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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Does Darwin Exhibit Disappoint?

Canadian journalist and art critic Robert Fulford has reviewed "Darwin: The Evolution Revolution," an exhibit that originated at the American Museum of Natural History and opened over the weekend at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Primarily, Fulford takes issue with the overly long wall text, specifically a sentence that calls Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection a "single, simple scientific explanation for the diversity of life on earth."
"Simple? Did they say simple?" he writes in the National Post. "It's possible that you can make it sound simple by glib summary. But its implications are the reverse of simple. They demand a leap of the imagination most of the world has always found extremely difficult. ... In the 1860s, when the world was first compelled to deal with him, his theory was terrifying, world-shaking, religion-threatening. It still raises furious controversy."
While he's somewhat taken with the life-size reproduction of the deck of Darwin's boat, the HMS Beagle, he's dismayed by an exhibit he feels "limps through its subject, barely hinting at the great audacity of Darwin's thinking. The exhibition provides great piles of data about Darwin and Darwinism but at no point demands thought or response from those who view it." Overall, he concludes, "the curators appear to believe that in 2008 evolution and everything connected with it have congealed into received wisdom, needing only to be articulated once more, in the style that museums have been using for at least half a century. Perhaps out of a belief that we couldn't deal with anything stronger, the exhibition gives us a cozy and harmless version of a painful, challenging idea that transformed science and the world." —Heather Wax