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Evolution debate hits Kenya

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Furious evolution debate hits famed Kenyan museum
Lillian Omariba
AFP
September 5, 2006

NAIROBI — The global debate between scientists and conservative Christians over evolution has hit Kenya, where an exhibit of one of the world’s finest collections of early hominid fossils is under threat.

As the famed National Museum of Kenya (NMK) prepares to re-open next year after massive EU-funded renovations, evangelicals are demanding that the display be removed or at least shunted to a less prominent location.

The “Origins of Man” exhibit, comprised of prehistoric finds from around Africa’s Great Rift Valley considered by many to be the cradle of humanity, is offensive as it promotes Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, they say.

“When museums put it out there that man evolved from apes, theologically they are affecting many people who are Christians, who believe God created us,” says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, who is leading a campaign against the exhibit. “It’s creating a big weapon against Christians that’s killing our faith,” he said, calling evolution theory an “insult” and dangerous to youths. “When children go to museums they’ll start believing we evolved from these apes.

“This is not the truth,” said Adoyo, pastor of Nairobi’s “Christ is the Answer Ministries” and chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, which claims to represent churches of 35 denominations with 9 million members.

“I can’t stand it, neither can other Christians,” he said.

The bishop’s high-profile drive to force the government-funded museum to downgrade what is arguably its most important collection has put him squarely at odds with the scientific community and curators.

Many of the fossils were discovered by legendary paleontologists Louis and Mary Leakey in east Africa whose prehistoric finds around the Olduvai Gorge, Lake Victoria, and Lake Turkana are seen by many as proof of Darwin’s theory.

Their son, Richard, himself a noted anthropologist and conservationist, is particularly disturbed by the furor and is speaking out against what he says is a misguided attempt to reject sound science.

“The church is being ridiculous,” he said. “The church leaders are out of step. They should concentrate on their faith and leave scientists to concentrate on their historical work and defend it.”

“Evolution theory is accepted across the world,” he said. “This is scientific history and Kenya has the best of this evolutional history. Globally, few can match that claim to fame.”

Officials at the museum, which houses priceless items including remains of hominid species dating back 1.7 million to 1.2 million years, are loath to get involved in the fractious debate but defend the exhibition.

“The fossils have confirmed Kenya’s position as the cradle of mankind and have drawn large numbers of visitors,” the museum said in a statement released shortly after Adoyo launched his campaign.

In an e-mail NMK director general Farah Iddle said that the museum “strives to accommodate divergent views and ideas.

“However, it also has the responsibility of ensuring that the integral research findings that have been developed over time are preserved,” he said.

“This includes the fossil collection that’s the scientific evidence that shows the relationship between apes’ fossils dated millions of years back and the modern man.”

Exact display plans for the exhibit when the 75-year-old museum re-opens in June 2007 are still being discussed but officials said that they hope to keep it in a position of prominence among three new re-designed galleries.

What will not likely change, they say, is the placement of a huge bronze sculpture outside the museum’s main gate, which depicts a series of figures from ape to humans gradually becoming more erect as they walk.

Source: http://www.metimes.com/articles/normal.php?StoryID=20060905-064937-7210r

12 Replies to “Evolution debate hits Kenya

  1. 1
    BarryA says:

    My daughter and I went to Kenya a few years ago. We stayed in Malindi, a town on the Indian Ocean just south of Somalia. In the mornings we would go body surfing as the sun rose over the ocean. We also had a chance to go on a video safari in the Tsavo region, the area featured in the movie “Ghost and the Darkness.” We saw dozens of lions, some of which I imagined may have been descendants of the lions in that movie.

    One night we stayed in a place called “Salt Lick,” a hotel where the rooms are in pods elevated about 20 feet above the ground on concrete pylons and connected by hanging bridges between the pods. In the evening we went out on the bridges and watched elephants and other animals walk underneath us.

    Kenya may be the most beautiful place I have ever been, and the trip is one of the highlights of my life so far.

  2. 2
    sagebrush gardener says:

    “It’s creating a big weapon against Christians that’s killing our faith,” he said, calling evolution theory an “insult” and dangerous to youths.

    I (sort of) understand where he is coming from, but he is going to get nowhere in a hurry with this righteously indignant rhetoric. I don’t know if Kenyan youth is different from American youth, but calling something “dangerous to youths” is likely to have them camping in the parking lot to be the first to get tickets. Otherwise they probably would have ignored it.

    They need to combat this with education (probably starting with themselves) — not hysterical hand-wringing.

  3. 3
    BarryA says:

    Sagebrush, the problem of youth is different in Kenya, because over 50% of the population is 18 or younger.

  4. 4
    Mats says:

    The best thing for the Pastor would be for him to train the church in there with anti-evolutionary , pro-Biblical evidence, gathering information from all sort of online resources, written by scientists with a worldview the same as his.
    Surpressing the evidence is a Darwinian method, so he needs not to imitate the ones he tries to expose.

