School field trips to creationist Ark? Sink that idea right now

A view from the front of the gigantic Ark
Pseudoscience inside

John Minchillo/AP/PA

In a quiet corner of Kentucky, what claims to be the world’s largest timber-frame structure is hard to miss – a “life-size Noah’s Ark” that reportedly cost $100 million.

Called Ark Encounter, the 155-metre long “theme park” features stuffed creatures and a petting zoo. It opened its doors last month, billing itself as a family-oriented educational treat. That makes it sound like a good place for schools to send students.

Not so fast, though. The park’s promotional material also describes it as “a Christian evangelistic outreach intended to bring the Ark of Noah’s day to life,” which “equips visitors to understand the reality of the events that are recorded in the book of Genesis”. It is, in fact, a hard-core creationist extravaganza replete with pseudoscience. It is no place for field trips.

But that hasn’t stopped its founder Ken Ham from urging publicly funded schools to come and take a look.

One of the exhibits inside the Ark showing a dinosaur-like creature in a small wooden pen
Inside the Ark

John Minchillo/AP/PA

Throughout the Ark, wordy signs, animatronic mannequins and strident videos all insist that it is no Sunday school tale, but a “historically authentic” boat that existed just as Ham and others on the young-earth creationist fringe imagine it.

Perhaps because of disappointing visitor numbers so far, it is offering reduced rates – $1 a student and free tickets for accompanying teachers – to tempt schoolchildren through its doors. Schools and parents should know that a visit wouldn’t educate or entertain, it would misinform and browbeat.

Publicly-funded schools certainly should not take their charges to the park. The US Constitution prohibits government bodies, including schools, from endorsing one particular religious belief over others. Ark Encounter is all about endorsing Ham’s particular reading of Genesis as the literal truth. The constitutions of nearby states, from which a trip might be feasible, echo that proscription.

Flood of misinformation

What’s more, everything in the park is designed to promote scientifically impossible ideas that contradict everything that scientists know. From astrophysics to zookeeping, the visitor is deluged with misinformation. It may be impossible to find a single sign in the park that is free of scientific errors.

To give a single example, Ark Encounter is founded on the notion that all the walking and flying animals alive today descend from specimens caged aboard a boat so unwieldy that it surely would have twisted apart in the roiling waters of a biblical flood. It is a notion that founders on the rocks of genetics, biogeography and naval engineering.

Just as pernicious as the scientific errors and the religious proselytising is a subtler form of indoctrination. The relentless message to visitors is that our world is as fallen and wicked as Noah’s, and that the destruction of the flood – including the obliteration of all humans other than a virtuous few – was not just acceptable but praiseworthy.

Under the pretence of illustrating a beloved tale shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, Ark Encounter presents a message as socially divisive as it is scientifically inaccurate, instilling fear, hatred and hopelessness. Those are lessons no school or parent should want their students or children to take on board.

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Pope Potpourri: Don’t Breed Like Rabbits/Will the Pope Go Vegan?

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-francis-walks-back-remark-about-catholics-breeding-like-rabbits/

Pope change his mind on breeding “like rabbits”?

Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Jan. 21, 2015. REUTERS

ROME — During his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis sought Wednesday to clarify remarks he made earlier in the week which suggested Catholics should limit the number of children they have, if they can’t afford to take care of them properly.

Aboard the papal plane from Manila to Rome on Monday, the Pope spoke of his disapproval of a woman who was expecting her eighth child.

“Does she want to leave seven orphans?” asked the pontiff, wondering aloud whether she was trying to tempt god by undergoing an eighth birth by cesarean section.

Using the colorful language that has become his hallmark, the Pope said being a good Catholic did not mean people should breed “like rabbits,” and added that there were many church-approved ways to limit births without resourcing to contraceptives, which are banned by the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, he seemed to pull back from that statement. Speaking of his recent trip to the Philippines, where he presided over the largest mass in history, he said “it gives consolation and hope to see so many numerous families who receive children as a real gift of God. They know that every child is a benediction.”

He called “simplistic” the belief that large families were the cause of poverty, blaming it instead on an unjust economic system. “We can all say that the principal cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center, and put the god of money there instead.”

Mons. Anthony Figueiredo, a theologian and Director of the North American Pontifical College in Rome, said the two statements are not contradictory.

“When the Pope speaks on the plane, he is speaking as a pastor to ordinary people,” said Figueiredo, who is a CBS News consultant. “When he comes back, he wants to speak as Pope.”

The Monsignor said that while some Popes have put doctrine first, Francis puts the person first.

“It’s a risky business, there is no doubt about it; because when you begin with the person, everyone has their own way of hearing it.”

Putting Pope Francis squarely into any category can be difficult.

Speaking to reporters during Francis’ trip to the Philippines, Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Tagle said that when he’s asked whether the pope is a liberal or a conservative, he responds simply: “he is who he is.”

