum; admission to the Ark alone is only (!) $40. Still, you can imagine how much dosh the park, which is, I think, going to be very popular, will bring in.

At the end, Giberson says that Ham and his Ark Encounter are doing “a great disservice to Christianity and thinking people in general.” He’s right. But that brings up two issues.

The first is Giberson’s reliance on science and empirical evidence to dismiss the Ark Story. That’s all well and good, but if you rely on that kind of evidence, then you must also dismiss the story of Jesus’s divinity, his crucifixion, and his Resurrection. But Giberson buys that part of scripture. He more or less has to, for if you reject the Jesus myth, you’re rejecting Christianity as a whole.

Further, in his 2009 book Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, Giberson touts confirmation bias rather than examining religious beliefs with evidence:

As a believer in God, I am convinced in advance that the world is not an accident and that, in some mysterious way, our existence is an “expected” result. No data would dispel it. Thus, I do not look at natural history as a source of data to determine whether or not the world has purpose. Rather, my approach is to anticipate that the facts of natural history will be compatible with the purpose and meaning I have encountered elsewhere. And my understanding of science does nothing to dissuade me from this conviction.

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that Ham is doing exactly this, for Ham finds “purpose and meaning” in the Creation and Flood stories; and if the nasty facts tell against that story, well, you just have to reject them.

As I’ve followed Giberson’s career over the years (he’s now teaching at Stonehill College in Massachusetts and writing more books), I’ve seen him come precariously close to the borderline of nonbelief. He left BioLogos, probably over their policy of coddling Evangelicals who couldn’t deal with the scientific facts, and I’ve seen him go after science denialism more and more strongly. He’s even said that one of the main reasons he retains his faith is a purely pragmatic one (quote below from Saving Darwin):

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

What I’d say to Uncle Karl is that life off the rails isn’t that bad. After all, you can now go in whatever direction you want rather than schlep your baggage on an unswerving path to a mythical Heaven. And I’d say this to him as well, “Karl, you’ve rejected the Ark story because there’s no good evidence for it. Why don’t you just go one myth further?

Finally, I’d like once again to chew Bill Nye’s tuchas about debating Ken Ham in 2014. Ham claims, and he might be right, that that debate, held at the Creation Museum, was instrumental in helping call attention to and raise money for the Ark Park, once so financially troubled that it looked as if it would die. But it was built, requiring millions of dollars of donations and tax breaks. And I predicted, way back in January of 2014, that by debating Ham, Nye was going to help finance the park.  In fact, that was probably the only value of that debate, which has sunk like a stone. It certainly didn’t change any minds.

Nye just visited the Ark Park, ostensibly to see what effect it would have on children—but we already know the answer!. I hope he enjoyed seeing this Park of Lies that, in all probability, he helped finance.

Say what you will about Bill Nye, and about how he helped educate you or your kids on his television show. My own view is that now that he’s not on the telly, he still desperately craves the attention he once had, and is trying to run back to the spotlight in a Ham-handed fashion (pun intended). Not that long ago, Nye questioned the safety of genetically modified foods, though he backtracked on that. I’d like to see him do more backtracking and admit that he screwed up by debating Ken Ham. By participating in that debate, Nye was helping subsidize the peddling of lies to children.


Illustration of the Ark Encounter park from Giberson’s article.


  1. Roger
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Wait, doesn’t he know creationism was invented in the 20th century? (Only kidding…)

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I read from a couple of sources that the first week attendance at the ark was dismal.

    • Posted July 18, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Well, if it goes belly up, maybe Ham can turn it into a waterpark, or sell it off to someone who wants to open a Gilgamesh theme park, complete with apsu boat.

      • Posted July 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        I actually like the old flood myth as described in the Gilgamesh and Atrahasis epics, with its dark humor. How the supreme god Enlil decides to drown humans because they are making too much noise and disturbing his sleep (!). Then the clever god Ea goes to the house of his human friend Atrahasis and, being bound with a vow not to disclose the flood plan to humans, turns to the reed wall: “Hey, wall! Listen to me! You must get out of here and turn into a boat to save yourself!” And when Atrahasis asks from behind the wall how to explain his ship-building to other humans, Ea replies, “Tell them that you must leave the town because the supreme god is angry with you, and after you leave, they will be blessed with more fish than they have ever seen before!”

