Impulse exhibition visit! Yaaaay!
Conway Hall is one of those hidden-away places that, again, I’ve always been curious about but never really bothered to look for. It’s the headquarters of the South Place Ethical Society, located in a corner of Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury. The Society was founded in 1793 and specialises in, as you might imagine, discussions of ethics. It rejected God in 1888 and these days advertises itself as a haven for free thinkers. A free thinker is like an atheist, except without causing Internet flame wars.
What caught my eye was an exhibition called “Evolution – the fossils say YES!” Now, evolutionary biology is one of those things that I find endlessly fascinating. At the risk of getting all Richard Dawkins on yo collective ass, there’s so much about the world that can be explained via evolution, from the strange animals around the world to aspects of human behaviour.
We’re quite fortunate in Britain that we don’t have a fundamentalist movement in the sense that you find in the USA – it makes me want to punch something that someone in the 21st century can make it to the stage of being a candidate for Vice President and yet still believe the world was created in a week six thousand years ago using superpowers. Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you, you oil-loving, polar-bear-hating, only-hot-compared-to-other-politicians-when-viewed-objectively epsilon semi-moron. In this country, people who don’t believe in the theory of evolution are largely regarded in the same way as flat-earthers. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledges that the evidence in favour of evolution rather than creation is overwhelming. I myself was brought up as a Christian, but my parents took me to the Natural History Museum and explained that, straight-up, humans evolved from apes. Not monkeys, by the way. We’re not using the M-word.
This, I think, was the major problem with the exhibition – it was largely preaching to the converted. The sort of person who believes in creationism is generally narrow-minded and totally unwilling to think for themselves. If you present them with evidence of evolution, they’ll either deny it or claim it’s insufficient.
Then they’ll throw out phrases like “Well it’s only the Theory of Evolution,” totally misunderstanding what a theory is (actually, “theory” in scientific terms actually denotes virtual certainty). Or they’ll use the M-word because, ha ha, monkeys are silly! You’re silly because you think you’re a monkey haw haw! And when you’ve really got them on the ropes, they’ll shrug their shoulders and play the “Well, I’m only trying to save you from Hell” card.
What I’m basically saying is, the sort of person who disbelieves evolution to the extent that they would need such an exhibition is exactly the sort of person who would never set foot in a Humanist establishment like Conway Hall.
The exhibition had a few other flaws as well. Some of these, to be fair, I suspect were a result of my arriving at lunchtime on Monday, which is not exactly boom time for the tourist industry. Still, it was kind of annoying to have to peer over a set of folding chairs to read about the Cambrian Explosion, which is one of the most awesome eras in the development of life. Unfortunately it wasn’t an actual explosion, but did involve some utterly insane life forms. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrian_explosion for details – seriously, this stuff makes Pokemon look dull and pedestrian.
The displays could also have done with a proofreader. This may seem a little anal retentive, but I’m of the school that believes that if you’re producing a scholarly display, it looks unprofessional to haev typpos in the fnished exibit.
Another problem, I think, is that this is such a huge subject by its very nature that no exhibition this small can hope to cover it in any real detail. When you have only one board on Pre-Cambrian life, there’s only so much you can convey. That being said, it was a pleasant enough way to pass a bit of time in m’lunch break and is worth popping in if you’re in the area. Particularly as it’s free.