at the university of michigan museum of natural history

Linette and I took Clementine to the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History to see the stuffed, dust-covered monkeys and mastodons yesterday. While there, we were happy to see that there was also a temporary exhibition on evolution. Before heading into the room that housed it, I noticed the above sign. I’m not sure if there have been instances of anti-scientific vandalism since the exhibit opened, but my guess is there have at least been threats.

I had the occasion to speak with a paleontologist while at the museum, and, when asked, he confirmed that an ever-increasing portion of his job as a professor was being taken up responding to the questions of biblical literalists among the student body, unable to accept the possibility that the earth is a day older than 6,000 years old. It’s amazing to me that things like this are taking place at centers of higher education. (I mean, the questioning of the status quo is great, and that’s what going to university should be about, but when those pursuits begin to significantly eat in to the class time of others, and when they threaten the existence of exhibitions meant to educate, in my opinion, they’ve gone too far.)

(note: No other exhibits within the museum contained similar signage.)

And, in related news, “evolutionary biology is missing from a list of majors that the U.S. Department of Education has deemed eligible for a new federal grant program designed to reward students majoring in engineering, mathematics, science, or certain foreign languages.”

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9 Comments

  1. egpenet
    Posted August 27, 2006 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Here we go again …

    While taking the Bible literally can lead to some silliness, taking evolutionists from Darwin to Wilson and Dawkins is leading to sheer madness.

    The consensus of these “scientists” is that nature is devoid of counsciousness, save the human race; but that our only meaning and purpose is survival and replication.

    For them it’s all in the genes … all scientifically and even mathematically determinable. Human life for them is a biological form of mechanics, which can be programmed, regulated, repaired ad nauseam; and in cosmic terms expendable, a certain dangerous threat to this planet.

    In their “scientific” terms, animal and human bodies are freakish in their poor designs, contradictions, proneness to disease and break-down. Arbitrary nature is gone awry. Science is constatntly bothered by having to “solve the problems created by evolution.” No good engineer would have designed the human spine, for instance. And on.

    Our children are being daily inculcated with this philosophy of “science” as are our student doctors, engineers, mathematicians and physicists.

    How we supply meaning and purpose in our lives is a quaint and irrelevant activity to them. The more strident and archconservative we may be in our practices, the louder their guffaws.

    What may prove truly disastrous for us is that our major world religions neither sense the real threat of these widely read and influential scientists nor have they the philosophical or theological muscle or visible presence necssary for a public debate. Hence, the world wide retrenchment of the fundamentalists of all stripes … hiding in the catacombs, mudrassas in caves or low-profile synagogues around the globe.

    Meanwhile, as for the beauty, purpose and meaning we personally find daily in nature, including what we may experience as the “counsciousness of plants, pets and the wild,” they dismiss as anthropomorphic hogwash. Their “scientific evidence” points to a total lack of awareness or self-consciousness in all lower forms and plants.

    And so, if networks of religious and political terrorists of all stripes aren’t enough to give you restless nights … the next time you drive by Pfizer or the U. Hospital or a College Campus science building, think again.

    Perhaps it’s time to visit with our childrens’ science teachers to determine if our society’s growing general unease with traditions that promote meaning and purpose and responsibility have their roots in the curriculum.

    It’s one thing for computer games or the media to be what they are and say what they say … kids mostly know the difference between fantasy and reality. However, the authorities in their lives that are teaching about random mutations, evolution sans counsciousness and life without meaning, purpose and responsibility … they are mad people. They are criminals. They must not teach our children.

    Enjoy the exhibit.

  2. mark
    Posted August 27, 2006 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Ed, I think you might be reading a bit too much into what I’m saying here. A belief in evolution, at least as I understand it, does not require that one cast aside the idea of there being a God. I personally both believe in God and feel as though I’m able to see and enjoy the beauty of the natural world. Neither of those things are disproved by evolution. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that the natural world is much more beautiful when one embraces the idea of evolution. At least to me, it’s a lot more compelling than the idea of a “hocus pocus” God that just twitches his nose and pops things into being.

  3. egpenet
    Posted August 27, 2006 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Mark, of course, not.

    I am critical of both ultra right “religitainers” and the ultra “orthodox” fanatics who stand on street corners with fetal remains posters, as well as the large body of famous evolutionary “scientists” (Darwin, Wilson, Dawkins, et.al.) who are writing that life is without meaning and purpose … that it’s all a chaos of genes … all an accident … that Nature is mindless.

    Whatever or Whomever one uses to assign an ultimate consciousness to is a personal belief. I happen to believe that the more wildly diversified and complex the universe becomes through “science” and “technology,” the smarter that “Guy/Gal Upstairs” must be.

  4. It's Skinner Again
    Posted August 28, 2006 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Where does Darwin say that life is without meaning and purpose? Where does he does say it’s all an accident? “The Origin of Species” is about the origin of species, not the origin of life; in fact, he demonstrates that species develop in an orderly and consistent way, like the rest of nature.

