Museum of The Bible: Advising the Science and the Bible Exhibit

Much of the gallery will be divided into six content pods, asking six existential questions:

  1. How did it all begin?

  2. What keeps the universe running?

  3. Are we different from animals?

  4. What are we made of?

  5. Where are we going?

  6. Are we alone?

Through artifacts, interactives and design features, past explanations for these questions and the ever-evolving relationship between science and the Bible will be explored.

I’m pleased to report that several people in the Peaceful Science network are serving as advisors for this project: Darrel Falk, @TedDavis, Se Kim, and Joshua @Swamidass.

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Will this be real science or “creation” science?

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It will be entirely in line with mainstream science, and the history of science. I only agreed to do this on the condition I can review, modify and veto any scientific statements in the exhibit. They heartily agreed.

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Then it should be great.

(You recall that FFRF gave a list of inaccuracies at the Bible Museum, and, I believe, that all were fixed)

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MOTB is doing really good work, and building a lot of credibility. Do not forget their phenomenal work on the Slave Bible: The Slave Bible. The curator of the Slave Bible, Anthony Schmidt, is the lead curator on the Science and the Bible exhibit too. We already have some pleasant surprises planned for this exhibit in regards to race.

Likewise, there will be a lecture series with this exhibit, and @NLENTS is already on the list. Many of the contributors, I expect, will be from the secular scientific community at large.

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In the past Ken Ham and AiG were strong supporters of the MOTB. I am seeing less of this now from AiG. In am wondering will Ken Ham still be a supporter after the real science exhibit?

They expect this to be among their most controversial exhibits ever. I recommended we build a response plan, so we are prepared when things flair up.

Most the controversy, I expect, will be from the YEC world, but it is also possible we will make mistakes on the science. If we do make mistakes, expect us to own up to these mistakes, and fix them as quickly as we can.

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Well @Jerry_Coyne, Dawkins society, and the NCSE, will look carefully at the science exhibit. I do hope the MN neutrality will be evident in the science exhibit. This will allow the people viewing the exhibit to decide for themselves.

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I would like to tackle #3.

All animal species are different from each in very wonderful ways, some in small ways and some in larger ways. In biology, we group species according to the features they share. In the case of the animal group, if you move about and ingest food, which humans definitely do, then you are an animal. However, what makes us human is much more than that.

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Yes, they informally asked me, but for fall of 2020, so it’s a ways off. I’m looking forward to it.

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I think this could be a very very influential thing. In my extended circles (work and church), the Museum of the Bible is a big draw and it would be just fantastic if they go some good content. I’m super jealous :smile: That is such a good group. I got to see Se Kim present last fall and Ted a few weeks ago, they will certainly be great resources.

From my perspective as a chemist, #4 is a very interesting question, I think one that is often underdeveloped or maybe too superficially addressed. I think the idea that we are living beings yet we are made out “stuff” that is fundamentally no different than what non-living stuff is made of, is fascinating. That has implications for OoL, for medicine, for human/technology interactions, and other things. We also see it come up when people talk about “natural vs artificial” drugs/food/etc. as well as biological research (is it acceptable to test in a lab, or must everything be done in “real” systems).

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The news expressed in this thread is truly exciting. I look forward to updates from @swamidass, @NLENTS, @TedDavis, and others as the exhibits develop.

And that is great news also, @Patrick.

I totally agree. And in the process, visitors will be reminded that there are plenty of Christian scholars and MOTB staff and sponsors who are very much devoted to getting the facts right, both as to history and as to science.

I will admit that when I first heard about the plans to create a Museum of the Bible, I was concerned that it might be yet another poorly presented propaganda project. (Sorry for the alliteration.) And when some initial missteps appeared in the media, I cringed. To my delight, so much that is praiseworthy has developed since the museum’s opening. I’m impressed with management’s willingness to tap the right experts and with the virtual tour available online which shows an impressive series of galleries. (I’d love to visit the museum someday.) The MOTB is well on its way to being even more widely praised for its excellence. Good for them.

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Both @TedDavis and I will be at MOTB next week! Looking forward to it.

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I visit a lot of museums of various types–and with a critical eye, whenever their themes overlap with my particular areas of expertise. Most of them have nothing to do specifically with Christianity, but quite a fewo have displays related to the history of science. Sometimes I do notice glaring errors. Sometimes it’s easy to point them out, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I am taken seriously, sometimes I’m not.

I will offer two specific examples of this, with apparently varying results. Around a dozen years ago I re-visted Down House (Darwin’s home): https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/home-of-charles-darwin-down-house/. In one of the rooms I found a display of some historically famous cartoons related to Darwin and his work, but also, quite prominently shown, was this one: Dinosaur Tracks Discovery - Cartoon of Professor Ichthyosaurus, Henry De la Beche
The information there will show why I brought it up with one of the volunteers (a retired physician, I think): this had nothing to do with Darwin. He didn’t want to believe me at first, though I told him I am an historian of science and that I teach multiple courses about Darwin. However, he was more willing to listen when I pointed out that de la Beche put the date (1830) in the image (peruse the area on the lower right and you will see it), and that Darwin was still an undergraduate then–so, it couldn’t possibly have been about Darwin. I cannot say that it’s been taken down, but if anyone reading this can tell me, I would like to know.

