Creationist Sign At Zoo Removed Finally (October 1994)

The public-supported Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, finally agreed in September to remove a creationist sign at the children’s Discovery Center.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation formally protested a so-called human population chart beginning: “15,000 B.C. : Adam & Eve,” after two unrelated complaints by Dane County residents in early August. The Foundation pointed out that Homo sapiens evolved at least 100,000 years ago.

“Surely this is Dane County, 1994, not Dayton, Tennessee, 1925!” the Foundation commented.

Although the Foundation did not ask for removal of a mural with a Noah’s Ark theme, it noted that the creationist poster in combination with the mural appeared to give county endorsement to bible stories.

Dr. David Hall, zoo director, responded by telling area media that the dating of Homo sapiens is “a matter of opinion.”

Kimberly Jones, formerly of Madison, was one of the residents who contacted the Foundation in distress over the creationist sign at the zoo. In a letter to Hall, Jones wrote:

“My son and I were shocked and embarrassed to see this religious display at the Discovery Center.

“I hope this was a gross oversight on your part and not a direct attempt by yourself as the county zoo director to inject your own religious beliefs.”

Bill Lueders, a reporter for Isthmus, Madison’s weekly newspaper, interviewed Hall, a fundamentalist, who admitted he was involved in the decision to use a Genesis reference. When Lueders brought up the Scopes trial, Hall said he had never heard of it.

Alerted by the Foundation, scientists and professors from around the nation contacted Hall. Eugenie Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education, and her affiliates at the University of Wisconsin and around the nation, protested.

After the Foundation and local science activists had announced plans to hold a “Rally for Reason” to picket the Discovery Center, Dr. Hall agreed to take down the sign. He plans to replace the “Adam and Eve, 15,000 B.C.” figure with a demographic estimate of the world population at “2 B.C.” The choice of this date still avoids a scientific dating of Homo sapiens, the Foundation notes, but it has accepted the decision providing there is no objection by academic demographers.

The Noah’s Ark mural in the Discovery Center is part of a “New Ark” promotional theme adopted by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA). Dane County attorney Cal W. Kornstedt issued a 31⁄2 page opinion finding that “a decision to maintain the mural is defensible although I caution you that the issue is a close one.”

Ms. Jones commented, “I found it disappointing that Dr. Hall seemed not to accept any responsibility for his mistake and offered no apology. I am happy that the mural was altered. I am not sure what further steps should be taken toward the AAZPA. I hate to see bible stories so prominent in a national science organization.

“Thank you for speaking up on my behalf.”

In a related complaint, the Foundation protested the transportation of Dane County zoo animals to a recent “blessing” at an Episcopalian church.

The Hotline to Defend Evolution at 1-800-290-6006 has been established by the National Center for Science Education to handle complaints about creationism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation