Religious accomodationism in a public museum

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The sign below, forwarded by a reader who just visited this institution, just went up in front of the new Nature Lab at, of all places, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County—a public museum. Nature Lab appears to be a hands-on facility where everyone, but mostly kids, can learn about how science is done. That’s a great idea, but why on earth did they have to mar it with this paean to a fictional being?

Given the quotation marks, I bet the donor insisted on the wording. It would be much truer, and not a possible violation of the First Amendment, to say “to celebrate all of evolution’s creatures.”

My guess is this: the donor was going to give big bucks to the Museum, but insisted on mentioning God’s creatures as a condition of his donation. The Museum, eager for cash, decided to bite the bullet and add some deity to the exhibit, but put it in quotation marks.

But that’s not good enough for the petulant Professor Ceiling Cat. First of all, it misleads the public in two ways: by giving a scientific imprimatur to the idea that animals are “God’s creatures,” and second, by not really making it plain that the quote was insisted on by the anonymous donor—if that’s the case. I myself didn’t get that when I first saw the sign, so how many people will understand? The lesson they will take away is that creatures were the product of God, and that the Museum endorses that.

Written By: Jerry Coyne
continue to source article at whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com

35 COMMENTS

  1. So, how big does my donation have to be for them to print my requested quote, “Hail Satan!”…? I mean, as long as it’s clearly marked as a quote from a donor, they should have no problem putting it in vinyl lettering on the window, right…?

    • In reply to #1 by McCourt:

      So, how big does my donation have to be for them to print my requested quote, “Hail Satan!”…? I mean, as long as it’s clearly marked as a quote from a donor, they should have no problem putting it in vinyl lettering on the window, right…?

      Now you’re getting it! Congratulations! That won’t happen, though, because you atheists don’t believe in Satan.

      • In reply to #3 by jinx_mchue:

        In reply to #1 by McCourt:
        Now you’re getting it! Congratulations! That won’t happen, though, because you atheists don’t believe in Satan.

        Just so you know not all “us atheists” are in agreement here. I’m an atheist and I more or less agree with you. If someone wants to donate money and they want to praise religion in a way that doesn’t insult other people (e.g. promote bigotry against gays or women) then I’m fine with it.

        • The religions of Christianity and Islam both promote bigotry, hatred and prejudice.
          I don’t know the details for Islam but the various Christian sects and cults promote bigotry within their own religion.

          They should all be seen as an insult to anyone who considers themselves to be human.

          In reply to #5 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #3 by jinx_mchue:

          In reply to #1 by McCourt:
          Now you’re getting it! Congratulations! That won’t happen, though, because you atheists don’t believe in Satan.

          Just so you know not all “us atheists” are in agreement here. I’m an atheist and I more or less agree with you. If someone wants…

  2. It’s not even a possible 1st Amendment violation, you hyperventilating ninny. It’s no violation at all. If the museum allows donors to have statements posted when they donate, then as a public entity, they must allow ALL statements. It cannot play favorites. What would be an actual 1st Amendment violation, undoubtedly subject to a lawsuit, would be to disallow speech because it happens to have a smattering of religion in it. Honestly, this is no different than the government allowing someone to talk about God on the steps of a government building. As long as they allow other speech, as this museum undoubtedly does, then they cannot disallow religious speech simply because it’s religious. Honestly, your visceral hatred of religion and the religious has seriously clouded and maybe even damaged your mind. Bigotry is ugly in any form — even the anti-religious bigotry you so proudly display. I think this post could be summarized this way: “Free speech for me, because I’m an atheist, but not for thee, because you believe in God.”

    • In reply to #2 by jinx_mchue:

      It’s not even a possible 1st Amendment violation, you hyperventilating ninny. It’s no violation at all. If the museum allows donors to have statements posted when they donate, then as a public entity, they must allow ALL statements. It cannot play favorites. What would be an actual 1st Amendment…

      Does it bother you that the quotation is intellectually dishonest?

    • In reply to #2 by jinx_mchue:

      It’s not even a possible 1st Amendment violation, you hyperventilating ninny. It’s no violation at all. If the museum allows donors to have statements posted when they donate, then as a public entity, they must allow ALL statements. It cannot play favorites. What would be an actual 1st Amendment…

      This is a hard one to respond to. I’m not in favour of censorship, or of mindless graffiti. But if everyone who had ever contributed was given equal signage rights then there would be no space for any exhibits and some truly mad contributions. How much do we all hate religions though? It’s an interesting thought, I’m not sure if my hatred of religion is visceral or not as I honestly can’t be bothered to enquire into my own feelings on that subject. My indifference however is total. My love of science, on the other hand, makes it profoundly uncomfortable for me to read this sign as it is misleading nonsense. But I do find myself more distressed if I see a sign for Potato’s or tomato’s outside a greengrocer’s, or hear someone use inferred when they mean implied. That in a nutshell is how petty I am.

