Yes, it’s the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm once again. It’s been awarded a Quality Mark by the Council for Learning Outside The Classroom (CLOtC). This is despite the fact it’s pushing a particularly bonkers creationist agenda that flies in the face of all the scientific evidence. This crossed my radar this morning, and as I was pondering whether to respond, I find that the Ministry of Truth blog has done this already (Creationist Zoos and ‘Quality’ Badges) and covers most of the ground.

You may recall Alice Roberts took a pop at the zoo in The Guardian recently (seeAlice Roberts vs. the Christian Schools’ Trust and creationism). What’s particularly bonkers is that CLOtC guidance for a Quality Mark requires the following 6 ‘high level indicators’:

      1. The provider has a process in place to assist users to plan the learning  experience effectively;
      2. The provider provides accurate information about its offer;
      3. The provider provides activities or experiences which meet learner needs;
      4. The provider reviews the experience and acts upon feedback;
      5. The provider meets the needs of users; and
      6. The provider has safety management processes in place to manage risk effectively.

Not much there about your actual educational experience…

This seems to be rerun of the last time CLOtC awarded these creationists an award (Noah’s ark zoo farm wins prize). That forum thread includes the correspondence BCSE had with the clots at CLOtC.

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After having a pop at the Noah’s Ark Farm Zoo (Alice Roberts visits The UK’s creationist zoo), Alice Roberts has taken aim at the Christian Schools Trust’s actions in teaching creationism to kids (Alice Roberts: children ‘indoctrinated’ by lessons in creationism). According to the article (which is based on an interview in TES), the Christian Schools Trust is actively teaching creationism:

The TV presenter, who is the new president of the Association for Science Education, said that teaching about creationism alongside evolution risked closing pupils’ minds to scientific discoveries.

Her comments came as it emerged that the Christian Schools’ Trust – a network of 40 independent schools – confirmed that teaching about creationism in science was common in its institutions.

The Trust said there was “strong sympathy to Young Earth, six-day creation” in its schools but insisted this did not amount to indoctrination.

Appalling news. Unfortunately as independent schools, these 40 establishments appear to be immune from the requirements to follow the national curriculum:

The new national curriculum for primary schools, due to be introduced this September, contains a clear requirement for pupils to be taught about evolution.

But the curriculum only applies to state schools, not private schools. State-funded academies and free schools can also choose not to follow it.

This is pretty shabby news, especially the comment that academies and free schools are free to ignore the curriculum and teach anti-scientific bronze age drivel. Perhaps the comments of a high-profile Professor of Public Engagement in Science (and the new President of the Association for Science Education) will have a significant effect.

Update:

A similar article at The Guardian’s website (Ban the teaching of creationism in science lessons, says Alice Roberts) covers the same stuff:

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement (TES), Prof Roberts, who has presented a number of BBC programmes including The Incredible Human Journey and Origins of Us, said: “There should be regulation that prevents all schools, not just state schools, from teaching creationism because it is indoctrination, it is planting ideas into children’s heads. We should be teaching children to be much more open-minded.

“People who believe in creationism say that by teaching evolution you are indoctrinating them with science, but I just don’t agree with that. Science is about questioning things. It’s about teaching people to say, ‘I don’t believe it until we have very strong evidence’.”

 

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I see from The Guardian that Alice Roberts (Professor of Public Engagement at Birmingham University, and frequent TV presenter) has visited the Noah’s Ark Farm Zoo (Why I won’t be going back to Bristol’s creationist zoo: A creationist zoo in Bristol will bewilder adults and potentially undermine children’s education).

I’ve previously blogged about this zoo and its many issues (Creationist zoo suspended…Creationist zoo causes dismay in the ranks of the humanistsCreationist zoo wins education prizeMore news coverage of the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm fracasAnne Widdecombe approves of the creationist zooGuardian Blog: Creationists seek to insert their own brand of ‘truth’ into education), and frankly, it’s absurd that this zoo continues to exist after the ups and downs it has experienced (from approval from Widdecombe to winning an education prize (itself completely absurd) to being struck off by the British and Irish Association of Zoos).

