Kentucky's magnificent, controversial ark

Story highlights

  • Carol Costello says new Noah's Ark in Kentucky is "a mind-blowing sight"
  • The Ark's founder, Ken Ham, runs a Christian ministry dedicated to spreading creationism

Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)It is a mind-blowing sight: A Noah's Ark nestled in the rolling, green hills of tiny Williamstown, northern Kentucky. Arguably one of the more unlikely places on the planet for such a thing to exist.

The Ark is biblical in size, nearly the length of two football fields. It's wide, too -- 85 feet. And it is eight stories high. It took thousands of workers, including hundreds of Amish craftsmen, 24 months to build.
    Carol Costello
    "It's the biggest timber frame structure in the world," the Ark's founder, Ken Ham, told me on the top deck of the Ark -- which will include an upscale restaurant.
    I believed Ham's boast about the Ark's size, then wondered aloud how Noah could have constructed such a massive vessel in Biblical times.
    "Noah might have taken a lot longer," Ham said. "Plus he could have hired people from the population just like we have."
    Ham runs a Christian ministry dedicated to spreading Creationism. He believes in a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, insisting a 600-year-old Noah was commanded by God to build an ark and then, "Together with his sons, his wife, and his sons' wives, Noah went into the ark because of the waters of the flood." I'm sure you've heard the rest...
    Ham also believes God created the Earth in six days and six nights, and that dinosaurs, along with tigers and camels and other animals, roamed the Earth alongside Adam and Eve. He completely rejects scientific evidence that the Earth is 4.5 billion years-old and that fossilized dinosaur bones date back roughly 65 million years.
    I am not a creationist, but hey, it's a free country. One can practice whatever kind of Christianity, or any other religion, that one chooses. And, I think it's great that Ham wants kids to think about Noah and what God meant to teach us when he flooded the Earth. What I'm not so jazzed about is the state of Kentucky forcing taxpayers -- whatever their religious beliefs -- to partially fund Ham's Ark.
    The Ark is part of an 800-acre property, a portion of which is dedicated to the theme park that will feature a zoo, camel rides, multiple restaurants and thousands of feet of high-speed zip lines. But there is a higher purpose behind all of that fun.
    "It's definitely an evangelical tool," Ham told me. "We didn't build this just to be entertainment like Disney. We built it for religious purposes."
    When Ham ran that by me, my mind started to close. Ark Encounter is a $100 million, for-profit enterprise, owned by two non-profit organizations, Answers in Genesis, and Crosswater Canyon. Confusing, yes. But, I can tell you Ken Ham is founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, whose mission is to spread Creationism. Ham is also the founder and CEO of Ark Encounter. He was able to fund the Ark through private donations, municipal bond investors and state sales tax incentives.
    Yes, tax incentives and free land provided by the state of Kentucky and Grant County to operate Ham's "evangelical tool," all in exchange for the hope that the Ark will attract millions of tourism dollars and jobs to the state.
    Pastor Bob Fox, a Baptist minister -- and Kentucky taxpayer -- is outraged. He sees Ham's fundraising methods, as many others do, to be a violation of the First Amendment and laws that require separation of church and state.
    "These tax incentives are intended to be neutral and not to support one view or another," Fox told me. "It's clear that the Ark Park is not a neutral event."
    Ham says, nonsense.
    "The government offers this tax incentive to the Bourbon Museum, Kentucky Kingdom [and] the Speedway," he told me. "We have every right to partake in it, too, if it's a performance-based rebate."
    That may be true, but I'm certain the Kentucky Bourbon Museum does not exclude employment to those who refuse to sign a "Statement of Faith."
    Ham insists the Statement of Faith is a "basic" Christian statement of faith, sort of like you would find in a local church or Baptist Church.
    But it's way more than that. Ham's Statement of Faith requires employees to disavow homosexuality, same-sex marriage and pre-marital sex. Employees must also believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis and Jesus Christ. So, no Jewish or Muslim employees. I would be ineligible, too. Catholics embrace evolutionary science. As Pope Francis teaches: "When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment."
    Pastor Fox is flummoxed by that Statement of Faith, as well.
    "There are kinds of laws, called Sharia, where people have used legislation and the government to promote a religious faith," he said. "I think the best way to look at it ... is to ask, if the good-hearted Christian people of Kentucky were asked to provide tax incentives to a park built by someone of another faith ... Islam, Hindu, Wiccan, whatever ... would we feel comfortable giving government taxpayer money to fund that project?"
    Kentucky's governor, Matt Bevin, is unfazed. Bevin's office told us the park is projected to bring in millions of tourism dollars and create hundreds of jobs. The governor's administration, he says, does not "discriminate against any worthy economic project."
    And, I must admit, Williamstown seems excited about what the Ark may bring to their community. Joyce Robbins, whose family owns Webster's Woodworking, put it this way: "I think it's going to bring in business to the town. How could that not be the perfect solution for rebuilding our community?"
    Perfect? I wish.