Accommodationism at the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City is perhaps the finest museum of its type in the U.S. My old friend Betsy visited it during her trip to NYC with her husband to see the Rigged Dog Debate, and she sent me a picture from her visit to the Museum’s Hall of Human Origins. The photo came with this note:

I had not been to the Natural History Museum in about 15 years. They have restored the dioramas with the North American mammals, and they are spectacular. I also visited their exhibit on the origins of man. It was really interesting. I  noted their attempt to address the conflict between evolution and religion. I think it is interesting that they even broached the subject. I suppose it is an indication of the depth of the strength of the opposition. In my opinion, their attempt (and I  am attaching a photo of what they have posted) paradoxically gives the Creationists more legitimacy.

Well, I’m not sure whether what you’re about to read gives creationists more legitimacy, but what Betsy probably meant was that even addressing the issue calls attention to the creationist position. The “disclaimer” on view in the Museum is below:

Natural History Museum

First, the good part, which is the emphasis on the theory’s “scientific validity,” though I’d like a few more words on that—words like “virtually all scientists accept the existence of evolution and common ancestry, with the change driven largely by natural selection.”

Beyond that, I’m sure that there are readers—and plenty of scientists—who will think the rest of the statement is fine. I don’t.  Here’s what’s wrong with it:

1. It is a theological statement, and one that’s also intellectually dishonest. Note that at the end of the first paragraph it states that the concepts of evolution “SEEM incompatible with some people’s religious beliefs” SEEM? Really? How about saying the truth: “IS incompatible with MANY people’s religious beliefs” (and by “many”, I mean 42% of Americans, to which you can add another 31% if you include those who accept theistic evolution, a form of evolution rejected by scientists). In other words, 73% of Americans reject the scientific view of evolution.

2. It flaunts the discredited NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) hypothesis. The disclaimer pushes the standard accommodationist line in the second paragraph (“Many today, including prominent religious leaders and scientists view the search for understanding as one that embraces both scientific explorations into the material world and a spiritual search for the meaning of human existence, with no inherent conflict between the two.”) This is intellectual dishonest on several planes, including its failure to mention that many today do NOT view the “search for understanding” as including both scientific and religious explorations. Most accomplished scientists, for example, are atheists, and have no truck with religion’s search for “meaning”. Indeed, many of us don’t think that human existence has any inherent meaning that can be “found” and generalized to all people. Meaning is a personal one, sought through one’s own aspirations and ruminations, not via some search for a divine Diktat. And, of course, many Americans simply reject evolutionary biology as a whole.

The “no inherent conflict” applies only to those religions—and there are few of them—that make no existence claims: claims about what is true in our universe. If a faith talks about Resurrection, Hell, Heaven, God’s will for us, or, indeed, the existence of a god itself, then it’s in conflict with science.  This was the one big problem with Steve Gould’s NOMA hypothesis, and he’s been criticized for it not only by people like me, but by many theologians as well, including John Haught. (I discuss all this in my upcoming book.) The other problem, of course, is the claim that religion tells us truths about the meaning and purpose of our lives, truths that can’t be discerned by secular philosophy alone. That is palpably bogus. Religion has no exclusive claim on “meanings,” “values,” or “morals,” and in fact its attempt to control these botches them up much worse than does secular philosophy.  Do we really need to refrain from nonmarital sex because God says so?

3. The controversy over evolution is not merely a “social controversy,” as the sign proclaims.  The roots of creationism, of course, lie in religion, but much of the opposition to evolution rests on claims about fact, as we can see from Intelligent Designoids who write books claiming that there is empirical support for Intelligent Design.  Those books, like the latest one by Stephen Meyer on the Cambrian “explosion,” make fact claims that have been refuted by scientists like Kenneth Miller, Charles Marshall, and Nick Matzke. Those fact claims are, of course, bogus ones, cooked up to support a religious viewpoint; but they miss the nuance (oh God, I used that word!) by arguing that the controversy is “social.” If you want to characterize the conflict accurately, just bite the bullet and call it a “religious” controversy, for that is exactly what it is.  Almost no creationists are motivated in their views and actions by anything other than religion. The failure of the disclaimer to say that opposition to evolution is motivated purely by religion is an insult to scientists.