Alice Roberts has a jolly good poke at why this “zoo” is so bad, and concludes:

In this zoo, the creationists have built themselves an impressive soapbox. I felt that I had to visit, if only to know what I would be excluding my children from if I stopped them going on school visits to this popular destination. I want my children to learn critical thinking, but the “critical approach” put forward by Noah’s Ark is a disingenuous redressing of a centuries-old story which has its place in our culture but has absolutely nothing to do with science education.

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Here’s a video of P Z Myers taking down three cornerstones of Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt at Skepticon. For a more detailed take on Meyer’s misrepresentation of science, see Nick Matzke (Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II), Smilodon’s Retreat (Darwin’s Doubt – a review), and this excellent review in Science (When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship).

 

 

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Having read an earlier book by Stephen Meyer (see No Signature in the Cell), I was distinctly underwhelmed by his grasp of biology and had no great desire to read his latest ‘work’, Darwin’s Doubt. It’s notable that the reviews that I’ve read on the web fall into two camps. On the one hand, the lay audience quite frequently laps this stuff up, particularly where the reader is predisposed to do so by religious belief, while on the other had reviews by people with some actual scientific expertise have been uniformly damning (see for example this by Nick Matzke over at Panda’s Thumb: Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II). Sitting somewhere in the middle is the review by the author of the Smilodon’s Retreat blog (Darwin’s Doubt – A Review), who appears to be located between the informed lay person and practising scientist (he’s a teacher): every reference made by Meyer is being subjected to scrutiny, and generally found wanting in some respect.

In a recent post (McDonald – The Great Darwinian Paradox), Smilodon’s Retreat addresses one of the long-standing repeated citations in the canon of works in Intelligent Design creationism, that of the Great Darwinian Paradox, beginning with Behe in 1996 and continuing through to Darwin’s Doubt in 2013. The conclusion? That Discotute Fellows are being not only selective in how they refer to McDonald’s review article, but are at best “economical with the truth“. Quote-mining is a characteristic of creationist writing – see The Quote Mine Project for examples – and it would seem that as a variety of creationism, Intelligent Design creationsm is no exception.

It seems pretty clear not only that the detailed review of Darwin’s Doubt is revealing a concerted effort to distort the reality of evolutionary biology and allied disciplines to provide a platform for the God of the Gaps concept of Intelligent Design creationism, but that disentangling the inaccuracies and deliberate obfuscation in the book requires quite a dedication in time and effort. More than I, for example, can offer. The author of the Smilodon’s Retreat review deserves applause for his effort. Sadly, this appears to be taking a toll on his time, and the approach to the review has changed (A Change to the Darwin’s Doubt Reviews).

 

 

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It takes a special kind of doggedness to make an “Infographic” that rehashes debunked stories as if the debunking had never happened, but that’s what the Discovery Institute did the other day. Perhaps some of this nonsense is down to the background of the author, who appears to have zero science credentials.

The other day, the wonderful xkcd published this satirical cartoon about Infographics (right).

I do tend to agree with this sentiment, though of course a well-structured infographic can be a useful and clear way of illustrating.

The dear old Discotute’s effort, though, is pretty pathetic (I haven’t embedded it here for copyright reasons). It’s apparently derived from what the Discotute rather grandly term “the Discovering Intelligent Design curriculum”.

Beginning with the rather grand (and incorrect) claim that

Intelligent Design uses the scientific method (e.g. observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion) to make its claims.

Except that’s not really how ID creationism works. For starters, ID creationism was born as a cynical attempt to push creationism into US schools after successive court room defeats, and to do this by masquerading as science. The overall objectives can be seen in the Wedge document, after all. Accordingly, ID creation doesn’t really operate like science – it has a pre-determined conclusion that evolutionary biology must be wrong, and the only observations that the Discotute make are aimed at trying to make evolutionary explanations seem unreasonable (classic god of the gaps approach). They don’t really do experiments, and their labs appear to be greenscreens of stock photographs.

And then it’s on to the old canard that biological information is in some way directly comparable to language, computer programmes and the like, and that it can only be produced by intelligence.

The bonkers ID creationist concept of Irreducible Complexity (a.k.a. the Argument from Incredulity) is up next, illustrated by the bicycle (!) and the bacterial flagellum.

