This article is from
Creation 21(4):4, September 1999

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Myth-making: The power of the image


I think evolution engraved itself onto my childhood brain when, at the age of nine, I came across a spectacularly visual story in National Geographic about Louis Leakey’s discovery of ‘Nutcracker Man’—Zinjanthropus boisei, as it was once called.

Here was the skull of ‘our real ancestor’. With all those beautifully drawn ‘ape-man’ reconstructions, who could doubt it? Strictly applied logical reasoning would, of course, have called for caution. Perhaps the glamour and money associated with such a find might lead to an incautious stretching of the evidence, to interpretations and drawings that were designed (consciously or not) to fit the prevailing culture-myths?

Everyone knows that such critical reasoning is in short supply in nine-year-olds. But what is not so often appreciated is the degree to which logical thought processes in adults are also overwhelmingly subservient to deeper impulses. Otherwise, the multi-billion dollar advertising industry would not thrive as it does.

Today, virtually no evolutionist believes anymore that ‘Zinj’ was our ancestor, but the images remain deep in millions of subconscious minds, reinforced by successive waves of other, often similarly temporary, ‘ape ancestor’ images.

We can smile in amusement at the computer wizardry that created the galactic menagerie of creatures in the smash hit Star Wars series. Rational, mathematical analysis shows that the evolution of the simplest life, just once, is impossible outside the realm of fantasy—let alone happening repeatedly in other parts of the universe, as these films imply. But the power of George Lucas’s myth-making machine will win over cold, hard reasoning every time. Just ask the firms that have shelled out millions to use the image of Lucas’s latest woobliemonster to get people to buy some junk food or another.

The power of the image has long been known to politicians in this increasingly television-oriented age. Richard Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 U.S. presidential election to John F. Kennedy, changing the course of history. Analysts mostly agree that the crucial factor was not some edge in carefully reasoned policy, but Nixon’s five-o’clock shadow in a key debate on national television giving him a more sinister, ‘brooding’ image.

The mere mention that Christianity should make more use of positive imagery to ‘market’ its message can evoke images of shyster televangelists cranking up money-machine empires. But that just reinforces the fact that images do matter. If nothing is done to counter today’s pervasive evolutionary imagery, false images of creation/Christianity overcome the truth by default.

Most children’s Christian colouring-in books actually worsen the problem. Depictions of Eden’s animals invariably exclude those real, once-living creatures—dinosaurs. This reinforces the idea that Genesis does not deal with real history, making it harder for the creation message to penetrate in adulthood.

Noah’s Ark is generally shown as a ridiculous-looking tub barely large enough to load a dozen animals. For grown-ups, this fairytale imagery usually springs to mind when the Ark is mentioned. Such false images also make it easier for people to swallow the fallacy about the Ark being unable to carry all the required animals.

The creation movement must increasingly use the power of professional presentation, such as we aim for in Creation magazine, to ‘market’ the truth. Of course, logical arguments are ultimately more important than imagery. But in order for reasoned argument to be appreciated, the ‘image barrier’ needs to be sufficiently overcome. Without the taxpayer-funded clout enjoyed by much of the ‘evolution industry’, this can only happen as thousands of Christians also put their shoulder to the same wheel. You can do this through spreading Creation magazine, and through direct support of any of the associated Creation Ministries International. To paraphrase an old saying, the only thing it takes for a myth to triumph completely is for those who know otherwise to do nothing about it.