Tel Aviv’s new natural history museum (built to look like Noah’s Ark) deliberately omits mentioning evolution

August 8, 2018 • 8:30 am

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):

“Transition” and “development” used instead of “evolution”:

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.

Cordially,
Jerry Coyne

Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

Here we go again: El Al complies with the desire of Orthodox Jews to not sit next to women

June 24, 2018 • 10:00 am

The Haredim comprise a number of sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews who adhere strictly to a religious code of conduct. The Haredi code happens to prohibit tactile contact of any sort between men and women. And so it happens that Haredim often refuse to sit next to women on planes. They might accidentally touch them! And get cooties!

As a secular Jew, I am especially embarrassed and revulsed when Jews engage in this type of ridiculous behavior. But of course few religions are exempt from irrationality. I’ve posted before on men of the Haredim refusing to sit next to women on planes, and how the airlines (including El Al, the Israeli national carrier) try to accommodate them.

What those airlines should be doing is to either heave the buggers off the plane (calling security if they have to), or require the Haredim to purchase an empty seat next to them beforehand, or sit together. El Al’s refusal to do any of this has led to successful lawsuits, like the suit by Renee Rabinowitz against El Al last year. As I reported, Rabinowitz, who was unwillingly moved at the request of a Haredi man, won a suit that got her not only money, but a promise from El Al. As I noted at the time (my emphasis):

Rabinowitz asked for 50,000 shekels (about $14,000 US) in damages, and was represented by the Israeli Religious Action Center, a legal and reform organization run by progressive Jews. El Al defended itself by saying it wasn’t discriminating against women because it would also ask a man to move if seated next to an Orthodox woman who objected to male cooties. But that’s still gender discrimination, and the judge awarded Rabinowitz 6500 shekels ($1800). More important, because El Al was found to violate Israel anti-discrimination laws, the airline agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.

Well, here we go again: Reader Alex called my attention to this article on Ynet (click on screenshot).

A passenger, Khen Rotem, wrote about it on his Facebook page (in Hebrew); the partial translation is below (my emphasis again):

“The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women.”

Rotem said one of the Haredi men, “particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight.”

“The flight crew tries to resolve the matter, but it isn’t working. The flight attendants male [sic] way to the authoritative men on board—the customer service manager and someone who appeared to be the head of the crew—who try to resolve the crisis. The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The Haredim won’t blink first. One crew member threatens: ‘If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane now.'”

Eventually, Rotem wrote, “after many minutes of negotiations, the crew gave in. And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.

“After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved.”

This infuriates me. It’s bad enough that the men won’t sit next to women, but it’s compounded when they won’t even talk to or look at female flight attendants. What Jewish law dictates that women shouldn’t be recognized as human beings?

The article notes that other Jews on the plane, including religious ones, were rightfully disgusted by the behavior of the Haredim, that the flight was delayed for an hour and a quarter by their behavior, and that the women who were displaced weren’t even offered upgrades. The least that should have been done is put those women in first class.

And El Al’s response to Rotem is hardly satisfactory:

“Hello Khen. We apologize if any inconvenience was caused. Any discrimination of passengers is strictly forbidden. El Al’s flight attendants do all they can to provide service to a wide variety of passengers and fulfill a variety of different requests, trying to assist as much as they can. All of this is done in order to take off on time and bring the passengers to their destination according to schedule.”

This masterpiece of equivocation violates El Al’s settlement with Renee Rabinowitz, and I’ve told El Al so in two ways, via Tweet . .

(feel free to tweet to El Al USA if you have a Twitter account).

. . . and by an email to El Al customer relations in New York (customer@elal.co.il):

Dear El Al airlines:

I have read in Ynet an article describing how, on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, a group of Haredi men refused to be seated next to women, and, ultimately, your staff accommodated these men by making women move. And you didn’t even offer to upgrade the women!

This is an unconscionable action on the part of your airline, which is complicit in sex discrimination. Not only that, but it violates what your airline promised when you were sued by Renee Rabinowitz, who was likewise forced to move. Besides having to pay 6500 shekels, your airline, because it was found to violate Israeli anti-discrimination laws, “ agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.”

Well, you did move seats based on a request that violates gender. The proper move on your part would have told the Haredim to either sit in their assigned seats or be kicked off the plane. Instead, you did your best to accommodate that sexist request, resulting in a flight delay of 1.25 hours.  Do you not know how to call security to have people removed from a plane?

