I’ve previously written about two natural history museums in Israel that either didn’t mention evolution or covered up the evolution exhibits with curtains when school groups of creationist Haredis (hyper-orthodox Jews) were visiting (see here and here). The two were the Museum of Natural History and the Biblical Museum of Natural History, both in Jerusalem.
Now a reader has visited a new natural history museum in Tel Aviv, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, and again the museum omits almost all mention of evolution. The word, in fact, appears only once in the whole panoply of exhibits. Here’s what my reader reports:
I’m writing to draw your attention to something that I believe is of interest to you.
I just completed a careful tour of the new museum of natural history in Tel Aviv University. Celebrated as the only natural history museum in the Middle East [JAC: well, that’s not exactly accurate], it turned out to also be the only natural history museum in the world where the topic of evolution is deliberately avoided as to not to offend religious people.
In the whole museum I could find only one sign that included the word ‘evolved’ (or any other derivation of it) and one sign with a phylogenetic tree; neither included any further explanation. One or two signs mentioned ‘million of years’ again without any explanation. In one sign they used ‘developed’ where it should have been ‘evolved’.
Here are some of the photos, one showing the mention of evolution.
Lots of mention of process and adaptation, but nothing of evolution (click on all photos to enlarge):
Once more the word “develop” is used instead of of “evolve”. That conflation will of course be confusing, as “development” can refer to what happens during the lifetime of a single individual:
Phylogeny without any mention of evolution. How are students supposed to understand this?
Note how the word “evolution” is avoided in the explanation below; the euphemism used is “developed over millions of years through a process determined by heredity.” That’s bogus and even wrong: evolution isn’t determined by heredity: processes like natural selection also play a role. The avoidance of “evolution” is painfully obvious.
Finally, the only use of the word “evolution” or “evolve” that my correspondent could find in the whole museum (my emphasis):
From the Museum’s webpage, we learn that the building itself is meant to reflect in part Noah’s ark:
The museum can be found at 12 Klausner Street, Tel Aviv. The building architecture itself is a mix between a treasure chest and Noah’s arch [sic], representing the large range of biodiversity found inside.
Here’s the building, and yes, it’s boat-shaped:
Seriously? Yes, I know the statement is taken from a quip from J. B. S. Haldane, but of course he was an atheist.
It’s unbelievable that a natural history museum in one of Israel’s best universities can almost completely omit mention of evolution—the process that produced the diversity of flora and fauna on display. It’s especially embarrassing to me because I’m sure this was a deliberate omission, made to satisfy those Orthodox Jews who don’t accept evolution. As a secular nonbelieving Jew with genetic ties to these people, and as an evolutionary biologist, I find this deliberate ignorance on the part of the Museum—and the religiously based creationism of the Orthodox to which the Museum caters—appalling.
Here’s a video about the Museum (notice that they refer to it as an “ark”), again omitting all mention of evolution. Founding benefactor Michael Steinhardt (his wife Judy was co-benefactor) remarks at the end, “The natural history museum here in Israel will do more for the next generations of young people than just about any other institution I could envisage.” NOT IF THEY LEAVE OUT EVOLUTION!—the great lesson that underlies the whole exhibit.
The Museum Chair, shown in the video above, is Professor Tamar Dayan (see other officers here and the scientific staff here). The page listing donors and partners also notes that “The museum operates under the auspices of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.” SERIOUSLY? The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities? Are they aware of the quasi-creationist enterprise they’re sponsoring?
Contact information for Professor Dayan, also the Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates and a Professor at the University of Tel Aviv, can be found here, and I have emailed her the following:
Dear Professor Dayan,
As an evolutionary biologist (and secular Jew), I’m appalled to find that Tel Aviv’s new Steinhardt Museum of Natural History omits all mention of evolution except a single time, confusingly referring to it as “development.” I firmly believe, and have heard, that this omission was deliberate, designed to avoid offending those Orthodox Jews who don’t accept evolution.
It is insupportable for a major natural history museum like yours to have a huge building and many exhibits devoted to evolution while deliberately obscuring the process that produced the organisms on display. I was also disturbed to find that the Museum operates under the auspices of the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities.
There is no credible explanation for the lack of mention of evolution in your Museum save as a concession to creationists. If you have another explanation, I will be glad to hear it. In the meantime I have posted about your museum on my website, “Why Evolution is True,” which has 56,000 readers; my post is here: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2018/08/08/the-new-natural-history-museum-in-tel-aviv-built-to-look-like-noahs-ark-deliberately-omits-mentioning-evolution/ .
I will also contact some Israeli newspapers.
I implore you and your scientific staff to put evolution in its proper place in your museum. As Theodosius Dobzhansky (my academic grandfather) said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” I hope you can fix your museum so it can make sense to the many people who visit.
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago