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Academic Freedom Alert: Ask State-Run New Mexico Science Museum Why It Used "Darwin Day" to Promote Atheism

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Do you want state-run, taxpayer-funded science museums partnering with atheist groups to bash religious faith during "Darwin Day" celebrations? That is exactly what happened this February when the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (NMMNHS) in Albuquerque cosponsored "Darwin Day" events with local atheist/skeptic groups, hosting lectures attacking religion — and then tried to cover it up.

The museum isn’t merely state-subsidized, though, it’s actually a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, a branch of the state’s government. What happened, exactly?

Last fall, the NMMNHS actively solicited "pro-rational thinkers" from groups with names like "the Humanist Society of New Mexico," "New Mexicans for Science & Reason," and "Freedom From Religion-Albuquerque," as partners for its 2014 Darwin Days celebration. Flyers distributed by the museum listed both NMMNHS and these atheist/skeptic groups as "sponsors" of the Darwin Day events. The titles and content of various talks were unmistakably anti-religious:

  • A representative of "Freedom from Religion-Albuquerque" presented "A Brief Comparison of Science and Religion," asking "Is one or the other false or corrupt and dangerous?" The answer was given during the presentation: "dogmatic religion must not be allowed to retard social progress any longer."
  • Another leader with "Freedom from Religion-Albuquerque" presented on "Evolutionary Science & the Continuing Battle for Truth through Science" and attacked "religious extremists" who disagree with evolution.
  • Talks titled "A History of Strong Natural Selection for Religiosity" or "Evolution of Morality" claimed that religion and morality are merely the products of evolutionary processes.

Of course these individuals should have complete freedom of speech to express their views. But somehow the museum neglected to invite anyone with a non-Darwinian viewpoint, nor anyone offering a religious or other competing perspective on the debate. Should a taxpayer-funded, state-operated science museum give preferential treatment to atheism — evidently a form of viewpoint discrimination and a violation of religious neutrality?

To make matters worse, when citizen Dr. James Campbell contacted the Governor of New Mexico to ask why the museum was endorsing atheism, the state tried to cover all this up, telling him it was a "misunderstanding." As Casey Luskin has shown at Evolution News & Views (see here, here, and here), documents obtained through a public records request show that museum staff and volunteers believed NMMNHS was co-sponsoring these lectures with the atheist/skeptics groups — but then some sought to hide their tracks, and distance the museum from the anti-religious lectures, only after their actions were exposed.

What You Can Do

This presents an important opportunity for you to make a difference in the fight for academic freedom. Concerned New Mexico residents will be meeting with museum staff on Wednesday, July 2, to express worries about this situation and demand that the museum avoid viewpoint discrimination and endorsement of atheism in future Darwin Day events. You can assist their efforts by contacting the museum and making your voice heard promptly:

  • Get in touch with Charles Walter, Executive Director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, via e-mail at Charles.Walter@state.nm.us.
  • Call customer service at the museum at 505-841-2869.

Express your concerns about state museum’s endorsement of anti-religious lectures, viewpoint discrimination, and preferential treatment of atheism during its 2014 Darwin Days events.

Do NOT accept the museum’s line that it merely "hosted" the Darwin Day events. Cite the extensive documentation online showing that it both co-planned and co-sponsored the Darwin Day events with the atheist/skeptic groups. Ask the museum to acknowledge the truth about what really happened.

Demand that if a state-operated science museum is going to partner with private groups for future Darwin Day events, then it must invite and include individuals and groups representing multiple viewpoints and beliefs on evolution and religion, and make good on its promises to provide a "neutral" visitor experience.

Again, citizens will meet with the museum on Wednesday of this week, so you need to contact the museum now and let them know how you feel.

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary/Flickr.

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Evolution News & Science Today (EN) provides original reporting and analysis about evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues, including breaking news about scientific research. It also covers the impact of science on culture and conflicts over free speech and academic freedom in science. Finally, it fact-checks and critiques media coverage of scientific issues.