I am appalled by the behavior of your airline and by the actions of your staff that allowed the Haredim to discriminate against women. I would like to know if you intend to do this again. Your response to Khen Rotem was a masterpiece of dissimulation, explaining that you try to “fulfill a variety of requests” and to “bring passengers to their destination according to schedule.” No you don’t; you broke the law and your own agreement, and enabled bias and discrimination against women. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

I would appreciate a response to this email.

Yours sincerely,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
The University of Chicago

They have received the email:

By all means write to the address above if you feel so inclined. I have a feeling that if many people write to El Al, they’ll start taking this seriously. You are free to use my own email as a template.

 

 

Pushback from Israeli museums who don’t like my stand on censoring evolution exhibits

May 2, 2018 • 9:15 am

As I noted the other day, I had strong objections to a practice at Jerusalem’s Natural History Museum described in the Times of Israel (click on screenshot below). When the Haredi schoolchildren (ultra-Orthodox Jews) visit, the Museum, which is funded by Israeli taxpayers, covers up its evolution exhibit, as evolution is contrary to their religious beliefs and would offend (and maybe enlighten!) them. Further, other people are in the Museum at that time, and they, too, don’t get to see the evolution exhibit.

This disturbs me on the grounds that Israel is a secular country (though not as secular as the U.S.); that no religious group can dictate, on the grounds of its beliefs, what is shown in a science museum; and that blocking the exhibit for non-Haredis is an unwarranted incursion on their rights.

I wrote to the head of the Museum (the letter is at the top link), and although I didn’t hear back from him, several Israeli newspapers and websites covered this fracas, mentioning my letter. And I did hear from the head of another museum, the non-publicly-funded and religious Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh. 

At any rate, the ultra-left Israeli newspaper Haaretz covered the kerfuffle after the fact:

They mention my letter to the Museum director:

Biology Professor Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago, who specializes in evolution, read about the affair and sent the museum a letter in which he criticized their decision to cover the exhibit. “As an evolutionary biologist of Jewish ancestry, I am deeply offended at your practice of covering up the human evolution exhibit lest it offend the Haredi Jews who go to your museum. Why would a museum hide the truth, even if it’s offensive to some religious believers? Is this proper in a largely secular state like Israel?”

He also published the letter on his blog “Evolution is True.” Coyne called on his readers to send their own letters to the museum. “I hope you realize that by literally hiding the evidence for human evolution, you are misleading people: in effect, lying by omission. The truth is the truth, regardless of whether some people are offended because it goes against their upbringing; and by catering to the false beliefs of creationists, you are, in effect, censoring whatever science that some people find unpleasant. This kind of behavior makes me ashamed of my Jewish background.”

but also gives the Museum’s defense of its practice (my emphasis):

. . . Since the beginning of the school year, 12 groups from Haredi schools have visited the Natural History Museum as part of the city’s “Jerusalem Advantage” educational program. This is the first year such visits to the museum have been subsidized by the city.

The museum’s educational director, Dr. Evgeny Roznitsky, says schools made their visits conditional on the exhibit being covered up, and he decided to agree to their request. “The agreement is that when such a group arrives we close the curtain and the guide does not explain about those parts. When they leave we open the curtain,” he told Haaretz.

“It has happened 12 times and we would be happy for more – before this year there were no Haredi groups at all, only in a few private frameworks. This year groups come from [Haredi] schools in an organized manner, so I still think this is an achievement,” said Roznitsky.

. . . It is preferable to expose the students to the rest of the worlds the museum has to offer than to refuse their request and have them cancel completely, he says. “My dilemma was either not to close [the curtain] and not agree to the request, and then not to receive this public and not to expose them to the beauty of the other exhibits, or to temporarily close something that is 0.3 percent of all the museum’s space and expose them to the rest: The environment, nature, environmental quality. We have animals in the garden zoo, a beautiful garden. These are children who have never seen an animal in their lives. So I expose them to an entire world. So on behalf of pluralism and education I close this curtain,” said Roznitsky. He completely denies that a visitor who criticized the curtain was told she could leave. [JAC: note that the exhibit is closed to all visitors when the Haredi visit; they don’t have exclusive access to the whole museum.]

. . .The Jerusalem municipality said: “The city’s Educational Administration initiated the ‘Jerusalem Advantage’ program in which all the city’s students from all communities are entitled to visit a wide variety of museums in the city within the framework of their studies. Within this program, thousands of students visited the Natural History Museum in the city and enjoyed the exhibitions and exhibits there. As opposed to what has been claimed, the aforementioned exhibit is open regularly to all groups visiting the museum.”

The city said that out of a desire to attract groups from the Haredi community, too, it was decided to agree to the request from Haredi schools and cover a specific exhibit during the visits. “So far, 12 groups from Haredi schools have visited the museum. The Educational Administration will continue to make cultural institutions and enrichment activities accessible to all the city’s students from a viewpoint of tolerance and equal opportunity for everyone.”

