Monday, July 9, 2007

Can Kenyan Christians bury their own prehistory?

In Kenya, there is a group of fundamentalist Christians who believe that the preeminence of the National Museum of Kenya's prehistoric fossil collection poses a threat to their faith. They have mobilized against the public exhibit of prehistoric human skeletons and the teaching of the theory of evolution. Many Kenyan prehistory researchers, some of them Christian, assert that their research does not necessarily compromise a person's faith. In response, they have the Kenyan Prehistory Club whose mission is to educate Kenyan's about their own prehistory and the theory of evolution.

Kenya National Museum is the home to Turkana Boy, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found. This skeleton, unearthed in 1984 by Richard Leakey, renowned paleontologist and son of Louis and Mary Leakey, will be displayed prominently for the first time this summer.

Bishop Boniface Adoyo, the leader of an evangelical Christian coalition, which claims to have 10 million followers, opposes the exhibition of fossils as evidence of the theory of evolution. He asserts: "I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it. These sorts of silly views are killing our faith." Adoyo is calling for a boycott of the exhibition and the installation of a written disclaimer that the theory of evolution is just one among a number of theories.

"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." The Kenyan National Museum is proceeding with its preparations for a renovated exhibit space in which they will put 160,000 fossils on display. The renovation is funded by 10.5 million dollar grant from the European Community.

Out of fear that the ideological dispute may prompt an attack on the collection, the Museum has taken precautions to implement a security system to protect what Dr. Emma Mbua, the head of paleontology at the Museum calls their “jewel”. She asserts that “evolution is a fact” and supports the implementation of a security system (which may end up costing millions of dollars) so that the Kenyans can show their heritage to the world.

The world’s community of paleontologists is disturbed by the extensiveness of the evangelical backlash. In response, the Museums Prehistory Club, an organization founded by Mbua, the Club’s President Dr. Fredrick Manthi and other paleontologists engaged in research in Kenya, have created a series of summer workshops to teach the theory of evolution and the richness of Kenyan prehistory to high school teachers in Kenya. The Club has secured a $15,000 grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to fund the August program, as well as, $691 from Heritance to cover a budget shortfall.

The workshops, however, mark just the beginning of an effort coordinated by the Kenyan Prehistory Club, Wenner-Gren Foundation and Heritance to continue to protect and promote continued research and teaching about Kenya's prehistory.

For more information about the controversy in Kenya, consult:
http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2006/09/71795
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,250557,00.html