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”.

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  1. barriejohn’s avatar

    I've just read that these people are in big trouble now (how sad!) for, amongst other things, breeding animals for a controversial circus.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/83107

    The circus is The Great British Circus, run by one Martin Lacey (evangelical Christian, I wonder?), and there is plenty about him AND his circus on the net. He has a lot to say for himself, and his views on "animal rights" beggar belief!

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