The same defense—that it’s better to give the Haredi kids some exposure to the outside world even if it means censoring evolution—was offered by Rabbi Nathan Slifkin, head of the Biblical Museum of Natural History on his website, in a post called “The skeleton in my closet.” Slifkin also wrote me personally along the same lines and posted a comment on my own site (here), to which you are welcome to respond (be civil!).

Finally, the Times of Israel published a second piece also mentioning my letter (click on screenshot):

This article reaffirms that the exhibit is covered when Haredis visit, even if other people are there at the same time, and the evolution exhibit was also covered twice by mistake when no Haredis are visiting, ostensibly due to “lack of manpower” (seriously; how hard is it to take down a curtain?). So everyone gets denied the science when Haredis are visiting; religious rights trump the right of non-Haredis to learn about human evolution.

The article also says that the Museum is sticking by its guns:

The Natural History Museum in Jerusalem has vowed to continue its policy of hiding an evolution exhibit from view, along with other displays on dinosaurs and the human body, during visits by ultra-Orthodox groups in order to avoid offending their religious beliefs. The announcement came despite an outrage caused in Israel and abroad by its decision to self-censor displays on evolution, dinosaurs and the human body.

“Of course,” the museum’s educational director, Dr. Evgeny Reznitsky, told The Times of Israel on Tuesday when asked whether he will carry on with the practice, citing the institution’s dire financial situation and saying it was better to have ultra-Orthodox schoolkids visit on their terms than have them not come at all.

As people protested outside the building with a megaphone and demanded that the museum reject the demands set by Haredi schools, Reznitsky said he would only reconsider his position if ordered to stop by municipal authorities.

Yes, there were protests!

Meanwhile, outside the museum, several protesters gathered Tuesday morning for a demonstration, carrying signs and shouting slogans such as “The curtain won’t hide the truth on the wall,” “Evolution is for all,” and “Don’t leave the skeletons in the closet.”

They argued heatedly with a museum employee who vehemently defended the practice as respecting the museum’s visitors and as a needed step in light of its financial woes.

“We don’t accept this,” said protester Yaki Hertz. “Science is not custom made. Whoever wants to learn science will do so using all the findings we have today.”

These pieces, plus a new one in Newsweek, also mention that the need for money keep the Natural History Museum catering to the Haredis:

Jerry Coyne, who is an evolution professor at the University of Chicago complained in an open letter that the museum was guilty of “lying by omission.”

“Your blatant censorship offends me…but of course you’d prefer to offend scientists and truth-seekers than those who harbor religious superstitions,” he wrote on his website.

But museum employee Uzi Danon told the Times of Israel that the lack of funds meant that it needed the revenue from Haredim visitors.

“We want the public to be here. Had the museum received funds we would immediately tell the Haredi groups ‘Bye-bye, go home, we don’t need you.’”

“We want to continue operating, they want to close the place down,” he added.

Finally, I received two private emails from Israelis, approving of the Museum’s practice and saying that I simply don’t understand the Haredi culture in Israel. But I think I know enough to weigh in. I know that this group doesn’t accept evolution and that they largely insulate themselves and their kids from secular society.  And I know that this issue isn’t a no-brainer. On one side we have the hope that some exposure to science will enlighten the Haredi kids, and perhaps even get them to think for themselves and maybe, just maybe, accept evolution, even if it’s censored at the Museum. They might even abandon their smothering faith, instilled in them via indoctrination.

Against that we have to weigh the fact that Israeli taxpayers are funding an exhibit that gets covered up when it offends a particular religious group; that it may not help Haredi kids much to see a lion or plant if they don’t also learn how they got here; that Israel is a nominally secular state that still favors particular religions on occasions like this, and that the evolution exhibit gets censored when other people who are not Haredi, and who could learn from the evolution exhibit, can’t see it during Haredi visits. To my mind, this outweighs the small number of Haredi children who have been exposed to the non-evolution parts of the exhibit (12 groups in total). It would be lovely if readers would weigh in below with their own take on whether the evolution exhibit should be censored during Haredi visits, and why. 

Museum of Natural History, take down that curtain!

_______

A contribution from reader Pliny the in Between:

 

David Berlinski makes a pompous fool of himself again about science and evolution

April 30, 2018 • 9:15 am

I’m not sure how David Berlinski manages to make a living, but he does live in Paris, which ain’t cheap. Although he’s a Senior Fellow with the ID Creationist Discovery Institute, that can’t pay much, and his science books, including A Tour of the Calculus (1995), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000), Newton’s Gift (2000), and Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics (2005), can’t bring in that much dosh. (As Wikipedia notes, “Berlinski’s books have received mixed reviews.”) However, his 2009 book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions remains at #41 on Amazon, a remarkable spot, but explained of course by those believers hungry to find problems with atheism. And he’s also written fiction, including several detective novels, so perhaps that’s what keeps him in croissants and fancy suits.