Bizarrely, the Discotute still think that bacterial flagella are in some way impossible to arrive at by natural processes, and must have been poofed into existence (by some as yet unknown mechanism) by some (unknown) sky fairy/alien genius/god, despite considerable evidence for how these structures did evolve. Anyway, get this tortured illogic:

In our uniform and repeated experience irreducibly complex systems (e.g., a bicycle) always originate from a mind capable of thinking with forethought and intentionality. Only intelligence can create the unlikely arrangement of parts that matches a specific pattern required for the machine to perform its function. ID predicts that natural structures will contain this same kind of information and complexity – patterns which we attribute to mind.

The problems with that are particularly obvious. On the one hand, we know from historical records who invented various aspects of a modern bicycle and when. Furthermore, we have an excellent understanding of how these inventions were made. On the other hand, the ID creationists are clearly being disingenuous when they claim not to identify the Judeo-Christian god as their designer of bacterial flagella, but in any case they are unable to point to specific evidence for their designer, when he/she/it did the design, and how he/she/it put the design into practice.

The concluding paragraph is lovely.

In the same way that we attribute the complex and specified information found on the Rosetta Stone and in machines to an intentional mind, the specified and even irreducible complexity found in living organisms points to an intelligent cause. By viewing biological systems as designed machines, ID opens up new avenues of scientific investigation to understand how life works.

The Discotute really needs to employ some scientists. We know that humans made the Rosetta stone. We know that humans made bicycles. The evidence there does point to intelligent cause. In the case of biological structures, there is zero evidence for a creator designer, zero evidence for how the supposed creator designer implemented his/her/its supposed design and nothing but wishful thinking and a deeply held desire for a resurgence of religious belief.

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I was idly perusing my rss feeds last week, when an article at The Dispersal of Darwin website (Hand-printed, hand-bound book about Wallace, Darwin, and natural selection) caught my eye. There are two attractive features: firstly, the physical attributes – this is a delightful hand-printed book – and secondly, the material in the book is of general interest to me. I should say that I have some of the contents in other books (notably a volume of Darwin and Wallace writing published in 1958 to coincide with the centenary of Origins), and that I have of course long been aware of Wallace in the context of natural selection. This is not a cheap book and it’s intended to contribute to a fund for the erection of a statue of Wallace. There’s a foreword by George Beccaloni which sets out the stall here.

The book is hardback, hand printed andternate attractively bound in leather with printed design on paper. The contents are correspondence associated with the joint presentation to the Linnean Society, and the three documents that represent that presentation (and extract of unpublished work by Darwin; and abstract of correspondence from Darwin to Asa Gray; an essay by Wallace). The book concludes with correspondence between Darwin, Hooker and Wallace, and finishes with the text of Wallace’s acceptance speech on the award of the Darwin-Wallace medal in 1908.

This is all quite interesting material – I always feel that the private correspondence between Darwin, Wallace and the others reveals quite a bit about their nature. Of course, Wallace’s role on the discovery of evolution by natural selection isn’t new to me, but I do realise that many members of the public really aren’t aware of the circumstances around the discovery, nor of the theory’s antecedents or the social and scientific context in which evolutionary theories were discussed, presented and received during the 18th and 19th centuries. This is something that attempts are being made to rectify (see for example Bill Bailey’s recent BBC TV programme, and accompanying article in The Radio Times). That being said, I don’t quite buy in to the concept of the “Darwin Industry” excluding competing names from the history of natural selection: including Patrick Matthew as well as Wallace. It’s not helpful that ID creationists seem to have picked on Wallace as some kind of forerunner in Intelligent Design creationism.

Alfred Russel Wallace The Letter from Ternate (2013) is published by TimPress (Reigate, Surrey) in a limited edition of 100 copies. ISBN 1-905346-99-9

Further reading:
The Alfred Russel Wallace Website
Wallace Letters Online

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Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute seems a bit exercised about some of the criticism levelled at Stephen Meyer’s latest creationist tome over at Amazon. The Discotute boys don’t really like comments on their writing (hence there is no commenting at the bizarrely named Evolution News & Views website). So he’s written some rubbish about how Intelligent Design creationism is really science and not creationism.

Anyhow, the Sensuous Curmudgeon has dismantled Luskin’s article quite neatly (Casey Luskin: “What Is Intelligent Design?”), with clear reference to the Discotute’s founding document encapsulating their Wedge Strategy - unfortunately for the Discovery Institute (and their Glasgow-based wannabees, C4ID), the true history of their cynical rebranding of creationism is exposed in their own documents for the world to see. Well worth a perusal.

