Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Religious Right in Africa: Display of Turkana Boy Steeped in Controversy

Apparently the religious insanity that grips the USA far too solidly is also alive and kicking in other places around the world. Take Kenya, Africa. Apparently, the Religious Right of that nation is less than happy to be displaying the remains of Turkana Boy, which also happens to be the most complete prehistoric human skeleton ever recovered. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NAIROBI, Kenya - Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya's national museum, locked away in a plain-looking cabinet, is one of mankind's oldest relics: Turkana Boy, as he is known, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm — one pitting scientists against Kenya's powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution vs. creationism — once largely confined to the United States — has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

No Boss. That's not what is killing your faith. What IS killing your faith is your stubborn adherence to progress, and to ideas that do not fit comfortably into your narrow world view. Besides, the faith will never completely die because there will always be stupid people for you to easily dupe with your simple minded attitudes.

He's calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room — along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.
Against him is one of the planet's best-known fossil hunters, Richard Leakey, whose team unearthed the bones at Nariokotome in West Turkana, in the desolate, far northern reaches of Kenya in 1984.

Mr. Adoyo sounds like the African answer to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.

"Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Leakey, who founded the museum's prehistory department, told The Associated Press. "The bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved."

Among the 160,000 fossils due to go on display is an imprint of a lizard left in sedimentary rock, dating back 200 million years, at a time when the Earth's continents were only beginning to separate.

Dinosaur fossils and a bone from an early human ancestor, dating back 7 million years, will also be on show along with the bones of short-necked giraffes and elephants whose tusks protrude from their lower jaws. They provide the clearest and unrivaled record yet of evolution and the origins of man, say scientists.

But the highlight will be the 5-foot-3 Turkana Boy, who died at age 12 and whose skeleton had been preserved in marshland before its discovery. It will form the center stage of the exhibition to be launched in July following a $10.5 million renovation of the National Museums of Kenya, financed by the European Union
. The EU says it has no concerns over the displays and that the museum was free to exhibit what it wished.

Followers of creationism believe in the literal truth of the Genesis account in the Bible that God created the world in six days. Bishop Adoyo believes the world was created 12,000 years ago, with man appearing 6,000 years later. He says each biblical day was equivalent to 1,000 Earth years.

Adoyo's evangelical coalition is the only religious group voicing concern about the exhibition. Leakey fears the ideological spat may provoke an attack on the priceless collection, one largely found during the 1920s by his paleontologist parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, who passed their fossil-hunting traditions on to him.

The museum, which attracts around 100,000 visitors a year, is taking no chances. Turkana Boy will be displayed in a private room, with limited access and behind a glass screen with 24-hour closed-circuit TV. Security guards will be at the entrance.

These are major finds that tell us some of the story about who and what we are. It is too bad that, as usual, a small, vocal minority is, once again, meddling in things it does not understand in an effort to keep that which they fear from making people actually think about these matters.

It is also a shame that, as 2007 has barely begun, we are still having this mind-numbingly idiotic debate. I sometimes feel, especially after reading articles like this one, that we have not moved one millimeter from where we were at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and for that we should feel deeply ashamed. Religious insanity is keeping the world dumber, and more divided than ever before. I shudder to think that we actually believe ourselves to be the epitome of existence.

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