Berlinski, as he does in this video, claims he’s a secular Jew, therefore making him the only creationist I know (or anti-evolutionist, if you want to be charitable) who isn’t religious. I’ll take him at his word, but one overweening trait, which simply exudes from this 30-minute interview on Fox News with Mark Levin, is pomposity.

If you want to see just the juicy bits, where he makes the most ridiculous pronouncements with his characteristic hauteur and insouciance, just watch the first 14 minutes. During that time he makes these points:

  • Atheism has replaced a “forbearing and tolerant agnosticism” that has led to derision of religion, which is 5,000 years old and deeply revered by many. (He apparently thinks this derision is a bad thing. But of course slavery was also practiced and justified for equally as long. Duration and acceptance do not mandate respect.)
  • Science has no answers to “The Big Questions” like “why is there something instead of nothing?” (the answer that “it was an accident” is fobbed off by Berlinski as “failing to meet people’s intellectual needs”, which of course is not an answer but a statement about confirmation bias); “where did the Universe come from?”; “how did life originate?”; “what are we doing here?”, “what is our purpose?”, and so on.

Apparently Berlinski doesn’t like “we don’t know” as an answer, but as a nonbeliever I’d like to know his answer! He has none; all he does is carp about science’s ignorance.

  • Berlinski apparently agrees with Levin that there’s no substantive evidence for anthropogenic global warming. Instead, he imputes the scientific consensus to the desire of scientists to get federal money.

The evolution bit begins at 9:40, and here Berlinski says these things:

  • Darwin’s view that species can change into other species is analogous to alchemy: a form of transformation for which there’s no evidence. He uses the stretching of the giraffe’s neck, a Lamarckian principle, as one that still characterizes Darwinism. That’s just wrong.
  • Darwinism is a “secular doctrine comparable to the Book of Genesis” and an “ideology”. Darwinism, he says, “is not a scientific theory but a collection of anecdotes.”

What ignorant statements to make! Anecdotes? Has he read my book? True, Darwinism can’t answer the question, “Why don’t cats rule the world?” or “Why aren’t women born with tails like cats?” (yes, he asks these questions to denigrate evolution), but just because we can’t answer why evolution did this and didn’t do that does NOT mean that there’s no evidence for evolution or natural selection. Just read my damn book, which is not a “series of anecdotes”. Evolution can predict things that have been found (intermediate forms existing at certain times; presence of mammalian fossils on Antarctica, dead genes in the genomes, etc.)

Here Berlinski, by saying that Darwinism is a “myth” that either makes up stories or can’t answer everything, simply misunderstands the nature of the field. Is evolution an “ideology”? No more than “quantum mechanics” or “organic chemistry” are ideologies.

After the 14 minutes, he goes on to denigrate atheism, evolution, and “the academy” for its antitheistic attitudes, and then takes a whack at progressivism.  He also claims that there’s a qualitative gap between human beings on one side and “the rest of the animal kingdom on the other.” In the end, his views of human exceptionalism and the supposed inadequacies of Darwinism leave me with the question, “What is Berlinski’s own explanation for the questions he raises?” If he says, “I don’t have one,” then why does he criticize scientists for saying, “I don’t know”? He argues that he’s an agnostic because he can’t prove that God does not exist, but yet I suspect that Berlinski wouldn’t be agnostic about Santa Claus, for which there’s equally little evidence. What even makes him think there’s the possibility of a God? The fact that there’s something instead of nothing? In that case his suspicion that there could be a God simply comes from questions that science hasn’t yet answered.

Finally, at 30:24, he lumps me in with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins as “windbags”. Well, so be it, but I maintain that I’ve expelled a lot less wind than Berlinski!

As a secular Jew, his schtick is to kvetch and kvetch, which, combined with his Buckley-ian imperious attitudes and mannerisms, are taken by ignoramuses as “wisdom.”

h/t: Dave

Natural history museum in Jerusalem covers exhibit on evolution to avoid offending ultra-Orthodox Jews

April 28, 2018 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE:

A kind reader sent me the email for the Natural History Museum, muzteva@gmail.com, and if you want to write to them about this, feel free. Here’s my email:

*********

To whom it may concern:

As an evolutionary biologist of Jewish ancestry, I am deeply offended at your practice of covering up the human evolution exhibit lest it offend the Haredi Jews who go to your museum. Why would a museum hide the truth, even if it’s offensive to some religious believers? Is this proper in a largely secular state like Israel?

