Category Archives: Education

Is There Really a Life-size Replica of Noah’s Ark in the U.S.?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureSubscribing to the belief that “if you build it, they will come” Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth creationism group built a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, called the Ark Encounter, as a place where the faithful can come and toss science and the theory evolution overboard, and reaffirm their belief that the Bible is literally true. And let’s not forget the business side of religion — where there is faith, there is profit.

The historically-themed attraction, located in Williamstown, Kentucky, was built over five years (from 2011 to 2016); it officially opened on July 7, 2016. The ark contains three decks filled with 132 “teaching” exhibits, featuring Noah and his family, animal models (dinosaurs co-exist with early man and animals; remember the world, according to the fundamentalists, is only 6,000 years old), and colorful dioramas. Docents will explain that the ark was built according to the dimensions and descriptions found in the Bible’s Genesis chapters. The interior, however, is another story. Since Genesis leaves out any specific description, the design of the ark’s interior is complete conjecture — it was built according to what the builders imagined it would look like. And yes, with more than 120,000 square feet of cargo space, they firly believe that there was room for two of every animal (or in creationist terms, “animal kinds”), and enough food for all the humans and animals.

Of course, no historically-accurate ark would be complete without a pricey gift shop, a restaurant (Emzara’s Kitchen), two movie theaters, and several areas for staged photo ops. Just outside the ark is a massive pond, the Ararat Ridge Zoo (petting zoo), a first-century Middle Eastern village, and a jaw-dropping zipline (the Eagle’s Nest Aerial Adventure), presumably a replica of the zipline that Noah and his family used for recreation while sailing around the world in a floating zoo. Conveniently located nearby is the Creation Museum, featuring 75,000 square feet of exhibits that “bring the pages of the Bible to life” and where pages of Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species are burned to provide warmth for visiting guests.

Whether you believe the story of Noah’s Ark and the worldwide flood described in Genesis 6 to be literally true or a profound allegory (or Mashal), one cannot deny that the replica of the ark, standing seven stories high and the length of 1.5 football fields, is a stunning marvel of craftsmanship (built, ironically, by a team of very talented Amish carpenters) and engineering to behold. After all, it has been Intelligently Designed! The stewards of the ark proudly proclaim that the ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. Each evening the ark glows against the night sky as it is illuminated by brilliant spotlights in the color of the rainbow, evoking of the Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:12-17 — “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth”). For Christian fundamentalists, seeing truly is believing. However, for science advocate Bill Nye, the Ark Encounter is creating a generation of scientifically illiterate children and discouraging critical thinking. During his tour soon after the Ark Encounter opened, Nye observed, “On the third deck, every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong… It’s all very troubling. You have hundreds of school kids there who have already been indoctrinated and who have been brainwashed.”

If climbing aboard Noah’s Ark in Williamstown doesn’t float your boat, you can visit two other full-size replicas on the other side of the globe. You can make a stop in Dordrecht, Netherlands to visit Johan’s Ark or travel all the way to Ma Wan Island, Hong Kong, China to visit Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Of the three replicas, the Ark Encounter is the largest.

Here is a view of the Noah’s ark, located in the U.S., by the numbers.

Cost: over $100 million dollars
Size: height – 51 feet; length – 510 feet; width – 85 feet
Decks: 3, each 18 feet high
Interior space: 120,000 square feet

Amount of wood used: 3.1 million feet
Mount of metal plates and bolts: 95 tons
Admission: Adults – $40; Senior – $31; Child (up to age 12) – $28
Size of parking lot: 4,000 spaces
Cost to park: $10-15

Size of site: 800 acres
Craftsmen employed: 1,000
Estimated visitors in first year: 2 million
Seasonal jobs: 300-400

Read related posts: What was the First Bible Printed in the United States?
What is a Thumb Bible?
How Many Books Exist in the World?

