Today we welcome to the blog Kiersten Remster, a 2017 University of Dayton graduate who won the university’s 2016 Herbenick Award, given to the student who best exemplifies the Core Integrated Studies Program’s commitment to interdisciplinary integration. Kiersten has also won the prestigious 2017 Austrian Federal Ministry of Education Teaching Assistant Award, which is administered by Fulbright Austria. She will spend the 2017-18 academic year teaching English and America culture at a Catholic high school in Hollabrunn, Austria, and then will head to New York University to commence graduate work in art history.

When I arrived at UD in the fall of 2013 I had never heard of young Earth creationism. But in my very first semester at UD in the fall of 2013 I had a class with Dr. William Trollinger, who talked about his scholarly research into creationism and the contentious pop culture attraction that is the Creation Museum. I was fascinated, and when Ark Encounter opened in the summer of 2016 I knew I had to visit, which I finally did this past spring, during my last semester at UD.

With my BA in Art History from UD, and my ongoing interest in visual studies, I experienced this 510 feet long wooden structure through a lens of visual aesthetics.

Answers in Genesis (AiG) built this multimillion dollar complex in order to make the case for the biblical account of Creation, Adam and Eve coexisting with dinosaurs, and the global flood and Ark (in which Noah could fit a host of animals). But instead of focusing on making this case, from a visual logistics perspective AiG devotes nearly a third of all wall card descriptions to castigating skeptics and atheists rather than supporting their own arguments.

[Note from Bill and Sue: This failure of Ark Encounter to focus on making the case for the creationist argument is akin to what we found at the Creation Museum: “Only two placards in the Flood Geology room that offer arguments on behalf of a biblical creation reason in the traditional scientific way – that is, from observations to conclusions – and mobilize scientific evidence that passes muster as observational science. Put another way, just 5 percent of all of the placards in the Flood Geology room reason from ‘real’ scientific evidence to a global flood” (Righting America 102).]

More than this, the crafting of the visuals throughout the exhibits from religious allegories portrayed as comic book-rendered graphics or depictions of religious figures and scenes that seemingly mimic a Sci-Fi film poster problematize the very purpose of why this structure exists. That is to say, in their marketing of visual content and general aesthetics the folks at Ark Encounter, perhaps unintentionally, contradict the purpose of their attraction, which is to make a case for a literal reading of Genesis 1-11.

These contested visuals are particularly obvious in the exhibit that displays the Creation. Here the designers have utilized modern graphics that grasp attention through vivaciously lush colors while providing an expansive space for the viewer to follow a path within these images, thus making it possible for visitors to identify with the subject of the scene. Moreover, in the seven panels – each of which displays one day of Creation – the images and figures are presented in animation-style. The graphics and colors themselves in these panels are very much reminiscent of any contemporary animation, similar to that of James Cameron’s Avatar.

So Ark Encounter seeks to appeal to visitors – seeks to make these scenes and stories believable – by making use of contemporary media and graphics. But there is something bizarre about creationists presenting what they see as literal history in a form that reminds viewers of action scenes from animated Sci-Fi movies. That is, they are casting their creationist arguments into what visitors will identify as Sci-Fi fantasies.

All of this is underscored by the fact that the font they use to describe what they understand to be literal history is the identical, or almost-identical, font as the iconic, fictional Lord of the Rings typeface. More fantasy!

All of this raises some very interesting questions:

  • What does it mean for the creators of this creationist “non-fictional” propaganda to reach out to visitors with such conflicted visuals?
  • Are the folks at Ark Encounter actually using this font and a visual animated style to bolster the chances that 21st-century visitors will find their historical message more believable?
  • Are the folks at Ark Encounter risking that visitors will recognize this Sci-Fi style of storytelling, and will thus pass off the Ark account as yet another fantastical tale?
  • When do animating religious figures and stories cross the line into fictional interpretations for the contemporary observer?
  • In short, do the Ark Encounter’s visuals undercut the Ark’s message?

I think they just might.