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Will the Pope Go Vegan? | Posted January 20, 2015 | 11:35 AM

I jest not. Never having been one to adhere to any organized religion, in fact I have an utter contempt for them, I find myself nonetheless more than a little happy to hear Pope Francis has made global climate change a top concern. According to the Associated Press

Maybe If We Had Worshipped the Creation

Created by Jim Robertson

Sunday school children are taught that it is blasphemy to worship the creation instead of the Creator. Rather than encouraging people to praise the miraculous (in the non-secular sense of the word) living planet and all its incredible diversity of sentient life forms, western religions threaten eternal damnation if you don’t swear blind allegiance to some patriarchal creation of the human imagination, created in the image of man.

Hence, Homo sapiens has run roughshod over the Earth, destroying the very same natural systems that allowed us to come into being and trampling the rights of all other beings in our obsessed quest for domination over a world we’ve proven unworthy of even having dominion over.

Now, with so much of the land divided and conquered, the seas losing oxygen and turning acidic and the air encrusted in carbon, only fire remains untamed. Maybe if we had worshipped the creation and treated the Mother Earth with the respect she deserves, we would be feeling her love—instead of her punishing wrath.

Why is it so hard for otherwise hyper-intelligent humans to feel a sense of awe for a living world that came into form through the process of evolution, rather than one created by a mythical man-like creature? We see it happen every year, when life springs forth from a formerly frozen “wasteland.” Do people really believe some grey-bearded Santa Claus look-alike (minus the jolly disposition) waves a magic wand at every plant that shoots up to the heavens and every animal who, in their own way, rejoices?

Religion is supposed to teach humility, but after constantly being reminded that they are the Creator’s crowning achievement, humankind is anything but humble.

Holy bear

Timely Quotes on Dog and God and Death and Shit

I watched the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being last night, hoping it included this classic quote found in the original novel by Milan Kundera…

“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which is deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”   

Unfortunately, the film version, while still a great flick throughout its 3-hour running time, did not make room for that or these other timely quotes (also found in the book) about dog and god and death and shit, which (aside from shit) have been the topics of some of my recent posts (my emphasis add in bold)…

“Dogs do not have many advantages over people, but one of them is extremely important: euthanasia is not forbidden by law in their case; animals have the right to a merciful death.”

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse.”

“…Nietzsche leaving his hotel in Turin. Seeing a horse and a coachman beating it with a whip, Nietzsche went up to the horse and, before the coachman’s very eyes, put his arms around the horse’s neck and burst into tears.

“That took place in 1889, when Nietzsche, too, had removed himself from the world of people. In other words, it was at the time when his mental illness had just erupted. But for that very reason I feel his gesture has broad implications: Nietzsche was trying to apologize to the horse of Descartes. His lunacy (that is, his final break with mankind) began at the very moment he burst into tears over the horse.”

“Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit…either man was created in God’s image – and has intestines! – or God lacks intestines and man is not like him.

“The ancient Gnostics felt as I did at the age of five. In the second century, the Great Gnostic master Valentinus resolved the damnable dilemma by claiming that Jesus “ate and drank, but did not defecate.

Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man’s crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the creator of man.”

“The river flowed from century to century, and human affairs play themselves out on its banks. Play themselves out to be forgotten the next day, while the river flows on.” ―  Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

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God damn the Preacher Man

Yesterday I attended my aunt’s funeral to pay my respects to an exceptionally caring woman who extended her compassion to the animal kingdom. Much was shared about her rare and genuine goodness, but at the end of the ceremony the preacher had to go and spoil it for me. He proclaimed that her selfless acts were just God working through her (like she was just a puppet or some kind of brain-dead zombie who never had an original thought of her own). He said the the “fact” that she was created in God’s image meant she was a reflection of Him. (So, God is a hunched-over, little old lady?)

I left there thinking: What about those who are intentionally cruel to animals or other people—are they also a reflection of God? If so, why is He so two-faced, when He’s supposed to be all about love and kindness? Did He bring selfishness and cruelty into this world just to fuck with us, or is He, Himself, in fact not infallible?

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On a related note (sorta), the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics put out this:

Photo and idea for title thanks to Steppenwolf

Photo and idea for title thanks to Steppenwolf

  1 July 2013

IS RELIGION GOOD FOR YOUR CAT AND DOG?

A new research project at Oxford will examine whether animals benefit or suffer thanks to religion.

Inspired by Baptist Preacher Charles Surgeon’s claim that a person cannot be a true Christian if his dog or cat is not the better off for it, the Centre will explore whether religious traditions are animal-friendly.  The questions to be addressed include whether religious people and religious institutions benefit animals? Are they more or less likely to be respectful to animals – either those kept as companions or those used for other human purposes?

The project is being organised by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. It will be multidisciplinary, multifaith, and draw in not only theologians and religious thinkers, but also other academics including social scientists, psychologists, historians, and criminologists.  “We want to know whether religion makes any difference for animals”, says Oxford theologian, Professor Andrew Linzey, who is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.  “We often hear of how religion is detrimental to human rights, but is it also detrimental to animal protection?”

The first stage of the project will culminate in a Summer School on Religion and Animal Protection at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, from 21-23rd July 2014. St Stephen’s is an Anglican Theological College and a Hall of the University of Oxford.

Academics interested in contributing to the project should contact the Centre’s Deputy Director, Clair Linzey, in the first instance depdirector@oxfordanimalethics.com or (+44) (0)1865 201565.