A Creation Petting Zoo?

A Creation Petting Zoo? August 27, 2009

I decided to take some time and write a follow-up piece to my adventure at the petting zoo at the Creation “Museum” and fulfill Mr. Hammer’s offer of guest posting.

A little about myself… I finished my PhD in Toxicology in 2005 at the University of Kentucky and am now teaching part time at my undergraduate alma mater. I used to blog as a graduate student, mostly on politics and religion, and gradually slacked off. After the SSA visit to the Creation “Museum”, I decided it was time to come back, and put together a blog on what is happening in the biological sciences today, and how you could present that information in a manner that would engage students and promote learning. Daniel offered to let me write up a guest post on the visit, and so, here I am.

You can probably guess how I responded to the faux science of this place. The good news is that it seems like an incredibly boring place to take a kid. The bad news is that lots of kids get hurried through there, and find themselves lied to about how science works. Of course, that makes my job harder, because the theory of evolution is a central concept in biology, and without it, there are lots of unconnected lines of evidence, begging for something to unite them. Answers in Genesis hopes to provide a replacement concept in a very narrow interpretation of Genesis, and hell take you if you dare to disagree. The problem is, even if they were able to disprove evolution by natural selection, it wouldn’t make a six day version of biblical creationism, by default, correct. The worst part is that they can’t even come up with any new claims. They are stuck with arguments that are decades, sometimes more than a century old, and all long debunked. Even intelligent design isn’t a new concept.

Science is a system by which we attempt to remove our bias and prejudice, and seek naturalistic and materialistic explanations for what we find in the world around us. The supernatural doesn’t enter into our examinations, unless somebody makes the claim that the supernatural can be measured or otherwise proved to exist. So far, nobody who makes those claims has been able to offer any concrete evidence for their claims and while it is impossible to disprove them, the “Museum” is being academically dishonest and is ethically bankrupt by plainly admitting that they start with a conclusion and ignore any evidence that doesn’t support their conclusion. They abandon any pretense of science from their starting point and they don’t even know it.

Keeping up with the amusement church theme found on the rest of the grounds, Profit Prophet Ham has a lovely little petting zoo, perhaps one of the two interactive exhibits available to catch the attention of children.

Of course, like any petting zoo, and like everything in Ham’s “Museum”, Ham is making a buck. This time in corn to feed a variety of animals, all presented with the expected pseudo-scientific rationalizations that science supports young earth creationism. A family of four could easily burn $120 on a trip to this place between tickets and lunch, not including gas. Actually, burning $120 would be much more educational unless you treat it as an exercise in cultural anthropology, like a visit to a ren faire without the corsets.

To get to the petting zoo, you have to take a long winding walk through their garden, which includes a nice little bog including some pitcher plants (sadly, I didn’t get a good shot of these).

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Like most of the museum, this is not a small child, elderly, stroller or wheelchair friendly area. There is no shortcut back to the air conditioned museum or parking lots (unless you came in a bus or RV) and no water fountains, but you can buy a coke or ice cream. The paths wind back and forth somewhat randomly, sometimes depositing you at the pond or in front of a wireframe dinosaur stuffed with green straw, festooned with lights.

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There were a couple pavilions for large groups, and finally, the zoo. A giraffe sculpture marked the entrance.

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The rest was the regular county fair stuff with a few neat critters tossed in. A camel, llama, some goats, chickens, peacocks and a few exotics (including a cute little wallaby, crikey!). I’m sure that you are wondering why have a petting zoo at a creation museum? Well, they haven’t managed to find any living dinos…

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so they have to find some other way to make the claims that there is no such thing as evolution.

Again, we return to the fuzzy concept of “kinds” used by creationists. What is a “kind?”

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So hoofed animals that are horse-like are a kind, all cats are a kind, canids are at least one kind, perhaps several if you were to draw the line between wolfs/dogs and foxes. This line gets fuzzy very quickly and if you look into the creationist musings, you will find lots of disagreements as to where the kind line should be drawn, all of which is more philosophy than research. Perhaps this is what the “scientists” do at the Discovery Institute’s super secret research facility. (Interesting detail, the Discovery Institute and Ham’s Answers in Genesis don’t like each other very much, as they differ on the interpretation of Genesis, but don’t fight each other while evolution still stands).

From the above image, we know that Prophet Ham doesn’t have a problem with natural selection, but he claims that this isn’t evolution, nor does natural selection lead to evolution. Its one of those details that makes anybody who has had a biology course say “Huh?” even before you start to scratch you head at denying the possibility of a link between dinosaurs and birds, which is a very solid theory in itself. Any brainy kid who comes along and sees this and also comes across a discovery channel show on the evolution of birds from dinos is going to have a major fit. It is something like a piggy living in a straw house. Perhaps even similar to building your house on rock instead of sand… I’m sure there is a fable or parable in there somewhere.

