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Notes from the field: A trip to the zoo!

September 17, 2010

On the 15th of September Carl and I, in the interest of science and certainly not for our own entertainment, went on a field trip. To the zoo! Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm (the wikipedia page here has some interesting background) is, coincidentally, nestled in the hallowed fields of Somerset, although when I learnt this I wasn’t best pleased. Why? The zoo has featured on a number of blogs recently as being involved in the spreading of creationist “theories” and, much more seriously, has come under close scrutiny for potential animal cruelty.

I was going to do an entry here with the aim of ridiculing both the ideas put forward by the zoo owner and the zoo itself, but decided to hold off until I had the chance to visit. I was worried that the zoo had managed to earn a number of awards for being a good place for school trips – the idea that a creationist zoo could earn such awards worried me.

I’m glad I waited! The zoo itself seems good. Obviously it’s never good to see large animals in any form of enclosure rather than the wild, but as these things go I think the enclosures were ok. As for the school trip element, the hands-on farm, with animals of all descriptions for kids to play with was excellent. I think Carl will agree with me when I say that this element of the zoo was top notch. Obviously we can’t testify as to the content of any talks given to school trips (given that the zoo is rather blatant in it’s aim to spread a Christian message I assume there is a strong religious element), but the practical side looks amazing.

We kept a careful eye open for the creationist displays that I’d expected to see everywhere – they were actually much fewer and much subtler than either of us had thought likely. Here are our findings!

Ironically, the first animals we saw were the finches… I assumed the display would give us a description of why Darwin was wrong in his explanation of finch beaks, but at the finch display itself, no such luck.

Why do finches have different beaks?

It was only later that we discovered how the variation of finch beaks was dealt with.

Finch "original created kind"...So, finches have an “original created kind”, which then evolved into the “huge group of families” that we see today. The message that evolution has occurred, but only after a creation event, is widespread in the zoo. They’re certainly not denying evolution has occurred in animals, although I would be curious to know their take on human evolution! One thing that stands out is the number of claims made about “original created kind” or “original design”. This can be seen again in the “Birds of Prey” section in the photo above. Where is the evidence to show what original kinds were created? How do we know what has evolved and what was created? Genesis certainly doesn’t go into detail. God created livestock, birds and beasts. Any more detail is sorely lacking. I guess we’ll have to live without this evidence.

Next up, the reptile house! Lots of snakes. They were even crawling on their bellies. Of reasonable entertainment value was the last section of the poster on reptiles:

It is more a statement of faith.Ah, the old “science relies on faith as well!” argument. Or as it should be called, the tu quoque fallacy. Personally I’m not sure what argument is being attempted in the paragraph shown above – I suspect it’s just a very bad effort at getting the last sentence into the mind of the reader.

Much more fun is to be had when turning around after reading the poster above. I should have seen it coming, but I still laughed when I saw…

Snake Evolution and the Fall in the Garden of EdenIt has to be said, the mixing of theology with science was, at times, masterly. If you believe in the literal truth of the creation story then a visit to Noah’s Ark Zoo will leave you pretty happy with how you can reconcile that belief with evolution-lite.  The one thing in the photo above that I’m still wondering about is the sentence “Yet without having to go through a course in herpetology we all know a snake when we see one!”. I’m hoping this isn’t a crap argument for the idea that because snakes look alike they must have come from a common ancestor. Many things look alike. Take eyes; different species have eyes that look similar yet evolved through completely different evolutionary pathways.

Another quote worthy of consideration is shown below in the final paragraph.

Intelligent Design?

To pack such a capacity for co-ordinated variation within a single pair of animals requires foresight, intelligence and creativity of the highest order!

Right. So god deliberately designed animals so that he could kill off all but two of each kind safe in the knowledge that they would evolve into the current species after the flood, and evolution isn’t the opposite of creation. I think Steven Robinson (MA) needs to read more about evolution.

Next, to the bigger animals. Beside a field of cows (ah, Somerset, how I love you) we learn the following.

Hence what?If anyone can tell me how the “hence” in the picture above follows, I’m all ears.

And that was just about the limit of creationism that we saw! There were a few more unsubstantiated references to “original kinds”, but nothing overtly aggressive towards evolutionary theory. All in all a much more balanced and fun day out than we’d imagined.

To top the day off, I even got to go on the ark! Not sure if it’s the original, Genesis 6:15 makes it sound a bit bigger. Plus I’m pretty sure it wasn’t made of cypress wood.

Yes, I'm on Noah's Ark.A trip to the zoo? Recommended.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Justin permalink
    September 17, 2010 2:45 PM

    Nice work in the field!

    This reminds me of Mark Twain’s scalding attack on the Bible in “Letters From the Earth.” In particular letters IV through VII. Here Twain focuses on Noah’s Ark and how God necessarily created all disease and the microbes that spread them. Consequently it was Noah’s duty to make sure that the microbes made it on board the ark. Here is a comedic passage from the start of Letter VII:

    “Noah and his family were saved — if that could be called an advantage. I throw in the if for the reason that there has never been an intelligent person of the age of sixty who would consent to live his life over again. His or anyone else’s. The Family were saved, yes, but they were not comfortable, for they were full of microbes. Full to the eyebrows; fat with them, obese with them, distended like balloons. It was a disagreeable condition, but it could not be helped, because enough microbes had to be saved to supply the future races of men with desolating diseases, and there were but eight persons on board to serve as hotels for them. The microbes were by far the most important part of the Ark’s cargo, and the part the Creator was most anxious about and most infatuated with. They had to have good nourishment and pleasant accommodations. There were typhoid germs, and cholera germs, and hydrophobia germs, and lockjaw germs, and consumption germs, and black-plague germs, and some hundreds of other aristocrats, specially precious creations, golden bearers of God’s love to man, blessed gifts of the infatuated Father to his children — all of which had to be sumptuously housed and richly entertained; these were located in the choicest places the interiors of the Family could furnish: in the lungs, in the heart, in the brain, in the kidneys, in the blood, in the guts. In the guts particularly. The great intestine was the favorite resort. There they gathered, by countless billions, and worked, and fed, and squirmed, and sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving; and at night when it was quiet you could hear the soft murmur of it. The large intestine was in effect their heaven. They stuffed it solid; they made it as rigid as a coil of gaspipe. They took pride in this. Their principal hymn made gratified reference to it:

    Constipation, O Constipation,
    The Joyful sound proclaim
    Till man’s remotest entrail
    Shall praise its Maker’s name.”

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