The Most Expensive American Book
Most Expensive Books Sold in 2012
Most Expensive Book in the World
Rarest Book in American Literature

For further reading: Searching for Adam: Genesis and the Truth About Man’s Origin by Terry Mortensen (2016)
Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye (2015)
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (2010)
Inherit the Wind: The Powerful Drama of the Greatest Courtroom Clash of the Century by Jerome Lawrence (2003)’s_Ark_replicas_and_derivatives

Literature as Divine Revelation

catkins-bookshelf-literature“[L]iterature was my first intellectual love. [At age] 12, I saw my equally aged inamorata reading Pickwick Papers, how I borrowed the book from her, and then ungratefully divided my affection between her and Dickens. I save fourteen cents, bought David Copperfield, read every word of its eight hundred pages, and ranked it, for a time, next to the Bible and the Imitation of Christ. Literature became an almost divine revelation, a miraculous multiplication of the world and life.”

From the preface to Interpretations of Life: A Survey of Contemporary Literature, by Will and Ariel Durant (1970). The two historians are best known for their 11-volume magnum opus, The Story of Civilization (published between 1935 and 1975), were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968. In their 80s, they turned their attention to literature, focusing not only on the authors’ works, but on their lives; Will writes: “In almost all these studies I have found the author himself more interesting than any character in his books, and his career more instructive than the imaginary world by which he revealed or cloaked himself.”

Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
Why Read Dickens?
The Power of Literature
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America

Word and Ideas Can Change the World

atkins bookshelf quotations“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Spoken by English teacher John Keating (brilliantly played by Robin Williams) in the Academy-Award winning film Dead Poets Society (1989) written by Tom Schulman and directed by Peter Weir. Each day in class, Keating inspires his students to “make your lives extraordinary” underscored by the Latin phrase, carpe diem, meaning “seize the day.” One of Keating’s favorite poems is Walt Whitman’s beautiful elegy written to honor Abraham Lincoln, whom he greatly respected, titled “O Captain! My Captain!” (It became one of Whitman’s most famous poems.) At the end of the film, when Keating is forced to resign, he enters the classroom one last time to gather some books. One by one each of his students stand on their desk, defying the protests of the stern substitute teacher; they honor Keating by repeating the title of the poem. After Williams committed suicide in 2014, in many eulogies, the actor was honored with Whitman’s timeless poem. In the role as a teacher and an actor, his legacy lives on.

What Was the Letter Read at the Trump Inauguration?

atkins bookshelf quotationsThe letter that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer read at Trump’s inauguration is a very eloquent, poignant letter that was featured on Ken Burns’ brilliant documentary, The Civil War (1990). The famous letter was written by Major Sullivan Ballou (1829-1861) to his wife, Sarah (nee Shumway), then 24 and the mother of his two young boys. Ballou, who studied at Brown University and National Law School in Ballston, New York, was an attorney who served as the clerk of the Rhode Island House of Representatives before joining the Union Army in 1861, soon after American Civil War began.

Ballou wrote the letter on July 14, 1861. A week after writing the letter, Ballou (32 years old at the time) fought courageously at the First Battle of Bull Run, in Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, but was killed in battle (he was wounded by a six-pound shot and died a week later). Unfortunately, the letter was never mailed. It was discovered in a trunk of Ballou’s personal belongings and retrieved by Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island. Soon after, Sarah moved to New Jersey, with her sons, to live out her life as a widow; she never remarried. In 1917, Sarah died at the age of 80; she and Sullivan were buried next to one another at the Swan Point Cemetery, located in Providence Rhode Island. The original copy of the letter has been lost to time.

The letter, known as the “Sullivan Ballou Letter,” was discovered by historian Robert Johansson who contributed a first-person letter to Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. It is often read at funerals and weddings. What makes this letter so special? Ken Burns elaborates: “[It’s] the words that every man wishes he could say to the person he loves most… It sums up everything… It is obviously about love; I think the greatest love letter that I have ever come across… It’s about love in a very complex way… It’s a love of government, love of cause, love of family, love of spouse, love of children… it’s about the larger sense of what love is.”

