Thursday, August 27, 2009

Humanists call for Zoo to evolve.

The British Humanist Association is trying to get Noahs Ark, a themed zoo in Somerset, de-listed by the British Tourism Authorities. BBC story here, BHA press release here.

The BHA argues that the zoo presents anti-scientific ideas, and risks undermining the teaching of science. They state ‘We believe Noah’s Ark Farm Zoo misleads the public by not being open about its creationist agenda in its promotional activities and by advancing misunderstandings of the natural world.

The Noahs Ark website, under the heading 'Creation Research' (one of 6 principle tabs visible on all pages) says this: After looking at the current scientific explanations for origins and evolution; it is our view that the evidence available can be accurately explained using an evolution framework with an initial Creation by God. This is treated as controversial by some and welcomed by others: but our aim remains the same. We do not profess to have all the answers, but we will search for them with an open mind and publicise our theories.

That seems to me to be fairly clear about the 'agenda' of the zoo, so I'm not sure that first charge sticks. There are lots of other subsections there which explore issues of creation and evolution, without buying into either wholesale Darwinism or young earth creationism.

There are loads of museums and public attractions in which you could object to the content. Here in Somerset we have the Haynes Motor Museum, which glorifies car use (#fail - global warming) and Fleet Air Arm, which might encourage people to join the armed forces and get into fighting. Haynes also has the added issue of being incredibly dull. Wookey Hole has an area where cavemen are sited next to dinosaurs - which is historically flawed - and tells stories about witches and spells, which encourages children to believe in all sorts of nonsense. Glastonbury... well, lets not go there.

Murky territory. Maybe it's that Christians are allowed to do good things like protect animal species and encourage conservation, it's just that we're not allowed to explain what motivates us. Not happy with that at all. There's also the question of how far we trust people to think for themselves, and how far we try to 'protect' people from views that we aren't happy with. Both Richard Dawkins (see Monday's post) and the BHA seem to take the latter view, which is an interesting position for a rationalist to take.

And if you want to remove from the public eye things which are corrosive of the ability to reason and think, then start with Big Brother. Oh, sorry, that's already happened.....

Just for balance, here's a piece on the National Secular Society.

And other points of view, lest I be accused of undermining anything:
Wonderful life (supports BHA)
Fairly balanced piece at the Freethinker, which quotes an interesting letter from a local person who calls the zookeepers 'religious extremists' and 'far-Right'. Didn't realise it was run by Osama bin Laden and Margaret Thatcher, best avoid.
A site called 'Prats in Power' is very rude about the BHA, so rude I won't link them, but wonders how you become a self-appointed policeman of business.
Steve Borthwick looks at the educational value of the Ark.

Has anyone reading this actually been there?


  1. David, thanks for the link and your comment, I think the main point of this story is not that anyone objects to these people's beliefs or the fact that they wish to proselytise them; the problem is that they are claiming that those beliefs are "scientific" when clearly they are not, this is plainly dishonest is it not?

    Why not advertise the zoo under the banner of a "Christian attraction", why call it "science", doesn't that strike you as slightly suspicious?

    If religious people wish to teach Creationism (aka religion) under the banner of science, then how about humanists teaching evolution in Sunday school under the banner of religion - see the problem?

  2. Steve - thanks for your comment. The trouble is that Noah's Ark would claim that their beliefs are 'scientific' - it may be bad science, but that makes it mistaken or substandard, rather than dishonest.

    It'd be interesting to know if the BHA would be happy for the tourist board to promote it as a 'Christian attraction'.

    The creationists might retort that folk like Richard Dawkins teach atheism under the banner of science, so they're just levelling the playing field. The question is whether any sort of religious view should be taught as 'scientific', and that cuts both ways.

  3. David, I agree I'm sure they would feel that what they promote is "scientific", perhaps "dishonest" is too strong, "misguided" may be a better descriptor.

    The reason what they promote is not science is because their position is not falsifiable, this is a fundamental and irreconcilable constraint.

    Positioning this as they do as a "teach the controversy" kind of deal is misleading, it would be like positioning astronomy against astrology and saying, "we've got to teach the kids both sides of the argument"; science education should be for science, RE is where this belongs.

    I would hope the BHA would be happy with that label, so long as the religious content is clearly separated from the science content; I wouldn't see any issue?

    As for Dawkins "teaching" atheism under the banner of science; I don't think that is a strictly accurate assessment; I have read him extensively and listened to a fair few of his lectures and he is usually very clear to separate the two things in my experience. What he does say though is that evolution allows him to be a "fulfilled" atheist; meaning that it provides a rational explanation for the existence of complex life without the need for a Deity, I would agree with him on that point. Although, clearly there are plenty of people of faith who accept evolution too; they are not mutually exclusive positions to hold.

  4. Steve - fair points, thanks for the comments. I was wondering: our various exchanges are the most constructive I've had with an atheist in 3 years on the blogosphere - maybe I just pick the wrong sort of blogs to comment on. Would you be interested in doing a guest post?

    I'm conscious that most theist/atheist bloggers post for their own constituencies, and that few of us really engage in any proper conversation, or genuinely listen to one another. It would be good to do better.

  5. David - I think you are right, there is a lot of "preaching to the converted" going on, and where exchanges of ideas do occur they tend to get heated quite quickly, nothing wrong with passion of course, but some folks seem to struggle with keeping things civil.

    I would enjoy very much doing a guest post for you (that would get my grey matter working hard!), perhaps you might enjoy doing one for me also?; did you have any ideas about what your readers might be interested in?

  6. Great, I'd be up for that too. One thought was to ask the readers what they'd like read! Perhaps if we continue this by email? revdm keen at btinternet dotcom.

    Other initial thought was '10 things atheists would like religious people to know', or something along those lines. I like lists...