But my main question is this: “Why do they need this sign in the first place?” The AMNH is no place for theological statements, particularly misleading ones. Pretending that there is no conflict between science and religion, and that any incompatibility is illusory, is blatant intellectual dishonesty. Instead of Lying for Jesus, the people who made this sign are Lying for Darwin. Their motivation is a good one: is to get people to accept evolution; but they do so by pretending that there is no conflict between religion and science. After all, look at all those scientists and religionists who see no conflict! (Pay no attention to the 43% of the public behind the curtain who definitely see a conflict! And ignore that 2009 poll showed that 55% of Americans perceive a conflict between science and religion.)

Signs like this one grate on me, and I have a feeling that they accomplish nothing, despite accommodationist claims that if we osculate the rump of faith, then Christians will flock to evolution like animals to the Ark. There’s no evidence for that.  The AMNH should just present the evidence for evolution and deep-six these unctuous osculations of religion. They are embarrassing, they are untrue, and they pretends that scientists are “spiritual” in a religious sense (they’re not).

p.s. One other distortion:  contra the last sentence, there are big differences between the modern theory of evolution and that presented by Darwin in 1859. Granted, many of Darwin’s premises were right (evolution, common ancestry, natural selection, sexual selection, and so on), but he got a lot of stuff wrong, notably genetics, not to mention the assumed stasis of continents. It’s no crime to admit that our understanding of evolution has moved a long ways since 1859.

95 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      //

    • Filippo
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      sub

  2. Posted October 14, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    The sign makes the typical conflation of the spiritual and religious realms, and implies that the former BELONGS to the latter. It doesn’t. Contiousness exists… There’s nothing supernatural about it.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Sure, consciousness(?)exists — but I don’t think there’s anything “spiritual” about it either.

      • Posted October 14, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        You might Wiki the definition of spiritual, and then get my point: “Since the 19th century spirituality is often separated from religion, and has become more oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth.” People who believe in the supernatural don’t own this word, although they apparently think that they do.

        • Sastra
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

          19th century spirituality was “more oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth” in relation to the supernatural.

          Traditional religions don’t own that word.

          • Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

            What is your point?

            • Sastra
              Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

              I was disagreeing with your original comment, where you separated religion and spirituality — and then separated spirituality and the supernatural by invoking consciousness as something which isn’t supernatural.

              You’re right, it isn’t. But “spiritual” views of consciousness, which frame it as some irreducible essential force or pure being — are.

  3. Posted October 14, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    “Do we really need to refrain from non marital sex because God says so?”

    No. Because my wife says so … 😯

    /@

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      That’s what she said.

    • Jane
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 2:52 am | Permalink

      Wise woman.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      Suddenly I feel all Horace Rumpole.

  4. toniclark2014
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Exactly: “Why do they need this sign in the first place?” Eek! I’m appalled.

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      This is my opinion too. I think the first sentence, “The Theory of Evolution …”, is all that’s needed. The rest has no place in a science museum. No further comment should be there unless it’s to expand on the Theory. Wandering off into religious territory is inappropriate imo. From an outsider’s pov, I see this as an example of the political power of religion in America.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 3:46 am | Permalink

        From an outsider’s pov, I see this as an example of the political power of religion in America.

        Both the political power, and an example of the intrusion of political power into the museum service, where it doesn’t belong.

  5. Curt Nelson
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the statement is fine either, for the reasons you outlined.

    In about 1979 I was in The Museum of the Rockies in Cody, WY and they had a sign that explained the disappearance of bison (in the area that featured Buffalo Bill Cody) as being caused by a change in the climate. Climate change when it is convenient.

    I should have complained. I thought later that if I had a sharpie I’d have written “LIE” on that plaque. (And been caught and punished severely.)

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Sure it was climate. It got real cold one night, so Buffalo Bill felt the need for a big hot juicy bison steak. In fact he cooked two; one to eat and one to stuff in his sleeping bag as a hot water bottle.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      You just have to think metaphoricaly. It was the abrupt onset of a never previously recorded rain of lead that led to the disappearance of the bison.

      • microraptor
        Posted October 14, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        And the lead was hot, ergo, climate change.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Use sticky notes.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 2:20 am | Permalink

      I wonder what the sign says now, seeing as they no longer have the excuse of AGW as a cause.

  6. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Here’s another article to add to your list of examples to trot out when a Catholic apologist traipses in and proclaims that their church is science-friendly. (I’ve got such a list. Why don’t you?)

    Catholic Church In Kenya Opposes Tetanus Vaccinations, Suspecting a Secret Plan to Sterilize Women

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I’m part way through writing an article about this ridiculous situation in Kenya.