I hope you realize that by literally hiding the evidence for human evolution, you are misleading people: in effect, lying by omission. The truth is the truth, regardless of whether some people are offended because it goes against their upbringing; and by catering to the false beliefs of creationists, you are, in effect, censoring whatever science that some people find unpleasant. This kind of behavior makes me ashamed of my Jewish background.

I have written about your Museum’s activities on my website, which has 55,000 readers:

Natural history museum in Jerusalem covers exhibit on evolution to avoid offending ultra-Orthodox Jews

I hope that in the future you can just present the plain scientific truth about human origins and not worry about who it offends. Your blatant censorship offends me–and has offended many others–but of course you’d prefer to offend scientists and truth-seekers than those who harbor religious superstitions.

Sincerely,
Jerry Coyne
Emeritus Professor
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

_________

From the Times of Israel we have this article (click on screenshot) showing three things: not all Jews accept science; that the ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim)—a reclusive, fundamentalist, and extremist branch of the faith—are creationists; and finally that the largely secular character of the Israel government will nevertheless censor real science to cater to this group.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Natural History Museum in Jerusalem has been keeping an exhibit on human evolution covered under a sheet to avoid offending ultra-Orthodox visitors, and a staff member earlier this month asked a customer to leave when she inquired why the museum was censoring the display.

“I was saddened by it and rather shocked,” the visitor, Chaya David, told The Times of Israel following the incident. “It’s unwarranted and illegal.”

The Hebrew-language display, titled “The beginning of human evolution and culture,” details the stages of the gradual transformation from apes to the modern homo sapiens [sic], complete with various skulls, models and ancient hunting tools along with written explanations.

It is kept under a pink sheet that blocks it from visitors’ view.

Here’s that sheet:

Photo: Michael Bachner/Times of Israel

 

Here are two photos of what’s behind the sheet. The article describes the exhibit as outmoded—not updated for decades—so it will surely be wrong. But despite that, it still describes the key fact of human evolution over millions of years (both photos by Michael Bachner), something that the faithful must come to terms with:

What’s equally offensive is that the local government approved this covering (the Jerusalem Haredi Education Division) and that the exhibit is funded by Israeli taxpayers:

The museum said it had received approval from municipal authorities to hide the exhibit, along with two other displays on dinosaurs and on the human body and sexuality, during visits by ultra-Orthodox groups.

. . . [A] 31-year-old mother of two visited the museum during the Passover festival earlier this month with her three-year-old son.

“Why are they covering this? It’s totally inappropriate,” she said. “And then it dawned on me: I realized it was probably being covered due to some sort of social and political agenda.”

An employee that she asked told her that “Haredim don’t like to see these things,” David recollected.

“I was totally shocked because there weren’t any Haredim there to be offended. It wasn’t making anyone upset at the time,” she charged. “You can’t just choose one exhibit you think might offend someone and self-censor in that manner. It’s sad and unwarranted, and it’s also illegal.”

The employee then recommended that she leave.

The excuse the Museum gave is pathetic: they don’t want to offend the Haredis and doing so would reduce Museum attendance:

When a Times of Israel reporter visited the museum almost a week later, the exhibit was still covered by the sheet.

“The curtain is closed only when there is a Haredi group that reserves an activity ahead of time,” the museum said. “Due to shortage of manpower, the curtain was mistakenly not opened [afterward].

How much “manpower” does it take to open a curtain, for crying out loud?

“The Natural History Museum has existed for 60 years and serves all populations in the city,” the museum added. “We are interested in attracting as many visitors as possible.”

Well, that’s not excuse for a state that’s modern, science-friendly, and largely secular. Scientific truth is scientific truth, and shouldn’t be hidden from the public by the government because it offends religion. Such censorship would never stand in the U.S.

It’s as if the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. covered up its evolution exhibit permanently (or eliminated it) because 39% of Americans are young-earth creationists. A religious museum can promulgate whatever lies it wants (viz., the Creation Museum in Kentucky), but a public museum in a secular state can neither lie to the public nor censor exhibits (lying by omission) because they go against the religious dictates of any sect.

I tried to find the email address of the Museum so I could protest, but the site is in Hebrew and also seems to lack email contact information. If you can find it, please let me know.

h/t: Diane G.

