As an institution whose mission is to invite learners of all ages and backgrounds to experience the world through science, this museum must be consistent in the meaning given to "science". By definition, science is knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation. Science encompasses a wide variety of disciplines. Each discipline has a characteristic focus but all are united by use of the scientific method, and all are affected by censorship.

There are few areas of life in which one will not encounter a degree of censorship. But since each of the various disciplines of science is bound indissolubly to the others, if one topic is omitted through censorship, the ability to study any of them is inhibited. While the study of biology focuses on organisms, it is forever dependent on chemistry, chemistry on physics, physics on mathematics, and so on. All scientific disciplines are united in demonstrating the evolution of life on this planet.

In every area of scientific research and education, one strives to remain consistent in vocabulary. "Theory" is just one of many words that has a different meaning in the world of science from the meaning it has in daily life. In daily life, one definition of "theory" is, "a mere guess at something." However, a scientific theory reflects an enormous amount of study that has gone into accounting for some natural phenomenon, and in science the word "theory" is not used lightly. As for the theory of evolution, it is widely accepted within the scientific community that evolution itself is fact. It is theory about the mechanisms of evolution that continues to be refined.

The Science Museum of Minnesota is currently undergoing the process of developing internal policies concerning discussion of evolution. Appropriate information is provided for staff in order to educate them and allow them to conduct informed discussions on the topic. In instances where creationists visit the museum, they are not discouraged providing they are not disruptive to the staff or other visitors. Leafleting of any kind is not allowed within this institution. Following is a list of critical issues scientific institutions must decide upon when striving to fulfill their missions in research, practice and education.

The Age of the Earth

In order to carry on consistent conversations on a variety of topics, scientiststs must agree on the age of the earth. An educational institution cannot seriously discuss topics such as geology, biodiversity, human biology, embryology, ecology, paleontology, anthropology, and so forth, without first establishing a timeline of events. Since creationist doctrine provides a myriad of options as to the age of the earth, it does not lend itself to this process and therefore cannot be used. Based on current research, scientists generally agree that the age of the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years. An institution of scientists and science educators are obliged to use this date until further study finds otherwise.

Educational Objectives

Being true to educational objectives requires honesty. If science educators are to compare the enormous variety of life forms which have inhabited the planet, they must account for both the similarities and differences in those animals. Evolution is the framework within which these topics can be discussed. In addition, evolution applies to all life forms, not just some. It is the scientific institution's responsibility to the public not to negate pertinent information on the basis that it may not be acceptable to all.

Speaking Freely about Science

If an institution is bound by censorship of topics fundamental to its work, it is of little use in either the educational or the scientific arena. If instead, the bounds of censorship are lifted, the quality of information that can be provided to the public becomes unlimited. Evolution is fundamental in the scientific discussion of life on earth and of the earth itself.

Providing Clear Guidelines to Staff

An institution owes its staff clear guidelines on controversial topics so that they may convey the institution's position. However, it must also respect the rights of its staff to live by whatever ideology or doctrine they choose. An institutional policy statement does not prevent controversy, but since front line staff are the ones most likely to encounter difficulties, institutional support will aid in their handling of situations that arise. Staff are not required to agree with evolution, but they are expected to be able to provide direct answers to the public as to why the institution supports evolution. Staff should not be expected to defend their personal beliefs to visitors.

Being Honest with Visitors

An institution has a responsibility to its visitors to provide a simple, concise and unbiased explanation as to why it accepts the evidence for evolution. While some visitors may disagree, they will not be led astray or told untruths. In an institution of science, visitors should expect to see all aspects of science within that institution's programs. The institution should be free to discuss science without regret or apology.


Editor's note: Official position statements of the Science Museum of Minnesota are not public documents; other, similar institutions should direct requests for further information to Patty Forber, Manager, Paleontology Science Hall, Science Museum of Minnesota, 30 East 10th Street, Saint Paul, MN 55101. We are grateful to the Museum for submitting this essay specifically for publication in Voices for Evolution.

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