    • microraptor
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      But hey, they’re not (completely) opposed to gay marriage anymore. They’re super-progressive.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      Hang on – wasn’t that story trotted out a couple of months ago to excuse shooting people who were distributing polio vaccines in northern Nigeria. And a few months before that … oh, it’s been used times ad nauseam. I bet the anti-fluoridation people were using it back in the 1950s. It has probably been used as long as there has been a birth control pill available to the general public. Indeed, any form of chemical birth control, probably including abortifacients. 🍨 🍩 🍪 🍫 🍬 🍭 🍮 🍯 🍰

  7. Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    This sign at the British Natural History Museum (29 April) is less overt, but still implies that human evolution is less certain than it is, that it might still be a matter of debate: “see if you can spot any similarities or differences that might help to support, or counter, the theory that humans are related to the apes.”

    /@

  8. Son of Sharecroppers
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    NMH has offered a very carefully worded statement–but I doubt that it achieves any of its aims. It will certainly not placate religious fundamentalists who rail against any mention of evolution.

    I will add that it is stunning that fundamentalists have so effectively captured our educational system that the NMH has to put up such a sign. We should be long past such nonsense.

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Not only are we not past it, I sort of wonder we’re gong backward. I’ve been attending a series of biology lectures recently and two separate guest lecturers, both non-believers themselves, felt the need to assure the audience that science need not be in conflict with religion. I was surprised. It’s been a long time, but I don’t recall anyone making that kind of claim in classes when I was an undergraduate. I feel like my profs just presented the material and didn’t mention religion at all.

      It would be interesting to see the history of such signs in Natural History Museums. Have they always been there, or is this a new thing?

  9. Daniel Wilcox
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Yuo say, “Most accomplished scientists, for example, are atheists, and have no truck with religion’s search for “meaning”.

    I would be interested in the source of your statistics. There have been various studies which state that atheists versus theists among scientists range about 40% to 50% (no doubt the differences depending on how the pollsters phrased the questions).

    Currently some brilliant scientists are atheists, some are theists.

    You did add the adjective”accomplished.”

    How would you define that term?

    Also, it seems some nontheists scientists do search for meaning in the cosmos, at least some famous ones I’ve read. What they reject isn’t “meaning” but orthodox religion.

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      The statistics come from Elaine Ecklund’s data on scientists at elite universities (62% nonbelievers) and Larson and Witham’s study of scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, which showed about 92% nonbelievers (agnostics or atheists). “Non-elite” scientists show a higher proportion of belief, which is why I used the word “accomplished.” It wasn’t my characterization, but that of the two surveys.

      You are very aggressive in asking that question, which you could have done more politely. I answered you, and that’s all I have to say.

  10. merilee
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    sub

  11. Rhaeyga
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    They also have a video near the end of the exhibit which features Eugenie Scott, Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, and a few others talking about how evolution doesn’t conflict with religion.

    • Curt Nelson
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      The non-overlapping masshysteria of religion is contradicted by science, however.

      What is Eugenie Scott thinking, I wonder, that getting along with religion makes better strategic sense than being dismissive of it? I wonder if she’s right.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

        I’m moderately sure that she’s hinted at that in the past, but as an experience person in the Public Relations game, she keeps her trap shut on that.
        In other news …
        😸 Cat grin
        😹 Cat grin whiskers
        😺 Cat wired
        😻 Cat in love
        😼 Cat quizzical
        😽 Cat whistling
        😾 Cat frown
        😿 Cat cry
        🙀 Cat Wail

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

          Bingo!

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Ack. That is too much pablum for this great museum.

    • eric
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Blah. So they really are pushing pro-compatibilism then, and the compatibilist-lite in the sign is intended, not just due to careless wording. That’s disappointing.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      Methinks the lady (should that be “daime, this being in New Yoirk ?) doth protest too much.
      &x1f638; 🍩 🍪 🍫 🍬 🍭 🍮 🍯 🍰

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        Methinks someone’s gone emotonutz🐾🐾

