Sunday, April 29, 2018

Censoring Neanderthals

"Jerusalem museum censors evolution exhibit to avoid offending ultra-Orthodox." That was a news story the other day, after the natural history museum in Jerusalem (not the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh) had placed a sheet over an exhibit about human evolution during visits by charedi groups. When the short-staffed institution didn't get around to removing the sheet before the regular public visited, one visitor became very upset, and the story reached the press.

The denunciations of the museum were swift to roll in. Museums mustn't cover up the truth! Science should not be censored! If the charedim don't want to know the facts, then they shouldn't come!

As someone who has spent twenty years trying to teach science to religious Jews - with successes and failures - as well as operating The Biblical Museum of Natural History for just over three years, I think that these criticisms are deeply, deeply mistaken.

The goal of the natural history museum is to teach as much science as possible to as many people as possible - perhaps especially to those who have the least understanding of science. Now, if you value science, then you value being honest about factual reality. And the factual reality is that if you have an exhibit on human evolution, then charedim won't come, and you won't be able to teach them any science at all. Is that really helpful?

Of course, you have to use good judgment, and weigh up the situation - censoring certain exhibits could have the effect of preventing some people from visiting. But this museum's procedures were eminently sensible. Cover up the evolution exhibits for charedi visitors, and reveal them for the other visitors.

When we opened the Biblical Museum of Natural History, there were those who criticized us for not displaying dinosaurs. This criticism was likewise out of place. Aside from the fact that dinosaurs are not actually related to Biblical Natural History, it would have crippled our mission. We've managed to inspire and educate thousands and thousands of charedim about the natural world. These are people who never read science books, never watch documentaries, and often don't even go to the zoo (because it's open on Shabbos). If we displayed dinosaurs, then they wouldn't have come. Would that have made sense?!

Trust me, I understand that people don't like the notion of science being censored! But you've got to think about the situation rationally, evaluate the facts, and then the correct course of action becomes clear. It's scientific.

Stay tuned for the next two blog posts, which will be very significant!


  1. One can argue the picture presented is not tzniyut.

    No sense getting into another controversy other than evolution in the same exhibit.

  2. "Now, if you value science, then you value being honest about factual reality"

    Except when it comes to any questions on the theory of evolution, particularly those related to design. Then, if you value science, you value being dishonest about the factual reality.

    1. Like the statistical improbability of random evolution 1 in 4 to the power of 5500 for the simplest bacteriophage is this taught in museums and other places of higher education

    2. Except when it comes to any questions on the theory of evolution, particularly those related to design. Then, if you value science, you value being dishonest about the factual reality.

      Could you provide more context? Because as-written, it makes no sense at all.

    3. Any talk about the probability of life forming through abiogenesis is quite ridiculous. We do not have anywhere near enough information to define the probability of such an occurrence. All anyone who is not a religious apologist is trying to do is to find the sequence of events and conditions that could allow abiogenesis to occur, such as to offer a plausible explanation for how life came into being. Trying to define the probability of it with the info that we have is quite ridiculous

    4. @Yaakov,

      To add to what you wrote: if there is (a) god/God/intelligent designer, then abiogenesis is not necessarily how life came to exist. However, if there is not such, we know the statistical likelihood is pretty much 1.

    5. Perhaps your statement "Trying to define the probability of it with the info that we have is quite ridiculous" certainly the no. of permutations is absolutely clear and presents a huge question for random evolutionists. Is this permutation barrier an issue openly discussed or is evolution regarded as a "FACT"

  3. evolution is a vital underpinning of science. it cannot be challenged even if it is ridiculous to imagine that a cell could have developed as part of a random process.

    1. 'It cannot be challenged'
      Is that a מצוה דאורייתא or דרבנן? Are women and slaves also obligated in this mitzva? Is it punished by מלקות, כרת, ערירי? Where in שלחן ערוך would I find it?

      The academic fundamentalism never fails to express itself.

    2. it's an axiom of the system, which I guess makes it a d'oraysa. if you have a system (science) who's self professed goal is to provide an explanation of material reality without recourse to anything outside that reality (i.e. spiritual), then there has to be a branch that explains how the multitude of living creatures developed without any outside intervention. Evolution provides that explanation. It cannot be allowed to fall, otherwise you will be exposed to the possibility that there is an outside force directing things.

      But if you take a serious look at cell biology, it is obvious that thousands of interconnected and interdependant systems cannot have happened as a random process. but of course things that are obvious to one person are not obvious to another, particularly if a lot depends on it not being obvious....

    3. "But if you take a serious look at cell biology, it is obvious that thousands of interconnected and interdependant systems cannot have happened as a random process."

      Classic God of the gaps response.

  4. perhaps the problem is covering it up and revealing it for others. maybe they should just remove that exhibit entirely and then there will be less protest

  5. "Censoring Neanderthals" double entendre ?

  6. I can’t understand how evolution deniers reconcile the various races of homo sapiens with biblical narrative of the creation of adam & eve. Where did those negroid, caucasoid, mongoloid etc. races come from?
    Anyone care to explain?

    1. Well, most professed evolution believers (especially the ones who demand that it be taught to everyone) claim to believe that race doesn't even exist and will become verbally abusive if you suggest otherwise, so I'm not sure the question is that apt. Some evolution deniers, in particular those involved in evangelical apologetics, will even use the alleged non-existence of race as proof that evolution is false, which is a bit insane, but there you go. Nevertheless, to answer your question anyway, evolution deniers who admit the existence of different racial groups will either cite separate descent from the sons of Noah, divine intervention, or the influence of geographical factors as per traditional Aristotelian theory. Some of them, though admittedly this is rare in the Jewish world, accept separate evolution of human populations, but do not accept evolution of humans as a species from another hominid.

      It's possible to believe in micro-evolution without believing in macro-evolution, that is to say it's wrong, but internally consistent. It's actually strictly impossible, logically speaking, to believe in macro evolution without believing in micro evolution and yet that view, at least with reference to humans, is what most people do actually believe. Go figure.

    2. Not arguing with Gavriel, but discussing and building-
      In many ways, the presence of intelligence undermines and counters human microevolution (albeit on stuff we can see) in that we treat the sick (so that they still contribute to the gene pool), help the poor (who might otherwise not contribute as much if they die out from starvation) etc.

      And of course we should keep doing so - I know there is a view to allow survival of the fittest people, but this is not that.

      OTOH, there ARE areas in which humanity has been evolving that are less obvious, and perhaps differently in different parts of the world. One famous case was the development of lactose Tolerance.

      Anyway, cute article here:

    3. Hi Yosef,

      Nothing can counter evolution. Some traits are always being selected for and some are being selected against. In modern welfare states, the traits being selected for are being a feckless layabout who sits around on benefits squirting out kids, but that doesn't mean that evolution has stopped, it doesn't even mean it has slowed, it is just going in a different direction. Resistance to disease, it is true, is now only weakly selected for, but this is a very recent fact since until the 1880s doctors killed more people than they saved.

      More broadly there are many factors that have changed the direction in which evolution has occured among different populations, including:
      a) Moving to different climates, altitudes etc.
      b) The adoption of agriculture and grain-based diets.
      c) Living in cities.
      d) Declines in war frequency.
      e) Strong states that execute violent individuals
      f) The elimination of predators and competitors.
      g) Inter mixture with neanderthals and other extinct hominid populations.
      h) Different patterns of sexual selection caused by different social structures and cultural differences.
      f) Population densities at malthusian limits.
      g) Larger populations increase the frequency of beneficial mutations.

      It's generally agreed that evolution speeds up when equilibrium states are punctured. Humans have been puncturing their equilibria with increasing frequency for 50,000 years.

  7. Dont put this on an understaffed Museum, put this on a lazy, poorly managed staff.

    The sheet in question was up for over a week after the disgruntled woman went to the museum and spent her 25 shekels to walk through this falling apart home in the middle of Jerusalem.

    Every reporter, and the woman, received different answers as to why the sheet was up, one time even being told that it was AN ART INSTALLATION BY BETZALEL STUDENTS.

    I also COMPLETELY DISAGREE with your - if you are into science then you should want to create comfortable environments for every radical religious group so we all have a dumb down version of science. Not a logical thought whatsoever, and not congruent with scientific thought and discovery.


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