      Not being a US citizen, constitutional issues don’t affect me, but I do understand, being from a religious family, how thoroughly religion can distort our worldview and understanding of the amazing universe around us. If we let people’s bizarre fantasies control how we educate or legislate then we are all in trouble, so perhaps constitutional issues do affect me after all.
      Another issue is with the ‘all of god’s* creatures’ bit is that a literal reading of this would mean none so that part cancels itself out and no celebration is needed. I’m just starting to realise that I’ve just made one of those totally pointless contributions to RDF that I find particularly irritating. I should probably go home and sleep, but having come this far I’ll still feel obliged to press ‘submit’.

      *My hatred’s clearly at least visceral enough for me to revolt against the capital letter.

      • In reply to #8 by headswapboy:

        But if everyone who had ever contributed was given equal signage rights then there would be no space for any exhibits and some truly mad contributions.

        Which is why they don’t do that. They do it based on The Golden Rule: the one that contributes the most geld gets the biggest signs. The only way your scenario would be a problem would be if they suddenly got swamped with donations for the megabucks that the theist who donated this gave. Which is a problem I’m sure they would love to have.

        Also, they just don’t let you post anything, they have standards for what can be said on a dedication just like this site has standards for what can be in a comment. If you give them a dedication that says “Hail Satan” or “Hail Hitler” your money will no doubt be returned (first they would probably ask you to consider alternative dedications).

        Which all sounds reasonable to me. I can’t believe the things that some people waste their outrage on. In the US the Republicans are rolling back the rights of women at an alarming rate. A while back it was revealed that a woman might have died in a Catholic hospital and that an abortion (of a baby that was virtually certain not to survive anyway) would have saved her suffering and risk of death but the doctors were forbidden to suggest it to her (luckily the ACLU is suing them). THOSE are things to get outraged about IMO.

        • In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

          If you give them a dedication that says “Hail Satan” or “Hail Hitler” your money will no doubt be returned (first they would probably ask you to consider alternative dedications).

          Which all sounds reasonable to me.

          I think we’re mostly on the same page about the amount of outrage to spare for this sign, but this little bit of your comment actually makes me uncomfortable enough to doubt myself.

          See – depending on which god we are talking about – it’s hard for me to see a meaningful distinction between praising Hitler, Satan, or “god”. Certainly Yahweh, Allah, and Jesus – the three names which are overwhelmingly most likely to be mentally substituted for “God” by readers of this sign – are every bit as objectionable as literary characters as the Satan of the Bible. And if one actually believed these characters were real, then one would have to admit that any of these gods is responsible for vastly more suffering and damage than Hitler could ever claim

          Given these facts, why aren’t I more outraged? Why should I accept it as “reasonable” to casually praise literary monsters at a children’s exhibit? The only reason I can come up with is that such reverent “god” talk is so ubiquitous as to have become banal, whilst Hitler and Satan are held in the proper contempt by most of society. That is a sad state of affairs that I wish could be changed. I’m not sure how such a change could even begin without more outrage from those of us who clearly see the Emperor’s long johns.

          • In reply to #29 by BanJoIvie:

            The only reason I can come up with is that such reverent “god” talk is so ubiquitous as to have become banal, whilst Hitler and Satan are held in the proper contempt by most of society.

            I quite liked the Satan character. Hitler was just an idiot high on meth.

    • In reply to #2 by jinx_mchue:

      It’s not even a possible 1st Amendment violation, you hyperventilating ninny. It’s no violation at all.

      Kettle, meet Pot. Hyperventilating indeed. Not even POSSIBLE? My that is a high degree of certainty. It could only come from a believer.

      If the museum allows donors to have statements posted when they donate, then as a public entity, they must allow ALL statements. It cannot play favorites.

      True. And you simply assume that they do so. Probably because that assumption is necessary for your absolutely certain conclusion to be valid. I’m skeptical of your assertion and would be very surprised indeed if the museum does not exercise any editorial discretion on permanent installations. Like McCourt, I’d love to see if a Satanist could get such a quote inscribed in this museum. Heck, I doubt the name Allah could make the cut. But I don’t KNOW the policy any more than you do, so I like Jerry would say this is at least a possible First Amendment violation.

      What would be an actual 1st Amendment violation, undoubtedly subject to a lawsuit, would be to disallow speech because it happens to have a smattering of religion in it.