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          Trying to get new toys working.
          It’s meant to be a herd of cats, and I’ve made notes of the information that should help others to use them.
          😸 U+1F638 ; GRINNING CAT FACE WITH SMILING EYES ;
          😹 U+1F639 ; CAT FACE WITH TEARS OF JOY ;
          😺 U+1F63A ; SMILING CAT FACE WITH OPEN MOUTH ;
          😻 U+1F63B ; SMILING CAT FACE WITH HEART-SHAPED EYES ;
          😼 U+1F63c ; CAT FACE WITH WRY SMILE ;
          😽 U+1F63d ; KISSING CAT FACE WITH CLOSED EYES ;
          😾 U+1F63e ; POUTING CAT FACE ;
          😿 U+1F63f ; CRYING CAT FACE ;
          🙀 U+1F640 ; WEARY CAT FACE ;

          So, now that I’ve got it working, a couple of clicks will give me the herd, and I then single out the one I want.
          Tonight’s trick will be to add to the toolbox. ⚒ (U+9874)

  12. Posted October 14, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The sign weakens the museum’s status as a source of science education. However, most American visitors won’t read that much text anyway. They’ll think “Eew, it gots a lotta words!” and move on.

    • Jane
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      My thoughts too.

      • Jane
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 3:03 am | Permalink

        And if it’s not written in “text” language, noone under 30 will understand it.

        • Filippo
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

          Right. It won’t be “accessible.”

          Recently the NY Times noted the increase in the reworking/rewording/abridging, etc. of significant non-fiction books so as to make them palatable and “accessible” to “young adults.” (That’s “young adults,” not adolescents or juveniles.)

          A “young adult” is at least eighteen, eh? That is to say, s/he is someone who, if attending college (and even not attending college), ought not be shocked at the prospect of being required to read great authors’ seminal works not subjected to such enervating editing.

          At least that’s how it was yesteryear. Apparently less so now.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      They’ll think “Eew, it gots a lotta words!” and move on.

      That’s one of the lloser usages of the word “think” that I’ve seen. I get your point though. 😽

  13. H.H.
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    If a faith talks about Resurrection, Hell, Heaven, God’s will for us, or, indeed, the existence of a god itself, then it’s in conflict with science.

    I would go much further than that, actually. Faiths conflict with science whenever they use faith to arrive at any conclusion. As a method for determining truth, faith is inherently in conflict with the scientific method.

  14. James Walker
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Yeah I remember being floored by that disclaimer when I was at the exhibit there last year. I’ve been to many exhibits on Darwin and/or evolution over the years and have never seen anything like this. Why say anything? Let visitors draw their own conclusions.

  15. peter
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    AMNH has a sensible notice for the general public, given what is known about opinions in that public.

  16. Kevin
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    It is also no crime to admit that most religions have moved forward since 1859…but only due to secular accretion.

    The disclaimer is cowardly written and should be changed to reflect our logical understanding of how we know things, not how we would wish them to be. Otherwise, why not have a series of special wings to support exhibits of fairies and flying monkey-men.

  17. Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Good points throughout, Professor Coyne, although I’d dissent from your P.S. (yes, that’s “P” and not “B”).

    I’m not sure it’s a distortion to say that Darwin’s theory of natural selection still persists “much”–not “entirely,” not “exactly,” not “mostly,” but “much”–as he first described it. My guess is that the odds of finding similar formulations in many respectable books about biology or natural selection are fairly high. As you note, scientists are still plucking fruits from Darwin’s work with key ideas (variation, fitness, selection, etc.).

    I get that our understanding of natural selection has changed significantly since Darwin gave his barbaric YAWP. It might have been weird, though, for the AMNH to call attention to that (beyond inserting the “much” qualifier) in the context of touting the theory’s fundamental resilience in the face of over a century of faith-based opposition and controversy.

    I wonder whether your reaction to the last paragraph would have differed had the accommodationism in the first two not soured your palate.

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I doubt that my beef would change. I’m not that invested in the last paragraph, but I’d prefer a more balanced statement, which I think I could write in just a few more words. Remember that creationists always talk about how Darwin is passé because modern stuff has made him outmoded. I’d say what remains is the core of his theory (nat. sel., evolution, common ancestry, speciation, etc.) but we’ve fleshed it out with modern discoveries, especially genetics.

  18. Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska on business, and today I spent a few hours visiting the excellent University of Nebraska State Museum. It includes an excellent exhibit on Charles Darwin, and an entire gallery devoted to evolution, filled with interactive displays specifically designed for children. I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a whiff of superstition anywhere! All those bones, and nary a one thrown to the religious.

    • Doug
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
      Now hear de word o’ de Lord!”

  19. Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    A very good summary about this sign. I was going to fly off the handle before finishing reading your comments and write about ‘why have the damn sign in the first place?’ but of course you also make that point.
    That last sentence in the sign was especially strange to me as well. What do they mean by it? My most charitable interpretation of it is that they meant that Darwins’ theory survives pretty much intact today. Ok, but we have greatly improved the theory. In Darwins time, the theory might have yet been proven essentially false. Today, it is best to informally say that evolution is true.

  20. eric
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I think it reads pretty well if you read paragraphs 1, 2, and 4, skipping 3. The only word in those three that I’d quibble over is “seem.” I can live with the “some” as an accurate albeit poor word choice, but that “seem” basically tells the reader “if you think they are incompatible, you’re wrong.”

    A much better way to state the same point would’ve been to say: “As Darwin himself anticipated, many religious people objected to the concepts….as incompatible with their religious beliefs.” That way, you don’t pass judgment at all on compatibilism/incompatibilism, you just tell the truth: that many religious people have objected to it. You even take some of the sting out of the word ‘many,’ because compatibilists can point out that these objections have decreased over time, which is also true (though not in the last decade or so…but over 150 years? Yeah, definitely a downward trend in rejecting evolution, I’d say).

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      over 150 years? Yeah, definitely a downward trend in rejecting evolution, I’d say).

      Is it really logical to talk about rejection of a concept before it is a well-formed idea? For example, would it have been sensible to talk about resistance to the laws of thermodynamics before about 1843, which is when Joule started publishing his work on the mechanical equivalent of heat? Similarly, to talk about resistance to evolution much before Chamber’s 1844 “Vestiges“. Before then, there was little serious discussion that it was in the least bit possible for species to change. You get over the 150 year mark, but not by much.
      (Yeuchh – I just discovered that some of Joule’s reasoning was actually based on theological arguments. Talk about getting the right answer for the wrong reasons!)

  21. David Evans
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    You say “If a faith talks about Resurrection, Hell, Heaven, God’s will for us, or, indeed, the existence of a god itself, then it’s in conflict with science.”

    “In conflict with science” can have 2 meanings, or possibly more:

    #1 In contradiction with the well-established findings of science.

    #2 Incorporating propositions not discovered or validated by the scientific method.

    I would find it hard to argue that belief in the mere existence of God is an example of #1. What well-established findings of science does it contradict?

    Of course everything in your list is an example of #2. But so are many other things we value for their own sake – literary criticism, for instance. They shouldn’t be condemned on that ground.

    So, which (if either) do you mean?

    • GBJames
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Define “God”.

      • David Evans
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        It’s for Jerry to define it, since he’s the one making a positive statement about it. But I think my point stands if I define God as ” the uncaused cause of the universe’s existence”.

        • GBJames
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

          You assert an “uncaused cause for the universe’s existence” based on faith. Such an basis is incompatible with science.

          I rather doubt that this is actually your position. I’ll wager that you aren’t a deist, satisfied with such a feebly defined god.

          Finally, it is fallacious to suggest that literary criticism is somehow under attack along with the unsupportable claims for such things as resurrection, heaven, and hell.

          • Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            I would also add that it is incompatible with science because there is not currently any evidence suggesting that there was an “uncaused cause.” As Sean Carroll eloquently pointed out in his debate with William Lane Craig, there are plenty of models perfectly compatible with our known laws of Physics that say the Universe is eternal. There’s a second implied assumption with the uncaused cause argument; i.e., that the Universe at one point did not exist.

        • Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          Wherefore the need for an uncaused cause?

          /@

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      I could say for #1 that belief in God(s) is in contradiction to well- established findings in science so far.
      Of course the only deity that seems possible now are the more limited kinds of gods. Maybe it created natural laws but was killed in the resulting big bang explosion. Or maybe a god who fiddled and intervened with things in the past, but who has since forgotten about its ‘chemistry experiment’ on a shelf somewhere.
      Both of these kinds of gods would make a nice Gary Larson cartoon.

      • David Evans
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        Or a god who does not choose to intervene at times and places where his actions would be subject to scientific scrutiny. That still leaves him wide scope for action. Most people, most of the time, are not having their brains scanned.

        • GBJames
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

          Very wide scope for action… All those places and times wherein no observation is possible.

          A rather shy fellow, this deity.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 14, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      What well-established findings of science does it contradict?

      Mind/brain dependence.

      God always has (or is) mind-like characteristics (consciousness, love, goals, virtues, values, etc.) stripped of any physical substrate or history of evolutionary development.