In America, Yeshiva bochers don’t get educated

April 10, 2018 • 1:30 pm

In case you don’t know the Yiddish, a “yeshiva bocher” is a Jewish student at an Orthodox religious school (a “yeshiva”) who is a “bocher” (male student, usually unmarried). And what this article points out—one of the open secrets of Judaism—is that yeshivas are the American equivalent of Islamic madrassas: schools where you study religion—and nothing else. That means that the students wind up largely unsuited to enter society at large or hold down many jobs, with many of these going on welfare deliberately, aiming to spend their entire lives studying the Torah. In fact, because of the brainwashing they get from their parents, they don’t want to enter society at large, but prefer to remain in their insulated communities. That is their right. But it’s not their right to neglect state educational requirements.

In the U.S., there are educational standards that all students have to meet, regardless of their school, but these are largely ignored for yeshiva students, many of whom live in New York. As the following New York Times piece reports (click on the screenshot), the cultural and actual illiteracy of yeshiva students (most of them ultra-Orthodox) is staggering. Further, a state senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, who represents many of these Jews, is campaigning to get a legal exemption for yeshiva students from the state’s educational standards.

The piece’s author, Shulem Deen, was a Hasidic Jew who left his community at age 33, and still considers himself “educationally handicapped” even though he got his high school equivalency degree. Having left the Hasidic community, he lost custody of his sons.

The education problem is worse for men than for women, as Jewish girls aren’t required to study the Torah and so, says Deen, receive a “decent secular education.” But, later destined for marriage and strictly bound to the home, they can’t use it in jobs.

Just a few facts from the piece:

When I was in my 20s, already a father of three, I had no marketable skills, despite 18 years of schooling. I could rely only on an ill-paid position as a teacher of religious studies at the local boys’ yeshiva, which required no special training or certification. As our family grew steadily — birth control, or even basic sexual education, wasn’t part of the curriculum — my then-wife and I struggled, even with food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing vouchers, which are officially factored into the budgets of many of New York’s Hasidic families.

I remember feeling both shame and anger. Shame for being unable to provide for those who relied on me. Anger at those responsible for educating me who had failed me so colossally.

A woman I know works as a physician at Maimonides Medical Center, in heavily Hasidic Borough Park in Brooklyn, and often sees adult male patients who can barely communicate to her what ails them. “It’s not just that they’re like immigrants, barely able to speak the language,” she told me. “It’s also a lack of knowledge of basic physiology. They can barely name their own body parts.”

. . . Across the state, there are dozens of Hasidic yeshivas, with tens of thousands of students — nearly 60,000 in New York City alone — whose education is being atrociously neglected. These schools receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding, through federal programs like Title I and Head Start and state programs like Academic Intervention Services and universal pre-K. For New York City’s yeshivas, $120 million comes from the state-funded, city-run Child Care and Development Block Grant subsidy program: nearly a quarter of the allocation to the entire city.

The result: millions of taxpayer dollars spent to provide welfare for those who, because of religion, are denied a proper education:

According to a report by Yaffed, or Young Advocates for Fair Education, an organization that advocates for improved general studies in Hasidic yeshivas, an estimated 59 percent of Hasidic households are poor or near-poor. According to United States Census figures, the all-Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, an hour north of New York City, is the poorest in the country, with median family income less than $18,000.

One heavily Hasidic district of Brooklyn, South Williamsburg, has, over the last decade, shown dramatic increases in using public income support such as cash assistance, Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.

This is insupportable, and a terrible waste of young minds—minds doomed to endlessly pore over ancient scripts and argue about their meaning, yearning for the return of the Messiah.

Yes, the religious have a right to their craziness, but when it interferes with civil requirements—like getting a good secular education—religion has to take a back seat.  I weep to think of all those boys who, had they not been born into Orthodox families, would have the freedom to do and study what they want, some achieving great things. The endless scrutinizing and exposition of the Torah is not a great thing; it’s nonsense. And Felder is a reprehensible man for furthering this nonsense.

 

Israeli airports won’t tell women that they don’t have to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox Jews

April 7, 2018 • 1:30 pm

People might be surprised to find that, although Israel is seen as a “Jewish state,” how secular it really is. As Phil Zuckerman notes in the article I mentioned the other day:

The only nation of secular significance in the Middle East is Israel; 37 percent of Israelis are atheist or agnostic (Kedem 1995) and 75 percent of Israelis define themselves as ‘‘not religious’’ or having a ‘‘non-religious orientation.’’ (Dashefsky et al. 2003).

That’s a lot more secular than the U.S., but not a surprise to many Jews. As the old joke goes, “What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?” Answer: “A Jew.”  But Israel still caters to its Orthodox minority, even when simple decency says that it shouldn’t.

