Why I won’t be going back to Bristol’s creationist zoo
A creationist zoo in Bristol will bewilder adults and potentially undermine children’s education
So read the title of an article in Great Britain’s The Guardian.
The gist of the article was to believe in creationism (as represented by the creationist zoo displays in Bristol) is to turn your back on a mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary. In this way the author believes that “religious fundamentalism and biblical literalism”” is dangerous because it potentially undermines children’s education.
The author appreciates freedom of speech and freedom of religion but concluded she would not revisit the zoo with her children presumably because she perceives the danger of believing in creationism is a significant detriment to their scientific education.
The author’s name is Alice Roberts. Ms. Roberts is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham (GB).
I first came across the article via a FB link posted by a British acquaintance with whom I share an interest in history. He posted it without comment so I’m not entirely sure as to why he posted it and I hate to assume motive.
But, I went to the link and it got me thinking about a number of things.
One, the article used words that mean different things to different people.
Creationism is one. For example the author may have meant she didn’t believe that God created everything and man all at the same time or she may have meant she did believe that God did create but used macroevolution to do so. Professing Christians in our own country have differing views on how God did it. She may have also meant that God had nothing to do with creation and may be an atheist herself. We don’t know because she did not define the term as to what she meant.
The same is true when she alludes to biblical literalism. To people who take the Bible seriously those terms can have shades of meaning. For example, I do not believe that trees actually clap their hands like it says in a Psalm. The Psalms are Hebrew poetry and it would be just weird to interpret that kind of literature in a literal way without recognizing the poetry.
She also makes reference to “fundamentalists” without defining what she means. I think she means one who takes the Bible literally but as I’ve already noted that can mean different things to different people. I would consider myself a fundamentalist when it comes to believing the fundamentals of the faith, that is, those doctrines that are both fundamental and foundational to Christian faith.
This is an issue we Christians have to face when we read articles like that in a newspaper or magazine. Terminology is important and we need to remember we live in a world that does not speak the language or define terms like we would. Asking, what do you mean by that can be a helpful tool in trying to understand where a person is coming from.
Two, I thought the article was interesting since it gave the view of a professor that teaches science to the public. I think is helpful because as a creationist I want to know what a non-creationist thinks and believes and why, especially why. Ms. Roberts simply believes the evidence of macroevolution is overwhelming and that ends the discussion. That’s good to know from my point of view should I ever meet Ms. Roberts at a party (as unlikely as that is).
I did think she was preaching to the choir because there was a side bar link which stated 4 out 5 Britons reject creationism. This made me wonder who it was she was trying to convince that creationism is dangerous. She did say she wanted to explain why she didn’t want her children to be exposed to the zoo so I suppose she wanted the 4 out 5 Britons who reject creationism to reject the zoo as well. That would be bad for business so perhaps her intent was to hurt the business. Another British friend once told me that The Guardian leans to the British left so hurting business may very well have been point just as it is in our country.
The article reminded me of trips with my son to the Milwaukee Museum when he was small. We went to the zoo knowing full well they had the famous timeline posters in the anthropology section that show man emerging from some kind of monkey with the differing stages of development until we arrive at Homo sapiens. I could fear that or deal with it and have a discussion. We did have the discussion (and most recently at a baseball game in a different context). The discussion was based on the fact that macro-evolution is still a theory because it lacks conclusive proof despite the opinions of people like Ms. Roberts who believe the theory to be a forgone conclusion. They must find that frustrating because others have a rather different theory from where we came from.
I also wondered that since she thought creationists were dangerous (because they are religious fundamentalists) what might she may be subtly suggesting. I do not think myself as dangerous because I believe God created the heavens and the earth but if enough people find that dangerous thinking in a free society one has to wonder how long freedom of speech and freedom of worship will be tolerated by those who think we are truly dangerous?
The professor suggested nothing threatening of the sort but I am keenly aware that it’s a hate crime to speak out against the sin of homosexuality in the neighboring Country of Canada. That is an ominous sign in a free country and political correctness is taking on troubling tones in our own country with many preaching that if someone is offended by anything at all then there should be a law preventing a perceived offender from offending. It’s nuts, but that’s the way it is going.
