Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Steal Those Bones!

The following comic quip comes from one of Jay Leno’s recent monologues:

"Kentucky's new state creationism museum will have a theme park with an ark encounter with dinosaurs. They have Noah's Ark and the dinosaurs all existing at the same time. This is part of Kentucky's plan to knock Mississippi out of last place in education."

Surely the part about a creationist museum can’t be true, some of you are probably thinking. That lantern-jawed swivel-headed jokemeister must be exaggerating. Right?

Wrong. In fact, there is quite a bit that Leno left out.

For one thing, Kentucky is not alone among states that use the remains of the natural world to blatantly lie about nature's origins. Similar institutions can be found in California, Florida, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, bearing names ranging from the dull (Grand River Museum in Lemmon, SD) and the blunt (Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, TX) to the mildly humorous (Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola, FL, which recently closed) and the downright misleading (Discovery Center in Abilene, TX).

Also important is the fact that these museums, as a rule, tout themselves as legitimate purveyors of scientific truth, albeit of a kind that violates the secular outlook without which all scientific thought becomes farcical. Epitomizing this trend is the advertisement found on the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum’s website, which claims that its mission is to “glorify God as Creator and Sustainer, emphasize man’s accountability to Him, and challenge the hearer/visitor to think through the humanistic concept of evolution.”

While the rational empiricist in me always does a dry heave when reading that statement, it is the following sentence that transforms mere contempt and nausea into something far more unsettling:

“Currently this is achieved through the Fossil Digs at Glendive where fossil excavation of dinosaur bones is done in the context of the flood of Noah’s day.”

In other words, the men and women who peddle creationist imbecility in these museums aren’t just doing so with signs, plastic models, videos and the occasional animatronic display. In some cases, real fragments of our precious prehistoric past – from fossilized trilobites to actual dinosaur bones – are being exploited in the name of their agenda.

That is why what we may need right now is a badass superburglar – one with a passion for science and a devil-may-care attitude – to break into those museums and STEAL THOSE BONES.

You can't be serious, I can hear you saying. After all, isn't theft a crime?

Yes, theft is a crime... but then again, desecrating the remains of magnificent animals that lived millions of years ago is also a crime. Defiling the treasures of human knowledge in the name of an ideology is a crime (and that applies to any ideology, for that matter, although this one is unusual in its obnoxious stolidity). Foisting willful stupidity upon an entire generation of American children is a crime. Even though these offenses may not appear in statute books or exist as areas of specialty among lawyers, they are crimes nonetheless.

This point is not as trivial as it may at first seem. Objects connecting human beings today with the story of the world they inhabit are extraordinarily few and far between; as such, doesn’t it behoove those who consider knowledge to be one of our greatest treasures to do everything in their power to protect the integrity – symbolic and actual – of those objects from which we acquire and understand it? What would an artist feel if a loony curator got a hold of Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy and exhibited in his gallery as a 16th Century Italian paperweight? How would an archaeologist react if a nut obtained an Egyptian mummy and presented it to the world as a five-and-a-half foot piece of beef jerky? Who among historians would show restraint if a crank came into possession of the Rosetta Stone and displayed it in his museum as a slab of old rock covered in meaningless scribbles?

While it may seem absurd to think that anyone would actually believe those things, it is also absurd to think that the earth was created in several thousand years and dinosaurs lived alongside human beings. As we know, however, there are people who not only believe that, but have built museums that rape the natural world in order to promote that conviction.

As such, the fundamental question here is not whether a crime should be committed – no matter what happens, a crime will take place, be it the active theft of precious paleontological objects or the passive allowance of intellectual fraud. The only question is which of those crimes – theft or fraud – is worse. If nothing else, you know where I stand.

PS: Of course, I must note that I don’t really believe that someone should break into those creationist museums and steal those bones. Not at all. That would be wrong and I know it. And I’m totally not just saying this so that I won’t get into any legal trouble.

No comments: