The sign below, forwarded by a reader who just visited this institution, just went up in front of the new Nature Lab at, of all places, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County—a public museum. Nature Lab appears to be a hands-on facility where everyone, but mostly kids, can learn about how science is done. That’s a great idea, but why on earth did they have to mar it with this paean to a fictional being?
Given the quotation marks, I bet the donor insisted on the wording. It would be much truer, and not a possible violation of the First Amendment, to say “to celebrate all of evolution’s creatures.”
My guess is this: the donor was going to give big bucks to the Museum, but insisted on mentioning God’s creatures as a condition of his donation. The Museum, eager for cash, decided to bite the bullet and add some deity to the exhibit, but put it in quotation marks.
But that’s not good enough for the petulant Professor Ceiling Cat. First of all, it misleads the public in two ways: by giving a scientific imprimatur to the idea that animals are “God’s creatures,” and second, by not really making it plain that the quote was insisted on by the anonymous donor—if that’s the case. I myself didn’t get that when I first saw the sign, so how many people will understand? The lesson they will take away is that creatures were the product of God, and that the Museum endorses that.
It’s a cowardly capitulation to religion, all in the desire to get money. That’s the same thing that motivates people to take Templeton cash. And had I been the director of the Museum, I would have refused the donation if the mention of God came with it. Polluting science with religious garbage takes precedence, to me, over having a Nature Lab. What if the gift came with a requirement to endorse “God’s creatures that were all created at once 6,000 years ago”?
At least the Smithsonian is too smart (and perhaps sufficiently well off) to have signs like this.
I’ve emailed Dr. Jane Pisano, the president and director of the museum, as well as the education and public programs office of the Museum (email addresses at links), voicing my objections and asking for an explanation. Here’s my email, and stay tuned:
Dear Dr. Pisano,
A friend of mine who recently visited the new Nature Lab at your Museum forwarded me the attached sign, which ascribes the existence of animals to God.
I suspect, but don’t know, that this quote was one that came from the anonymous donor, as implied by the quotation marks. Perhaps he or she insisted on this quote as a condition for funding, something that I think the Museum should have resisted strongly.
As an evolutionary biologist, I object to the invocation of God—in two ways. First, scientific evidence shows us that animals are not “God’s creatures,” but “evolution’s creatures.” Thus the sign gives the impression that God had a hand in evolution, and implicitly puts the Museum’s imprimatur on that sentiment. Second, it’s not perfectly clear that this quote comes from the donor (I didn’t get that myself on the first glance), and will certainly be misinterpreted by some people as the Museum’s own sentiments. Thus the sign is doubly misleading. Finally, the invocation of God in a public museum could be seen as be a violation of the First Amendment.
Regardless of what the donor wanted, I think it abrogates our scientific principles to “celebrate all of God’s creatures” when that statement is, by scientific lights, palpably wrong. Would you have taken the money from someone who insisted that the gift celebrates “all of Wotan’s creatures,” or “all the creatures created by space aliens”? Those signs are just as scientifically supportable as what appears on the sign now.
I recognize that Museums are strapped for funding, and do think that Nature Lab is a good thing. But I don’t think it’s worth kowtowing to religious sentiments, and polluting the nature of science, simply to get money. The very existence of the sign, in fact, undercuts the mission of Nature Lab: to teach people how science is done. I needn’t remind you that science is done by ignoring God, and has never given the slightest bit of evidence for the intercession of God in the origin, evolution, and diversification of life.