A case in point, documented by both The Guardian and Newsweek, involves a subject I’ve written about before: ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) Jews refusing to sit by women, and airlines trying to accommodate these religionists by moving the women. (See my posts here, here, here, here, and here.)  In the most recent case, documented in the last two links, 82 year old Renee Rabinowitz—a Holocaust survivor—sued El Al for making her move, and won a $14,000 court judgment with the help of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli equivalent of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. That judgment also prohibited gender discrimination in seating.

But recently the IRAC wanted to put up ads at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, letting women know that they had the legal right to keep their seats despite the complaints of bigoted religionists. (The ruling against gender discrimination in seating applies to both buses and planes, by decree of the Israeli supreme court.) Sadly, the airport refused, which is tantamount to refuse to inform women of their legal rights.  The Israeli airport authority banned the ads as being “politically divisive.”

Here’s the ad that was banned:

Well, it’s not at all politically divisive. It may be religiously divisive, but I think most of us agree that where religious dictum conflicts with civil rights, the latter must win. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. I hope the airports reconsider, as their refusal to tell women of their rights allows religious sentiments to trump civil liberties.

IRAC also had a campaign video, which I’ve embedded below. The narrator turns into Woody Allen at about 1:20:

h/t: József

Ali Rizvi talks sense on Israel and Palestine

December 8, 2017 • 9:00 am

Unbeknownst to me, Ali Rizvi, author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason (I blurbed the book) wrote a fine article on the Israel Palestine crisis that was published in PuffHo on July 28, 2014. (Click on screenshot below to read it, and you should.) Normally I’d kvetch about his publishing this on a regressive site like PuffHo, but the readers there really need this kind of thoughtful article. Why is it that ex-Muslims, often raised—as was Rizvi—to hate Israel and Jews, always turn out to be more pro-Israel (or at least more balanced) than are American Regressives Leftists? I suppose that’s because the apostates thought their way out of Islam, and thus can more easily see through the propaganda of the Israel bashers, including people like Linda Sarsour and organizations like CAIR, the BDS movement, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

I’ll list Rizvi’s seven points (he by no means excuses Israel, criticizing Netanyahu and the expansion of settlements on the West bank), and also excerpt some of what he says, with all his words indented. Where I’ve commented, I’ve put that in brackets:

1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?

Over 700 people have died in Gaza as of this writing. Muslims have woken up around the world. But is it really because of the numbers?

Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years — more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. The list goes on.

But Gaza makes Muslims around the world, both Sunni and Shia, speak up in a way they never do otherwise. Up-to-date death counts and horrific pictures of the mangled corpses of Gazan children flood their social media timelines every day. If it was just about the numbers, wouldn’t the other conflicts take precedence? What is it about then?

If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.

Amazingly, many of the graphic images of dead children attributed to Israeli bombardment that are circulating online are from Syria, based on a BBC report. Many of the pictures you’re seeing are of children killed by Assad, who is supported by Iran, which also funds Hezbollah and Hamas. What could be more exploitative of dead children than attributing the pictures of innocents killed by your own supporters to your enemy simply because you weren’t paying enough attention when your own were killing your own?

This doesn’t, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimes outright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world’s opposition to Israel isn’t just about the number of dead.

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?

There are three pervasive myths that are widely circulated about the “roots” of the Middle East conflict:

Myth 1: Judaism has nothing to do with Zionism.
Myth 2: Islam has nothing to do with Jihadism or anti-Semitism.
Myth 3: This conflict has nothing to do with religion.

3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians? [JAC: They do nearly everything they can to avoid it because they know the consequences for Israel’s image.]

4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields? [JAC: Rizvi’s answer, which is a fact well known but often hidden, is “yes.” And that’s why so many more Palestinians die than Israelis, for rather than protecting the Palestinian people, Hamas, a truly odious organization, deliberately tries to get them killed as a propaganda tool. So much for the “disproportionate” reaction of Israel (see #3 above).]

5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza? [JAC: People forget that Gaza was once Israel and was given to the Palestinians, who failed to develop it.]

6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel? [JAC: see #4.]

7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?

Because Israel’s flaws, while smaller in number, are massive in impact.

Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are often reckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

. . . However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims — it needs to do much more to show it isn’t the same as the worst of its neighbors.

Israel is leading itself towards increasing international isolation and national suicide because of two things: 1. The occupation; and 2. Settlement expansion.

Remember, this is the take of an ex-Muslim who has no political reason to love Israel. He says that, instead of us taking sides, it’s more productive to foster peace initiatives than to put all the blame on one side or the other. The only solution, I think, is the two-state solution, but I’m slowly beginning to realize three things: a. it’s not going to happen, at least not in the next several decades, b. Neither Hamas, Fatah, nor the Palestinian Authority wants it to happen, even if they get most of what they want, and c. Israel only exacerbates the situation by continuing to expand settlements.

