The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County removed a reference to God from an exhibit after it was criticized by a prominent evolutionary biologist.
In the museum’s Nature Lab, which features hands-on science exhibits, was a sign that read “The Nature Lab is a gift to Los Angeles to celebrate all of God’s creatures…”
The quote, dated 2013, is from an anonymous donor to the NHM.
Dr. Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago wrote about the quote on his blog “Why Evolution Is True.”
“Given the quotation marks, I bet the donor insisted on the wording,” Coyne wrote. “It would be much truer, and not a possible violation of the First Amendment, to say ‘to celebrate all of evolution’s creatures.’”
He called it “religious accommodation in a public museum” and asked “why on earth did they have to mar it with this paean to a fictional being?”
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
Coyne emailed the NHM about his concerns and the museum’s director of communication, Kristin Friedrich, admitted there are others on the staff, who share those concerns.
"I recognize that Museums are strapped for funding,” Coyne said in his email, “and do think that Nature Lab is a good thing. But I don't think it's worth kowtowing to religious sentiments, and polluting the nature of science, simply to get money."
The museum then decided to remove the quote.
“Upon further reflection and after discussion with our staff, and in conversation with the donor, the Museum has determined that acknowledging donors by including personal statements in such a manner has the potential to cause confusion,” the NHM said in a statement.
In a follow up blog post, Coyne said, “It's a victory for secularism, for sure.”
“I don’t know what happened, but I think those of us who objected played some role in this, as I know some readers wrote to Museum officials,” he wrote.