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At Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Patron Reports Errors in Displays, Gets Brushed Off


Misrepresentations of the scientific evidence on evolution are everywhere. Check out the displays at your local science museum, for example, and you can’t help tripping over them.

We received a note from a friend of ours who visited the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In addition to exploring the new robotics exhibit with his grandchildren, Discovery Institute supporter and intelligent design enthusiast Jim Campbell decided to visit the origins-of-life section. Two of the displays, on the formation of cells and the Miller-Urey experiment, were scientifically inaccurate.

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He sent a letter to the museum, pointing this out. On the “Recipe for Life” display:

…According to the display, the recipe just requires a few ingredients; carbon, sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus. Then follow these steps:

Mix together in a warm environment,

Dry out occasionally,

Add time and energy, and

Allow to combine in orderly, patterned ways.

That’s it! Just mix up a few chemicals, add some time and energy and life magically appears. To make it clear how easy it must have been, your exhibit shows a mixing bowl as though creating life was little more than making a loaf of bread or a pot of chicken soup.

For an informed view on the subject of life’s origins, consider what Dr. James Tour has to say about it. Dr. Tour is the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University. He also teaches Computer Science, Materials Science, and Nano-Engineering. Dr. Tour is one of the world’s leading experts in synthetic chemistry — the science of designing complex molecules. These quotes are taken from his Pascal Lecture at the University of Waterloo in 2016:

Abiogenesis is the prebiotic process wherein life, such as a cell, arises from non-living simple organic compounds: carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids and proteins (polymers of amino acids). All this is needed before evolution can begin…

(Collective Cluelessness) We have no idea how the molecules that compose living systems could have been devised such that they would work in concert to fulfill biology’s functions. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins, were made and how they could have coupled in proper sequences, and then transformed into ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell. Nobody has any idea on how this was done when using our commonly understood mechanisms of chemical science. Those that say that they understand are generally wholly uninformed regarding chemical synthesis…

Those that say this is all worked out, they know nothing: nothing about chemical synthesis. Nothing!

(Further Cluelessness) From a synthetic chemical perspective, neither I nor any of my colleagues can fathom a prebiotic molecular route to construction of a complex system. We cannot even figure out the prebiotic routes to the basic building blocks of life: carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. Chemists are collectively bewildered. Hence I say that no chemist understands prebiotic synthesis of the requisite building blocks let alone assembly into a complex system.

I’ve asked all my colleagues, National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners. I sit with them in offices. Nobody understands this. So if your professors say, “It’s all worked out” — your teachers say, “It’s all worked out,” they don’t know what they are talking about. It is not worked out. You cannot just refer this to somebody else. They don’t know what they are talking about.

The “Recipe for Life” display is, at best, misleading and, at worst, blatant propaganda. It is an embarrassment to the museum and should be removed.

And on the Miller-Urey exhibit, Mr. Campbell commented:

The second offensive museum display involves the Miller-Urey experiment. The experiment was certainly important and informative at the time it was conducted although there are now valid questions concerning whether the atmosphere simulated in the experiment was representative of the intended primitive atmosphere. However, the primary issue with this display concerns its caption, “Replicating Life in the Lab?”

The caption, presented in the form of a question to avoid being technically incorrect, is clearly intended to mislead impressionable people into believing that life has been created in a lab. I’m sure that the people responsible for setting up this display know full well that life has not been created in a laboratory — not even close. Yet the display seems designed to mislead people into believing just the opposite.

Again, this display is not worthy of the museum and the caption should be at least modified to more honestly represent the experiment.

How did the Denver Museum of Nature & Science respond? In a September letter, they noted:

You shared your criticisms on the origins of life section of Prehistoric Journey. I have passed your recommendations to the multi-disciplinary team — including curators, designers, and educators — who collectively oversee our Prehistoric Journey exhibition. Due to travel schedules, they are not due to meet for several weeks, but are going to review your input, and will get back to you after that discussion.

Campbell followed up after receiving the letter, and then again a few months later, but has received no response.

It’s great to see people using their scientific knowledge to point out flaws in Darwinian dogma. But a museum brushing off a customer, when it comes to evolution, sadly doesn’t come as a big surprise.

Photo credits: Top, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, by MisterHand via Wikicommons. Below, courtesy of Jim Campbell.