Thursday, July 31, 2008

Darwin: The Evolution Revolution


My how time flies. It was almost four months ago that the The Evolution Revolution opened at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) here in Toronto. The ROM is only ten minutes from my office so I wasn't in any particular rush to see the exhibit. After all, it wasn't going to close until August 4th.

Now August 4th is almost here and I still hadn't made the effort—until yesterday, that is. Ms. Sandwalk and I went and got a delightful dose of Charles Darwin.

For me, the most exciting exhibit was Darwin's red notebooks, especially the page with the tree and "I think" at the top of the page. It was awesome just realizing that Charles Darwin himself wrote those words 170 years ago. Ms. Sandwalk was not nearly as impressed (those messy things?). She liked the Wedgewood china representing the better side of the Darwin family.

There were lots of examples of Darwin's original collection. Mostly plants and birds and some fossils. Seeing an old photograph of the Sandwalk was another highlight.

I've heard two main criticisms of the exhibit. The first is that there's too much to read. I agree that there's a lot to read but it's mostly well written and informative. The majority of people at the exhibit were being appropriately selective in their reading. It wasn't a serious problem. The second criticism is the American slant in some of the exhibits; notably those that address the evolution/creation controversy. It was noticeable but most of the people there just took it as quaint to learn that some states want to put stickers in textbooks.

The biggest pain for me was having to watch and listen to theistic evolutionists explain—in three separate video presentations—why there's no conflict between evolution and religion. Ken Miller did an okay job but Francis Collins looks and talks like a used car salesman, in my humble opinion.

There was one other problem but I'm saving that for another posting.


  1. I saw it with my kids a month ago. My main complaint is that, like many exhibits in museums, photography was prohibited. I realize museums want to make money off their exhibits, but prohibiting photography is contrary to the scientific spirit of openness. In particular, I really wanted my own photo of that branching diagram, which is probably one of the most famous diagrams in the history of science.

  2. The AMNH exhibit, as a response to creatists/IDers, really just helps to reinforce the bogus notion that Genesis and the Origin are somehow contending views that can be compared. Of course this is nonsense. Genesis can only be compared to other origin myths, while the Origin can only really be compared to competing scientific theories and only those with which it was roughly contemporary.

    I think the AMNH Darwin exhibit gives the public the impression that the theory of evolution was invented by Charles Darwin 148 or more years ago and that it has been CAST IN STONE ever since, a immutable "belief" or orthodoxy that cannot be challenged.

    Why not a proper display on evolution and evolutionary biology in 2008, with a proper display based on current views and controversies concerning human evolution? (In fairness, the AMNH display does contain a very good display of human and hominid skulls in a proposed phylogeny).

    It is much more fun to visit Down House and stroll on the Sand Walk, kicking flints.

  3. I like having a lot to read, I feel like it gives more substance to the exhibit. I went to a museum in Helsinki a few years back that was presenting stuff in my field at almost undergraduate textbook level. I was very pleased. But then I recognise that I might be in a majority in enjoying info heavy exhibits. A lot of our major museums in the UK are a bit style over substance, even the Natural History Museum in places.

  4. We already saw it last fall in Chicago, but
    will be seeing it on Sunday (private tour for the HAC AGM, guided by one of the curators).

  5. I saw the exhibit last month and enjoyed it, although I agree there was a lot of reading to do.

    I went to the ROM on a Friday evening, when they are open later, and I had to rush through the human evolution displays near the end; as the ROM was closing.

    I was disappointed that they didn't allow any photography. I brought my camera with me only to see the "No Photography" signs. I can understand not allowing flash photography as it might scare some of the animals on display, but no photography of any kind? Bahhh!

  6. I went around and looked at all the notebooks first and then went back and looked at the rest.

    It may not be rational but it gave me a sense of connection to the man and is work.