I have glimpsed the future, and it is terrifying. In America, President Trump rules with a rubber fist, changing his mind every five minutes to suit whoever he thinks the most influential section of the electorate are; a longer, higher, version of the Berlin wall stands across the Mexican border and anyone who attempts to cross it is ruthlessly shot down-especially if they are judged in that split second to look *possibly* like they might have the potential to be a rapist. Being Muslim in America now involves meeting in secret, under cover of darkness, and communicating via special signals in order to stay out of the reach of the secret police, who are routinely arresting anyone caught practising Islam, accusing them in fake trials of being terrorists, and then feeding them to the lions-along with their families-in the brand new gold-plated Trump Arena. Women are only allowed to be seen in public if they are deemed by an arbitrary Trump-approved standard to be “a 10,” and the Bible is being taught in classrooms as the literal truth. Every single word of it. Even the bit about Lot and his daughters.
Possible? Well, let’s just say that I doubt anyone was taking Hitler too seriously after he attempted to topple the government in a pub in 1923.
Anyway, let’s not worry too much about it. We’re in England, after all, the Land of Hope and Glory, former imperial overlord of two thirds of the world. IT’LL ALL BE ALL RIGHT, FOLKS. If we end up leaving the European Union we might even get our Empire back and when the sea levels rise what remains of our island will be able to float around, untethered, like in the days of our great Navy, ruling the natives wherever we happen to lay our bowler hat, right?
Well, I’m not so sure.
A few months ago, I was walking through the city centre, when my ears were assailed by the sound of a man standing on his proverbial soapbox, haranguing the disinterested shoppers with his version of events that occurred at the creation of the world.
“WE ARE NOT MONKEYS!” was his opening gambit. “WE WERE DESCENDED FROM APES, SO THE SCIENTISTS SAY. BUT THEY ARE WRONG! GOD MADE ALL OF US, IN SEVEN DAYS! DON’T BELIEVE THE SCIENTISTS!
Oh, that’ll be the same scientists who discovered the world wasn’t flat, the sun didn’t orbit the earth, and invented the loudspeaker you’re shouting through to communicate your uneducated opinions to the city of Bristol. Damn those pesky scientists!
I thought about covering the ears of the then 15 month old Piglet, concerned that, at best, he was going to start asking awkward questions about who this “God” person who apparently made us was, and at worst, was going to start telling the other kids at nursery that the earth was flat, and if they walked to the end of the street, they might fall off. However, I decided that the best approach was to confront the issue head on.
“Don’t listen to him!” I declared, in a style not unlike Father Ted holding up a sign saying “down with this sort of thing!” as we walked defiantly into Marks and Spencer. “This is not true. EVOLUTION IS TRUE!”
Piglet was non-plussed.
However, he won’t be non-plussed forever. Sooner or later, he will start asking questions. And I want those questions to be answered reasonably and sensibly, using the best and most up to date information available. I want him to be informed about the world, to ask questions, and to always question, as great thinkers always have, not to be stifled and presented with an idea and told that it is the truth, nothing but the truth and never to be challenged.
Especially if that “truth” comes from a collection of ancient stories written thousands of years ago and never intended to take the place of scientific enquiry.
Let’s imagine, for a second, that I believe in unicorns. I believe the world was created by the One Great Unicorn, from whom all other unicorns are descended. No one can prove that it wasn’t, as no one was around before the Big Bang, so no one can tell me that the Big Bang wasn’t the result of a huge great waft of fiery unicorn breath.
Do I expect my unicorn story to be endorsed by the scientific community? Do I expect Stephen Hawking to add a new chapter to his seminal work A Brief History of Time, stating that there are various versions of the Big Bang story-IT’S ONLY A THEORY, AFTER ALL!-and that other interpretations exist, one of which is the idea that the Big Bang was caused by an explosion of unicorn breath?
Do I expect Richard Dawkins to hold his hand up and admit that maybe Darwin was wrong after all-EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES! NOT EVERY FOSSIL OF EVERYTHING EVER HAS BEEN FOUND YET! THERE ARE GAPS IN THE RECORDS, YOU KNOW!
No, I do not.
I’m not anti-religion. Everyone has the right to their own personal beliefs, no matter what they are-even if they involve unicorns with fiery breath. However, do I think opinions should be presented as facts? No, I do not. Do I think that a zoo aimed at children should be promoting and publicising these opinions as though they are on an equal par with scientific theories? No I do not. Therefore, imagine my reaction when I saw this yesterday, on a day out at a nearby zoo farm.
Do I think science has all the answers? Of course not. That’s why science exists, for us to question, to explore and to learn.
Do I respect the right of all religions to their own beliefs? Of course I do.
Do I think that those beliefs should be presented in a place that claims to be an educational setting, as though they are facts, corroborated with “evidence” that is either discredited, cherry-picked to suit an agenda, or simply false? No, I do not. I fear for a world where ignorance and superstition is allowed to take the place of reasoned argument, for that is a world which could all too easily end up like the dystopian future United States of Trump.