Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Darwin, Royal Tyrell and Some Wacky Places on Earth

A good friend of mine just returned from the Galapagos - she was following the scientific trail blazed by Darwin two centuries ago. February 12, 2009 marks the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin, and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of the Species. Darwin's scientific work documented and brought new ideas and theories about natural selection, the evolution of man, the role of inheritance, and genetics and DNA; Darwin's work continues to have relevance to today's scientists who continue to build and extended upon his theories. Scientific inquiry is a dynamic discipline that seeks to create and to replace human knowledge -- it is a peer reviewed community that vetts and tests new ideas based on replicability, rigor and reasoned and disciplined inquiry.

In academia, and especially in the physical sciences, there is an emphasis on empirical evidence - artifacts, disciplined observations and materials - that can be systematically analyzed for information about earth, human, animal and plant history. In addition to partially funding university researchers who push frontiers in science, the provincial and federal governments invest buckets of tax dollars - public money - in several large research centers that are based on the value of scientific inquiry.

I wholeheartedly support public investment in research, scientific inquiry and better understanding our world, our humanity, our flora and fauna. For example, the Royal Tyrell Museum - http://www.tyrrellmuseum.com/ is Canada’s only research institution devoted entirely to palaeontology, and it celebrates the long history and spectacular diversity of life - from the tiniest grains of pollen to the mightiest dinosaurs. Set in the Alberta badlands, the Museum opened in September, 1985. Nearly 600,000 visitors came the first year, and hundreds of thousands continue to visit each year. The Government of Alberta, under the Ministry of Culture and Community Spirit, operates the Museum. The Royal Tyrrell's mandate is to collect, conserve, research and interpret palaeontological history with special reference to Alberta’s fossil heritage.

In contrast to the role science plays in understanding our world and the sentient beings that inhabit it, here are a few of my picks for "wacky places on earth" that promote a heartfelt, but largely faith-based interpretation of the earth's history and physical record, and the genesis of man, beast and vegetation.

- The Big Valley Creationist Museum in Alberta: http://bvcsm.com/
- The Creation Museum in Kentucky: http://www.creationmuseum.org/
- Creation Discovery Museum in Florida: http://www.creationstudies.org/museum.html

There are more of these "creationist science" museums, and I haven't yet investigated all of them to better understand who builds them and how they are funded. What the creationist museums appear to have in common is the emphasis on biblical-subjective, rather than scientific-objective, interpretations of physical evidence.

I am all for free speech, freedom of expression and lively academic debate - after all, I am an educational researcher and bibliophile who is against burning books, censoring publications or limiting debate, among other things. So, while I find these faith-based, creationist museums that argue, based on the bible and feelings, rather than the scientific record and physical evidence, that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, a bit wacky, I support their right to exist. Specifically, I fervently support the individual and collective right to use personal money to build "creationist science" displays and to promote these faith-based feelings and ideas, I do not support the use of public money, my tax dollars, to support this type of endeavor.

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