Next time I’m in New York…

I’m going to have to visit the American Museum of Natural History and see the
new permanent exhibit on human origins. It sounds very good; they’ve done something I try to do in some of my talks on evolution, splitting it between the more easily comprehended, sexy stuff of fossils and reconstructions and the more abstract and more recent material on molecular biology and genetics. There’s an oft-told myth among the creationists that evolution is dying, but it’s precisely that explosion of new information we’re gaining from molecular approaches that has been revitalizing the research for some time now.

The do throw one sop to the culture wars:

One issue cannot be entirely sidestepped in any public presentation of human evolution: that many people in this country doubt and vocally oppose the very concept. In a corner of the hall, several scientists are shown in video interviews professing the compatibility of their evolution research with their religious beliefs.

This is a new permanent exhibit, but I vaguely recall seeing a video presentation like this at a museum somewhere; was it on display at the AMNH before? It’s not a big deal, as what I remember of it was being faintly embarrassed at these scientists professing to be proud of their archaic bone-in-the-nose magic rituals. That part will be skippable—I look forward to seeing the real evidence, that wonderful piece of the universe that is untainted by the delusions of tradition.


  1. says

    I saw a video exhibit like this at the Darwin Experience traveling exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philly, naturally featuring Francis Collins. I wonder if it’s the same recording, since Darwin was at AMNH before it went on to Philly.

  2. Philboid Studge says

    Yes, the testifyin’ scientists were also part of the Darwin exhibit last year at the AMNH.

    I’m of two minds about it. It is sort of a sop to the Christ-Psycotics and assorted theocrazies, but it’s also worth mentioning that so many Merkins reject science in favor of dogma. This isn’t really ‘teaching the controversy’ so much as acknowleging that there’s a serious problem with this benighted country.

  3. Erasmus says

    “these scientists professing to be proud of their archaic bone-in-the-nose magic rituals. ”

    god damn i laughed at that.

  4. David says

    And for an altogether different kind of reporting than you’ll find in the Times, there is the story from the Christian Post entitled “Human Evolution Exhibit to Butt Heads with Creationist Museum.” The conclusion of that story? Hilariously, “Much like evolutionists, the creationists study the same fossil and DNA evidence that the AMNH will present. They argue that, if studied subjectively, the evidence will only back up scriptural authority.”

  5. Steve_C says

    There was a full page ad for it in the NY Metro paper this morning. My almost 3 son loved it…

    “What’s that?!”

    “It’s an exhibit at the Museum”

    “I wanna see it”

    “You got it”

    The family membership is money well spent. We go almost once a month.

  6. Dianne says

    I went to the opening of the Hall of Human Origins. It’s not bad, but could use more information. There’s a bit too much of displaying the specimens without much information except where they came from and what their species is for my taste (though they do spend a fair amount of time comparing and contrasting various Homo species to H sapiens.) I’d also like to see more about how the various Homo species are related, though it may be that the info was there and I missed it in the crowd. There’s a fair amount on DNA, including a sample of Neanderthal DNA, but I’d have liked to see more details. Neanderthal genome project, anyone? I don’t remember the bit about scientists trying to reconcile science with religion, but again could have missed that in the crowd. I wish they wouldn’t: previous attempts to reconcile the two have been embarrassing for both sides.

  7. Ruth says

    On our last visit to Chicago, I noticed the Field Museum had reorganized their exhibits to emphasize evolution. My kids liked how you walk through red light for the mass extinctions (they had only known about the dinosaur one). From what I could see, it was their old displays, just arranged to show how life has changed over time.

  8. Brian says

    I don’t think the “old” human hall (it opened in ’94, so it’s not really all that old by AMNH standards) had anything about creationists in it. But having worked there, I have to say that there is definitely a battle between the Exhibitions people and the scientists over flash vs science. And the newer halls (Rose, etc.) have far too many video screens for my taste.

  9. Jay says

    “There’s an oft-told myth among the creationists that evolution is dying”

    The use of the word “myth” troubles my pedantic sensibilities. Let’s just call it a “lie.”

  10. hexatron says

    I haven’t seen it–just the NYTimes article.

    Glad the australopithecene couple made it from the old exhibit to the new one. They seem like survivors, in the best sense.

    But the skeleton family watching TV is gone? That’s too bad.
    I don’t know what the point of it was, but it was a crowd pleaser. No one could see it and be unmoved.
    Or is there a new skeleton family, haunting the internet?

  11. Megan Elise says

    I visited the AMNH yesterday specifically because of the NYT article. I’d never been to the museum before, I just moved to New Jersey after graduating college (a few months ago) and I had never been to NYC before moving here, so I don’t know what displays used to be there. All I know is that I crouched in front of the cast of Lucy’s bones and tears came into my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all great, but it was pretty damned moving at points.