 

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I’d been wondering why there hadn’t been any updates recently from Glasgow’s very own Discotute-wannabees, the Centre for Intelligent Design (abbreviated C4ID, in a very modern idiom). I needn’t have worried as while I was on a long weekend in a 3G blackspot, the August 2013 newsletter plopped into my mailbox. Headed as usual by the spiffy double helix inside ID logo, entitled Teach science, not secular dogma and authored by Alastair Noble, the newsletter smacks of desperation. It has a list of cited sources appended – but all bar one are from people within or affiliated to the Discovery Institute. Overall, the missive is mostly a rehash of outdated and debunked ID creationist claims.

First up is a complaint that evolution is to be taught in primary schools. Featuring a particularly smirky picture of Michael Gove MP, Minister for Education, Noble sets about complaining that evolution is regarded as a ‘fact’.  He goes on to say:

Well, there are two problems.  Firstly, every scientific theory is tentative and subject to revision as fresh evidence is uncovered.  You can be sure that the growing body of evidence against the all-pervasive theory of evolution will not be considered.

My irony meter was trembling into the red. We’ve had a century and a half of investigation into the basis of evolution: together the demonstrable fact of evolutionary change, the much-tested theories of how this change comes about have been developed and sustained through the process. And in contrast, Noble and his religiously like-minded pals in C4ID and the Discotute seek to replace a dynamic and exciting scientific process with the intellectually vacuous cop-out of declaring that their God Designer did it. Noble goes on:

And here’s what children won’t be told about evolution:

1. Evolution has no explanation for the origin of life in the first place. By saying evolution doesn’t deal with that, while implying it does, just highlights its deficiency.

This statement is idiotic beyond belief. Origins of life research is in itself a fascinating and dynamic area of research. Of course evolutionary biology doesn’t deal with origins of life, it’s a well-supported theory of how biological diversity arises. Why doesn’t Noble complain that the Theory of Gravitation doesn’t explain life’s origins? No evolutionary biologist would claim that evolutionary theory explains the origin of life.

2. Random mutation and natural selection cannot explain the synthesis of the hundreds of complex bio-molecules, like proteins, which are necessary for life.

Another idiotic statement. This is merely the argument from personal incredulity. or, to put it another way, Alastair Noble either doesn’t have the understanding of biology (his PhD is in Chemistry, and isn’t backed up by much research experience), or his understanding is distorted by religious belief.

3. The mechanism of evolution – natural selection acting on random mutation – has been shown to be unequal to the task of creating new organisms [1].

This is an extension of #2 – an argument from personal incredulity – and another assertion that ignores a century and a half of research in favour of a silly book by Intelligent Design creationist Michael Behe. Behe is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. His testimony at the Kitzmiller trial was instrumental in the rout of Intelligent Design creationism and its exposure as a religious belief.

4. The ‘junk DNA’ hypothesis, an integral part of the teaching of evolution, has now been abandoned in light of recent work on the human genome [2].

Oh boy. Here we go again with the ENCODE project’s ludicrous redefinition of ‘function’ (see Takedown of ENCODE’s claims that 80% of the human genome is functionalBirney, ENCODE and 80%) - though uncited here in favour of Intelligent Design creationist Jonathan Wells‘ book. Wells studied for a PhD with the say-so of Reverend Moon and with the express aim of undermining ‘Darwinism’, and according to Wikipedia is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

5. The much-vaunted ‘tree of life’ is being increasingly shown to be highly speculative and at odds with the evidence [3]. The fossil record is not consistent with the numerous slight successive changes required by evolution, as Charles Darwin himself recognised [4].

Oh golly gosh. A 19th century diagram of descent. How up to date is that? Reference 3 is to a chapter in a book by Dembski & Wells (both Discotute ‘Fellows’), reference 4 to Stephen Meyer’s latest ‘masterwork’ of creationism (see Stephen Meyer strikes again!The New Yorker – Doubting “Darwin’s Doubt”). I imagine that the reference to Charles Darwin is really directed at a classic creationist quote-mine (see the discussion of the first quotation in C4ID weighs in – a half-baked publicity drive for Meyer’s latest book). Stephen Meyer is currently director at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and Senior Fellow at the DI.

6. Evolution is completely unable to explain the existence of the complex genetic information carried by every living cell in its DNA [5].