    • George Bernstein
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Not only that but pre-sale tickets went on sale in Jan. So even with 6 months of pre-sales he couldn’t reach capacity on his grand opening week! lol

    • Historian
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Here’s the Friendly Atheist’s take on the poor attendance.


      • Mark R.
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Good article. Thanks.

  3. JohnE
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    For some reason it didn’t really dawn on me until several years ago that there were actually people with science degrees from reputable institutions who were creationists and evolution deniers. That realization peaked my curiosity as to what observations these folks were relying on to support their beliefs. I was surprised to discover that, just like Uncle Karl, they were generally quite frank in their assertion that, regardless of what the evidence might “appear” to show, that evidence must simply be rejected if it conflicts with the Bible. For example, prominent creationist Kurt Wise, who holds a Ph.D. in Paleontology from Harvard states in his autobiography that: “I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.” Similarly, Todd C. Wood, the director of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan University admits that: “There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it . . . ,” but “[i]t is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution.” In the same vein, Georgia Purdom, the Science Director of the Creation Museum (who holds a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Ohio State University) has conceded that: “I couldn’t believe it [evolution] because it did not fit with the God I know . . . .”

    • Historian
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      The statements you present from well-educated and prominent scientists illustrate the unrelenting grip that religion holds on some people. The question is why these people, in contrast to so many of their colleagues, are unable to shake obvious superstition. Do they share some common denominator that allows them to do good science during the week and then retreat into Bronze Age nonsense on Sunday? Is it some genetic thing or certain childhood experiences or a combination of both? It is sad that such people publicly embarrass themselves.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        I think Karl says it himself that abandoning faith is not about god but about his life, family and career. He feels that without his faith, he would lose those he loves and the work he loves. I guess I can understand that, but I sure don’t respect it.

    • colnago80
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I think that the following linked article by Richard Dawkins says it best. The money quote:

      It implies that there is no sensible limit to what the human mind is capable of believing, against any amount of contrary evidence. Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism’s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.

  4. Alpha Neil
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Is this the kind of thing someone would want to see more than once? After the first wave of people waddle through this thing what is going to sustain attendance over the long term? It seems it would be difficult to add new attractions to keep people coming back. I guess if you are stupid enough to be entertained by it once, twice won’t be much of a stretch. All they’d need for a new attraction would be to have Ham giggle his keys in the sunlight.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      And above Historian put up a link analyzing the ark’s first week of attendance and the implications. Based on data (something Ham obviously doesn’t use) this thing is going to sink.

    • Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      They could turn it into a brothel, perhaps.

      • Alpha Neil
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        The best possible use would be to turn it into the gayest resort in the history of gayness. You could rent out the top deck for gay weddings. I wonder if you could get some tax breaks to pay for the renovation work? It would be great on so many levels.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 18, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Someone on my site suggested it’d be a great Planned Parenthood super-clinic, helping the women of Kentucky.

          • Alpha Neil
            Posted July 18, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            It’s big enough for both and more! It could be a one-stop shop for evil!
            First floor: sodomy (entrance is in the rear)
            Second floor: abortion clinic
            Third floor: drinking/gambling
            Fourth floor: more sodomy
            Fifth floor: freedom from religion foundation HQ
            Sixth floor: mixed gender bathrooms and customer service desk

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted July 18, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              😀 !

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        Well they’ve been fscking their investors and parishoners for years, so they know the business … ummm, “inside out”?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      That is exactly the problem. Over the long term (or really over the medium term) they should run into financial trouble b/c there is not much to compel return visits. The savvy solution will be to expand it into a kind of Old Testament Disneyworld where it is more about roller coasters and zip lines than it is about ‘education’.

      • Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        This thing sounds designed to bore kids silly. I don’t give it a year.

        • Posted July 19, 2016 at 1:27 am | Permalink

          I agree, I don’t think kids will be saying “Ark Park? Yes!”

