Protesters jumped the gun in Northampton museum case

It appears that the National Secular Society and other anti-censorship campaigners reacted too quickly to reports of creationist meddling in a Northampton museum’s Darwin exhibition. A protest was held on Sunday outside the museum, and the great comics writer Alan Moore reportedly gave a rousing speech.

But it turns out that the original complaint, made three years ago by local Christian Lewis Houston, had nothing to do with trying to suppress scientific knowledge in favour of creationist ignorance. Here is the original wording of the sign:

He 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.

The new sign will read:

He used the same layers of fossils to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to adapt to the rigours of its environment – the struggle for survival, through the natural selection, leading to the survival of the fittest.

As you can see it is not the information on evolution that was altered. What Lewis was objecting to was the suggestion that there is a “Genesis view of evolution”. There isn’t. The authors of Genesis knew next to nothing about the origins of species, as a cursory reading of chapters 1 and 2 of that Bronze-age tome will quickly reveal.

Lewis’s letter to Northants Chronicle explains it quite clearly:

My only complaint was five words – ‘the biblical view of evolution’. The Bible describes the Creator at work in His creation, therefore the biblical view is one of creation, not evolution. Whether you believe this or not is not the issue. The original quote conveys to the reader the idea that the Bible conveys an evolutionary view, which from an educator’s perspective is inaccurate.

Hence NBC agreed with my point and rather than try and reword a quote from a now out of print book, they decided to cover up part of the display. This was on the basis at the time that plans to replace and upgrade the displays were already in hand.

While it could be argued that Genesis has been reinterpreted by modern Christians in order to accommodate the otherwise uncomfortable evidence for our evolutionary origins, it remains quite a stretch to claim that there is a “biblical view of evolution”. And you can’t really blame anyone – bible-believer or not – for pointing this out.

13 Responses to “Protesters jumped the gun in Northampton museum case”

  1. Andy & Pat Chapman says:

    As my wife and I started this debate by complaining to the local paper last week, I would like to add a few further details.

    Now we can see the full text everyone agrees that it was badly written and needed replacing. The question is why has it remained covered for three years when the museum could have provided a temporary replacement almost immediately?

    It is also significant that in his explanatory letter Lewis Houston neglected to point out that he is leader of the Northants Creation Group, who “recognise that the truth of Genesis is foundational to the gospel of Christ”, and who have connections with the national organisation Creation Science Movement. He therefore evidently did have a broader agenda than his claim that it was only about accuracy.

    He could hardly go to the museum and say “I’m a creationist I demand that the panel is removed”. But he has managed to get significant parts of the panel covered for three years, which I am sure he regards as a partial victory for creationists.

    The museum are also at fault as the simple version is that a creationist complained, they partially covered a panel on evolution as a result, and have done nothing to replace it. I would ask: for how many more years would the panel have been covered if we had not complained? Following the complaint the original text has been uncovered and a new panel ordered. We have also made many more people aware of how creationists try to achieve their ends without advertising just who they are.

    I do not regard this as jumping the gun, I regard this as an important point given a public airing.

  2. Hang on a minute. Pastor Lewis Houston was head of the Northants Creation Group at the time. It openly stated that it was out to promote creationism in the education establishment. The Northants Creation Group was far from a one-man band and was (and is) very closely linked to the Creation Science Movement. It remains very active in the Northampton area. The CSM is a young earh creationist organisation and also has its own creationist museum in Portsmouth.

  3. Either Pastor Houston doesn’t know what arguments the creationists are putting forward or he is being exceedingly economical with the truth. The Creation Science Museum in Portsmouth openly promotes a Biblical interpretation of evolution. The basic arguement is that today’s species “evolved” (in a process caled micro-evolution which isn’t recognised by scientists) from a limited number of “kinds” on Noah’s Ark. Evolution is central to this position. Moreover, the whole shooting match is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible.

  4. “The Bible describes the Creator at work in His creation, therefore the biblical view is one of creation, not evolution.”

    It is nothing of the sort. The Northants Creation group flatly states that on a literal interpretation of the Bible, evolution is wrong. That IS the Biblical view of evolution of the organisation. It is not about creation or the creator. It is about denying evolution because it does not fit with their interpretation of the Bible.

    Houston might have had a case if he believed in mainstream Christian viewpoints on this such as that of the Catholic Church but he doesn’t.

    Many religious believers accept or believe that God may have created the universe but left everything alone after that or “seeded” the earth with life some 3.5 billion years ago (an alternative to abiogenesis explanations) but most do not accept that God created major species out of nothing six thousand years ago – which is what Houston is publicly promoting.

    Common origins is central to the theory of evolution. His iblical viewpoint denies it. Therefore it is a Biblical position on and explanation of evolution.

  5. Greg Phillips says:

    It would be good if you could do a follow up on this piece, now that the underlying agenda of Lewis Houston as leader of Northants Creation at the time of the original complaint has been exposed.

    Currently your coverage seems to be making out that this is alot of fuss about nothing, while once again this is really an underhand attempt by the Creationist Fundamentalist lobby to subvert the education establichment and promote a catalogue of demonstrable falsehoods onto the children of this country as ‘The Truth’. This is something which should be highlighted, protested about and stopped at every opportunity.

  6. Lewis Houston says:

    It seems that people are determined to read into the original matter I raised about the museum display. I only wandered around the museum in the first place as I had gone along to the outdoor paintings exhibition and had time to spare. At that time I had helped set up the Northants Creation Group and for the past two years now, another team of people have been taking NCG forward.

