Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm Responds to Criticism

Last month, Professor Alice Roberts visited Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, a creationist establishment recommended by Answers in Genesis, and wrote a highly critical report of what she found there. The Zoo Farm has replied on the Bristol culture website, and their response only adds further credibility to her strongest accusations. Since this website does not want to be accused of quote mining, I attach, in full, the Zoo’s statement, with our own comments inserted as appropriate. It should be remembered that the Zoo offers a range of what it describes as educational activities, including “an educational day out” for schools, with price discounts, on-site workshops described as being linked to the National Curriculum, and school and nursery outreach packages.

Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts, from her web site

Prof Roberts tells of posters in the auditorium and children’s play area, which is presumably where the on-site workshops take place, claiming among other things that there are “30 reasons why apes are not related to man”, that humans were around at the same time as the first tetrapods (was Tiktaalik tasty, one wonders), that rates of radioactive decay were greater in the past, and that these possibilities should be considered as part of “an open, critical approach to explain what we see in the natural world.” She comments

I believe that religious fundamentalism has the potential to ruin scientific education. Apart from obscuring scientific facts, it teaches a way of thinking that is incredibly rigid. The evidence for a (very) old Earth and for evolution is overwhelming.

But believing in these things isn’t like a religious faith – it comes from a belief in evidence…. This [the zoo presentations] is, purely and simply, subversion of science to fit a religious agenda. At Noah’s Ark, you are not allowed to question the Bible. And where science and the Bible clash, every piece of scientific evidence is called into question, shoehorned into place if possible, or thrown out if it’s too dissonant.

Noah's Ark Zoo farm poster

 

A poster at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm disputes the common ancestry of humans and apes. Image by Pip, via Wikipedia

I can only agree; if anything, I am surprised by the moderation of her language. But it is time to see what the Zoo has to say in reply:

There has been some local interest this week in a Guardian online article written about Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm by television personality Alice Roberts (BBC’s Coast, Don’t Die Young).

The article presents Alice’s personal view on the Christian message which forms a part of our zoo and which is well known by our visitors.

We’re not surprised by her comments as she is well known as a television atheist and humanist who doesn’t like the notion of God being introduced to science.

Alice Roberts is a University Professor (a fact belatedly acknowledged at the very foot of the Zoo Farm’s statement), qualified physician, Ph.D. in palaeopathology, former University Lecturer in Anatomy at Bristol, the University of Birmingham’s first Professor of Public Engagement in Science, and author of over 30 peer reviewed articles and technical reports, in addition to four books and numerous less formal articles.

Her critique of the Zoo Farm does not even mention Christianity. It does describe religion as being based on faith (surely the Zoo Farm’s owners would not dissent from this), and criticises the Zoo Farm for treating the Bible as a source of information on scientific topics. In all of this, every mainstream Christian denomination in the UK would agree with her.  So, indeed, would most Christians in the US, and even one in three US Evangelicals. Prof Roberts is, in private life, an atheist, and she is among other things a highly respected television presenter of science, but the claim that she is a “television atheist” is without foundation.

Noah’s Ark is a Christian organisation which wants to give people the scientific freedom to believe in God as part of their view of how life was made and has changed over time.

No one is restricting anyone’s freedom to believe whatever they like, but the Zoo Farm’s claim that creationism is the same thing as believing in God is a monstrous piece of spiritual pride, and, according to Theologian Canon Prof Keith Ward, “the kind of thing that brings both religion and science into disrepute.” [KW to PB, private communication].

Christianity is the leading religion in the UK and followed either casually or seriously by over 31 million people (2011 Census), an interesting statistic when compared to the 13 million people who characterised themselves as having ‘no-religion’ in the same survey. An important part of our country’s heritage and education system for many decades, like many others we believe religious discussion is still very relevant and compatible with modern society, and the field of science.

Within two covered areas at our 100 acre park we provide some discussion boards which explain the theories of evolution, creationism and re-colonisation; a new paradigm which accepts both the role of God and the complexity of the genome for evolution after an initial creation. We also question whether the biblical story of Noah and his Ark could be true and what evidence there is for a global flood – a popular story which ties in nicely with the theme of the zoo.

