Scienceblogger and “godless liberal” PZ Myers has posted the disconcerting news that the Creationist organisation Answers in Genesis are to open a theme park as well as expanding their existing “Creation Museum,” which seeks to misinform the public about evolution and Creationism, promoting AiG founder Ken Ham’s personal brand of pseudoscience and evangelism.
Myers laments the success of the Creation Museum as a “gigantic, growing symbol of the failure of American education,” and it’s true that having such a massive tourist attraction devoted exclusively to the cause of Lying for Jesus is hardly symptomatic of a rational, well-educated populace, such as we might like the world’s only (current) superpower to have. But such flights of fundamentalist whimsy are not confined to the United States; we’ve got one on our shores, too.
I’m referring to the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm near Bristol, which presents itself as a cuddly, hands-on site where visitors can get up close to captive animals. Some of its more unorthodox selling points include the opportunity to feed animals like llamas and tapirs, and a “keeper experience” whereby you can volunteer to muck out the lions and engage in other such wholesome activities.
The problem comes when you consider the “Noah’s Ark” part of what would otherwise be a fairly normal and friendly small zoo. You don’t have to scratch very far beneath the surface, on their web site at least, to discover what they’re really all about. One of the tabs on the homepage leads to a section called “Evolution & Creation,” which should strike fear into the heart of any rational person. We are, after all, dealing with a zoo that has significant resources devoted to education, and is a popular destination for school trips.
The “Evolution & Creation” section is headed “Research @ Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm,” but I haven’t yet found any indication of any evolutionary research that is actually done at the zoo – certainly nothing peer-reviewed, or indeed robust enough to stand up to any application of critical thinking or, you know, actual science.
The research page claims, “we believe the earth is much older than 6000 years but much younger than 4.5 billion years,” presumably as a way of distancing themselves from the sheer batshit insanity of the likes of Ham and AiG, but without giving away too much ground to those atheistic scientists. Despite this “concession,” most of the pages are filled with the usual Creationist nonsense, including a host of lies and distortions about evolutionary science.
Some examples: “Darwinism has no explanation of how the atoms and all the laws of nature should just come to ‘be there’” (true, but since when was that biology?); “[Darwinism says that] complexity accumulated gradually and accidentally” (which is a lie); evolution “requires more faith, more willingness to believe, than the biblical view” (also a lie).
By the way, I use the term “lie” advisedly – I’ve read a lot of Creationist material over the years (not compulsory for evolutionary biologists, but I find it interesting), and a lot of material that addresses the allegations and distortions that routinely make their way into every Creationist tract. Any Creationist that’s done their homework can’t have avoided all of this, much of which is freely available on the Internet (and I thoroughly recommend the Talk.Origins Archive for anyone wanting to learn more about science and Creationism) – so when they peddle falsehoods about evolution, they are doing so deliberately. On the other hand, if they haven’t done their homework, then they aren’t qualified to be talking about evolution in the first place. Misinformation and ignorance are the two cornerstones of the Creationist movement, and when deployed effectively – as in Ham’s Creation Museum and the Noah’s Ark Zoo – they can be superficially convincing even though they are very, very wrong.
The Noah’s Ark Zoo pages make a lot of the fact that the fossil record apparently shows no evidence for evolution beyond a certain point in geological time, which they use as evidence that certain original “kinds” were created and have diversified since then (a common belief among Young Earth Creationists who want to explain how Noah fit all of those animals on his Ark). But they also deny that apes and humans share a common ancestry, using “evidence” from modern morphology and genetics, yet completely ignoring the fossil record! Incidentally, the transition between ape-like and humanlike forms in the fossil record is so good that even Creationists can’t agree which ones are apes and which ones are humans, which should be easy if they were separate lineages that never shared an ancestry, as Creationists contend. That’s before we even get onto the fact that when they do mention the fossil record, they’re wrong about that as well.
So: lies, misinformation and selective use of evidence – all the hallmarks of your typical Creationist. Myers is right, in the post linked to at the top of this one, that “The way we’ll fix it is not to shut down the stupid place, but to teach people that creationism is foolishness.” Sadly, such a campaign cannot be exclusive to that side of the Atlantic – we have some teaching to do in the UK as well.