Today’s post comes from our colleague Emma Frances Bloomfield, an Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies the intersection of science, religion, and politics from a rhetorical perspective. She received her PhD from USC Annenberg and wrote her dissertation on the similarities between science denial in the human origins and climate change controversies. She has written and presented on topics of the environment, digital rhetoric, narratives, political communication, and health. She visited the Ark Encounter as part of a Summer Research Fellowship from USC.
Forthcoming in the Southern Communication Journal is a rhetorical critique of the Ark Encounter based on my July 26, 2016 visit. My analysis of the site focuses on apocalyptic rhetoric, or language that uses the end of the world as motivation for belief and action. Key works on apocalyptic rhetoric, by communication scholar Stephen O’Leary, categorize the apocalyptic genre based on appeals to authority, evil, and time. In other words, to make an apocalyptic argument, one must explain how one knows the apocalypse will happen, what will cause it, and when it will occur.
In my forthcoming essay, I argue that the Ark Encounter makes an apocalyptic argument to encourage its visitors to believe in Christianity and, more specifically, creationism. Through its verbal displays and material elements, the Ark Encounter promotes the authority of the Bible, identifies enemies of the faith, and displays the urgency of belief. In this post, I provide a few examples of each of these three apocalyptic appeals.
The Ark Encounter appeals to the authority of the Bible to determine the past, present, and future. To show that the Bible is an authority, the Ark Encounter provides evidence that Noah’s ark, as described in the Bible, could have existed and housed so many animals. Near the entrance to the first deck, a sign explains that the ark easily held all of the animal “kinds” that God requested. It also explains that Noah only needed to bring along juvenile versions of animals, so large adult animals such as elephants and giraffes would not be present to take up a lot of room. Also, many species of animals, such as different types of bears, are part of the same bear “kind,” requiring only two bear cubs to save them all from the flood. If Noah’s ark could have housed a large quantity of animals and safely navigated the storm, then the Bible is an authoritative source of truth about the past.
The Ark Encounter identifies three main sources of evil: those who distort the Bible’s message (represented by the Fairy Tale Ark room), those who doubt the Bible (represented by Rayneh’s display), and evolutionists and scientists (represented by displays on the third deck). I will focus on the latter, as the first two have been covered in previous posts on this blog here and here. On the third deck, the Ark Encounter has museum-like exhibits that discuss natural selection and climate change. These exhibits identify scientists who ignore the obvious evidence of the flood as exhibiting a willful bias against faith. They turn away from the concrete evidence of the flood’s occurrence, such as the Grand Canyon, and allow their commitment to evolution to cloud their judgment. The Ark Encounter thus represents scientists as a source of evil that confuses people about God’s writings and the truth of history.
Having identified many sources of evil and established the Bible’s authority over the past, the Ark Encounter appeals to an impending apocalypse predicted by the Bible upon Christ’s return to Earth. In the last exhibit before the ramp down to exit the ark, visitors see a display about Christ. The display prompts visitors to consider their own sins and doubts as well as to ponder if they would be saved were the flood to happen again today. This display notes that visitors should turn to God “before it’s too late,” establishing an urgency to believe in Christianity. The slogan of the Ark Encounter is “The Voyage Begins Again,” inviting belief that the second and final revelation is already upon us.
Because the Ark Encounter was built by Answers in Genesis, the site includes belief in creationism as a tenet of being a good Christian. If the Bible is a complete, unique authority over the truth of the past, then its statements about creationism should also be taken seriously. The Ark Encounter makes this connection on the third deck, where it casts misinformation about evolution and identifies scientists as a source of evil. Through an apocalyptic argument, felt, read, and experienced through the site, the Ark Encounter encourages adherence to a specific Christian identity that also endorses young-Earth creationism and biblical literalism.