Darwin Today exhibition on tour

Guest review by Rowan Adams Fancy something educational and worthy? Or would you prefer fun and silly, or thought-provoking and stimulating? The Darwin Today exhibition touring the country offers a bit of all of the above.

Darwin exhibition

Like the Ranger himself, I live on the Isle of Wight, so I went to see the exhibition at the jewel in the Island’s crown, Ventnor Botanic Garden. For any Naturenet readers who live on the Isle of Wight, or any of you poor unfortunates who live somewhere less gorgeous but who might be tempted to visit, there are more Darwin-related events listed in the Council’s summer walks leaflet. Continue reading Darwin Today exhibition on tour

Inside the UK’s Creationist museum (Part 3)

This is the third part of The Ranger’s exploration of Genesis Expo, an exhibition which bills itself as “the biggest Creation Museum in the UK”; raising the question of where the others might be. Do report any sightings.

Fossil shop, Genesis Expo

Parts one and two of the expedition report are available on this blog. This third part will report on the views of the visitors after leaving the exhibition – did they find themselves swayed by the arguments they had seen? Find out below. Continue reading Inside the UK’s Creationist museum (Part 3)

Inside the UK’s Creationist museum (Part 2)

Genesis Expo is the UK’s largest and most popular Creationist museum.

Boris the plastic dinosaur in Genesis Expo

In a series of three articles on The Ranger’s Blog you will find out what happened when The Ranger and the Wildlife Gardener – both unapologetic Darwinists – took a day off and visited Genesis Expo. Part one is already published; part two is below. Continue reading Inside the UK’s Creationist museum (Part 2)

Inside the UK’s Creationist museum (Part 1)

Just opposite where the Isle of Wight ferry lands, a row of old shops and pubs sits picturesquely on Portsmouth Hard, in the shadow of the magnificent Victorian battleship HMS Warrior.

Here lies the theory of evolution

One of these, the old National Provincial Bank, is now home to the museum of the UK’s Creation Science Movement. The Genesis Expo is described by the CSM as:

…12 dioramas and a clutch of real fossilised dinosaur eggs… A wide range of topics is examined and some of the displays are animated… They are all presented in an easily understood form for those with little knowledge of the enormous amount of scientific evidence that is against evolution and supports creation.

This is the UK’s largest and most popular Creationist museum. In a series of three articles on The Ranger’s Blog you will find out what happened when The Ranger and the Wildlife Gardener – both unapologetic supporters of Darwin’s theory – took a day off and visited Genesis Expo. Part one is below. Continue reading Inside the UK’s Creationist museum (Part 1)

What If Darwin had been Japanese?

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener listened patiently as an Irish creationist explained how Noah loaded the ammonites, dinosaurs, woolly mammoths and giant sloths into the Ark. He pressed into my hand a copy of Answers magazine published by answersingenesis.org which I put in our downstairs toilet magazine rack alongside The Kitchen Garden, Grow Your Own, Money Week, The Beano and New Scientist. And then took it out again in case visitors thought we had gone a bit strange.

Charles Darwin as a samurai

I settled down that evening to watch the BBC’s Around The World in 80 Faiths. A marvellously hippy open-minded Anglican vicar called Peter Owen-Jones travels round the world experiencing, with understanding and sincerity, other religions. Among other Far Eastern faiths, Owen-Jones was exploring Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan. Shinto is polytheistic, venerating natural objects such as mountains, rivers, water, rocks, and trees. Shinto rituals and celebrations stress harmony between deities, Man, and nature. Buddhists believe that all beings go through a succession of lifetimes in many forms of sentient life until Nirvana, the final, perfect stage of life is attained. Continue reading What If Darwin had been Japanese?

The best miniature stuffed Victorian naturalist ever!

Thanks to Ranger reader Rowan, another fan of Charles Darwin, The Ranger now has a little companion in his room:

Charles Darwin doll

Although Mr Darwin could have been installed on top of the wardrobe in the bedroom, with a select few other treasured soft toys of considerable vintage; one look at Charles’ stern visage resolved The Ranger that he should sit, sensibly, on the bookshelf, custodian of the condensed wisdom of some of his successors. Made by ‘Little Thinkers‘, Mr Darwin’s effigy is one of a wide range of famous people with easily caricatured features, including other scientists such as Einstein and da Vinci; Shakespeare, Wilde, Socrates and Gandhi. There is also a toy Vincent van Gogh with detachable ear, and, anomalously, Sherlock Holmes. The Ranger has no wish to collect the whole set, so put away those credit cards.