The suggestion that Christianity implies creationism is, as discussed above, mischievous nonsense. So is the suggestion that evolution and creationism are theories, in the same sense of the word. There is no evidence for a global flood, and if Noah’s flood is “a popular story,” or even a popular story with an important moral message, so are Aesop’s fables. Evolution is a well attested historical fact, as well as being the theoretical framework for the whole of modern biology, while creationism is a simpleminded fable based on a theology that was looking old-fashioned a thousand years ago. Re-colonisation is not, as claimed, “a new paradigm which accepts both the role of God and the complexity of the genome for evolution after an initial creation,” but an arbitrary and pseudoscientific hodgepodge that accepts the story of Noah’s Ark as history, but places it at the base of the Archaean.

Noah’s Ark is keen to promote thought and discussion for interested visitors, certainly not forcing religious views and pressuring unsuspecting families as unfortunately Alice Roberts’ article confusingly portrays.

For a scientist, Prof. Roberts [sic] article was surprisingly dominated by persuasive language and subversive opinion rather than simply a factual account of her visit, presumably with the intention of encouraging people to share her angry sentiments.

As the article makes clear, Noah’s Ark does indeed force religious views on unsuspecting families, by presenting nonsense as scientific fact. And does the Zoo Farm expect its critics to use unpersuasive language, and who or what is it accusing Prof Roberts of subverting?

It was interesting for us to see Alice with her family during her visit to Noah’s Ark, particularly her young daughter who apparently thoroughly enjoyed our indoor play barn and the large Rainbow Slide, unconcerned by posters discussing God and evolution – probably a little tedious for an energetic child. If Alice is concerned by the effect of these displays on children’s young minds, hopefully her happy daughter enjoying the zoo might allay her fears!

At the risk of aggravating the offence by drawing attention to it, I would ask what right the Zoo has to be monitoring Prof Roberts’s preschool daughter in this way, and publicising the way she spent her day there.

As a popular family attraction at the end of our busiest year with record visitor numbers, we remain confident that people are intelligent enough to make their own minds up about God, creation and evolution if they are interested in reading the discussion we provide at the zoo, and fundamentally come to Noah’s Ark for the enjoyable day out we continue to offer.

A well-known tourist attraction in the south west and winners of important industry awards including the regional ‘Access for All’ award from the Bristol Tourism & Hospitality Awards we have been recognised for providing good access for people of all religions and no religions, race, gender, age and sexuality.

For us, receiving occasional criticism for our Christian theme by opinionated atheists is not new and gives little cause for concern – fundamentally we are a popular family zoo with an excellent and well-cared for collection of animals which is enjoyed by thousands of public and school visitors each year. With the opening of the internationally recognised ‘Elephant Eden’ shortly and more exciting plans for 2014 we are looking forward to another bumper season after the Christmas break.

We enjoy Prof. Roberts television work and public contribution and wish her well in her future projects – both her and her family are very welcome to visit us again should they ever wish to.

Again, my apology for the tedious length. And again, the completely misleading equation of Christianity with creationism, coupled here with distracting remarks about equal access (is the Zoo claiming special credit not excluding gays?).

As my friend the Rev Michael Roberts continually points out, this kind of creationism is a 20th century heresy, spreading through the Abrahamic religions like a cancer, and the plain duty of church leaders is to denounce it as such. A duty that they are dismally failing to perform.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on January 3, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Religion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. Alan Webster

    The cattle pens at the Ark are not the only place you will encounter bullshit – by the sound of it
    the Creationists have cornered the market.

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  2. Thanks for the article. Please consider our petition to the Welsh Government to offer schools advice on visiting the zoo.
    https://www.assemblywales.org/gethome/e-petitions/epetition-list-of-signatories.htm?pet_id=1020#.U7Kl-yrKPfM.twitter

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  3. 10s of thousands of scientists in different disciplines test their theories related to evolution and publish their data for peer review, What is that foolishness compared to dessert goat herders 3000 years ago trying to explain why people exist?

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  4. “breasts for beauty” and the rest of point 4 in the image, then point 7 with the reclined naked woman. Women were presumably created for the pleasure of men then? Yuck. That alone would make me keep my daughters away from this place. Throw in creationist propaganda and using their tigers to promote big cats in a circus. It troubles me that any parent would take their children to this place.

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  5. Imagine that there is nothing which is solid…

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    • This comment persuaded me of the need for Rules to filter out metaphysical garbage. Such rules are now in place (see Rules page) and will be applied to all future submissions.

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    • Exploring inaccuracies in both ideas will eliminate one and strengthen the other.

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      • “inaccuracies in both ideas”; be specific. As far as I can tell, creationism is nothing but inaccuracies, and evolution science and old earth geology, while like all human knowledge imperfect in detail and revisable in principle, are established facts.