      No. You are simply wrong. There are plenty of places and times when religious speech is constitutionally barred. (In general, the test seems to be whether the speech can be construed as endorsement under color of government authority, although this test has been unevenly applied.) This may or may not be one of those impermissible cases. Personally I think it’s murky, but stays on the permissible side of the line.

      I’d be more comfortable if the quote was not anonymous. Also, the attribution could be more clearly set apart from the quote and the tabs adjusted so that this is obviously the stated opinion of a single person. However, unlike Jerry, I did understand that the statement was a quote.

      Honestly, this is no different than the government allowing someone to talk about God on the steps of a government building.

      Sure it is. Obviously so. Come on, at least be honest in your argument. Not every statement gets permanently inscribed and installed by the museum. At least some level of endorsement can reasonably be inferred.

      As long as they allow other speech, as this museum undoubtedly does,

      Undoubtedly? Based on what evidence? I’m amazed at how little value some people place upon their doubts. Mine are precious to me, and I don’t discard them easily. In the absence of information either way, it is irresponsible to throw around terms like “undoubtedly.”

      then they cannot disallow religious speech simply because it’s religious.

      Neither can they endorse religious speech. It’s a tricky calculus which you just brush away as obvious.

      Honestly, your visceral hatred of religion and the religious has seriously clouded and maybe even damaged your mind.

      Honestly, you are simply assuming this because you want it to be true. Honestly, it smacks of projection.

      In this case I think I disagree with Jerry. But having read a lot of his writing, I can say with little doubt that his mind is much sharper than mine, and – judging by the evidence at hand – your own.

      He may indeed have a “visceral hatred” for some aspects of religion. (There are certainly some aspects of religion which deserve it. I’d hope even believers could concede that.) But not one thing in this article can be fairly characterized as hateful.

      Bigotry is ugly in any form –

      Yes it is.

      even the anti-religious bigotry you so proudly display.

      Where? Bigotry is a serious charge. It also has a very specific meaning. I see zero bigotry and precious little pride on display here. Well, not in the OP anyway.

      I think this post could be summarized this way: “Free speech for me, because I’m an atheist, but not for thee, because you believe in God.”

      It could. But not if the summarizer were trying to be fair.

    • In reply to #2 by jinx_mchue:
      >

      “Free speech for me, because I’m an atheist, but not for thee, because you believe in God.”

      Only pseudo-science does “free speech”! Real science does evidenced honest speech!

    • In reply to #6 by SaganTheCat:

      They put the apostrophe in the wrong place

      If you mean to say that there be more than one God that is attributed to creating creatures… then yes, it is in the wrong place.

      • In reply to #10 by System Marked Down:

        In reply to #6 by SaganTheCat:

        They put the apostrophe in the wrong place

        If you mean to say that there be more than one God that is attributed to creating creatures… then yes, it is in the wrong place.

        Well it is natural history!

        List of nature deities -
        Roman mythology – for a start:-
        >
        - Ceres, goddess of growing plants and motherly relationships, equivalent to the Greek goddess Demeter
        - Diana, goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness and the moon; equivalent to the Greek goddess Artemis
        - Faunus, horned god of the forest, plains and fields
        - Flora, goddess of flowers and the spring; equivalent to the Greek goddess Chloris
        - Fufluns, god of plant life, happiness and health and growth in all things
        - Nemestrinus, god of the forests and woods
        - Ops, goddess of fertility and the earth
        - Pilumnus, nature god who ensured children grew properly and stayed healthy
        - Pomona, goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards
        -Silvanus, tutelary spirit or deity of woods and fields and protector of forests
        - Terra, primeval goddess personifying the earth; equivalent to the Greek goddess Gaia

  3. I’m struggling to get worked up about this one. It’s not that offensive, and really there are far more important things to rant about than God (or even “God”) being mentioned in public.

  4. Like many people here have already said it is hard to get worked up about this. I think that it is dumb to point out every little thing that has god in it and say its offensive. I hate when stories like these get posted on this site since it puts forward a very discriminatory view.

  5. It’s funny, but I thought atheists were supposed to be into what they call “critical thinking”, which enables people to make up their own minds. Now I would have thought that any information that got people thinking about origins would further the cause of “critical thinking”. But I notice that there is an obvious dearth of critical thinking here, which is evidenced by the fact that God is dismissed as a “fictional being” instead of as at least a “probable fictional being”. Anyone who engages in critical thinking must have worked out by now that the mysteries and complexities of the universe cannot rule out the role of intelligence, and particularly the role of information behind the workings of nature. The crude materialism which dogmatically dismisses the role of intelligence is yesterday’s philosophy and is being left behind by proper science. It’s a philosophy for boys, as CS Lewis rightly pointed out in an essay which challenged the naturalistic theory of reason. QM makes a mockery of simplistic naturalism, as does the question of consciousness (and also certainly reason itself), although naturalists try to explain it in purely materialistic terms by means of relentless special pleading and question begging.