    Darwin avoided any discussion of religion or first causes in his work, and refused the many invitations he got to write about religion; he explained that he hadn’t studied theology, and didn’t feel qualified to write about anything but biology, and that only after a great deal of work. His only writings on religion I know of are some private notes he made for his family: he stated that he had started out a conventional Christian, but had became agnostic later in life. That’s hardly unique, and hardly horrifying.

    Much biological research now is showing that the “lower” forms of life are more intelligent and more conscious than previously thought. Scientists have slowed down mouse squeaks and found that they are actually complex songs; birds (especially corvids) create and use tools with skill and imagination; elephants’ and apes vocalizations’ indicate linguistic structure, etc. The idea of the “dumb animal” is not current science.

    Meaning and purpose are to be found in a more accurate understanding of life. Rejecting science only makes us more ignorant; and what is the meaning or purpose in that?

  5. egpenet
    Posted August 28, 2006 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Darwin, reflecting the orthodoxy of his day, wrote much about nature’s cruelty and nature’s relentless and unfeeling urges to eat and replicate. While mankind was a hope for the planet, the orthodoxy’s original sin and other teachings left little room to hope, except for the “story of salvation.”

    The voice-over narrative of every Disney nature movie ever made contains the phrase, “nature’s cruelty.” We have beeen taught this fact since we could say, “Cashew.” (To which I would have responded, “Gazundheit!” (sp?)

    Wilson and Dawkins, et.al. have the benefit of more time, research, thinking and global warming to continue to develop their conclusions that human beings are essentially no different than other forms … more cells, more genes, etc. … but all operating in the same basic manner to eat and replicate. And, yes, they DO write that nature is flawed, as is the body and much of evolutionary design. Complex, perhaps, but flawed.

    With 400 billion-billion molecules in a cube of sugar … what hope is there, asks science, that such a helpless critter as man can “fix” things?

    I believe in an ultimate Plan. What I see and hear from science leads me to believe, however, that our best and brightest in science do not. The other issue I have is when they DO have some kind of belief it’s usually some form of right-wing orthodoxy that pulls the mind, heart and soul back into the catacombs of Rome, deeper into the caves of Afghanistan. I reject THIS science as nonsense, non-science.

    The direction of science at the moment is failing to help propel us forward, as have the major faiths. The world is descending into another generation of chaos and all they have to teach us and our children about the cosmos and human nature leads hopelessly to madness.

  6. sandy
    Posted August 28, 2006 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised the religious crackpots haven’t lobbied for some fig leaves on the people in the Native dioramas on the fourth floor.

    I thought the evolution exhibit was wonderful. I especially liked the “hands on” things. And I also was happy to see a nice new “Invasive Species” exhibit on the third floor (just around the corner from my kid’s favorites, the athlete’s foot and bread mold exhibit).

    I was a little sad to see the “light up lady” was gone, though – the lifesize clear model of a woman where you press a button to display a gland. It was a little tacky but entertaining.

  7. It's Skinner Again
    Posted August 28, 2006 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    All creatures (including man) need to eat and replicate. Why deny that? And what makes it relentless and unfeeling? I don’t know of any scientist who would argue that that’s all they need to do.

    A bit of Darwin (from “Origin”): “But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position — namely, at the close of the Introduction — the following words: ‘I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.’ This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.”

    And are you denying that nature is flawed? It would be a nicer place without cancer, for example, but that’s just the way it is.

    Of course nature isn’t cruel. Katrina brought a lot of suffering, but the wind and rain weren’t doing it to be sadistic.

    It’s not science that leads us into madness, but faith. You are saner if you only believe those things that you have empirical evidence for; and even saner if you don’t even believe those, but acknowledge that you might be mistaken.

  8. egpenet
    Posted August 28, 2006 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I have no quarrel with what you say or feel or experience personally. I am saying that while scientists somewhere may be praying that there is a First Cause, their work leads them to conclude otherwise. That the universe is chaos and that life, as we know it, has no meaning or purpose.

    These are not my beliefs. I see and feel consciousness everywhere and in all things. Don’t fault me; but be prepared to question those who will lead us to believe otherwise.

  9. It's Skinner Again
    Posted August 30, 2006 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Egpenet de mi corazon — We should all find meaning everywhere. But that’s what scientists are doing too; they’re your fellow travelers!

    Poor old Darwin often gets blamed for the sins of Spencer. It was Spencer who coined the term “survival of the fittest,” and who tried to apply the principles of evolution to human sociology. The dismal result was “Social Darwinism,” which led to eugenics, unbridled capitalism, and other crapola. It has nothing to do with Darwin’s discoveries. Even from a purely biological perspective, man is a social animal; and his continued existence depends as much on cooperation as competition. Darwin would never claim all we need to do is eat and replicate: just look at all the time he spent on his studies!

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