A replica of the ark that Christians believe saved Noah and his menagerie of animals from Biblical floods opens Thursday in the central U.S. state of Kentucky, and thousands are expected to visit the attraction.
The ark, said to be built to the proportions specified in the Bible, is 155 meters long, and seven stories high. It cost an estimated $100 million to build.
"I believe this is going to be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of this era in history,'' said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, the Christian ministry that built the ark. But critics say the attraction will be detrimental to science education and shouldn't have received Kentucky state tax incentives.
Ham said the massive ark was entirely based on the tale of Noah, the man who the Bible says received a warning from God about a massive flood. Inside are museum style exhibits: displays of Noah's family along with rows of cages containing animal replicas, including dinosaurs.
A visitor looks into a cage containing a model dinosaur inside a replica Noah's Ark at the Ark Encounter theme park during a media preview day in Williamstown, Kentucky, July 5, 2016.
The group believes that God created the world about 6,000 years ago -- man, dinosaurs and everything else -- so dinosaurs still would've been around at the time of Noah's flood. Scientists say dinosaurs died out about 65 million years before man appeared.
The leader of an atheist group called the Tri-State Freethinkers said the religious theme park will be unlike any other in the nation because of its rejection of science.
"Basically, this boat is a church raising scientifically illiterate children and lying to them about science,'' said Jim Helton.
Critics also have slammed Kentucky state and local governments for giving the project tax incentives worth $80 million over the next 20 years.
Ham's group anticipates the ark will draw more than 2 million visitors a year. It is situated close to the Creation Museum, which was opened by the same group nine years ago.
According to a 2012 Gallup poll that surveyed 1,012 adults, 46 percent of Americans can be described as creationists - believing that God created humans in their present form at some point within the last 10,000 years.