On the Origins of Species…

Since it was published in 1859, Darwin’s On the Origins of Species, or, to give the work its full name, On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life – my word, those Victorians were fond of a lengthy title!- has proved to be controversial. The debate on evolution still rages today.

For those of you who would like a quick guide to what evolution is, here’s a quick guide to evolution explaining all the relevant bits to the theory (including what we mean by a ‘scientific theory’).

Most people are familiar with the great museums that explore natural history such as London’s Natural History Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and even perhaps the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge, all of them with links to Darwin, his theory and evidence to support it.

What you might not know is that there is a museum in the UK which presents Creationism as the only viable explanation for life as we know it. I know, I was surprised when I discovered it in the seaside town of Portsmouth.

The Genesis Expo (and Fossil Shop) is the only museum of its kind in the UK -usually we leave this kind of thing to the Americans – so how could this intrepid Museum Adventurer not investigate?

A cartoonish dinosaur
“Children are fascinated by him”….

From the cartoonish dinosaur greeting visitors (named Boris – “Children are fascinated by him” according to the website) to the can of soup with a protruding human hand, this museum is not out to give a balanced discussion of how we came to be.

"Evolutionary soup"
“Evolutionary soup”

The idea that life might arise spontaneously in an ‘evolutionary soup’ would be a nightmare for the soup canning industry!” – an actual quote from the museum. Although I can appreciate the humour, it strikes a bum note.

The message is loud and clear: evolution is just silly.

They claim that even the experts ‘admit this fact’ such as Dr Colin Patterson, who is reported to have claimed that “If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them,” however, it appears that this quote has been taken out of context

Scientists who did not believe in evolution is a recurring theme in the narrative, as this wall suggests.

Scientists who did not believe in evolution
Scientists who did not believe in evolution

It’s interesting to bear in mind that of these scientists, there’s only one whose field was even remotely similar to Darwin and in every case; religion seems to trump their scientific credentials.

The narrative shifts from “look, scientists think evolution is hogwash” to “scientists are easily fooled” in a brief, and misleading section on the infamous Piltdown Man. Yes, the specimen was a fake, but it was uncovered as such when methods for further scrutiny were developed, and that an actual example of an early human skull was found (coincidentally nearby) went without mention.

A Bear Skeleton
A Bear Skeleton

My journey around this unusual museum ends with a dramatic bear skeleton, and a claim that rather than evolution, what we see is actually devolution. The assumption seems to be that evolution always means “bigger and better” rather than better suited to an environment, and that somehow the bear, be it Ursus Arctus, Urses Speleaus or another related species has become less functional and less complex.

I went into the museum not really knowing what to expect. I was hoping for a balanced argument,  maybe a narrative that led to a logical conclusion, but instead found an outrageous distortion and misrepresentation of facts that expressed some of the notions of the idea of evolution in such a way as to make it sound preposterous.

Evolution is dead?
Evolution is dead?

If you fancy visiting the Creationism Museum, the good news is that it’s completely free and only a moment’s walk from Portsmouth Harbour Train Station.

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