  5. 5
    Larry Fafarman says:

    Ironically, though the Kenyan fundies regard their country’s hominid fossils as a source of shame, the British once regarded their Piltdown Man — exposed as a hoax in 1953 — as a source of pride. Wikipedia says of the Piltdown Man,

    It has been suggested that nationalism and racism also played a role in the acceptance of the fossil as genuine, as it satisfied European expectations that the earliest humans would be found in Eurasia. The British, it has been claimed, also wanted a first Briton to set against fossil hominids found elsewhere in the world, including France and Germany.

    Logically, it would seem that in terms of nationalism and racism, the Kenyan museum display of hominid fossils turns the tables on the British, but the Kenyan fundies don’t see it that way.

    Considering Africa’s recent history of instability, I think it would be a good idea for the museum to appease the fundies and maybe even move at least some of the fossils out of the country for safety. Better safe than sorry.

  6. 6
    idnet.com.au says:

    I am sure that it would easily be possible to display all the fossils that have been found simply with locality descriptions and radiometrically determined dates included.

    It is the Darwinian meta-narrative that the museum curators often want to include with the bone fossils that annoys some Kenyan evangelicals.

    I do not think that even Answers in Genesis would deny that these are real fossils. Many years ago I read Marvin Lubenow “Bones of Contention” which explains the YEC view on these fossils. Particularly enjoyable was the Appendix “The Dating Game”.

    If we must have explanations displayed, why not have two explanations displayed so that the museum can be happy and the visitors get to see the fossils and compare and contrast the two positions?

  7. 7
    sagebrush gardener says:

    Preparing a well-researched discussion of the evidence from a non-evolutionist POV seems to me to be a much better tactic than thumping the pulpit and saying “I can’t stand it!” If the museum won’t let this information in the door, the evangelicals can hand it out in the street and it will be clear who is suppressing information.

    Unfortunately it looks like Bishop Adoyo is just feeding the worst fundamentalist creationist stereotypes. As one blogger says:

    Fundamentalist Christians, such as Bishop Adoyo, should really give some thought to their message that evidence is the enemy of faith — it’s one that may have some unintended consequences.

  8. 8
    Carlos says:

    Those fossils are the Parthenon of Kenya. It’s a delicate situation any way you care to slice it — politically, religiously, or scientifically. But I would hope that the situation is resolved in a way that acknowledges that these fossils are one of the greatest treasures we have in common as a species — regardless of different explanations of how “they” became “us.”

    And I second BarryA’s comments on the beauty of Kenya. I was there for six weeks in the summer of 1995, for an archeology field school. Incidentally, that’s when I stopped being an atheist. (To put it in a deliberately vague double-negative.) I guess reading Kafka in over-100-degree heat will do that to a brain!

  9. 9
    StephenA says:

    Are you guys sure that its the christian ‘fundies’ that are conforming to stereotype, and not the media painting them as such?

  10. 10
    sagebrush gardener says:

    StephenA,

    I did a pretty extensive Google search and found only references to the Bishop’s wounded sensibilities with headlines like “Christians Pressuring Museum to Hide Evidence of Evolution” — nothing about using this as an opportunity to present the other side of the story. If he has another message, he is not getting it out very well.

    I am reminded of the Apostle Paul at the Areopagus. Paul could have stood up and denounced the Athenians and their pagan gods and told them they were all going to heck if they didn’t shape up. But no:

    Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you…

    I am in awe of Paul’s wisdom and tact. In the middle of a society whose religious views were antithetical to his own he didn’t begin by casting insults. Instead he complimented them, then used his astute observations as an introduction to his own message.

    If we are right, we can beat the evolutionists with their own evidence. This museum display is an opportunity to publicize the other side of the story. Suppressing it is the last thing we should do.

  11. 11
    idnet.com.au says:

    It is not evidence that makes people get upset. It is the interpretation of that evidence.

    I think Young Earthers do not believe that these fossils are fakes. They will not have a problem if they are displayed. I think it is what is said about them that is at issue.

    I don’t think that these fossils are really seen as true ancestors, but as side branches with common ancestors to ourselves.

  12. 12
    sagebrush gardener says:

    It is not evidence that makes people get upset. It is the interpretation of that evidence.

    Of course — but Adoyo with his “I can’t stand it!” is falling squarely into the “fundamentalism vs. science” stereotype. He comes across as someone who wants to suppress the evidence because the interpretation offends his beliefs. I find that embarrassing.

    Instead of making a futile and embarrassing attempt to suppress the evidence, we should welcome it and use this as an opportunity to publicize our interpretation of it. For example, Marvin Lubenow said:

    The human fossil record is completely compatible with special creation. In contrast, the human fossil evidence is so contrary to evolution that it effectively falsifies the idea that humans evolved.

    We need to encourage research, study, and vigorous debates about these issues — not try to sweep them under the rug.

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