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  6. Robert Heinlein included the weirdness of folks embracing religion and casting logical thinking aside in some of his science-fiction stories set in the near future.

    In the USA I fear the well-brainwashed religious mob far more than all foreign threats combined… and that includes the terrorist cohort scattered across the planet.

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  7. 2012 and all that

    I am persistently surprised that this plays stays open – every time I drive past (even at weekends in the summer) the car park is empty or near-empty.

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  8. Clever use of words, religion freaks always use clever words like politics do to fight reality

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  9. Michael Roberts

    Poor Creationists. They simply cannot grasp the fact that humans ARE apes. The sooner this place is seen for what it is the better.
    As for the farm being Christian, it is not, as most Christians , like me, do not believe such nonsense.

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    • Ibrahim Leadley

      Humans,or at least homo sapiens sapiens, are NOT apes. We may be primates, just as the apes are, but our lineage separated from them about 7-10 million years ago. Arguments about us sharing 98% of our DNA with them are misleading. We share some part of our DNA with every living thing (including plants) on the planet, so by extension it could be argued we are related to trees, grass, birds etc. Educated thinking men will realise (after reading Genesis) that Creationism and Darwinism are just two accounts of the same events. Scientists or theologians who argues that the other party is absolutely wrong in their thinking, should step back a little and consider ALL the facts, not just their own dogma/discipline.

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      • It depends on your classification system. I prefer cladistics to Linnaean. In which case, if you want apes to be a clade, and if you accept the fact that humans split from chimps more recently than their common ancestors did from the other apes, then you have to include humans among the apes. If you prefer, you can certainly say that we’re primates but not apes, but then apes cease to be a clade.

        Regarding the broader issues, yes, all living things are related, so a man is related to a mouse, and (more distantly) to a mushroom, and (more distantly yet) to a microbe. If you want to read and draw inspiration from Genesis in a way that is consistent with this, as my friend Michael Roberts does, that’s fine by me. But if you want to take it literally, and say that whales were created before land mammals, you have lost contact with reality.

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      • Ibrahim Leadley

        Shall we take this to its ultimate position? We are all ameobas.

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      • Only if you really really want to. Most of us would say that Amoebae are a clade of their own (a genus of protozoa), form whom our ancestors split over a billion years ago: http://www.timetree.org/index.php?taxon_a=amoeba&taxon_b=human&submit=Search

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      • Ibrahim Leadley

        ….and kept on splitting until we reached the stage were at now. I really do think that you’re failing to see the wood because of the trees that are in the way….

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      • Not a wood but a tree of nested clades; if they were different trees they wouldn’t even nest. But I’m not sure we actually disagree. However, three rounds are enough so let’s leave it there.

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    • Agreed. And as for religious leaders not opposing the creationist myth, that’s patently not true from my experience. In the UK the media doesn’t find it sexy enough (cf showing creationist ‘nutters’) to have a reasoned Christian rebuttal of creationism – black and white arguments are favoured. Also, most people just shrug off creationism as the preserve of a few and so there isn’t a debate to become publicised.

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  10. Kathy Coutanche

    “Breasts for beauty” There are other issues here, too. Objectifying women in an exhibition created for children would incense me quite as much as the most obvious cause for concern.

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  11. The awards are red herrings. They are nothing to do with the quality or content of the exhibits themselves. Merely, they are a box ticking exercise to indicate that you have clean toilets, disabled parking and recycle plastic bottles, etc.

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  12. Cancer kills, leave them alone.

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  13. Sebastian… Please get off of your high horse. Sexuality isnt the main talking point here .
    The big question that is at the centre of this is ; does god exist ?
    If you are a christian (small C) and if you are also homosexual , does this equation make you an enigma ?
    Or do you just regard yourself as enigmatic ?

    Kind regards from an uneducated oik that has a small vocabulary (compared to thee) , but my opinions are just as valid as yours.
    Whats the point of getting into an argument about a subject that you will never discover the answers to (in this lifetime).

    Have a good long life (no, not the lager) .
    Eat-drink-shag-be happy. You wont get another chance to do so.

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    • Actually, the Q here is, WTF are these clowns doing getting public subsidies for their elephant show, and getting publicly funded school parties from both England and Wales, in order to tell them lies about geology and evolution? I don’t care whether someone believes in a god or gods, but I do mind when they tell children that humans are not related to apes; or, to put it more correctly, to other apes.

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  14. Excellent article apart from your ridiculous point scoring dig about equal access in the 2nd last paragraph. Just looks petty and is not necessary when the rest of your piece admirably shows up the zoo quite nicely.

