Northampton museum redux

There have been some interesting comments on the Northampton museum Darwin exhibition story, and it has been suggested that the post be updated to reflect them.

The facts of the case have not changed, but the positions of the two sides have been somewhat clarified.

<b>Taped up</b>: The offending bit of masking tape, which caused the stir

Taped up: The offending bit of masking tape which caused the stir

Lewis Houston made the original complaint to the museum about a biblical reference in the Darwin exhibit. He did not think the reference was accurate, and asked for it to be changed. This resulted in the museum implementing the “temporary measure” of covering up the reference to “the Biblical view of evolution” with tape. The tape remained for around three years.

Last week Andy Chapman, who queried the black tape with museum staff and had his suspicions confirmed when they informed him that a “religious fundamentalist” had objected to censored words, raised the issue in the local newspaper.

The fact is, Lewis Houston is indeed a creationist. He helped found the Northants Creation Group, which has connections with the egregious, ignorance-promoting Creation Science Movement. However, it cannot be said that he was trying to get evolution thrown out of the museum, as happened in Kenya in 2006. He just thought the biblical view was being misrepresented, and asked for it to be corrected.

In his own words:

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.

Now, anyone with any experience of debating with creationists will know that honesty is not one of their most obvious virtues. The degree of self-deception necessary to maintain such a ridiculous world-view in the face of overwhelming evidence is so great that the deceit frequently spills out into their public discourse, often giving the impression that they are simply telling lies. However, there is no reason to believe that Houston is not being perfectly straight with us here.

The dramatic sight of black tape on printed matter inevitably smacks of censorship. The Abingdon Park Museum were clumsy in implementing their fact correction, and very lax in arranging a proper replacement text. Chapman’s recent raising of the issue has helped improve matters, so that is a positive result.

But this is not a case of a creationist trying to suppress science. If it was, he clearly failed, because the exhibition has been going on teaching evolution for the past three years – even with the masking tape obscuring a few lines.

There is a creationist movement in this country. They are pernicious, deceitful, and profoundly stupid – and they must be opposed. Here at MWW we do our bit, along with the far better organised and focused British Centre for Science Education, whose spokesperson has also posted here. But we must pick our battles carefully.

This battle was not carefully picked.

6 Responses to “Northampton museum redux”

  1. psiloiordinary says:

    Your argument would make sense if it were not for one basic assumption.

    You seem to be ceeding the fact that only a Creationist can tell us the correct interpretation of genesis. There are in fact many different forms of creationist and several would vehemently disagree with Lewis’s assertion.

    Furthermore I think that the vast majority of Christians, who view genesis as a beautiful and allegorical myth would have no problems at all with the original plaque. They would not claim to hold the one and only true meaning of the text and would in fact gladly admit it can be interpreted in different ways.

    Then again, unlike Lewis they don’t feel the need to deny the vast majority of modern science just to preserve their “one true interpretation” of the text.

    Just a subtle point. But an important one.

    Even if we ignore my point and grant a “creationist false alarm” I find it wonderfully encouraging that so many of the great British public were happy to stand up and be counted and to show that they do care about truth.

    This surely is a piece of good news, both for science and mainstream (I.e. Non-fundamentalist) religion.

    For clarities sake, I am a member of the BCSE committee- thanks for the plug 😉

  2. Monitor says:

    psiloiordinary, I take your point as well made – but my argument still makes sense. We can take your point on board and still grant a “creationist false alarm”.

    The fact that people turned out is certainly encouraging. The fact that they turned out for a false alarm is just a little bit embarrassing.

  3. Andy & Pat Chapman says:

    Dear Monitor

    The Chapman family are not at all embarrassed by this. Our starting point was the suspicion that creationists might be behind the cover up at the museum, and we were correct. At the time we were reacting to a single event, we were not looking to “pick a battle”, as we didn’t know then that we were in a war.

    The museum has been embarrassed. Their stated reason for the three-year cover-up was the bad grammar of the text that they produced in the first place and not wishing to offend anyone. However, they have now uncovered the panel and ordered a replacement, and somehow the people of Northampton are not swooning in horror at the sight of a misplaced apostrophe and a couple of badly phrased sentences. While they are badly phrased, any reasonable person of any persuasion would know what they were meant to mean. In an email from the museum, I was also told that the “nonsensical” phrase “a Genesis view of evolution” would be replaced by, wait for it, it’s a good one, “a biblical view of geological stratification”, so they still can’t get it right. I have had to reply that if this wording is on the new panel I will just have to say that I am deeply offended and ask for it to be covered up.

    Mr Lewis Houston (a pity Monitor couldn’t get his name right in the posting) is evidently embarrassed. Having given us his name in his letter to the local paper, a little bit of internet searching came up with him as leading the Northants Creation Group. He says in his posting to Mediawatchwatch that for two years NCG has been taken forward by others, but as recently as 1st September his name, address, email address and phone number were listed on the website, a Christian resource, as the contact for NCG. Last night, 4 September, his details are still there but have been blanked out and are now only available to subscribers. However, the telephone number is still the same and the length of the blanks coincides with the previous details exactly. I would dare to suggest that Mr Lewis is being economic with the truth again.

    Why is he trying to disappear into the shadows? Could it be that in his involvement with the multi-denominational Faithworks Northampton there are good Christians that would not be too happy if they knew that their Secretary was a Creationist, with the expressed aim of providing speakers for schools?

    It has all been very educational, after all, we had never heard of MediaWatchWatch, and as long as you don’t jump the gun and believe everything you read in the papers, you are doing a good job and thanks for the coverage.

    Andy and Pat Chapman

  4. Monitor says:

    Andy and Pat, the Chapman family have absolutely no reason to be embarrassed by this affair. Your suspicions were raised justifiably, you acted on the information received, and the end result – insofar as the museum is taking some action – is largely positive.

    It’s just that in the furore a mountain was made out of a – not quite a molehill, more of a mound, or at most a hillock. Because whatever this case was about (and it appears now to be about several things), it was not about a creationist trying to suppress education about evolution.

    Thanks for pointing it the name mistake! Bit of a brainstorm there, I’m afraid.

  5. Gary Arthur says:

    I have been following the comments on this post with interest. i was actually the member of museum staff that Pat Chapman first spoke with and would like to make comment on a couple of issues.

    firstly it was well known amongst museum staff the reason why the passage was covered up and it was NOt due to bad grammar.

    secondly Mr Houston states in a letter to the Chronicle and Echo newspaper that he complained about the five words

    “The biblical view of Evolution”

    I would like to state that these five words were not the ones covered up. What was covered up directly related to how Darwin came upon the theory of evolution.

    I would also like to state that i have since resigned over this issue from the museum as I feel so strongly about it.

    Gary Arthur

  6. […] The couple who complained about the sign being covered and the chap who resigned over the issue have made further comment on this web site and more recently here. […]