Darwin’s house: are they teaching the controversy?

The Ranger’s been on his holidays (did you notice?) and has brought back plenty to write about. First off the blocks has to be his visit to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. Ever since it was opened to the public a few years ago the Ranger has been keen to visit, and this year at last he made it.

Down House, the home of Charles Darwin

The visit was partly a pilgrimage but also in response to a conversation with a friend who’d visited previously. She’d expressed surprise that the display in the museum had made such play of the contemporary and ongoing creationist response Darwin and his work. Could it really be true that English Heritage, the government-funded custodian of the house, was ‘teaching the controversy‘? On arrival, the visitor walks through Darwin’s front door into his hallway, where for all the world it is as though the great man has just popped out to check on his earthworms. Photography is not allowed inside the house, so the Ranger’s inadequate prose will have to suffice. The whole ground floor of the house is a painstakingly-recreated homage, not only – as one would expect – to Darwin’s study and writing-desk, but to how his whole family lived in the late Victorian era. A devoted family man, Darwin’s large household was full of characters, of whom the visitor can learn much. With many authentic and original pictures, documents, and items of furniture, and based on photographs from the time, it’s hard not to be transported back and imagine (as is described) the children playing indoor cricket with the housemaids along the landing. Outside the peaceful garden is set in a pastoral landscape unchanged since Darwin’s day. Here Darwin did much of his research and contemplation, and many of his thinking-spaces are conserved or recreated. A large kitchen-garden, a greenhouse complete with carnivorous plants, and even the famous earthworm-pots are to be found. The Ranger and his companion explored the quiet lawns and beds, before setting off along the sand walk – Darwin’s path along which he paced daily to ponder. The walk was evocative, and just as described by Darwin’s son Frank in 1887:

The Sand Walk

The “Sand-walk” was a narrow strip of land 1 1/2 acres in extent, with a gravel-walk round it. On one side of it was a broad old shaw with fair-sized oaks in it, which made a sheltered shady walk; the other side was separated from a neighbouring grass field by a low quickset hedge, over which you could look at what view there was, a quiet little valley losing itself in the upland country towards the edge of the Westerham hill, with hazel coppice and larch wood, the remnants of what was once a large wood, stretching away to the Westerham road… The Sand-walk was planted by my father with a variety of trees, such as hazel, alder, lime, hornbeam, birch, privet, and dogwood, and with a long line of hollies all down the exposed side. In earlier times he took a certain number of turns every day, and used to count them by means of a heap of flints, one of which he kicked out on the path each time he passed… The Sand-walk was our play-ground as children, and here we continually saw my father as he walked round. He liked to see what we were doing, and was ever ready to sympathize in any fun that was going on.

So, on to the display, which occupies the upper part of the main house. A most comprehensive range of exhibits was on display, with information about the voyage of the ‘Beagle‘, the history of the house and Darwin family, and, perhaps most impressive of all, what must have once been the master bedroom given over to a display of modern and highly interactive demonstrations of the principle of natural selection, even a giant DNA molecule with nucleotides made of metal tubing, which even the least curious could not help but try to slot together. One room was set aside to describe the reaction to Darwin’s work – both at the time and since. A noticeboard on the wall even had current newspaper cuttings, pointedly demonstrating the modern-day relevance of this extraordinary thinker. It was here that the most controversial issues were tackled, and The Ranger was pleased and interested to see that English Heritage had not flinched from these. The response of the Church, and creationism, was described honestly and without sensationalism. It finished with slightly cheesy cliffhanger – transcribed by The Ranger from the display:

The Debate Continues Not everyone accepts evolution today. Some religious faiths require people to believe that the world and everything in it was created by God. Some people – even some scientists – suggest there is a divine force at work in nature. What has been proved over the last 50 years is how much more Darwin was right than either he, or anybody, realised. Yet some of life’s deepest mysteries still remain to be discovered…

So was English Heritage guilty of Intelligent Design appeasement? After all, they rely on tourists to pay for the upkeep of the place, and a lot of these are Americans. There must be a temptation to avoid upsetting creationists of any faith and nationality. So yes, there were a few tips of the hat to the modern-day creationists – notably ‘even some scientists‘ in the paragraph above. But in the context of this outstanding display such nods were nothing more, and anything less would have seemed disingenuous. There was little danger of the shade of Charles Darwin being affronted. Never a pugilist, he would have approved of this measured treatment. Down House passes the test with flying colours: an interesting, inspiring and significant place in itself; it also manages to get over a complex and controversial set of ideas in a refreshingly human way. It’s highly recommended for a visit.