A few weeks ago, before the fires forced evacuation, I went on an overnight trip at my favorite zoo, the San Diego WIld Animal Park. I’m not much of a zoo guy, since most of them get me bummed out by the confinement of the animals. The Wild Animal Park is a joyous exception.
But this time, I had a recurring experience which was unsettling. And once I noticed it, its frequency became increasingly disturbing. I’m curious to hear if anyone has made similar observations at the L.A. Zoo. I’m especially want to hear Will’s take, as he used to work there. More after the jump.
Intelligent Design is the latest guise of a longstanding theoretical attempt to explain the world known as teleology. A teleological argument supposes “that there is purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature.” (From a wikipedia article that has a nice overview of the history of the teleological argument).
The teleological viewpoint was pretty well smashed to bits by theories of evolution, and yet it survives with a grip on popular imagination as an easy answer in the face of the world’s complexities. Again from wikipedia, a summation of the argument can go something like this:
1. X is too (complex, orderly, adaptive, apparently purposeful, and/or beautiful) to have occurred randomly or accidentally.
2. Therefore, X must have been created by a (sentient, intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful) being.
3. God is that (sentient, intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful) being.
4. Therefore, God exists.
So, we’re at the zoo, going on tours and listening to tour leaders talk about all the different animals. And over and over again, I hear the same sentence construction:
The [animal] has those [traits/skills/behaviors] so they can do [task].
Over and over, this same construction was used. And then the problem hit me: the word “so.”
“The giraffe has that long neck so it can reach the high leaves” implies that the giraffe was given that neck in order to get to those leaves. The unspoken question is WHO gave the giraffe that neck. The question implicitly assumes agency – that someone or something is responsible for giving the giraffe that neck in order to fulfill a purpose. It’s a fundamentally teleological assertion.
And it was definitely the one sentence. Notice the difference in meaning if it’s read as two: “The giraffe has that long neck. So it can rach the high leaves.” Nitpicky on paper? Yes. But spoken alound, the two version have completely different meanings.
If it happened once or twice, I could see it just being a simplification or a random choice of words by a given tour leader, many of whom are volunteers. But once I started paying attention, I saw that almost EVERY time an animals’ characteristics where described, they were talked about in this fashion.
At best this is lazy education. At worst, it’s laying the groundwork for the public acceptance of intelligent design and denying evolution. And this is at on of the premiere zoos in the country, if not the world.
Have any of you noticed anything similar at the LA Zoo, or any other Zoos you’ve been to? Have you had experiences as Zoos where the keepers or tour guides went out of their way to explain things in more complex evolutionary terms, or has the pressures of the marketplace to be entertaining shown you zoos that simplify and dumb down as much as possible?