|Science museums as far back as Thomas Jefferson's
time have collected, preserved, and interpreted the fossil record.
Photo courtesy North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The theory of evolution by natural selection is a unifying concept that explains the incredible diversity of living things, their genetic relationship, and evidence that living things change over time. Evolutionary theory is central to modern science.
In response to public inquiries regarding the presentation of Darwinian evolution in science centers and museums, ASTC's Executive Committee issued the following "Statement on Science" in September 2005:
"ASTC and its membersscience centers and museums around the worldpresent information
based on scientific evidence. ASTC's members are committed to advancing the public understanding of science and
contributing to the development of a scientifically literate society. Science is a human endeavor that uses
observations and experimentation to develop explanations of the natural world. Scientific theories are grounded in
and compatible with evidence, internally consistent, and demonstrably effective in explaining a wide variety of
phenomena. Science is based on hundreds of years of scientific observation and experimentation and many thousands
of peer-reviewed publications."
In science centers and museums, evolution is often presented in paleontology exhibitions, such
as Prehistoric Journey at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Lone Star Dinosaurs at the Fort Worth
Museum of Science and History, and Dinosphere at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Explore
Evolution, developed under the leadership of the University of Nebraska State Museum, features scientists
investigating the evolution of life. However, evolutionary theory also underlies many other exhibits and programs,
including those about emerging research areas such as biotechnology.
In response to public discussion about evolution and creationism in museums, Jeffrey Kirsch, Director
of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego, California, wrote in the May 3, 2005 issue of the online newspaper
Voice of San Diego:
"Scientists parse the unanswerable into something they can answer through experiment, reasoning, or
observational discovery. And, in general, the new "answers" lead to other questions that provide the basis for
future studies and...future questions. Seen this way, science is a seemingly never-ending human quest to understand
how living and non-living things work. It is quintessentially open-ended, and curiosity is the universal
prerequisite for a working scientist...
"Belief-based explanations have one aspect in common: they cannot be tested
the way a scientific model can be. The scientific understanding of biological development on earth, usually referred
to as evolution, is derived from the search for natural explanations for phenomena such as the fossil record, the
geological record, and our planet's biosphere. And these explanations must be tested again and again until they
become generally accepted or changed to fit the facts. So, when an institution uses the word "science" in its
name...it is understood by all to be concerned with natural and verifiable explanations for the way things work."
For additional information and perspectives on the presentation of evolution and related
subjects, see the following resources:
Understanding Evolution, an extensive new website
by the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education.
National Center for Science Education: Defending the Teaching of
Evolution in the Public Schools
Evolution Resources, National Science Teachers
Evolution and Creationism: A Guide for
Museum Docents (PDF), by the Museum of the Earth at the Paleontological
Research Institution, Ithaca, NY.
Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion:
Evolution, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Evolution Controversy in Our Schools. Letter to Academy members from President Bruce Alberts.
National Academy of Sciences. March 4, 2005.
Explore Evolution, a new exhibit at
the University of Nebraska State Museum.
Evolution: constant change and common threads, Howard Hughes Medical Institute on-demand webcast of 2005 Holiday Lectures and student discussion session on reconciling religion and evolution.
Thomas Jefferson Fossil
Collection, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.