A second example comes from one of the museums in or near Williamsburg–I don’t remember exactly which one, so I will pass over that fact. Many years ago they had on display an early 18th-century orrery: Orrery - Wikipedia. The information with it claimed that the first orrery was built for “Sir Robert Boyle, the Earl of Orrery,” or words to that effect. If you read the Wikipedia article, you’ll understand my dismay. It was a 3-fold error. (1) Robert Boyle died in 1691, and the first orrery wasn’t built until the next decade. (2) Robert Boyle was never an Earl of Orrery–that was his nephew. (3) Robert Boyle was never knighted–he famously declined accepting any titles, though I don’t recall any effort to knight him. Thus, he was never “Sir Robert Boyle,” despite frequent references to him in published literature.

When I explained all this to one of the curatorial staff, and also told them I was the editor of Boyle’s works, I had no indication whatsoever that they believed anything I said. I wondered at the time whether my affiliation with a place called Messiah College was a factor–I am often aware of body language, sometimes followed by probing questions, that are consistent with individuals equating my college with a sink of willful ignorance (when the ignorance is theirs). I can’t be sure. As above, if anyone knows whether this has been fixed, I’d be happy to hear it.

I could also tell you about a time when I heard a docent at one of the Smithsonian museums tell a tour group that this painting shows how medieval people believed in a flat earth (Columbus before the Queen | Smithsonian American Art Museum). That one really pissed me off, but I kept quiet and didn’t have time to get into it afterwards.

I found a minor error at the MOB on my last visit, and I am confident it will be addressed in due course. I’ll try to ask about it next week. I was one of about a thousand people (that’s the right number) who advised MOB before they opened. They have a small display about science presently, but the new one will be far more extensive. They have already taken some of my suggestions. I’m excited to learn about progress on their planning!

I am also advising the National Museum of American History, as they plan for an exhibit about religion and science in America. There could be some overlap with the one at MOB, but if so it would only reflect the fact that some of the same individuals are advising both institutions, and the fact that some possible topics are just obvious.

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Fascinating anecdotes, @TedDavis. Such stories bring back a lot of ancient memories for me. [That’s a trigger warning for @Dan_Eastwood. Dan, this one’s a rerun but with some additional commentary and favorite outtakes.]

I was walking through The Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago with the late Gleason Archer, who was both a prestigious polyglot and perpetually prone to pedantry. (Sorry.) You could always count on Gleason to critique any and all exhibit plaques which claimed to translate the adjacent hieroglyph, cuneiform tablet, or stela inscription. He was also annoyed by transliterations of ancient names which didn’t quite conform to what he considered the scholarly standard—or at least what he considered the appropriate transliteration standard. (Even a missing or slightly askew diacritical mark could tighten his eyebrows.) When you heard Gleason exclaim with a sigh of disappointment, “Oh. This one will not do at all.”—as if a favorite student had woefully let him down–you knew he was about to say, “We must immediately alert the staff to this error.” I have always wondered how many of Dr. Archer’s complaints led to the production of new exhibit signs.

Of course, the first museum representative summoned to the scene was usually part of the security staff or a volunteer docent. He or she had no idea what Dr. Archer was talking about and did not know that he was an expert on Ancient Near Eastern languages. Gleason would insist that a curator be notified immediately so that the errant exhibit caption could be removed before there was any further damage to the general public’s knowledge of the history of the Middle East. Various colleagues have told me of similar experiences when accompanying Dr. Archer at other museums around the world including those in Israel and Egypt. (Gleason also had a habit of carrying in his pants pockets treasured ancient coins from his private collection so that he could properly illustrate his impromptu lectures on ancient currency when so prompted by a museum exhibit. Some feared that he would accidentally lose an ancient silver drachma in the Coke machine because he had the habit of mixing such coins with his pocket change. I never saw him do that but I had friends who insisted that he sometimes came very close to putting a priceless coin in the slot. One colleague said that Gleason held up the line at some vendor’s cart next to the Great Pyramid of Giza because Gleason was sorting out American dimes from his pants pocket mixture of American and ancient coins so that he could pay the impatient salesman for his soft drink purchase.

In regards to a very different kind of museum, I have never visited AIG/Ken Ham’s Creation Museum but I’ve noticed lots of surprising (and amateurish) errors in photos of the exhibits. The most surprising are those which involve major misspellings in Hebrew words, some which suggest that someone with no knowledge of the language simply keyboarded letters out of a book. Medial and terminal forms of some of the letters were applied without regard to position in the word. (In a museum visited daily by Bible College and seminary students as well as pastors who will immediately notice these errors, this amazed me.) I’ve also noticed that some of the Answer in Genesis website’s “popular arguments that creationists should not use” nevertheless appear prominently in the Creation Museum. An exhibit sign proudly summarizes the old myth that Voltaire’s house in France was eventually used for printing Bibles. I can no longer recall many of the other more startling errors and contradictions (other than those involving the Bible, science, and history, which I won’t try to detail here!) but most of the bloopers I saw from the initial opening of the Creation Museum were still present in photos and tour footage years later.


POSTSCRIPT: Everybody I know who ever worked with Gleason Archer has their share of “Gleason stories.” Yes, he was an eccentric and in some ways a prime example of the traditional stereotype of the absent-minded professor (or at least he was by late in his career when I got to know him.) Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that he was my good friend and an always helpful proof-reader and storehouse of linguistic knowledge. (Estimates of his language fluency ranged widely but everybody agreed he could read dozens of ancient and modern tongues and that his exasperated wife would sometimes say, “Gleason, go in the other room and occupy yourself. Learn another language!”) I respected Dr. Archer greatly and I miss him to this day. He’s one of the fondest memories of my career in academia.

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