          But, then again, don’t underestimate fundie parents. They probably won’t be too concerned with whether their kids are enjoying it or not.

          (Autocorrect wanted to change “fundie” to “fun die”.)

    • Posted July 19, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Well, if they were really dishonest (to their customers, but not to reality) they could rotate the animals on display 😉

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Nye is exactly as you describe. A camera grabbing, attention seeker and a wanna be. Not that much different that Trump when it comes to pretending to be something he is not.

    I can’t give up on religion because my family will hate me, shun me and not want to be my family. That is some family you have there. Pretending to believe something you do not or be something you are not – sounds like the making of a career politician.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      When I became an atheist it didn’t even cross my mind that my family and friends would think of me differently or feel differently towards me. That tells me they’re better people than those in Giberson’s life. Of course, almost none of them are extremist in their religiosity.

  6. Copyleft
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree that the only outcome of the Nye-Ham debate was more attention and funding for the Ark.

    • Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      If Nye helped Ham saddle himself with this white elephant, he did a good turn.

  7. James Walker
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

    Maybe, but then you could find a different set of rails, ones that would lead you in a more intellectually honest direction.

    I’m reminded of the experience of linguist and missionary Dan Everett, who lost his faith working among the Pirahã in the Amazon:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Everett#Religious_beliefs. His life also went off the rails, but he got back on another track.

  8. docbill1351
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    The Ark Park will be floating on a Red Sea of Ink within a year.

    This ain’t your Six Flags attraction. It’s a building that looks like a boat and it doesn’t move. It just sits there with fake animals making fake noises in fake cages. Once you’ve walked through it, game over.

    Why would anyone go back for a second visit? Even Six Flags and the Disney Worlds try to keep things fresh with new attractions, rides and events.

    Also, the current Ark Park is a highly scaled back version of the original project, which included a Tower of Babble, Seven Plagues of Egypt ride (I literally can’t imagine.) and a Bible-times village, complete with village idiots, I suppose.

    Admission and parking for a family of four is $146. Add food, driving and lodging and you’re north of $400 to walk through a building that looks like a boat and visit a flea-bitten petting zoo. Nope, this turkey s going to sink!

    • Posted July 19, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      It needs a monument to Diogenes, with lamp.

      (Irony deliberate, given that “Diogenes” means “god born”, or the like.)

  9. Vaal
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Giberson: “The story of Noah’s Flood is simply not possible,”

    The problem is, once you’ve allowed appeal to supernatural powers, much less an All Powerful God, then you’ve blown the lid off conclusions like: “that was not possible.”

    At any point of inconvenience in the Noah’s Ark claim, the Christian can say “and then a miracle happened.” How did the Kangaroos get to Australia? Well, the whole story is built on the miraculous – a world wide flood caused by an All Powerful God! – so God could have made sure in some miraculous fashion each creature was transported to where He wanted them to be.

    And Christians fall back into the “I don’t know how that was done, but God can do miracles” all the time for claims that don’t seem to fit science, or other parts of empirical reality. As Jerry points out, Giberson is just being inconstant in cherry-picking where he wants to believe in miracles.

    Giberson: Even if we assume that all adults outside of Noah’s family were terrible sinners deserving to be drowned,

    This is another terrible thing about religions like Christianity. Wherever it pleases, the book treats people essentially like cartoon-level villains. Slaughtering all the Amalekites was ok because, after all, they were ALL evil, man, woman and the children would grow up evil as well. Slaughter everyone on earth in a flood? Every single one was an evil sinner.

    Nothing like the reality of variation seen in actual human beings is there. And to the extent people take the bible as true, and seriously representative of human beings, you absorb an erroneous, mythological, bad theory about human behavior, and it can lead to accepting wiping out people because, like the cartoon villains in the bible, entire populations can be evil.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes. The cartoon-villain world of the past just too easily slips into viewing today’s world in childish black-and-white. There’s a lot of overlap between religion and conspiracy-theories — in part, I suspect, because religion frames the world that way to begin with.

