Recently, the British Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, a popular attraction that attracts 120,000 visitors per year, is indoctrinating visitors with Creationist propaganda and "threatening public understanding".
According to the Guardian, the British Humanist Association has recently asked that the zoo, run by husband and wife Anthony and Christina Bush, be removed from the materials of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and other visitors registries, on grounds of concealing its Creationist bent and misleading visitors by trying to discredit scientific fact. In the past, British Centre for Science Education has lodged complaints, too.
The owners say that, while they're Christians, what they offer is merely a range of perspectives, an approach that admits "both God and evolution", saying,
We...have much material on our website, which is not disguised or hidden, as well as being on our leaflet. Our education policy is purely based around the national curriculum. At no point is religion taught in the classroom, unless requested, as that would go against 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."
In the past, however, Anthony Bush has been more plainspoken, stating,
From the outside, our farm is not overtly Christian. But, from the inside, we are very strongly Christian. I am a Creationist, and we see the farm as a mission station to give people scientific permission to believe in God
It's this sort of rhetoric that has people worried about Noah's Ark being...less than direct.
The North Somerset council has, apparently, dismissed the complaints, telling the Guardian, "The licensing of zoos does consider education in so far as a zoo must promote an understanding of, and concern and respect for, biodiversity, animals and the natural world. The zoo licensing system therefore does not comment on or is involved in personal beliefs."
Obviously no secular "educational" facility can teach stealth creationism - even some bizarre, watered down version that presents the Earth's age as somewhere between the two views - and present it - especially to children - as science. At the same time, a private organization can do whatever it likes, and can have a rock petting zoo devoted to the history of leprechauns if it wants - as long as they're not presemtong themselves as a government sanctioned authority. My primary questions would probably be:
-Does Noah's Ark make it clear that it's a creationist organization?
-Does it actually promote pseudoscience?
-And, is it possible to enjoy and learn from the animals without being exposed to any said pseudoscience?
The answer is, sort of. Their website, from the outset, seems like any other zoo's. And then you see the "Creation Research" tab. Yes, there are allowances made for both evolution and creationism, but in a sense the very reasonable tone is more worrisome: like the best propaganda, it concedes enough points to avoid the polemical, but still drives its message home.
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.
For instance, there's a whole section on Darwin, but the biographical sketch emphasizes the negative.
Robert Darwin was one of 14 children of a somewhat profligate doctor, Erasmus Darwin who had children by 3 women. One of these he did not marry, another of them was married when he began an affair with her. His first wife died of cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcohol abuse, along with a large overdose of morphine administered by Erasmus.
Later, "Some speculate that part of Darwin's mental problems were due to his nagging fear that he had devoted his "life to a fantasy" - and to a "dangerous one" at that."
While the writers don't state Biblical truth with off-putting fanaticism, there's enough "questions" asked , in serious-looking sections like "How Old Is The Earth?" about carbon dating and the fossil record - and a "they're both wrong" tone - that's insidious. And the "educational materials," with questions like "From which of Noah's sons are the nation of Israel and Jesus Christ, descended?" are explicitly Christian (or, at any rate, Biblical.)
So, yeah, no one should be recommending this as a "zoo" without a caveat. Public schools should probably not be making field trips here. That said, were I a parent, I don't think I'd worry that one day at a spot whose web site contains craftily-worded pseudoscience would brain-wash my kid forever. And, at the end of the day, you're perfectly able to enjoy the animals (who are humanely and kindly treated) the hay ride, the maze, etc. without a side of creationism - which is important for those families who might not have another zoo nearby. The zoo is also committed to conservation issues, and this portion of their literature seems blessedly lay. Indeed, I think in a sense this could be the best kind of educational trip for the thinking kid: a lesson in distinguishing between real and false, and in taking the good from something without losing yourself.
A Fun Day Out For All The Creationists [Guardian]
Interview: Anthony Bush Co-Founder Of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm [Church Times]