The Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, Calif., has removed a donor's plaque referencing "God's creatures" after receiving a complaint from an evolution professor and outspoken proponent of atheism.
The museum's Nature Lab previously included a plaque with a quote attributed to an anonymous donor that read: "The Nature Lab is a gift to Los Angeles to celebrate all of God's creatures and enable [Natural History Museum] to broaden our understanding of the natural world through the process of scientific discovery." The Nature Lab allows visitors of all ages to participate in hands-on science projects and multimedia exhibits.
The plaque was reportedly removed Monday, according to Southern California's KPCC public radio station, after some viewers, including Jerry Coyne, took issue with the reference to "God's creatures" in a museum that highlights the importance of evolution and scientific discovery. Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, and runs the blog "Why Evolution Is True."
Earlier in December, Coyne posted about the plaque on his blog, saying a reader had sent him a photo of the quote on the wall of the Nature Lab shortly after visiting the museum. Coyne argues that the museum is public, and the quote's wording and use of quotation marks is deceiving as to whether the museum or the anonymous donor is endorsing the reference to God. Additionally, Coyne argues that the museum probably allowed the donor to pick the quote because it needed the donation money, calling the plaque a "cowardly capitulation of religion."
The professor then provides the email he sent to Dr. Jane Pisano, the president and director of the museum, in which he explains why he takes issue with the donor's sign. "I recognize that Museums are strapped for funding, 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 very existence of the sign, in fact, undercuts the mission of Nature Lab: to teach people how science is done. I needn't remind you that science is done by ignoring God, and has never given the slightest bit of evidence for the intercession of God in the origin, evolution, and diversification of life."
On Monday, Kristin Friedrich, director of communications at the museum, released a statement saying the museum has chosen to remove the quote after consulting with staff members. "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."
Coyne then posted on his blog that the quote had been removed, saying he suspects the plaque's removal is a result of the joint effort put in by himself, his readers, curators at the museum and the reporting of KPCC that brought the controversy to the museum's attention.
"… I'm pleased that God is out of the Museum and no longer gets credit for 'creatures.' It's a victory for secularism, for sure," Coyne stated.
Evolution News & Views, a blog of the Discovery Institute, also addressed the Museum of Natural History's plaque, arguing that Coyne's effort to have the plaque removed was a "pathetic" and "cheap symbolic victory."
"Instead of answering us properly, guys like Coyne take out their fury on sympathetic researchers, on community college instructors, on books, now on museum signs! Anything to avoid entering into a real argument -- about the origin of the biologic information that animated the first life or that infused the creatures of the Cambrian explosion -- which Coyne, Dawkins et al. absolutely refuse to do. "
As KPCC reported, it is unclear whether the museum will have to return the money to the donor or not.