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    • My point was simply that the Zoo had lowered the level of discussion by claiming credit for this. One risk of highlighting an absurdity is that one might oneself thereby appear absurd, but that’s an unavoidable risk so I will let my words stand.

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      • No, it was point scoring, and incorrect at that. Here is the criteria for the category of the Tourism and Hospitality Awards they were entering.

        http://visitbristol.co.uk/destinationbristol/information/tourism-and-hospitality-awards-2013/access-for-all

        Here is a list of winners showing they won the category

        http://www.bristol-business.net/awards-recognises-bristols-tourism-and-hospitality-stars/

        Nothing absurd about mentioning you won an award. You accuse them now of being absurd and lowering the level of discussion. Which do you think lowers the level of the discussion:

        1 this zoo for highlighting an award they won,

        Or

        2 your complete lack of research on this particular matter and trying to trivialise it to “not excluding gays”.

        I really don’t understand why, faced with the evidence that they were not attempting to claim credit for not excluding gays, (or the disabled or people of any views on religion etc), you didn’t just hold your hand up and say “Fair cop, hadn’t understood it was an award they won, over and above meeting the legal requirements. It was a cheap shot and I shouldn’t have rushed to make what is clearly an incorrect and dismissive comment that lowers the level of the debate”.

        Instead of an evidence based retraction you stand by words that are clearly wrong, hmmmm, any irony in that given your views on this zoo’s creationist position? Come on just admit you were wrong, and took a cheap and entirely incorrect shot, otherwise it make you look like an entrenched bigot who will ignore facts if they conflict with his own beliefs.

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      • I was responding to their own statement, which I gave in full. But I will give no more space to this peripheral topic here, and if you want to infer from this that I am an entrenched bigot who ignores facts and takes cheap shots you are free to do so.

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  15. In your haste to condemn you appear to have gone too far, access for all has nothing to do with admittance of homosexuals but is an award for ensuring everyone can access a tourism venue, especially those with impairments. You may want to portray Christians (especially the creationist ones) as homophobes, but I don’t think it correct that you do so on the basis of this comment, which you have tried to centre on just one of the 5 criteria listed.

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    • No, not guilty. I am not accusing them of being homophobic, and if I had bored readers with the complete list I would not have been accusing them of racism, sexism, ageism, or religious discrimination either. I am merely asking why, in response to Prof Roberts’s searching critique, they are being so petty as to mention their open access policy, a legal requirement that should be taken for granted. And at four separate points in my post, I say that the Zoo is NOT representative of religion in general, or Christianity in particular.

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      • They are not mentioning an open access policy, if you would care to look at the “Access for All” awards and the regional award you would notice that it is not about who they let in. You said “is the Zoo claiming special credit not excluding gays” the answer is clearly “No”. They are pointing out that they won the regional award for creating a tourist attraction which is accessible (not just physically) for people of all backgrounds and abilities. The point of mentioning it in this case was not to show they let “gays” in, which you chose to infer as something they would want extra credit for, but that they had created something everyone could get something from according to the award panel. That would seem relevant to the question about it being one sided and indoctrinating (not proving it isn’t but certainly relevant evidence).

        I don’t agree with their ideas, but I believe you are being completely disingenuous when you act indignant about the suggestion that your comment was not meant to imply homophobia due to the organisation being Christian.

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      • I will let readers judge, and leave it at that.

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      • Sebastian they quite clearly point out the they let everyone regardless of race,belief, disability and sexuality you sir are making a mountain out of a mole hill,they brought up the award and sexuality. Paul was therefore within his rights to mention it in his rebuttal, it was only a small mention that you are now blowing out of all proportion in a small minded attempt to make Paul look cheap and judgmental. This just manages to make you look small minded and petty.

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      • I agree, Andrew, thanks. And now I am going to say Enough on this minuscule sub-topic.

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    • That’s all you got? A couple of words? Here in a America, we call you a nit picker and a fool.

      Well said Mr Braterman. Regardless of what Miss Manners seems to want to bleat endlessly

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  16. We enjoy Prof. Roberts television work and public contribution and wish her well in her future projects – both her and her family are very welcome to visit us again should they ever wish to.

    The above sentence I found even more pathetic than their Creationism!

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  17. A few lessons on basic grammar might be more persuasive an argument for any claims on their own intelligent design.

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  18. And speaking of two by two, this just out: The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood
    By Irving Finkel; publisher’s details here.

    Like

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