A row has broken out between an eminent professor, writer and broadcaster and an award-winning British zoo which holds a creationist position on the beginning of the world, saying it is 'much younger than 4.5 billion years'.
Alice Roberts, professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, tweeted yesterday about the Noah's Ark Zoo Farm in Somerset, near Bristol: 'I honestly don't see how a zoo like this can win awards and say it supports education when it's so blatantly, openly creationist & anti-science!'
She then quoted – albeit selectively – from the zoo's website: 'We think that evidence shows the world is much older than 6,000 years but much younger than 4.5 billion years.'
The zoo, which is owned by Christians and has a Christian ethos, says on its website: 'While we don't profess to have all the answers, we think people should have the freedom to believe in God and know that it makes good sense in relation to the world around them.'
The relevant section on the creation of the world on the zoo's website says: 'Aspiring to an open, critical approach to explain what we see in the natural world.
'Did life arise naturally or supernaturally? Can undirected, random processes result in complex life forms or is there evidence to support the notion of a Creator? Can we reconcile our knowledge of evolution and a belief in God? These are important questions for some people...Biological life is a wonderful thing. In our view the evidence currently known points to a 'both/and' situation (creation and evolution) rather than "either/or": there was an initial creation, followed by a vast amount of evolution, geological and biological.
'Far from being static, the world was created to be ever changing, unfolding continually new forms and opportunities. We also believe the question of the age of the earth isn't simply one of "either/or". We think that evidence shows the world is much older than 6,000 years but much younger than 4.5 billion years. We therefore don't adhere to a "Young Earth Creationist" view, rather a theory of Recolonisation which is described in the linked pages in this section. This view is counter-cultural to some, but we encourage interested readers to explore these questions for themselves.'
The 100-acre zoo, which welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year, describes itself as 'an important location for educational school trips'. It has been recognised with the Quality Badge from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom and offers a 'comprehensive national curriculum based education programme catering for Primary, Secondary and Higher Education'.
It has won a series of awards including the national 'Quality Badge' from the Learning Outside the Classroom Scheme; the Gold Award in the Green Tourism Business Scheme; the Silver Award for 'Sustainable Tourism' (2016) from Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism Awards; the Gold Award for 'Sustainable Tourism' (2017) from Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism Awards, and the 'Access for All' Award in the Bristol Tourism & Hospitality Awards (2012).
A spokesperson for the zoo told Christian Today: 'We would like to make it clear that our education programme and school workshops are firmly rooted in the National Curriculum. We focus on topics such as animal characteristics, animal handling and conservation.
'Our education team pride themselves on teaching lessons that are appropriate to children from multi-faith and non-faith backgrounds. Our education programme is regularly audited and accredited by independent professional organisations. We have thousands of school visitors each year who enjoy the engaging and professional education that we offer.
'The owners and founders of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Anthony and Christina Bush, who previously were farmers at the same location for over 30 years, are Christians and set up the zoo with a Christian ethos.
'There are some displays and discussion boards around the zoo which invite visitors to consider the wonders of the natural world and to think about origins, science and the Christian faith. These displays are designed to prompt reflection and discussion and are respectful of people of all faiths and none. The size and layout of the zoo makes it easy for visitors, who wish to do so, to avoid any faith-related content and to simply enjoy their day out at the zoo.'