Religion Rears its Ugly Head at the Carnegie


Last week, CFI was thrown out of the Carnegie Science Center. Technically, we weren’t thrown out; they were smart enough to make sure that they had plausible deniability. But it was made clear that we were not really welcome and our rent was raised by over 2,000 percent.

One would think that a group whose mission is to “foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values” would be welcomed with open arms at a facility ostensibly dedicated to science. But such is apparently not the case.

To be fair, we did slightly deviate from our mission and our normally serious lecture programs by having Brother Sam Singleton’s quasi-humorous take on old fashioned religious revivals with an atheist twist. As it turns out, that was the cause of our downfall – it offended the sensibilities of at least one of the Science Center’s two co-directors.

Now I didn’t see any way that program should really offend anyone unless, of course, they had a strong religious belief, a pretty unlikely occurrence in a venue dedicated to science and reason. But there is an enormous difference between “unlikely” and “nonexistent” as I was to find out. Three weeks later, we were informed that the topic of our last meeting had caught the eye of the directors and that our contract for 2013 was being canceled (I had signed the contract and returned it to the Science Center over the summer but had yet to receive a duly executed copy from them) and that if we wanted to continue to meet at the CSC, our monthly rental was going up by over 2,000 percent.

Having been an atheist for fifty years, I have become very sensitive to all of the ways that we are discriminated against and treated as second class citizens and how the religious zealots, especially the christian ones, feel that they have the privilege of special rights owing to their faith. So I decided to research just who these Co-Directors of the Science Center are and whether or not they are strongly religious in their private lives. (Often these people will ballyhoo that they attend church regularly or are very active in their church.) Francis Collins notwithstanding, such zealotry is fairly rare in the scientific community.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the two co-directors, Ron Baillie, is a clergyman. He is the Rector of St. Thomas Church-in-the-Field. To borrow a colorful British phrase, I was gob-smacked. That’s the equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the hen house. (Yeah, I know – that phrase has been used to death. But it is a really accurate analogy.) And if you read his recent rector’s message, it’s clear that his focus is the more toxic, virulent, and intransigent type of christianity – conservative evangelical christianity.

So here you have someone whose mission in life is to promote an irrational fairy tale based on ancient myths (and for which there is no credible supporting evidence) being in charge of a facility and organization whose mission is to ostensibly teach the public at large, especially children, an evidence-based world view along with good critical thinking skills. This is a complete and utter conflict of interest. And the fact that the primary focus is on educating children makes this even more egregious. Who in their right mind would allow something like this to occur?

What makes this even more curious is that, in addition to his control of the Science Center, Baillie was, within the past few weeks, given control of the Museum of Natural History. This museum has always been a strong proponent of evolution as the only rational explanation for the enormous diversity of life on our planet as promulgated in a statement on evolution by the MNH’s former director, Samuel Taylor. The timing of his abrupt departure and Baillie’s subsequent control does seem rather odd. I have to wonder just how much longer the museum will continue to strongly promote evolutionary theory.

Now, being of a somewhat skeptical bent, I’m generally not one for conspiracy theories. But given the propensity of the more zealous faithheads to ignore ethical propriety when promoting their irrational beliefs (since they are doing “god’s” work), and the recent concerted efforts of conservative christians to infiltrate educational and scientific institutions in order to subvert and/or destroy them from within, I really have to wonder if that isn’t what’s going on here. I could be wrong, of course, but it does indeed make a rational person wonder.

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7 Responses to Religion Rears its Ugly Head at the Carnegie

  1. Liz says:

    Can you post the relevant correspondence? I am a member and frequent visitor to
    Carnegie Museums and want to express my personal opinion to the board.

  2. don smith says:

    How are directors appointed? Shouldn’t they be members of the scientific community? Why would an employee of a religious organization be thought to be a suitable director, someone concerned with science education?

    • The Militant One says:

      Directors are appointed by the Carnegie Museums governing board, which like many nonprofit cultural boards is made up of local community leaders. So that makes the position of Director essentially a political position. One would think that any board with the best interests of the Science Center in mind would want someone in charge who has a scientific worldview. But apparently not.

      BTW, this guy is not just an employee – he is the church rector, which in the Anglican community means owner.

  3. revelmundo says:

    Thank you for posting this outrage against reason.

    Has anyone appealed this outrageous decision? Is Rev. Numbnuts the only voice of authority on this board? Does Rev. Numbnuts have the ultimate, last word on this matter?

    • The Militant One says:

      Unfortunately, he is the final word on the matter. We can only hope that the cancer stops with him and is not rampant within the whole governing board of the Carnegie Museums. But with him being additionally installed at the MNH, I do have my concerns that it is endemic to the whole organizational governing body.

      • revelmundo says:

        What can we (i.e. the Pitt secular community) do to raise a stink about this arbitrary decision and obviously discriminatory behavior? What can be done to expose his infantile behavior to a wider audience of CSC patrons? What can we do to pressure him to step down from both positions?

        Is this the best person that the CSC can hire to oversee the Center? It’s obvious to me that this man is neither mature nor intellectually refined enough to sit in a position of authority on either the CSC or the MHN. Surely many others can be brought to conclude the same if they knew the facts..

      • The Militant One says:

        Frankly I don’t think there is anything that we can directly do. And even if we could, I think it would be a PR disaster since the CSC is a highly respected institution region wide. But I think that we need to get the word out that it has been taken over by people whose agenda is diametrically opposed to the Science Center’s mission of promoting critical thinking and an evidence-based worldview. Maybe bring it to the attention of the national scientific community, like Jerry Coyne, and the wider non-believer blogosphere, like Hemant Mehta and Greta Christina.

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