12 January 2007

Kenya: Evangelicals Wage Anti-Evolution War

Nairobi — A bronze sculpture at the entrance of the Museum. It details the development of man.

Kenya's world-class collection of hominid bones - primates belonging to a family of which the modern human being is the only species still in existence - is at the centre of a silent but intense war being waged by a section of the evangelical churches.

The priceless National Museums of Kenya (NMK) fossils pointing to man's evolution risk being relegated to the abyss as a section of the Church renews its war on science insisting that the evolution theory contradicts the biblical story of creation.

Bishop Boniface Adoyo of Nairobi Pentecostal Church (NPC), Christ is the Answer Ministries, is championing the 'hide-the-fossils' campaign, which has left scientists and historians perplexed.

Killing faith

Adoyo, the Chairman of Evangelical Alliance of Kenya that represents 35 churches with a membership of six million faithful, says the theory confuses children who frequent the museum on educational tours. "I'm worried that children will believe we evolved from monkeys. Yet this is not the truth that's killing our faith," he says.

Saturday Standard has learnt that the alliance has enlisted a number of Western institutions to raise funds for anti-hominid campaigns in the media and through religious sermons.

The church plans to hold major demonstrations to the museum to press for the removal of the bones.

This campaign comes shortly before a new-look museum is unveiled mid this year. A multi-million European Union-funded expansion and renovation project will see the museum display fossils of pre-historic man, widely believed to be the ancestors of the present human beings. Once completed, the museum will have 13 galleries including the controversial "Origin of Man." It is this display that triggered the fury of the evangelicals.

The only 'Turkana Boy' in the world

At the heart of the controversy is what Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia, NMK's director of sites and monuments, calls "our jewel" - an almost complete skeleton of Homo erectus commonly known as the 'Turkana Boy'.

Mr Kamonya Kimeu unearthed the 1.7 million-year-old skeleton in 1984 at Nariokotome, Lake Turkana. It is the most complete Homo erectus skeleton in the world.

The museum's rich hominid collection are a result of keen archaeological expeditions that led to unearthing of fossils dating millions of years in the Great Rift Valley, particularly around Lake Turkana. The findings paid credence to Charles Darwin's evolution theory as described in his Origin of Species.

The theory posits that species evolved from simple cells over billions of years in what he calls natural selection theory.

The theory says man evolved from ape-like furry creatures with tails which moved on four limbs.

But Adoyo dismisses the theory as "mere speculations".

He argues that the theory presents assumptions as facts. He says it takes more faith to believe in the theories than that God created man. "These are just speculations yet we believe in them. ...Man is uniquely created; there is nothing concrete about the evolution theory and that is why we as Christians are uncomfortable with the museum's plans to display the hominids and narrate the story of evolution as if it is the truth," he explains.

Insult to Christianity

But the NMK is taking the protest in its stride. "We welcome the debate. It is healthy so long as we respect each others' opinion," Kibunjia told Saturday Standard.

"We have not received any official communication from the churches. We only read of their intent in international press," he says.

We established that Adoyo and his group have turned down several invitations by the museum to discuss on the hominids controversy.

Adoyo reads "mischief and insult," to Christianity in the claim that human beings evolved from chimpanzees.

He says the Bible is clear that God created human beings in His own image.

"When museums claim that man evolved from apes, they are actually hurting many Christians who believe that God created us," Adoyo says.

Religious extremism

Dr Wilson Chiko, a religious professor at Daystar University, says: "Demanding the removal of hominids from the museum is extreme. Never has man been an ape or vice versa. Apes were there, human beings were also there and each evolved in their own right as ecology demanded." Chiko says the biblical language is vastly figurative which is why many theologians miss the point on creation.

He says churches should busy themselves in evangelising to the youth and children, and pursuing social justice, instead of worrying about hominids.

"We need serious evangelisation and expansion of Christianity to new frontiers. Fighting skeletons will not help much. What are we going to replace the hominids with to demonstrate the biblical values?" he asks.

Adoyo says the Church is talking to Christians to boycott the museum. The museum receives thousands of visitors, most of them school children.

But he is not ready to explain the strategies they will employ to win the war. "We can't tell you the date or all our strategies. Just know that we are ready to push for the course of truth," he said at his Valley Arcade offices.

Respect history

Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki says history should be respected. "I have not been informed of the impending campaign, but history should be respected. We cannot run away from it," Ndingi says.

Ndingi could be reading from a speech made by the late Pope John II in 1996, at the Pontifical Academy of Science where he acknowledged the story of evolution.

"Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.

It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of the theory," the Pope said.

His statement got wide media coverage but sparked protests from creationists who felt the Pope had faltered.

In 1950, in the encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII described evolution as an unfortunate possibility. Nevertheless, Pius XII was receptive to the Big Bang theory, which he felt was related to the famous "Let there be light" biblical statement.

Campaign is counter productive

Officials at the museum say they do not oppose the creation theory or deny the existence of God.

"Even in the Big Bang theory, science can only trace the incident up to the time it happened but science cannot explain who caused this explosion and that is where we believe there is a supreme being with supernatural powers who caused that Big Bang," Kibunjia says.

The Big Bang Theory explains that about 14 billion years ago, a cosmic explosion occurred marking the beginning of universe as life simple cells were transformed to complex creatures.

"I'm a Catholic and a scientist. I do not see any conflict. Only men want to create it," says Kibunjia.

Others feel the campaign might be counter-productive. "The moment you stop people they become curious. The church should be careful with its campaign," psychologist Mr Chris Kimani says.

Origin of species explains how animals adapt to the environment. It posits that the fittest animals that are able to adapt to their environment evolve. This is what led Darwin to coin the term 'survival of the fittest'. The book explains that man lost his tail because he did not need it to climb trees anymore.

The fossils put Kenya on the global map. They are magnetic field attracting scientists and tourists across the globe.

Jittery for nothing

But Adoyo insists that the Church would not relent in its quest to have the hominids removed.

"Evangelicals are jittery for nothing. Science is taught in schools and most of the children are Christians. How many have left their faith because Darwin thinks otherwise?" Chiko asks.

"These people should know that palaeontology is an old science. Richard Leakey and his group are afraid that their only source of survival and fame is rightly being put into question," Adoyo claims.

Efforts to get Leakey to comment were fruitless, but in interviews with the BBC, Daily Guardian, Observer and even AFP, Leakey who was once NMK director, has dismissed the churches' move as ridiculous.

He said he would fight back. "We have world class collections. There is nowhere else in the world you can see them. I wish museums could be rated like hotels. Our museum is only third to South Africa and Cairo," Kibunjia boasts.

The evangelicals also want a bronze statue at the gate of the museum, detailing the development of man, be removed.

But Kibunjia says the sculpture is there to stay.

Adoyo dismisses the European Union saying it perpetuates racism. "We know, according to the Bible that God is spirit. We were given powers of discernment. We were given conscience, and reason, that is our similarity," Chiko says.

Kenya proud of the collections

He says those who subscribe to evolution theory are afraid of facing judgement. "These are the people who want to believe that life ends at death so that they can't be held accountable in the end. If that is so, life has lost its sanctity," warns Adoyo noting that this could set a dangerous precedence. "Once such thoughts are allowed to prevail, we are headed for chaotic days," he says.

Kibunjia regrets that Kenyans are yet to appreciate the treasures the country hosts. He says the whole world is envious.

NMK Chief Palaeontologist, Dr Emma Mbui, says hominids are an ecological reality, a God-given gift to humanity that is irreplaceable. "The biological body undergoes change, not the soul," says Mbui.

She says Kenyans should be proud of the collections instead of fighting them. "South Africa, Chad and Ethiopia are very proud of their collections. What is the problem with us?" she poses.

But Adoyo wonders why man is the only animal with conscience and not other creatures. He says only the creation theory has the answer.

The soul of man, Adoyo says, is too special and too unique to have come from monkeys.

Mbui says human beings adapted to a new look as the ecology changed.

Theory perpetuates racism

But the NPC cleric insists that evolution is an archaic theory meant to perpetuate racism. "Even Darwin on his death bed expressed surprise that people believed his theory," Adoyo says. "Pure science has overtaken palaeontology.

The advent of DNA testing has helped us to trace the origin of man to Adam and Eve," he says. "Palaeontologists do not want to admit this because it will crumble their scientific edifice," he says.

Heritage minister, Mr Suleiman Shakombo, could not be reached for comment as he was reported to be out of the office. But unidentified sources from the minister's office said the State would not give in to pressures.

"This is our national heritage. We cannot just discard them at the whims of some people. While we respect their (evangelicals) concerns, it is their duty as the clergy to educate their congregations on biblical matters," says an officer with the ministry.

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