Monday, May 9, 2016

The Shanghai Natural History Museum (has got me thinking about evolution)

I'm very excited to share with y'all my photos from the Shanghai Natural History Museum. I love science and dinosaurs and all that stuff! This museum was just opened last year, and it's super cool.

This exhibit was called "The River of Life", and it included a huge variety of animals- from the oceans, land, and air; prehistoric and modern; models, fossils, and dead stuffed animals.

There were many kinds of dead taxidermied animals here. This photo shows the exhibit with tigers, lions, and other big cats. There were also bears, moose, deer, pandas, wolves, monkeys, goats, and others.

There was a butterfly house, with live butterflies.

There were a bunch of exhibits with live animals in them- reptiles, fish, big bugs, that kind of thing.

There was a whole section on dinosaurs. In this photo, a museum employee is telling us about the fossils.

This huge animatronic T-rex can open its mouth and roar.

Here's another animatronic creature, protecting its eggs.

There was an exhibit on human evolution, which was very interesting to me because I'm interested in re-learning evolution.

Here's an activity where you put the various skulls under the scanner and it tells you the brain capacity.

This exhibit showed local Shanghai wildlife.

There was a whole big exhibit of African animals.

I'm pretty much 100% sure that kid is not allowed to climb up there.

A bunch of animal skins, laying flat like rugs. SUPER CREEPY.

The "Bird Tree of Life", which has dead stuffed birds arranged according to their species classification and such. (Guess what? This is related to evolution.)

Here's a science kit in the gift shop, with English and French on the packaging. On the back of the box, a label with a ton of Chinese text had been stuck on. It's an interesting example of how a lot of science and technolocy education stuff in China is imported from western countries.

Here's an exhibit with some artifacts from China. This part shows movable type, which was first invented in China.
I really liked the exhbit on human evolution. Also, I noticed a lot of the exhibits were arranged with evolution in mind- for example, the different fossils or specimens were put in order of when they lived, and from simple to more complex, with labels explaining that one species developed into the next. It feels very strange for me... because I've definitely been to a LOT of museums that set up their exhibits this way. And the different human-like ape-like species- I've seen those fossils before.

Somehow, I've seen all this before, was excited to learn it because I love science, and yet never realized how much it all assumed evolution as its context. When I was a kid, I knew that Christians DEFINITELY don't believe in evolution, but it was very unclear what exactly that meant and what we were supposed to believe instead. I remember seeing in a science book one of those drawings of the series of creatures from ape to human, each standing up a little straighter than the one behind it, and I quickly skipped to the next page because I knew that was something bad and we weren't allowed to look at it. And yet, I would read statements like, "Many people think pandas are bears, but actually they are more closely related to raccoons," and not realize that it was talking about evolution. (A google search reveals that currently, scientists believe pandas are more closely related to the spectacled bear of South America, rather than raccoons. How about that.)

I would go to museums and love looking at all the animals and learning about them. I would see them arranged in different types- for example, different kinds of turtle-like animals would be together- and I would read about how this one lived so many million years ago, and later this other one descended from it, and I would believe all of it except the part where one descended into another. I guess. I never really thought about it though. I mean, OBVIOUSLY I didn't believe in evolution- but I didn't realize that all these things in my books about dinosaur fossils were actually about evolution.

If this sounds confusing, it's because IT IS. I thought I never actually encountered evolution until 9th grade biology class, but now I realize that so much of everything I learned about fossils and animals and biology was assuming evolution as its context. I had no idea- I knew Christians weren't allowed to believe in evolution, but nobody ever specifically said to me "hey this part about animals being 'related' to each other- no, that's bad, we don't believe that" or "this bit about 100 million years, no that's not what the bible says, we don't believe that."

I actually asked a Christian adult one time, if dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, and never lived at the same time as humans, but everything was created in 6 days, well, how does that work? They told me it was a good question, and they didn't know the answer- maybe nobody knows. It wasn't until I was in high school and started looking for better answers than this vague suspicious feeling anytime someone says the word "evolution" that I heard about young-earth creationism (and converted to it).

(My experience with this is different from that of a lot of other former young-earth creationists I've met in the land of blogs. I've read about people who grew up in a fundamentalist church and learned a pretty awful version of science which was anti-evolution and actually consistent, unlike my "regular science class in public school but I just ignored any sentence with the word 'evolution' because I'm a Christian." Lucky me. Could have been A LOT worse.)

I see this as a really good example of how Christians trying to be "less extreme" doesn't really work. The Christian adults in my life probably thought they were at a reasonable middle ground- they weren't like those fundies who had all those bizarre anti-science beliefs, but they also weren't like the evil worldly culture which denied the bible and claimed we came from apes. But in reality, their position was an ill-defined, logically-inconsistent blend of two completely opposite idelogies, which couldn't even answer THE MOST OBVIOUS question that a kid who loves dinosaurs would ask about the creation story. Coming from this background, it was pretty much inevitable that I would become a young-earth creationist. They were the only ones who gave actual answers to my questions and also emphasized the importance of "following the bible over the wisdom of the world"- that perfectly matched the view of the bible I was taught in church.

And now that I've decided I "believe in" evolution, I'm surprised to find that all these things I learned in science class and never saw as unbiblical are actually related to evolution. It's pretty cool, and I'm excited to keep learning more.


Readers: If any of y'all are former creationists, I'm interested in hearing about the context in which you became a creationist. Was it explicitly taught, or did you just sense this weird vaguely-bad feeling from church culture any time evolution was mentioned, like I did?

Also, I'm looking for recommendations of books I can read to learn more about evolution. Anybody know any good ones?

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