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Thursday, 13 March 2008

A Visit to the Darwin Exhibit

Yesterday my son and I had the opportunity to visit the Darwin exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. This exhibit was created by the American Museum of Natural History in conjunction with several other world class museums, including the ROM, but this is the first time it has been available in Canada.

Overall, the exhibit is extremely well done. It provides a brief sketch of Darwin’s life, from a young boy absolutely fascinated by the natural world around him, to a young man trying to fulfill this passion; from his famous 5-year voyage on the Beagle, to the long years putting together the pieces of his simple, yet revolutionary theory; from his initial hesitancy to publish the theory, to his feverish writing of “On The Origin” once he realized another naturalist had simultaneously worked out a similar evolutionary framework. Since his death, Darwin has been alternatively demonized and given the scientific equivalent of divine veneration. The exhibit effectively puts “flesh and bones” on the mythological Darwin.

The exhibit also provides a basic overview of the evidence supporting evolution, including recent evidence discovered after Darwin. There are enough fossils, models, maps, videos, setting recreations, and even live animals to keep everyone’s interest while those of us that absolutely HAVE to read EVERY word on EVERY panel slowly (some would say painfully slowly) make our way through the exhibition hall.

A few quick personal reactions from my Christian perspective:

  • The 10-minute introductory video on Darwin & the significance of his theory included some initial comments by four well-known promoters of evolutionary theory: Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Eugenie Scott, and Niles Eldredge. I suspect that few viewers (at least those unfamiliar with the creation / evolution debate) will realize that the first two commentators are Christians while the latter two are not. In general, I believe great care was taken to ensure the exhibit did not promote any religious or anti-religious viewpoint.
  • That being said, it is sad to see one aspect of our faith shown in such a bad light. “Creation” and “Creationism” are never presented positively. Frankly, given the history of the interaction between creation and evolution, one cannot fault the exhibit designers (these were not unintelligent designers). Personally, I would like to reclaim “creation” for all Christians, including those of us that are comfortable with biological evolution, and not have it commandeered by those who, for clarity and accuracy, should be called anti-evolutionists.
  • Even in ethnically & religiously cosmopolitan Toronto, not a single corporate sponsor was found to sponsor the Darwin exhibit. That I found a little surprising. In many ways the Christian Bully is still capable of intimidation. This (ongoing) legacy is not helpful for sharing the gospel.
  • In my post last month, I indicated that Tony Campolo was wrong to call Darwin a racist. Before visiting the exhibit I was aware that Darwin hated slavery, but did not realize he was almost kicked off the Beagle early in the voyage for steadfastly disagreeing with the captain’s assertion that the “Brazilian slaves were happy”. Darwin’s first face-to-face contact with slavery had horrified him.
The exhibit runs at the ROM until August 2008. I highly recommend it to all. In particular, for Christians who have avoided learning about Darwin and the theory of evolution, it can serve as an excellent crash course introduction in a non-threatening environment.


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed the exhibit, Steve. I was just at the ROM a couple of weeks ago doing research. I never did see the Darwin exhibit, but I did spend some time in the new fossil gallery. Beautiful place demonstrating the diversity of life God put here on earth.

Isaac Gouy said...

“Creation” and “Creationism” are never presented positively.
You might enjoy a tale of Darwin - the creationist - "As a result of his creationist perspective on species and varieties, Darwin—astonishingly, from our modern evolutionary viewpoint—failed to collect a single specimen of giant tortoise for scientific purposes during his Gal├ípagos stay."

Why Darwin Rejected Intelligent Design (pdf) Frank J. Sulloway