Wednesday, 16 September 2009

"If you think I am expecting 6 year olds to understand Radioisotope dating, you are very strange!"

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If it's seemed a little quiet on this blog lately, that's because I've been on holiday for a couple of weeks. Just before I left, I published my piece on my visit to Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, the creationist zoo on the outskirts of Bristol. When I was writing it back in late August, I emailed some questions to the zoo's owner, Anthony Bush, who came back to tell me he was too busy dealing with record visitor numbers to answer them.

But on checking through my holiday email backlog this morning, I found a message from Bush from earlier this month saying that "As the school holidays are just about over (far beyond, in attendance, any I have experienced here before) I can now find a few minutes to answer some of your questions about Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm." So, by way of an update to my original piece, here are my questions and his full answers.

You’ve been running the zoo farm for 10 years now – why did you set it up? What are your aims?
I had been a dairy farmer for 35 years; bought my farm from my landlord and diversified into cereals and a tourist attraction. I hoped to put a mainly townsfolk public in touch with where their food came from, and we called it Noah’s Ark, not Bushes Farm or something more traditional, because I wanted to give people scientific permission to believe in God. Noah and his Ark was the best known story in the world; was it a myth, was it a one year flood as the Creationists said, or was it something else? I felt the science (as well as the Bible, Girgamesh Epic et al) was pointing somewhere more radical. There is a time when geologists are agreed that the whole world was under water, or nearly so, the Hadean/Archaean boundary; known to astronomers in respect of Mars as the Noachian, and coinciding with the Late Heavy Bombardment of asteroids whose effect we see best on the moon but also throughout the solar system. The explanation of the sedimentary rocks and their fossils seems to fit a story of Recolonisation after a wipe-out, better than a story of origins. See, which this zoo sponsors as our contribution to research.
Your scientific views differ greatly both from those of evolutionary biologists and from the better-known American creationists? How did you formulate your views, and what makes them more viable than other explanations?
I went on a geology field trip and saw some examples in the field that convinced me that the Creationists were wrong, and were hanging on to a 6,000 BC creation to avoid criticism by other “Bible believers”, who seemed to be trapped by a literal, but not Hebrew, reading of the Genesis genealogies, rather than the rest of the Bible; and their Flood had to last 5 months, which was not like the Biblical one. Furthermore the empirical age of rocks while needing quite a lot of thousands of years to form, should not be assigned the millions of years that they were being given. Radioisotope dating of igneous rocks was the reason for the millions of years, but there appeared to be serious contradictions. When I queried this, some geologists went quiet and said they needed to pass exams, so it was unwise to question such things. Both views seemed wrong, but dissent was scoffed at or ridiculed, rather than argued. (This has just been repeated in this Sink the Ark campaign). It is for scientific reasons, not religious ones that we introduce the paradigm.
What do you hope people will take away from a visit to the zoo? Is it your intention to change their views on evolution?
I have 14 grandchildren and want them and thousands of visitors to have a brilliant day out; full of fun and full of interest in the animals. I really want people to find out about the details of animal taxonomy, habits, communication and environment, and to interact with as many animals as possible to discover how friendly as well as amazing they are. Zoos do not usually do much of this. Darwinists seem to be ignoring differences to try and point out similarities; so many of the marvels of the natural world go un-noticed. We have had Animal Shows from Year 1, pointing out these details. Evolution is everywhere, so yes, I want people to see that it is taking place, but no, there are limits to it in the fossil record and in life.
Your marketing material makes very little of your stance on creation and evolution – other than the name “Noah’s Ark”, it’s not hugely obvious that the zoo has a religious angle. Is this intentional? If so, why are you not more explicit about your zoo’s philosophy?
I don’t consider we do have a hugely obvious religious angle. My wife and I are Christians. I hate people being bullied into either belief or disbelief. Most farmers of my age are quite religious; we lived through WW2, when the King called the nation to prayer on 14 occasions; everyone was on their knees at some time in that war, and all of us were thankful for deliverance from the Nazis. Why should I abandon God when times get good? We can’t advertise ourselves as “Christian” as that word could mean Spanish Inquisition Catholic Christian, Northern Ireland violent Protestant Christian, or any of lots of wonderful people in between, so what does it mean? (as I told the Church Times interviewer, but she did not publish it all in the very brief summary there was room for)? Why do not other zoos call themselves atheist? It is obvious when you read the displays what the editorial stance is of Bristol Zoo or @Bristol (which closed). Why don’t some zoos say ”come here and we will tell you that apes are man’s closest relative”? Because they know they will lose customers who disagree with them! We however, would like to be in dialogue with people who disagree with us. I think from next year we will probably put on our leaflet that we discuss evolution and creation, on our list of activities. But as you know it is a very small part of what we devote 100 acres to.
In the information on educational visits on your website, there is no mention of your zoo’s creationist perspective. Why is this?
In our KS 1, 2, 3 & 4 workshops we do not talk about God, because that is not part of the National Curriculum. What is a “creationist perspective”? We have three displays summarising Darwinism, but also including two younger Earth views alongside. We are probably the only place, let alone zoo, that allows each view to be represented. I know Christians of each persuasion, and would like intelligent debate here. So should you!
When I visited, I was struck by the fact that a great deal of the information on your creation plus evolution theory is on the walls surrounding the rainbow slide? Why is this? Have you deliberately placed these in an area popular with children?
It is there because parents are supervising their children and are bored, so are ready to look at something. It has to be moderately worded, or, like @Bristol the other way round, it will put people off. If you think I am expecting 6 year olds to understand Radioisotope dating, you are very strange! The displays invite discussion. Some of them need a good background in geology to fully appreciate. I think I have answered all queries ever emailed to me (or my staff have), but I am shocked at the rudeness of the Sink the Ark correspondents. I don’t mind strong criticism, but not “fuck you”; “keep your juvenile points to yourself”; “what a bunch of shit”; “there is NO evidence whatsoever for the bullshit you try to pass off as fact”; to quote some very recent ones. That is hardly constructive dialogue! I hope you will discourage the rant against religion, masquerading as science which seems to be the hallmark of humanists from Richard Dawkins website at the moment, Paul.
Lastly, you are a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), but I understand you were not able to become a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). What difficulties have you had with joining organisations like this, and how do you go about addressing the differences of opinion involved?
We joined BIAZA because I have always belonged to the NFU, and have served as Chairman at Branch, Group, and County level. Committees are essential for moving politically forward. Politicians need consensus to do anything, so stake-holders need to agree, before they ask politicians. BIAZA is the zoo equivalent. I am a consensus man, and hope I see all sides, especially yours Paul! I have been discussing Darwinism with Atheists for over 50 years. In the '50s almost no one believed it! It has gained ground, but it is not because of its science that it has done this. Churchill’s axiom “better jaw, jaw, than war, war” has got to be the way forward. I hope some are talking to EAZA on our behalf. They need us as much as BIAZA does.