July the 14th, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more …

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt …

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness …

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights … always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again …

For further reading:

When Do Children Stop Believing in Santa?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIf you are under 9 years old stop reading this post — it is simply foolish, meandering fiddlefaddle brought on by a cup of really bad egg nog. Any suggestions about Santa’s existence do not reflect the views or opinions of the North Pole. Go back to following your friends on Facebook…

Santa is very real in a metaphorical sense. As Francis Church so eloquently addressed this issue to Virginia: “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world…  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.”

But sidestepping the poetry, or more precisely, the mythology of Santa, when do children stop believing in the iconic Santa that slips down the chimney to deliver Christmas presents? According to psychologists, most children stop believing in Santa by 8 or 9. The really clever children learn to pretend that they still believe in the hope of getting lots of presents. Carole Slotterback, author of The Psychology of Santa, explains that the realization of Santa (in the traditional sense, as described by Clement C. Moore’s famous poem “The Night Before Christmas”) is not real, comes gradually rather than in one defining moment. Charles Smith, a professor of child development at Kansas State University adds, “Kids are smart. They realize he’s not real even before parents think they understand that.” Children learn that they need to let go of a fun family ritual, but realize that they can enjoy Christmas on another level — enjoying the spirit of giving, appreciating family, helping the poor and needy, etc. “A child who sincerely believes at 10,11,12 of the reality of Santa,” notes Smith, “there’s something going on there. That’s the child not letting go. I’d be curious about that. I wouldn’t say that’s wrong. I’d want to know more about that child’s history and family.”

Psychologists also believe that believing in Santa is healthy for children. Matthew Lobber, a child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital (New York), sees believing in Santa as a normal and healthy part of child development: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to believe in the myth of someone trying to make people happy if they’re behaving [well]. Imagination is a normal part of development, and helps develop creative minds.” The myth of Santa also reinforces family traditions, values, and can inspire empathy and philanthropy.

Many psychologist agree that the best way to handle the issue of Santa’s existence is not to shatter the mythology, but rather to let them figure it out on their own. If they happen to ask directly, Lorber advises that parents first assess if the child still believes in Santa. If so, then it might be too early to have the discussion about the reality of Santa. If they don’t believe, then parents can discuss the real St. Nicholas (the Bishop of Myra, born in Turkey in 270 AD, and helped the poor) and the spirit of Christmas. Until then, mum’s the word.

But let’s circle back to the initial statement that Santa is very real. Smith builds on what Church wrote centuries ago: “Santa Claus is not real, but what Santa Claus represents for kids, even for adults is true. It’s that sense of joyfulness during this time of the year — this idea that they’re so cared for and loved.”

For further reading: Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia
Mall Santas by the Numbers

For further reading:

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

atkins-bookshelf-educationWhen you review the career aspirations of children, once thing is clear: the innocence of childhood is preserved for only a short period of time before the influence of the internet and movies, and their respective (and perhaps questionable) role models intrude on their dreams. There is a clear trend as glamorous careers — especially ones with the multi-million dollar salaries — swap places with more realistic careers at the top the occupation list as children grow older. Also one hopeful trend emerges, no matter what age, people still want to be teachers — one of the noblest and respected professions. As John Steinbeck observed, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist, and there are as few as there are great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” Several surveys by trade organizations reveal fascinating trends about the careers that children choose, and the connection between those childhood dreams and their chosen careers as adults. Here are some highlights:

Childhood Dreams Meet Adult Reality
Did you ultimately become one of the professionals you dreamed of as a child: 22% answered yes

Job Satisfaction
Are you happy with your current job?
People who landed the job that they dreamed of in childhood: 88% responded yes
People who did not end up in their dream job: 70% responded yes

