New Humanist article – a visit to Noah’s Ark Zoo

The news stories on the Noah’s Ark zoo in Somerset (see previous article) have propagated across a variety of newspapers and blogs.  The New Humanist magazine features an article on a visit made to the zoo – it’s available online (Bless this tiger), and makes for fascinating reading.  There’s also a collection of photographs – these get progressively more depressing, particularly those showing the Noah’s Ark exhibit, and the various posters challenging aspects of evolution.

Creationist zoo causes dismay in the ranks of the humanists

I’ve always thought of zoological gardens with larger establishments in mind – such as the Zoological Society of London’s Regents Park Zoo, or the Edinburgh Zoo, and expected these respectable zoos to act as sources of information about animals from around the world.  Of course there’s plenty of scope for rather more specialised zoos, such as those focussing on conservation.  Unfortunately it would seem there are also zoos with the purpose of misinforming the public.

I imagine the name of the Noah’s Ark zoo in North Somerset is something of a giveaway.  It is a small, privately run zoo which clearly espouses a creationist agenda.  Now the British Humanist Association has pointed this out, and it’s hit the media (Bristol Evening Post – Zoo attacked over Creationist beliefs; BBC News – ‘Creationist’ zoo causes dismay).  The Bristol Evening Post quotes Noah’s Ark research assistant Jon Woodwood as saying:

“To say that we are not upfront with our beliefs is unfounded – the name Noah’s Ark is the first indicator.  Our education policy is purely based around the National Curriculum.  We are offering our visitors the chance to look at the evolution/creation debate. As it is a free country, that is within our right. Contrary to a small minority of people’s claims we do not teach false science.  This is clearly shown within the zoo, with one exhibition talking about Darwin and another offering another point of view.

“We are slightly different from popular Creationism and hold a view that the natural world around us is the product of both God and evolution.  Although technically Creationists, we do not hold the stereotypical Creationist views that the world was created 6,000 years ago and there is no evolution.”

Woodward went o to say that the number of complaints on this subject was very small (10 in 120,000 visitors).  Interestingly, BBC page has an image of one of the signs at the zoo, with the text:

It also shows how three great people groups are descended from the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
[and in smaller font] (who could have become the three races of humans alive today, that we knwo as the Semitic, the Negroid/Mongoloid and the White Caucasian).

Rather worryingly, the Evening News article quotes a Visit England spokesman as saying “Noah’s Ark adheres to the Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Service criteria. We do not comment on the content of any attraction.”  It does seem to me that the content of an “attraction” is rather important when assessing its quality!

Looking through the educational links from the Noah’s Ark website takes you through a variety of relatively inoffensive topics, occasionally written in a curious style.  Unfortunately, a prominent item on the main tool bar menu is Creation Research.

Here it’s clear the owners of the zoo have their own take on creationism in which the fossil record reflects recolonisation after the Noachian flood.  The page goes on to spread the usual creationist canards…

Palaeontologists have struggled for more than a century to find transitional fossils to confirm the predictions of Darwinism. But, with some exceptions, these have not been found. See Darwinist steps of faith – the many missing links (at the time of writing this blog article, this link was to a page still to be written). Radioisotope dating has been used to show that the fossil record unfolded over billions of years. We suggest that while the method is not itself invalid, the dates produced by it are not supported by the primary evidence of the rocks and fossils themselves. See An Earth billions of years old?

There appears to be a mixed message here.  On the one hand, brief outlines of educational material, backed with larger expositions of an unfounded creationist agenda.  Noah’s Ark seems to push an identity as an attraction that can offer an range of educational activity, but on the evidence of its website, this seems to be a cover for a significant creationist agenda.  And I don’t think this can be purely based on the National Curriculum – after all people presumably don’t go to a zoo for RE!

I have to conclude that the BHA has a point, and that Visit England really ought to reflect on the meaning of “quality”.

Iowa bus driver suspended over atheist bus advert

There’s been an admirable atheist bus advert campaign in DesMoines, Iowa.  Firstly, the advert is a bit more “atheist” than the British bus adverts that kicked off the international trend for atheist publicity (the text reads “Don’t believe in God? Your not alone”.  Of course the initial response of the Transit Authority responsible for the buses was to refuse to carry the ads – this decision was quite rightly overturned.

Now, however, and in a parallel to the events in the UK, a bus driver has refused to drive a bus on the grounds that it offends their religious beliefs.  Or something.  Back in January, a Hampshire bus driver was suspended for refusing to drive a bus with the original atheist advert:

A Christian bus driver has refused to drive a bus with an atheist slogan proclaiming “There’s probably no God”.

Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire, responded with “shock” and “horror” at the message and walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest. (BBC – Man refuses to drive ‘No God’ bus)

Exactly the same thing has happened in Iowa.  According to a report in a local news service (DART Bus Driver Suspended Over Atheist Ad),

The Des Moines Regional Transit Authority has suspended a driver who refused to drive a bus bearing an ad for an atheist group.  Angela Shiel was suspended on Monday after she refused to drive a bus with an Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers ad on its side. The ad reads “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Oh, and amusingly there’s an online poll (Vote: DART Driver’s Suspension)!  At the moment, the results are in favour of the driver’s suspension.  Perhaps the poll’s been Pharyngulated…

Atheists visit the Creation “Museum”

There has been an outpouring of blog posts about a visit to the Creation Museum by around three hundred delegates from a Secular Student conference – publicised by PZ Myers in his Pharyngula blog.  Rather than try and list them, I will point you to Pharyngula, which features a good few posts on the visit (e.g. Tales of the 300 … more accounts of the Creation “Museum”).

Platitude of the Day, which ordinarily “interprets” the usually rather vacuous Radio 4 religious slot Thought for the Day, presents their interpretation of a contribution by Mark Looy, the man who evicted a student for daring to wear a T-shirt that proclaimed there wasn’t a god.

There are several reports out there on the web, including a bunch of videos (which I’ve not yet waded through), see for example this compilation of links at Pharyngula (The whole experience).

Interestingly, the Answers in Genesis blog (Can University of Minnesota Professors’ Research Be Trusted? beware, this links to Answers In Genesis, one of the most stupid sites on the web) flails around trying to evade some of Myers’ accusations.  Doesn’t succeed in my opinion.  And it’s notable that the AIG blog doesn’t permit commenting…shame…  AIG’s very own Ken Ham appears to be doing the rounds trying to mitigate the damage caused by the exposure of the displays in the “museum”.