Promoting science, reason & critical thinking with a rational A-theist perspective to advance the secular political agenda

SA Weekend: Henschke: Monkey Business. published 11.5.13

Ian Henschke writes an article for SA Weekend, also posted on adelaidenow, following our interview with him on ABC radio 891 – about the SA Museum removing a human evolution exhibit 5 years ago.  It’s yet to be reinstated.

The other day I was contacted by a man from Atheism SA.

Thank God we live in a society free enough to allow such a godless person to exist.

But he was going ape with frustration over his dealings with the SA Museum because five years ago it had removed its display explaining human evolution to create a new biodiversity gallery and, despite his repeated pleas, it hadn’t been reinstated.

He even had an email from the director promising to address his concern last October.

I contacted the museum and was told via the director’s media minder that they had decided not to comment.

So I went to the museum and I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if this atheist wasn’t right!

There was a meteorite at the front door and a giant squid running up three floors but not a word of explanation on the ascent of man. And of course I mean man in the broadest sense. One giant step and all that.

So what’s going on? Do our bonobo cousins’ obsession with sex and self-gratification worry us that much?

Is the chimpanzee’s capacity to form murderous gangs and kill his own kind such a horrific hint of our simian similarities?

Have animal rights activists put a stop writ on the museum to prevent peaceful orang-utans and gorillas from being linked with dreadful Homo sapiens in a display?

We may never know the truth. And as long as there’s nothing on human evolution in our museum, neither will the hundreds of thousands of children and adults who visit the place.

When I was growing up science was the search for the truth. It cured diseases and put a man on the moon. And that magical, mythical movie 2001: A Space Odyssey drew the direct link between the missing link and the space man.

That brings us to the creationist beliefs of Christian fundamentalists. In their world, our journey began a few thousand years ago. So a display in a museum which outlines the four-million-year-old story of human evolution would be blasphemy at worst and science fantasy at best.

In a recent US Gallup poll 46 per cent believed in creationism, namely the world was created by God in six days around 6000 years ago, and two thirds of regular churchgoers said man was created by God in the past 10,000 years.

This is in an age where science has just unravelled the human genome and it’s possible to trace your own ancestry back to the first humans in Africa.

I am awaiting my own results from a simple DNA test I did by swabbing inside my cheek. I’ll soon be able to discover if I’ve a Neanderthal and Denisovan past from 50,000 plus years ago.

But you won’t see that referred to at Kentucky’s $27m Creation Museum. It was created by an Australian called Ken Ham in 2007. It’s a vast complex compared to the SA Museum. It has a zoo, a botanic gardens, a planetarium and a range of theatres and displays, some showing humans and dinosaurs living on the Earth at the same time.

Mr Ham says it’s just a matter of how different people interpret the same data.

He says you can: “Travel 6000 years into the past to view the dawn of history” in the Six Days of Creation Theatre.

I respect the right of Mr Ham and others to their beliefs but if we let those beliefs override or confuse scientific facts we are treading a dangerous path.

And if we decide to ape our American cousins, the creationists could build a version of their US museum here but I’ll be damned if I’ll go along to it or with anything it tries to pass off as science.

In the meantime I wait with interest to see the return of the display on human evolution in the SA Museum.

And if it’s been updated with the latest data derived from ancient DNA it should make the question of our origins unquestionable in the same way as the view of the Earth from space put an end to the flat Earth theorists forever.

Ian Henschke can be heard in the morning on ABC radio 891.