More citation of Meyer, this time from Signature in the Cell, a dismal attempt at re-telling molecular biology and origin of life research from a creationist perspective. I have actually read this nonsense (No Signature in the Cell), and concluded I had no appetite for his latest book. Basically he’s wrong, many well-understood mechanisms exist for the appearance of genetic information.

7. Evolution has no explanation for mind and consciousness, other than that it is an accidental by-product of chemistry and physics [6].

Any other scientific hypothesis with such glaring deficiencies would certainly not be taught as ‘fact’ in schools.

Oh, he’s citing Nagel here (Jerry Coyne took Nagel to task in numerous postings at Why Evolution is True). Not sure why mind and consciousness need be anything other than a product of biology, chemistry and physics.

Noble goes on to label evolution as a hypothesis. This continual conflation of concepts such as theory and hypothesis seems to be a hallmark of creationism, whether YEC, ID or any other brand. Noble wails on further about science, defining it twice, complaining that evolution

[...] is essentially materialistic dogma, not science.  It persists for ideological reasons, despite the evidence.

This is all supported by a citation! But it’s to a lecture in Newcastle by a Professor Phillip Johnson delivered in 2004. Goodness knows what he said in that lecture, but I suppose it’s this Phillip Johnson. He is of course a retired Berkeley Law Professor. What? You thought maybe C4ID would be quoting an actual scientist or, better still, a biologist? Here’s the opening paragraph of his Wikipedia page:

Phillip E. Johnson (born June 18, 1940) is a retired UC Berkeley law professor and author. He became a born-again Christian while a tenured professor and is considered the father of the intelligent design movement. A critic of what he calls “Darwinism” and “scientific materialism”, Johnson rejects evolution in favor of neocreationist views known as intelligent design. He was a co-founder of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) and is credited with establishing the wedge strategy, which aims to change public opinion and scientific consensus, and seeks to convince the scientific community to allow a role for God in scientific theory.[1]As a member of the group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis, a prominent AIDS denialist group,[2] Johnson has written that HIV does not cause AIDS.[3][4][5][6] The scientific community considers Johnson’s opinions on evolution and AIDS to be pseudoscience.[5][7][8][9]  [I added emphasis, removed the links, but left in the Wikipedia references - visit the Wikipedia page for the full details].

Frankly, having read the Wikipedia page, I’d probably not take anything on the subjects of biology and evolution (or indeed any branch of science) from Johnson with anything other than a gigantic pinch of salt. In case you hadn’t read the Wedge Strategy, it’s worth it to see the links to creationism and even the desire to institute theocracy in the USA.

Finally, in a particularly threadbare close, Noble touts firstly the creationist textbook Explore Evolution, and his very own 32 page pamphlet about ID creationism. Explore Evolution is the ID creationist book which was sent out to schools by the UK creationist organisation Truth in Science. This in turn prompted an open letter to British schools, from the British Centre for Science Education, drawing attention to the book’s origins and content along with information about Truth in Science.

I note that Alastair Noble no longer works as a Schools Inspector, but that he is currently (well, he was in 2010) Education Officer with CARE, a christian charity campaigning for increased religious education in schools.

Postscript – I noticed as I finalised this post that the Evil Burnee has already written about the same C4ID missive: Signs of desperation at C4ID.

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The New Yorker has an interesting and well written blog article by Gareth Cook that reviews the new Discotute tome Darwin’s Doubt - Doubting Darwin’s Doubt. Cook places the book and Meyer’s argument in the context of the history of Intelligent Design creationism as a cynical rebranding exercise aimed at inveigling creationism back into American schools after a series of legal setbacks for creationists. Well worth reading. Cook notes the odd approach of ID creationists – that scientific understanding of the world and universe has reached its limits, and that what is left can only be explained by the interventions of God a supernatural designer:

Most absurd of all is the book’s stance on knowledge: if something cannot be fully explained by today’s science—and there is plenty about the Cambrian, and the universe, that cannot—then we should assume it is fundamentally beyond explanation, and therefore the work of a supreme deity.

Darwin’s Doubt may well have entered the New York Times hardback bestseller list (oddly, I think this is in the non-fiction section), but amongst those who know an understand science, and particularly those disciplines related to evolutionary biology, it’s very unlikely to gain any traction.

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