WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — Former President Jimmy Carter toured a creationist group's ark park under construction here Friday, saying he was supporting a friend instrumental in the construction of the massive reproduction of Noah's Ark.
Under a gray and sprinkling sky, Carter said he was not endorsing the views of those behind the Ark Encounter park. He believes in evolution.
"The earth is 4 billion years old, ... but I don't see a conflict there," said Carter, a former Sunday school teacher who also has long professed his Christianity. "And as a scientist, I believe in evolution.
"But all things are possible through the divine power of God. And whenever there is a conflict, I turn to the words of Jesus Christ," he said.
Carter's beliefs contrast with the creationist teachings of Answers in Genesis, a Northern Kentucky ministry behind not just the ark but also the controversial Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Answers in Genesis contends that the world is only 6,000 years old and the events in the Bible's Book of Genesis are a literal portrayal of history.
Still, ark officials welcomed the visit. American flags lined the road into the construction zone for the former president, who won as a Democrat in 1976 and served one term.
Carter's wife of nearly 70 years, Rosalynn, also went on the tour. The two were married July 6, 1946; the ark opens to the public July 7.
"We welcome the visit of such a statesman, and we don't take it as an endorsement," said Answers in Genesis' co-founder and chief executive, Ken Ham. "This really shows how people of different views can still come and see and enjoy the ark."
Workers continued to scramble Friday to finish the outside wood paneling and install hundreds of exhibits built in a warehouse in Hebron, Ky. Ham said some workers are staying until 2 a.m. ET, and that 24-hour shifts could begin soon.
The 91-year-old Carter, who underwent surgery for brain cancer late last year, said he was there to support long-time friend LeRoy Troyer, president of the construction company that handled most of the timber and woodwork for the ark and acted as main architect.
At 510 feet long and 80 feet wide, the ark is the largest free-standing timber-framed structure in the world. Massive trees serve as the support for the boat.
Troyer, a member of the Mennonite church who grew up in the Amish community, met Carter when the two were working on Habitat for Humanity homes. His company, Troyer Construction, also built a large timber-framed farmer's market in Elkhart, Ind., previously known as the largest such structure in the world.
"It's truly an honor to have such a friend of 30 years come and see what we've been able to accomplish here," Troyer said.
Carter joked that he was visiting his old boss, because Troyer served as site manager on all 30 homes the two helped build through the charity organization. He also marveled at the structure itself, saying it was "the finest example of woodworking I've ever seen."
"To work with the 36-inch timbers and then with 18-by-18 joists, it's just remarkable," Carter said.
Carter, who once called for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal while also being highly critical of former President George W. Bush, sidestepped any questions about the current presidential campaign.
"I'll just be glad when it's over," he said. "There have certainly been major changes in the electorate during this cycle, which have been interesting to see. But we're going to have to wait and see how it all plays out."
Follow James Pilcher on Twitter: @jamespilcher