I hope you can see I am taking you seriously Paul and would be delighted for further dialogue. Our paradigm is radical, but may, as Galileo’s did, take many years for people to take seriously. Scientists can be obstinate (can’t we all be), especially when they have written papers on a subject.

With best wishes

Anthony Bush, Owner/CEO, Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm


nullifidian said...

Ah, another loon comparing himself to Galileo. Unfortunately the comparison falls down when Galileo used the science to show he was, in fact, right.

quinnray said...

Is it godlike to keep animals caged up for all their lives?

AT said...

Pretty pleased to read his questions - it's easy, on seeing a creationist zoo, to get reactionary and angry right off the bat. He doesn't sound like a loony on a mission, and you have to respect a guy who takes the time to craft a gentle and polite response. Given the easily-offended tones of most public atheists and believers, his lack of rashness is welcome.

Joe Hayhurst said...

Excuse my ignorance, but there was a time when most of the earth was under water? Where did all the water go then? And he only spoke to 'geologists' who had to pass exams, so weren't qualified?


ColonelFazackerley said...

Sounds like a nice guy.

"including two younger Earth views alongside". That'll be the "all viewpoints are equally valid" fallacy. Some are supported by evidence.

Regarding 6 year olds and radioisotope dating: a friend of mine's six year old daughter wrote a poem about superstrings. If explained well, ...

Richard Eis said...

Yep, he has really studied his facts, which is why he calls it Darwinism. Sigh...

Another maroon. Though he now seems to be coming up with creationism 2.1

Oh goody.