Finally, re the Jerusalem issue, Ali published the bit below on his public Facebook page (click on screenshot to go there). It doesn’t take sides, but faults everyone for fighting about a city that symbolizes three delusional religions. But aside from the delusions, he fails to consider that these sites are also important in the history of all the main Abrahamic religions as sites of worship, and they’re fighting not just over which delusion is true, but who has access to their history.

h/t: Grania

How are Jews like Muslims?

September 23, 2017 • 3:30 pm

If this article is true, and I suspect it is, then the answer is “Among the orthodox of both faiths: extreme prudishness combined with irrationality”.

Read for yourself (click on the screenshot to go to the link) and tell me if you think this is real. The article describes all kinds of machinations that hyper-orthodox Jews go to to avoid contacting the opposite sex (I’ve written about Airplane Musical Seats before), but this takes the cake:

Sunday school: A rabbi explains the spiritual lessons we should learn from hurricanes

September 10, 2017 • 9:00 am

Why do bad hurricanes happen to good people?” is the title of a PuffHo article by Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona. And indeed, one may well ask why a loving and omnipotent God would allow innocent people to die. More than that—if he’s omnipotent, then he’s actually killing them by not intervening. The “evil as byproduct of free will” argument won’t work for physical “evils’ like earthquakes and hurricanes, for the damage is not done by other humans exercising their so-called will, but by blind physical forces or microbes without free will.

The suffering or killing of innocent humans by disease or natural disasters is the Achilles heel of theology, for there is no explanation that either punts and says “we just don’t know” or confects a convoluted scenario that is risible for everyone but religionists.

Rabbi Allouche appears to choose the first alternative, quoting another rabbi:

Rabbi Yekutiel Halbershtam, of blessed memory (1905-1994), who lost his wife and all eleven of their children in the Holocaust, was asked a similar question. His response was moving:

“I too have many, many questions for G-d,” he once revealed to his students. “And I know that G-d would be glad to invite me to the heavens and give me the answers to all of the questions I have. But I prefer to stay here on earth with my questions, then to die, and go up to the heavens, to receive the answers.”

Indeed, tragedies are, almost always, inexplicable, in the realms of human understanding. Sometimes, G-d is super-rational. And, sometimes, our finite minds will never be able to comprehend the ferocious disasters conducted by the infinite Creator of the heaven and the earth.

Well, if you can’t answer that question (and the Holocaust is as good an example as any), then how do you know that “G-d” exists at all? Or that G-d is benevolent rather than malevolent?

And since when did Jews believe in Heaven anyway? It’s not mentioned in the Old Testament, though with judicious scrutiny and arduous mental labor you can barely scrape the concept out of the Talmud. But never mind. The existence of the Holocaust should turn any rational Jew into an atheist.

Instead of pondering these unanswerable questions, rabbi Allouche chooses to draw some “spiritual lessons” from hurricanes and their attendant tragedies.

Therefore, it would behoove us to replace the unanswerable question of “why” with the challenging questions of “how should we respond” and “what can we learn from this.”

These questions are diametrically opposed. Asking “why” to a question that cannot be grasped, leads to passivity and despair (even if some fools claim to know the answers to these impossible questions). Yet, asking, “how should we respond” and “what can we learn from this” propels us to take positive action, and provide direction to a world that seems to have lost it.

So what are the lessons that “provide direction to the world”? There are two:

1).Where there is destruction, we must respond with construction.” In other words, help shelter strangers, send medical supplies to the affected areas, and tender other diverse means of help.

 2) “Live a life that matters.” Here’s the good rabbi’s advice:

For when death rears its ugly head, and we are struck with the realization that life – with all of its material pursuits and possessions – is so vulnerable, we are then forced to ask ourselves:

“Am I living a life that matters, or am I wasting it on temporary activities and pleasures? Am I making the important – important, and the trivial – trivial? Am I devoting adequate time and effort to that which will live on forever: my soul, my family, and my values? And have I made a difference yet today in this world, and in someone’s life, with acts of unconditional love and kindness to my loved ones and strangers alike?”

 Except for the “soul” part, this is the same lessons that many secularists can and do draw from physical tragedy: help other people who are afflicted and, realizing your life is ephemeral, make every day count. As James Taylor (not a rabbi) wrote, “Shower the people you love with love.”)

It’s telling that a rabbi, faced with the hardest questions of theodicy, retreats into pure secularism. You don’t need any god to support those answers, and you don’t need any rabbi to give them.