      • David Evans
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Our minds certainly depend, at least to a large extent, on our brains. But is it a well-established finding of science that there are no minds of a different kind?

        • Sastra
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

          No, it is a well-established theory which like any theory could be overset by the finding of a mind of a different kind.

          Remember that God seems plausible and familiar because the concept resembles folk beliefs about the mysterious human mind. After all, look at the battleground between science and spirituality: it’s all focused on the nature and status of our own minds.

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      What part of literary criticism is not/cannot be validated by science? Science can validate the literature in a physical sense; the Chemistry involved in putting ink on paper, the Physics involved in electronic storage, and even the biological way the brain processes it. It can validate the emotions that literature has on people and statistical analysis can say whether a literary critique is good in multiple senses; e.g. whether the critique resonates with other literary critics, whether it resonates with the average reader looking to be entertained, or both.

      If you’re implying that science doesn’t tell us that a book is “good” in the same sense that F=ma, then you’re failing to acknowledge another finding that science validates, that we have subjective experiences with subjective tastes that do not always overlap.

  22. Posted October 14, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    If I had to write a sign, I’d talk about evolution being the unifying theory of biology and talk about the conflict as being only in greater society but non existent in science.

    I think the sign tried to go there but failed. I wonder why. Was there some sort of editorialist at work, bad communication or bad ideas?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      the conflict as being only in greater society but non existent in science.

      “wider” society, puhleeeze 😺 ; value judgements like “greater, lesser” are just leaving hostages to fortune.

      Was there some sort of editorialist at work, bad communication or bad ideas?

      Sounds like the work of the Elephant Design Committee (Blindfolded Working Group).

  23. reasonshark
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m just waiting for the next series of notices which state that climatology and global warming denial seek after different kinds of truth and are mutually compatible. Or how 9/11 truthers have no inherent conflict with the “terrorists did it” idea.

    What mollycoddling evasion. It’s unchallenging thought candy like this that bogs down public understanding of the issues to begin with.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      Or how 9/11 truthers have no inherent conflict with the “Saudi Arabian terrorists did it” idea.

      FTFY. It’s important to remember that most (15 19ths) of the terrorists were citizens of Saudi Arabia, which is why the country was invaded and bombed back into the Stone Age … errrr, hang on. What happened there again?

  24. Sastra
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago the Field Museum in Chicago had a fine exhibit on Darwin and Evolution — and dealt with the religious objections in a very subtle way. At the end of the exhibit they had put up a lot of large white boards and provided pens for people to write their comments and reflections.

    Most visitors of course wrote the expected variations of “how wonderful and beautiful this is!” but some visitors of course wrote down religious objections. This was invariably followed by anonymous pro-evolution responses scrawled underneath — and iirc always dead on. They may have come from educated visitors, they may have come from staff. Either way, the impression left was that religion was pwned. The disputes were probably read more than the praise.

    Sure, there was accomodationism, but any “God works through evolution” comments were coming from the public, not the museum. I thought it a very elegant way to deal with the so-called controversy … without even specifically trying to address the so-called controversy.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      That does sound a very workable way of dealing with it. One would just have to make sure that the anti-science comments did get disputed or “pwned” thoroughly. And that it wasn’t always done in the same hand-writing.
      So that Elephant Design Committee may have a use after all.

  25. Posted October 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I still have mixed feelings about such signs, at least with regard to the effect they have on the population. (Disclaimer: I fully agree with Jerry’s assessment that the sign is intellectually dishonest and fails to acknowledge the obvious conflict that exists for most religious people.)

    From past polls that have been posted on this site, it seems accepting theistic evolution serves as a stepping stone towards ditching the theistic part. From a personal perspective, it was one stop on the path for me from literal belief in ex nihilo creation to accepting naturalistic evolution. Polls showing a general upward trend in accepting naturalism in comparison to any downward trend for Young Earth Creationism would seem to lend some credence to this idea. At a minimum, it certainly far outpaces the number of people who accept naturalistic evolution then move to theistic evolution and then to creationism (are there even anecdotal examples of such people)?

    So while I’m in agreement that the best solution is not to even bother with any sign, I’m still open to the possibility that it could plant some seeds of doubt. Personally, I don’t understand how anyone lands permanently in the theistic evolution camp (at least from the perspective of the Abrahamic religions), it seems like once you open yourself to honest intellectual scrutiny, this stance is simply stopping halfway.

