US museums are going where schoolteachers are increasingly wary to tread, with a series of exhibitions championing evolution at a time when Charles Darwin's theory is under fire from creationists.
The exhibits include "Evolving Planet" at Chicago's Field Museum, "Darwin" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and "Explore Evolution" which is being shown simultaneously at major university museums in six midwest and southern states.
The shows come amid furious debate in many US school districts over the teaching of evolutionary theory and the first trial on the teaching of the God-centred alternative favoured by many religious groups, "intelligent design."
The trial on whether intelligent design is religiously motivated and therefore unconstitutional wrapped up in federal court in Pennsylvania last week, with a judgement expected early in the new year.
Judy Diamond, professor and curator of the Nebraska University State Museum which developed the "Explore Evolution" project, said the idea was very much a product of the current environment.
"We conceived of it as a response to the fact that evolution was not being taught in schools and that museums now have to take up the banner," Diamond said.
Diamond believes a gradual slide in teaching evolution over the past 30 years has led to the current state of affairs where some school districts are "systematically" seeking to reduce the emphasis on Darwin's theories.
Many other schools, she says, are simply reducing the amount of time spent on teaching evolution as a way of avoiding controversy.
"It's not that they don't want to teach it, it's just that they feel unsure of the amount of community support," she said.
In a Gallup poll released last month, 53 per cent of American adults agreed with the statement that God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it.
Thirty-one per cent stood by the intelligent design stance that humans evolved over millions of years from other forms of life and God guided the process, while 12 per cent said humans have evolved from other forms of life and "God has no part."
Diamond said her project was aimed at addressing the apparent lack of a coherent education about evolution for both children and adults.
"They often don't have a clue what they are arguing about, or what they are supporting and not supporting," she said.
While response to the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive, around 10 per cent of feedback cards provided by the Nebraska museum have taken a critical stance.
As well as Nebraska, identical "Explore Evolution" exhibits are being shown at museums attached to the universities of Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Minnesota.
The "Darwin" show in New York is being touted by its curators as the most in-depth exhibition ever mounted on the British naturalist and author of the landmark evolutionary work, "Origin of Species."
Source: China Daily