    Why are atheists so petulant about every mention of a view of reality which challenges their philosophy? What are they so afraid of? It’s not as though the role of intelligence could possibly damage science (quite the opposite!) – considering that science does not require a non-intelligent explanation for the origin of the universe and anything in it (and anyone who engages in proper critical thinking can work out that science is not synonymous with the philosophy of naturalism). I suggest that this petulance arises from a deep-seated sense that actually there might be something in the “God hypothesis”, hence the need to suppress and censor it, in the name of a discipline which has no quarrel with it. The idea that the method, by which intelligent beings study an intelligible universe, a priori rules out the possibility of an intelligence behind that universe, is completely irrational.

    • In reply to #15 by inoma_ilala:

      It’s funny, but I thought atheists were supposed to be into what they call “critical thinking”, which enables people to make up their own minds. Now I would have thought that any information that got people thinking about origins would further the cause of “critical thinking”. But I notice that th…

      Are you familiar with the logical fallacy known as the Appeal to Ignorance? Please look it up, along with “Burden of Proof”.

    • Atheists are not angry about this quote because in mentions god. Thinking people are angry about it BECAUSE IT IS DEMONSTRABLY WRONG. So your “critical thinking” assessment needs to be aimed at your own diatribe, here. IT IS WRONG and doesn’t not belong in a museum of natural history. Absolute silliness.

      Focus the same demand of “critical thinking” onto your “god hypothesis” and well…. i do not have the energy to go about this with another hit and run poster. I have been on this site for 6 years and this is more dumb bullshit. Even if the writing style is pleasant and the vocabulary is above average. The ideas behind the post SUCK. Bullshit is bullshit.

      In reply to #15 by inoma_ilala:

      It’s funny, but I thought atheists were supposed to be into what they call “critical thinking”, which enables people to make up their own minds. Now I would have thought that any information that got people thinking about origins would further the cause of “critical thinking”. But I notice that th…

    • In reply to #15 by inoma_ilala:

      It’s funny, but I thought atheists were supposed to be into what they call “critical thinking”, which enables people to make up their own minds.

      “Critical thinking” is about examining scientific evidence, not about deciding if the ideas match religious preconceptions.

      Now I would have thought that any information that got people thinking about origins would further the cause of “critical thinking”.

      When there is some evidence of gods to examine, it will be critically examined. Until then science museums are there to display evidenced science.

      But I notice that there is an obvious dearth of critical thinking here,

      Right here in you own assumptions!

      which is evidenced by the fact that God is dismissed as a “fictional being” instead of as at least a “probable fictional being”.

      Did you have a particular “god hypothesis”, in mind? There are so many to choose from but no evidence for any of them! -
      Apart from the neuroscientists hypothesis of god-spots in believers brains. There is some evidence for that one.

      Anyone who engages in critical thinking must have worked out by now that the mysteries and complexities of the universe cannot rule out the role of intelligence, and particularly the role of information behind the workings of nature.

      Not really! This is ‘ pure unevidenced, anthropomorphic speculation, – well debunked by Occam.

      The crude materialism which dogmatically dismisses the role of intelligence

      If and when there is scientific evidence for ethereal, ‘fisticated, immaterialism, it can be can be critically considered.

      is yesterday’s philosophy and is being left behind by proper science.

      I think this unevidenced emotive assertion is about proper pseudoscience!

      Real science is based on material evidence! – not on doubt-mongering other views and pretending some unevidenced god is left as a “proper” default position.

      Why are atheists so petulant about every mention of a view of reality [???] which challenges their philosophy?

      I do recognise the collection of emotive special pleadings and assertions in your post, and can recognise psychological projection.

    • In reply to #15 by inoma_ilala:

      It’s funny, but I thought atheists were supposed to be into what they call “critical thinking”, which enables people to make up their own minds. Now I would have thought that any information that got people thinking about origins would further the cause of “critical thinking”. But I notice that there is an obvious dearth of critical thinking here, which is evidenced by the fact that God is dismissed as a “fictional being” instead of as at least a “probable fictional being”. Anyone who engages in critical thinking must have worked out by now that the mysteries and complexities of the universe cannot rule out the role of intelligence, and particularly the role of information behind the workings of nature.

      It’s a common usage of language to replace “probable fictional being” by “fictional being” when the probability is very small. So you define what you mean by God and then we can talk about how probable the existence of what such a thing might be.