The Evolving Career Goals of Children
Elementary School
Professional athlete: 14%
Teacher: 14%
Veterinarian: 13%
Doctor: 13%
Astronaut: 12%
Scientist: 8%
Artist: 8%
Actor: 6%
Musician/Singer: 6%
Police Officer/Detective: 6%

Middle School
Scientist: 13%
Professional Athlete: 13%
Teacher: 12%
Doctor: 12%
Writer/Author: 11%
Artist: 9%
Lawyer: 8%
Veterinarian: 8%
Musician/Singer: 7%
Engineer: 6%

High School
Writer/Author: 15%
Engineer: 14%
Scientist: 14%
Teacher/Professor: 12%
Doctor: 12%
Artist: 9%
Lawyer: 8%
Musician/Singer: 6%
Professional Athlete: 5%
Computer Programmer/IT: 4%

What Do Kids Want to Be Today?
Ages 1-3
Ballerina/Dancer: 19%
Musician/Singer: 14%
Doctor: 11%

Ages 4-7
Astronaut: 10%
Veterinarian: 10%
Doctor: 7%

Ages 8-11
Scientist: 14%
Veterinarian: 10%
Artist: 8%

Ages 12-14
Doctor: 11%
Engineer: 11%
Scientist: 9%

Ages 15-17
Engineer: 12%
Teacher: 11%
Actor: 7%

Ages 18+
Teacher: 12%
Writer/Author: 8%
Doctor: 7%

Read related posts: Job Interview Questions at Apple
How Many College Grads Have Jobs Related to Their Majors

How Much Math Do We Really Need?
What is the Toughest Job in the World?
How to Make Ethical Decisions
Traits of Great Leaders

For further reading:

The Difference Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIsn’t the desire for happiness and a meaningful life the same thing? Research by Roy Baumesiter, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker, and Emily Garbinsky published in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicates that although seeking happiness and finding life meaningful are interrelated, there are critical differences between the two. The researchers note: “Happiness may be rooted in having one’s needs and desires satisfied, including being largely free from unpleasant events. Meaningfulness may be considerably more complex than happiness, because it requires interpretive construction of circumstances across time according to abstract values and other culturally mediated ideas.”

The researchers gathered their data from three online surveys completed by a national sample of 397 adults. Study participants scored a number of statements (using a 7-point scale)  in order to create indices regarding happiness and meaningfulness. The goal of the surveys was to differentiate meaning and happiness. Based on the data, the researchers obtained some fascinating results. Here are some highlights of the study:

1. Happiness and meaningfulness are related but distinct.

2. Easy lives are happier; difficult lives are sadder. However, being healthy and feeling good are both linked to happiness but neither had any connection to meaning.

3. For the most part, money had a large impact on happiness, but very little impact on meaning.

4. Thinking about the present is connected to happiness; however, when thinking about the past and future, people feel less happy, but feel that their lives are more meaningful.

5. The time spent with other people is linked with happiness and meaningfulness. More specifically, time spent with loved ones is important to meaning, but irrelevant to happiness; viz. relationships are more important than achievements.

6. Happy people are takers, while people with meaning are givers.

The researchers summarize their study: “Our findings suggest that happiness is mainly about getting what one wants and needs, including from other people or even just by using money. In contrast, meaningfulness was linked to doing things that express and reflect the self, and in particular to doing positive things for others. Meaningful involvements increase one’s stress, worries, arguments, and anxiety, which reduce happiness. (Spending money to get things went with happiness, but managing money was linked to meaningfulness.) Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker. Whereas happiness was focused on feeling good in the present, meaningfulness integrated past, present, and future, and it sometimes meant feeling bad. Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.”

So it boils down to one simple question: are you a giver or a taker?

Read related posts: How to Be Happy
15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy
Experiencing Happiness in Life

The Paradox of the American Dream
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks
Doublets: The Value of Wisdom
The Virtue of Wisdom
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of a Grandmother

For further reading:

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