  26. tomas
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    //Why do they need this sign in the first place?//

    Probably because it addresses the elephant in the room, and eases the worries of potential donors.

    And it’s probably wise that a museum dependent on contributions, and tax revenue should be mindful of not using language that could alienate a sizable portion of the population.

    Non-overlapping magisteria, is the least offensive option of choice.

    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Or mammoth in the room?

      /@

      • merilee
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        a very wooly one

  27. Posted October 14, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget your NOMA lights!! (easy to turn on and off!)

    • Posted October 14, 2014 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      A.merican
      M.useum
      O.f
      N.atural History.

      It’s even got NOMA in the acronym. Coincidence? I think not.

      Not sure what the H stands for. (hypothesis is a bit too presumptuous; more like a hunch. Perhaps a hypocritical one at that.)

  28. Jimbo
    Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Like Jerry, I also disliked the last sentence. “Persists?” That annoying old theory is still just hanging on. How about ‘since Darwin’s original theory, the amount of data corroborating it has increased exponentially. All living creatures share the same genetic code and a common ancestry going back millennia.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      the amount of data corroborating it has increased exponentially

      Another hostage to fortune. “Exponential” has a very precise mathematical meeting. Whether the increase in data has been exponential or not is one question, but it’s always going to be prone to becoming a false statement at some point. Or you’re going to have to have some weasel words in a footnote somewhere to the effect that the goodness of fit criteria (e.g. the R statistic) are expected to remain in certain bounds. That sort of language never looks good outside technical publications. So dialling down the rhetoric to a “huge” increase in evidence. “Exponential” sounds more “sciency”, but unless you can back up that claim, it’s better not to make such assertions.

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Quite. Using “exponentially” is simply hyperbolic.

        /@

        • Filippo
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          ‘Quite. Using “exponentially” is simply hyperbolic.’

          I’m reminded of a sign on the side of a commercial van: “Interior Environmental Maintenance Systems.”

          In other words, the throw-rug rental man.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 16, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          We’re going off at a tangent here.

          • Posted October 16, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            A symptom totally consistent with past behaviors …

            /@

          • Filippo
            Posted October 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

            Well, as long as you do it no harm; I think they’re beautiful birds.

      • Jimbo
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough, “substantial” then. Or given that my use of “exponential” smacks of hyperbole and offends the standards of mathematical rigor (and we are writing a hypothetical addendum to a superfluous disclaimer regarding the rate of increase in scientific citations supporting Darwin’s Theory of Evolution) how about “ginormous”?

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 16, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          Given the location (web-address-wise), I would be surprised if there were no creationist quote miners lurking in the shadows. The question is not “Am I being paranoid?”, it’s “Am I being paranoid enough?”

  29. Posted October 14, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    In the AMNH’s defence, most of its researchers in its science divisions, including the anthropology one, would most likely agree that such a statement is unnecessary at best. Unfortunately, at the AMNH and at other musuems the non-science exhibitions department is usually largely responsible for and has the final word in setting up exhibitions. Appeasing potentially worried visitors and donors is, I am sure, an unfortunate preoccupation of theirs and of the museum’s administration. Even more so perhaps given that that particular hall was funded and is named after donors with a son with a (then) rather promising political career. I wouldn’t be surprised if the donors explicitely requested some NOMA-ish statement of sorts.

  30. Macha
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    A similar piece of nonsense happened at the National Trust Centre at the Giant’s Causeway, where a group of creationist loons persuaded the Trust to display a “Creator Did It” spiel next to the Geophysical facts, with equal prominence.

    A fuss was made and the loony section was eventually removed and downgraded to the “myths” section (along with the glorious Finn McCool) – accompanied with cries of “persecution” from the parties concerned.

    As others, I find the use of “persists” in this notice annoying – like it’s a kind of virus we can’t get rid of.

    The response to them should be a “I thought you were supposed to be Scientists”. Ridiculing their academic credentials is definitely the best approach.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      accompanied with cries of “persecution” from the parties concerned.

      That would have been “No Surrender!” Paisley (who surrendered)? another “man of god” with hands drenched in the blood of hundreds of people. (Of the thousands killed in the Troubles.) Repellent little animal.

      Ridiculing their academic credentials is definitely the best approach.

      As pointed out by others, there’s a strong probability that the sign was designed by, essentially, PR staff from the museum rather than the academic staff. I’d hope so, anyway.


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