      And here’s another problem: why didn’t the all-knowing God just START with Noah and his family?

    • Posted July 19, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      The Noah’s Ark literalists I’ve encountered (mostly Christian, one slightly confused Orthodox Jew who probably wasn’t sure, but defended it anyway) try to have their cake and eat it too on this. They want to make it so somehow it works naturalistically, and yet also, the whole thing is supposed to be one big miracle. So which is it?

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    At the age of 10, I was gifted with a copy of d’aulaires book of greek myths (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/79626.D_Aulaires_Book_of_Greek_Myths).

    I immediately picked up on the parallels between the legend of Deucalion’s flood and that of Noah’s ark. Since my father assured me much of the Bible was allegory, I was not too concerned (and speculated there might have been a local flood giving rise to the story, but maybe not.)
    But my first year of junior high was at an Anglican school in Oxford, England (the mainly excellent Magdalen College Prep). It was the only year of my life I attended a religious school. In Scripture class, I brought up the Greek myth of Deucalion, and I felt the teacher’s answer to be evasive. He was less of an allegorist than my father.


    Giberson is right on the money on “collateral damage”. The book of Genesis contains these highly disturbing stories: Noah, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And the rather affecting story of Jacob and Esau, and the perennial favorite of Joseph in Egypt. Go figure.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      And don’t forget the collateral damage of Adam. That poor sap actually caused god to have to kill his own son. And think of all the people Adam caused to burn for eternity.

    • Posted July 19, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      There are some people who will refuse to admit that they actually hold some of their scriptures to be legendary (read: fiction) because they know it is a slippery slope to being questioned (even by oneself!) about the rest still believed.

  11. Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Re: Bill Nye. You could easily add his odd attention-grabbing comments at the outset of the NFL’s “Deflategate” to the pile of choices seeming to favor self-promotion over science / rational inquiry. His comments ended up being off there as well.

  12. Posted July 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Back when the floodwaters of my doubts were starting to lap at the foundations of my faith, forty years into a lifetime of fundamentalism, Noah’s Ark featured prominently. The story was just so patently absurd.

    My faith troubles became known to the preachers in my church, and one of them asked my wife how I was doing. Not so well, she said. He’s really got issues with Noah’s Ark.

    “Why is he upset about that?” the preacher asked. “None of us believe it, either.”

    Yet when the time came for all of them to enforce doctrinal purity and subject me to a two-hour inquisition about my dubious faith, guess what Bible story occupied a lot of our time?

  13. Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    if this Karl keeps making nonsense up about his supposed savior, there is nothing to pat him on the head about. He spreads the same lies, he just cherry picks which he’ll attack because they are moderately more ridiculous than the ones he wants to believe in. He’s just one more sad little hypocrite and deserves to be decried as much as Ken Ham.

  14. johzek
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    In the Illustration why isn’t the pond in front of the ark filled with replicas of dead human beings, including children, and animals.

  15. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    fresh water — water that would have to be stored, since the water outside the ark would have been salty. And, not being refrigerated, the water would have to be prevented somehow from becoming contaminated.

    The Pilgrim Fathers knew how to solve that one : beer. And when they ran out of beer, they put ashore in Massachusetts. (Rhode Island, Quahog, where ever it was. IANAA.)
    Actually, Family Noah knew what to do too, most likely – they knew how to make wine and get sozzling drunk on it.
    Drunk elephants on a boat. What could possibly go wrong?

    kill every other living thing on Earth? After all, you can’t make the case that all those animals sinned! The only viable conclusion is that god was a genocidal and animal-hating maniac:

    So that would explain the number of vegetarians and cannibals in the world. As my favourite reviewists put it,

    If the Ju-Ju had meant us not to eat people /
    He wouldn’t have made us of meat.

    ” (Flanders & Swann, “The Reluctant Cannibal”)
    Is a drunk elephant out of his trunk?

  16. Posted July 19, 2016 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on My Selfish Gene and commented:
    Worthwhile read from Why Evolution is True regarding Ken Ham’s Noah Park and Christian infighting. Check it out.

  17. Posted July 19, 2016 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

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