      As for the “role of intelligence” in the universe the onus is not on us to rule it out anymore than we have to rule out the role of green leprechauns in the universe. The onus is on those who believe intelligence has a role to give us a reason. Got evidence ?

      Michael

    • In reply to #15 by inoma_ilala:

      It’s funny, but I thought atheists were supposed to be into what they call “critical thinking”, which enables people to make up their own minds. But I notice that there is an obvious dearth of critical thinking here, which is evidenced by the fact that God is dismissed as a “fictional being” instead of as at least a “probable fictional being”.

      The god that is being referenced in the museum notice is most definitely God, the Christian/Abrahamic god Yahweh, who we know for a fact is an invented god, possibly invented by a pre-Canaanite Bedouin tribe, but certainly invented without a doubt and a god of the Canaanite pantheon. So, in this regard, we can safely say without much critical thinking, that God, being the god that is much worshiped on this planet is a fictional being, not a “probable” fictional being.

      There may be real gods, even a real single godly entity, this we don’t know, but it’s definitely no god that has ever been invented by humans and as a critical-thinking atheist, I keep my eyes and ears open just in case a god appears or is proven to exist based on scientific study and not one or more that only exist in human minds or in the scribbles of Bronze Age donkey nomads.

      One may suggest that a simple mention of God in a museum sign is inoffensive, and that may be true, but it reinforces the belief in a fairy tale character as being “real” in many susceptible minds, and that is, to me, where the real offense lies. Life should be based on truth, not nonsense.

      • In reply to #31 by ArloNo:

        One may suggest that a simple mention of God in a museum sign is inoffensive, and that may be true, but it reinforces the belief in a fairy tale character as being “real” in many susceptible minds, and that is, to me, where the real offense lies. Life should be based on truth, not nonsense.

        I think the reference is completely inappropriate for a natural history museum as it introduces a ‘folksy’ element that is completely out of place in any establishment with the words ‘natural history’ in the name. It could be acceptable in another context, like a museum of the collected works of Mother Goose or The Brothers Grimm, but one expects a degree of accuracy or at least testability when reading the signs in a museum devoted to science.

        I think forethought has gone into the phrasing of the text. An effort seems to be made to normalise the connection between science and ‘god’, a Christian god at that! I think we need to be vigilant in order to stop these normalising practices from taking hold.

  6. The museum had the option of refusing the donation. Much the same way that an atheists donation was refused on another thread. However, if they accept the dough, they have to abide by the strings that are attached.

    They would most certainly refuse a donation for a Satan quote, no matter how large the sum… This is exactly where the hypocrisy begins.

    It is NOT a first amendment anything until they refuse a “religion” that they disagree with. Look into that and then spout off about how atheists are crying foul.

    • In reply to #24 by Peter Grant:

      No amount of money is worth displaying such a stupid sign.

      I agree that it rankles. Stupid? I agree with that too. But it’s not just money that the museum has taken in return. Well not in the sense that they merely enriched themselves in exchange for this sign. This anonymous donor appears to have made the nature lab possible through his or her generosity. I haven’t visited it, so it’s hard to judge whether the trade off was worth it, but providing a hands on facility for kids to explore science is no small thing.

      The museum has definitely violated a principle which I value. But in the real world some principled stands are disasters of failed pragmatism. Given the ubiquity of god talk out there, it’s hard to decide just how much harm this sign does and to weigh it against the benefit of encouraging kids to engage with natural history.

      • In reply to #27 by BanJoIvie:

        This anonymous donor appears to have made the nature lab possible through his or her generosity.

        But in the process of making it possible he has also subverted its purpose. Rich idiots like this should be taxed and the funds used more appropriately!

  7. Great googly moogly.

    Unless the sponsor got very specific, can’t the museum simply put a reasonable sign of their own smack dab in the middle of the foyer, as a counter-point?

    Such as ‘welcome all – to Nature’s wonders!’.

  8. Painted in a corner, reverse.

    Beautiful grounds and a nature lab for children of L.A. NHM caucus probably concluded with “we can live with this stipulation” – i.e., it is the donor’s words, not ours, and we are desperate for funding.

    At least the donor person didn’t leave all their cash to Fluffy or Spot, as some wealthy folk have done.

  9. In my view, the sign is wrong and the museum was in error accepting the donation. The scientific integrity of this public, scientific institution is at risk of being damaged here. The donor was effectively telling the museum that you must do this otherwise you don’t get the money. It’s a form of bribery and of bullying. If you allow conditional donations, then where does it all stop? If you support what the Nature Lab does, then you would just give your donation – conditions are entirely unnecessary.

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