So why is this important? It all comes down to logistics. Ham wants to offer you an explanation that will keep you from asking questions like “How did Noah fit that many different species on one boat?” The species of beetles alone would have packed the ark from stem to stern with no room for Noah and his family! Well, it turns out that a thinking mind is almost as bad as idle hands. The concept of kinds lets Ham explain this away. You only need a few hundred kinds instead of millions of species, and those kinds will, in the span of a few thousand years, miraculously produce all the species we see before us. Interestingly, this process appears to have slowed down immensely since humans started paying attention. Also, human “kind” is immune to this process.

It is a fair point to note that species is also a somewhat changeable concept, but for a legitimate reason instead of a frantic apologetic one. A species is defined by its ability or inability to produce fertile offspring with other closely related groups. A few examples of these differences are behavioral (wrong dance or song, no mating), temporal (fertile periods for males and females don’t synchronize), or even mechanical (wrong shape or size of penis, very important to ducks). If you do get live offspring, if they are infertile, that line of same vs different species stands. Since we can’t breed fossils, determining if there is a reproductive barrier between fossil A and fossil B isn’t possible. We can’t mate bacteria with one another and we can’t breed purely asexual organisms with one another either. Also, there are “ring species” which across their geographical distribution change gradually. Not so much that neighbors can’t successfully produce fertile offspring, but instead, when the two ends of the ring are brought together, they cannot pass that biological test.

But most importantly, all life is still evolving even as we speak, and new species are in the process of forming, sometimes its just too slow for we impatient humans to notice.

On to the critters.

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Yes, tigons and ligers are the hybrid offspring of mating captive lions and tigers, but the males are sterile, so you don’t have a functional species of both males and females. Tigers and lions are separate species because the genome of the hybrid has enough of the required genes to produce a living animal, but enough genes are missing or turned off that you get a “tigon”—a very large cat (now that would have been impressive at a petting zoo), with any males being sterile. Second generation offspring of female tigons and lions or tigons and tigers are very rare and have poor health. This is exactly what you would predict of a ring species where the middle has been broken off and become extinct. The lion and tiger are far enough removed from each other that attempting to breed them is difficult due to behavioral differences and genetic differences. Even the male hybrid’s sterility is predicted by Haldane’s rule, where if one sex of the hybrid is sterile, it will be the male (XY) and not the female (XX). Theories like the Theory of Evolution have predictive power, something that non scientific ideas like creationism and intelligent design lack. You can make a prediction, test it, and see what happens.

You can’t do that with creationism. Creationists and ID fans look at the evidence, throw up their hands and say “I don’t know, so God must have done it!” Of course, when someone else does figure it out, you just look silly and your God gets a little smaller. I would actually argue that creationists and IDers are among the atheist’s closest unintentional allies.

So what about “zorses.” If you cross a male zebra and a female horse or pony, you get a hybrid zorse. A male horse and female zebra gives you a hebra. Just like crossing a horse and a donkey, these are all sterile, hence, the horse and zebra to a scientist would be different species, but to a creationist, the fact that you cannot do the same between cats and dogs to get a cog or dat means that they are different kinds and wholly unrelated (please ignore any evidence, fossil or genetic demonstrating common ancestry). Same with the “zonkey.” It is another sterile hybrid.

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Also displayed, but with no explanation, are some hybrid birds, some of which are extremely pretty, but again, are a better proof of the scientific concept of evolution.

The camel and llama will probably be joined by a cama hybrid eventually. I suspect they will also have a goat/sheep cross on display eventually as well, since goats are such a staple of petting zoos like this one. They will have to be kept separate, though, because the male sheep/goat hybrids are randy little buggers. But all it will add are more sterile hybrids for a scientifically barren philosophy. It would be funny if so many people (and such a large part of the voting public) didn’t buy into it. It becomes one of the most important things facing a biology teacher. How can you present evidence contrary to religious belief in such a way that it is honest and forthright, but not so jarring that it causes a wholesale rejection of entire branches of science?

And so, we come back to where we started. We have either human reason, which is based on experimentation and evidence, supported by multiple independent lines of evidence and refined as new information becomes available, or God’s Word, at least as interpreted and delivered by Prophet Ham, unchanging in the face of contradictory evidence, ready to grab onto the flimsiest excuse to believe in a literal biblical creation of a specific… kind. Any attempt to be a Christian and believe anything other than Ham’s interpretation and you are jointly responsible for the destruction of civilization with evil scientists and atheists, and even atheist scientists! All this time, I thought the stink was coming from the petting zoo.

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It certainly is interesting how often God believes exactly what the believer does, with as many different and contradictory beliefs as there are believers.

Crossposted at camelswithhammers and Teaching Sapiens.

Teach on.

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