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Museums Answer Critics of Evolution

Jim Baine, a docent at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, N.Y., is among volunteers nationwide at science museums who have received classroom instruction in how to answer questions about evolution.
Jim Baine, a docent at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, N.Y., is among volunteers nationwide at science museums who have received classroom instruction in how to answer questions about evolution. "This is not a defensive reaction," says Warren D. Allmon, who developed the workshop, but an attempt to correct "misinformation." (Kevin Rivoli - AP)

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By William Kates
Associated Press
Monday, December 26, 2005

ITHACA, N.Y. -- As challenges to the theory of evolution have become more widespread -- and sometimes hostile -- some natural history museums are preparing their docents to answer questions about evolution, creationism and "intelligent design."

Warren D. Allmon, director of the Paleontological Research Institution at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, developed a special workshop and a 13-page guidebook to help volunteers and staff members converse with visitors about the topics.

"This is not a defensive reaction or an attempt to change anyone's mind," Allmon said. "It's just that we find most people are uninformed about evolution or have been given misinformation."

Since running the first workshop in July, Allmon said the museum has received more than 70 calls from other small museums and organizations around the country. Nearly 100 people attended the first two workshops, including members of the public.

The guide provides information on the scientific method (using observations about the natural world and the rules of logic to test hypotheses), the theory of evolution, creationism and intelligent design.

It also offers a script for how to answer frequently raised challenges, such as, "Is it true that there is lots of evidence against evolution?" Answer: "No. Essentially all available data and observations from the natural world support the hypothesis of evolution. No serious biologist or geologist today doubts whether evolution occurred."

The Wildlife Conservation Society wants to adapt the guide to better suit the needs of zoo docents, said Karen Tingley, curator of education at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn. She attended a session Dec. 15.

"Zoos and aquariums have the unique opportunity to educate people about the science behind the theory of evolution and how that theory plays out right before their eyes in the variety of species in our parks," Tingley said.

Evolutionary theory holds that all organisms are connected by genealogy and have changed through time driven by several processes, including natural selection.

Creationists believe Earth and all life were created by God. Intelligent design advocates say that life is so well ordered and "irreducibly complex" that it must have been created by a higher power -- an argument evolution supporters say is merely repackaged creationism.

The issue emerged from the courts recently when a judge rejected a Pennsylvania school board's plan to teach intelligent design in high school biology classes. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science but religion in disguise.

As the rift has deepened, efforts to train museum staffs on evolution and related topics have increased, said Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, a group that defends teaching evolution in public schools.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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