    What did I see, an evolutionary based display in one of the exhibits. I see and read them all the time, they are commonplace and I don’t for one minute think that my personal opinions about them are likely to influence the like of the local museum displaying them. It would take a significant change in the educational/scientific world for that to be even likely.
    What did I see after they blocked out the few sentences around the phrases I queried? An evolutionary based display!
    I was initally told that the displays were due to be replaced and the text would be rectified then. Knowing NBC budgets I said that I was all for saving tax payers money but perhaps something temporary could be done. I thought their suggestion to cover over the part they did was reasonable. I haven’t seen it since so as to why it remained for so long in this temporary state – ask NBC.
    I stand by my view that the text was inaccurate and it doesn’t matter if you label me a creationist, a Christian, a Cobblers supporter or whatever – the comment still stands. I didn’t challenge the Chapman’s motives in raising the issue because he could be an evolutionist, a member of the secular society or his surname begins with ‘c’ – either he has a point of he doesn’t. I think he had as I was surprised to hear the display was still in that state after all this time.
    As a citizen I have every right to point out what I perceive to be an error in a public display, especially when I help to fund it.
    Mr Stanyard may want to note that the Creation Science Museum in Portsmouth seeks to give a viable, visual, scientific explanation of the Bible’s account of creation. The Catholic Church seeks to marry what they see as the Bible’s account of initial creation with a subsequent evolutionary process.
    Creationist motives, phrases such as underlying agendas and being economical with the truth are simply being used to justify ignoring the actual point I made and crying ‘wolf’ about other areas of concern to the correspondents.

  7. Greg Phillips says:

    ‘Mr Stanyard may want to note that the Creation Science Museum in Portsmouth seeks to give a viable, visual, scientific explanation of the Bible’s account of creation.’

    It must by definition be a very small museum then.

  8. Lewis Houston says:

    Actually I was reading only yesterday that the Genesis Expo [Creation Science Museum] has just received full planning permission for three extensions to its premises to provide more space for displays.

    Any limitations in size are to do with funding for the high quality displays the public expect and not a lacking in material.

  9. monitor says:

    Actually, Lewis, I think Greg was making a comment about the truth of your premises, rather that the size of theirs.

  10. Gary Arthur says:

    Just as an update in regard to this debate, My story was featured in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo last night, and I stated that the part that Mr Houston said that he asked to be covered up i.e

    “The Biblical View of Creation”

    Was not the part that was covered up. What was covered up was the part that talked about how Darwin came up with the idea of Evolution. (Although i think they mean natural selection).

    A Spokesman for Northampton Council stated that this was not the case. However for anyone that visits the museum they can clearly see where the board has been covered up due to the fact that the board has gone brown where it was censored all these years.

    I have phoned Northampton Council to speak to this so called spokesman and try to get an apology, and they are going to call me back, but I expect that this spokesman will be as illusionary as the letter that Mr Houston sent to the Museum that neither sender nor museum have produced.

    Which would of course shown the innocents in all this. but of course its never materialised. Now i dont know about you, but having worked in management (NHS) one tends to file letters of complaint. Obviously the museum service don’t.

    The good thing that has come out of this is that i think anyone reading the chronicle and echo will be able to see what has really taken place, and I for one will be keeping an eye on the Northants Creation Group and their activities.

    Just as a side note, I have contacted the Northants secular society on a number of occasions by e mail and left messages on their answer machine and so far no contact. so it might be down to myself to start a secular society in Northamptonshire.

    Gary Arthur

  11. Lewis Houston says:

    I certainly remember filling in a small comment card I believe at the museum. Most of my contact was 2-3 conversations via the telephone with the NBC museum guy.The museum had said that someone would contact me in response to my completing the card. No one did so that’s when I rang NBC to speak with someone in charge of museum’s. When did anyone ask me to produce a letter?

    They agreed to cover the paragraph containing the two phrases ‘the biblical view of evolution’ and ‘the Genesis view of evolution’ as a temporary act as the display was due for replacement and it would be adjusted properly then. I understand this was what happened and this was reported as so in the original article in the Chron & Echo which relates the text covered.

    I think that if Gary Arthur believes that readers will ‘see what has really taken place’ he is in the cloud cuckoo land of conspiracies.
    If he can show me where one can read in the Bible, and Genesis particularly, where a view of evolution is portrayed – then I stand corrected.Can he?

    Until then lets not misuse the term censorship when correction is meant.

    Gary needn’t just keep an eye on the Northants Creation Group, they have public meetings every two months on the 3rd Saturday evening at the Abbey Centre in Northampton. The next one is on the 20th. So he can go and both see and hear! There is always an open Q&A time for anyone to ask or argue.

  12. Gary Arthur says:

    Lewis Houton posted
    I think that if Gary Arthur believes that readers will ’see what has really taken place’ he is in the cloud cuckoo land of conspiracies.

    No Lewis I think people can see exactly where you are coming from

    Lewis Houston also posted

    If he can show me where one can read in the Bible, and Genesis particularly, where a view of evolution is portrayed – then I stand corrected.Can he?

    Exactly Lewis, Exactly

    But I dont think thats te issue is it?
    The truth is that in your letter to the newspaper you stated that the five words you complained about were “The biblical view of evolution”
    I dont think any ones is denying that this is a badly worded statement. I have even stated tat one can more have a biblical view of evolution than one can have a biblical view of quantum mechanics.

    The point is that te phrase “The biblical View of evolution was NOt the phrase that was covered up. Whjat was covered up was the part which talked about how Darwin came up with the theory of evolution.

    A ccouncil spkesman (I have been told its William Brown by the council)have said I am mistaken on this, but if anyone wants to see the board they can visit Northampton
    museum and due to discoloration see what was covered up. I am also in the process of receiving from the Chronicle and Echo the photograph of the board when it was covered up, thus showing the museum spokesman that he is indeed wrong.

    Its also a bit bizarre that (If he is indeed the spokesman) that he is saying this when I stood with him and pointed this out.

    Gary Arthur

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