Natural History Museum removes quote referring to 'God's creatures' amid controversy (Update)

Becoming LA Exhibit

Todd Johnson/KPCC

The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County on Monday removed a controversial quote from its Nature Lab exhibit.

The quote, which was put up at the request of an anonymous donor, read:

"The Nature Lab is a gift to Los Angeles to celebrate all of God's creatures and enable NHM to broaden our understanding of the natural world through the process of scientific discovery.' Anonymous Donor - 2013 "

The use of the phrase "God's creatures" angered some scientists, including University of Chicago Department of Ecology and Evolution professor Jerry Coyne.

Coyne runs a blog called "Why Evolution Is True" where he published a post about the quote, claiming it "gives the impression that God had a hand in evolution, and implicitly puts the Museum’s imprimatur on that sentiment."

He said the quote conflicts with the integrity of empirical research and argued it does not belong in a science museum.

NHM director of communication Kristin Friedrich said many of the museum's curatorial staff members shared similar concerns with management after the quote appeared in early December.

On Monday, the museum released a statement saying it removed the quote:

"Upon further reflection and after discussion with our staff, and in conversation with the donor, the Museum has determined that acknowledging donors by including personal statements in such a manner has the potential to cause confusion."

Friedrich added that the museum has a statement posted on its website underscoring its support for the theory of evolutionary biology. The statement asserts "evolutionary biology is fundamental to understanding biological diversity and is critical for both scientific research and museums."

However, former NHM Board Member Miriam Schulman says the incident points to a broader issue of the institution's acceptance of large donations from people she characterized as having "anti-evolutionary beliefs."

"It's always dangerous when you accept money from people who have an agenda that runs counter to the mission of the museum," Schulman said. 

NHM's Kristin Friedrich responded that she was unaware of Schulman's concerns.

"I've worked here eight years, and it's not an issue to me or something that's been on the uptick," she said.

The museum is in talks with the anonymous donor about the matter, and it is unclear whether it will have to return the money.

This story has been updated.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the quotation was removed over the weekend. KPCC regrets the error.

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