My third thought had to do with the author’s comment that she wanted her children to be able to think critically. To that I gave a hearty amen. Too often our American (and British) cultures suffer from a lack of critical thinking much to our detriment. In fact, I thought that universities were originally founded to become a marketplace of ideas where critical thinking would be much in evidence regardless of topic. That a professor of science would find creationist ideas so dangerous that she would not expose her children to them further suggests that she’s not so much about critical thinking as she seems to believe. One could easily walk away from the article thinking that maybe she would prefer censorship to protect her children from those dangerous creationists.
My son attended a private Christian High School. Both sides of the debate (Creation\Macro Evolution) were presented fairly. That’s the critical thinking Ms. Roberts seems to desire, yet apparently fears the debate because she finds it foolish given the mountains of evidence she claims to possess..
Deeming one side of the debate as dangerous and/or foolish is akin to demonizing your opponent or disrespecting a differing point of view by implying that a side is simply too stupid or blinded by religious fervor to rightly consider the facts. And while I am certain there are foolish creationists I’m equally sure there are arrogant professors of science with closed minds.
Ms. Roberts doesn’t seem to grasp the notion that everyone in the debate has the same facts but interpret those facts in different ways. The macro evolutionist presupposes some things just as the creationist presupposes some other things. Those presuppositions tend to drive the interpretation of the data.
Much could be said about the article itself and the presuppostionialism implied but that is not the take I want to discuss as much fun as that might be.
My fourth thought or group of thoughts has to do with what Christians call a testimony. In other words what does the journey look like when one becomes a Christian.
For example, we do not believe that being baptized in a church makes one a Christian anymore than being in a garage makes one a car. To become a Christian one must be born again as Jesus explains in John 3 and John 3 does not mean being baptized.
It also means one has to somehow overcome intellectual stumbling blocks that prevent a person from even wanting to become a Christian in the first place.
In my case, despite being raised in the Roman Catholic Church when I was young, I became an agnostic by my early twenties and into my thirties. An agnostic is someone who is not sure there is a God.
My stumbling block was the Bible in general, not the New Testament so much because whatever else I may have thought Jesus does comes off as a rather good fellow in the New Testament. No, my issue was more with the Old Testament and despite my limited knowledge I knew there were things in there that were rather hard to believe.
At some point a person has to come to grips with a talking snake and talking donkey and a big flood as well as time being frozen for a day as the Israelites destroy an enemy. My favorite argument as a friend tried to talk to me about Jesus was to distract him by talking about Noah and the flood.
I was like sure Bob, I hear you, but what about Noah, how did he get all those critters on that boat? Note the sarcasm and intellectual superiority on my part. I was like heh Bob you are an idiot if you believe that nonsense. That was insulting especially because Bob was not an idiot nor a wild-eyed fanatic.
Bob was a good sport and one day made reference to this passage below probably because he was sick of me insulting him.
 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)
The passage simply speaks about Jesus’ identity. While I may have thought Jesus a pretty good guy that is a far cry from believing he is the Christ the son of the living God and then trusting in him for salvation.
Jesus apparently wants Peter to “get it” and says something rather remarkable and that is Peter didn’t figure out Jesus was the Messiah on his own but God the Father had to reveal it to Peter first. That very idea should be troubling to a non-believer because if the God of Scripture is truth then he has to reveal Jesus as Messiah to people prior to them figuring it out for themselves. To me that’s a whoa kind of thought and it occurred to me that I had it backwards.
The passage represented a crisis to me. Who was Jesus? Was he the good guy I thought he was or was he the Son of the God come to earth as Messiah, the Christ?
If he’s the Christ come to save sinners that has some serious follow-up to it!
That question is just a bit more important than how did Noah get all those critters on the ark or if monkeys morph into men over billions of years. Why?
Because, one’s eternal destiny is dependent on the answer. If you want to believe your ancestor was an ape I really don’t care. I’m more interested in what you think about your eternal destiny. Having solved that riddle I’d me more than willing to talk about monkeys morphing into men.
One can spend a great deal of time discussing the debate between creationists and the macro evolutionists but if we never discuss the issue of eternal consequence it’s pretty much a waste of time as far as I’m concerned.
This is why I did not specifically respond to my FB acquaintance. One he did not ask me for a response by asking a question or making a comment and two I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing the presuppositionalism of both sides of the debate. There is more than one ministry out there that is far better at it than me and one of them is Answers in Genesis run by Ken Ham an Australian ex-pat now living in the US.
- Why I won’t be going back to Bristol’s creationist zoo (theguardian.com)
- Fox News Urges Creation-Evolution Dialogue (sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com)
- Is creationism scientific? (altruistico.wordpress.com)