Monday, 1 September 2008

Northampton council censors museum

A museum in Northampton has had an exhibit on Darwin and fossils censored because of a single complaint to the council. The complaint suggested that some text on the plaque accompanying the exhibit was offensive. Here's what it said:
[Charles Darwin] used the same layers of fossils that had supported the Genesis view of evolution to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to the rigours of it's (sic) environment – the struggle for survival through natural selection leading to the survival of the fittest.
Under orders from the council, the museum blacked out these lines from the exhibit without explanation. The plaque now reads:
In early Victorian times, most geologists still accepted the biblical view of evolution. They saw the different layers of fossil-rich rocks as telling the story of successive waves of creation, each one being obliterated by a deluge.

The young scientist Charles Darwin (right) was already beginning to question this view, but it was another 30 years before he had painstakingly put together the vast assemblage of facts and observations that enabled him to write On the Origin of Species.

[Bunch of blacked out lines]
Leaving the exhibit all the poorer.

Science museums are places of learning, which describe reality. Nobody has the right to not be offended, least of all offended by what happens to be true. We live in a society where one (presumed) creationist nutjob can bully a museum into covering up its description of reality, but in which I cannot walk into a church and demand that graphic depictions of torture are removed. It's not as though anyone (other than a grammar purist) could be genuinely offended by the expunged text anyway.

This degree of 'honesty' and 'integrity' is commonplace amongst the religious. Lying for Jesus seems to be a mainstream pursiut and it is all too widely considered that the end justifies the means.

Edit: one of the excuses given by the council for this bizarre censorship was 'poor syntax' (the other being the 'I'm offended' one). While a reasonable criticism, it is hardly grounds for covering up the entire paragraph. I'd gladly donate some tipex to get rid of the apostrophe. I can't help but wonder whether that excuse is really sincere. Thankfully, I don't have to speculate. The National Sceptics Society has offered to fund the replacement of the entire plaque with corrected syntax and all the information present and correct. If this offer is taken up, we can give the council the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, I think we can assume that they are liars and either sympathetic to the complainant's religious intolerance or frightened of the complainant. We should be proud of the NSS for this.

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