Warning to Parents: Evolution on Parade at the Smithsonian

Parents of 6- to 12-year olds beware. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is targeting your children with its new evolutionary exhibit on mammals. The 25,000-square-foot Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals boasts almost 275 specimens. Lawrence Small, head of the Smithsonian Institute, noted: “Children of all ages will be very pleased” (as quoted in Schmid, 2003). And after glancing over a partial list of the animals that are included, I would say he is correct—children will be pleased. Yet, as they pass by the fierce-looking polar bear, the cuddly koalas, the yawning hippo, and the vampire bat feasting on a model of a scientist’s foot, they will unsuspectingly be indoctrinated with massive amounts of evolutionary teaching.

With four special “Discovery Zones,” the new exhibition provides children with hands-on activities to further ensure that they remember this evolutionary teaching. Using lights, audio, video, computer interactives, flip doors, push buttons, touchable and moveable objects, etc., the museum is aiming this exhibition at families with young children. The project manager of the new mammal hall observed that “children can step into a hominid’s footprint to see how their foot compares to it” (Boston, 2003). The fossilized footprint allegedly belongs to a 1.5-million-year-old hominid. From there, children can reach out and feel a leathery platypus egg or touch a beaver skull. The child is expected to unknowingly conclude: “I know platypuses and beavers are real. So hominids must be real too.”

Museum employees (if you’ll pardon the pun) make no bones about this hall advocating evolution. The news report released for the grand opening, proudly asserted that the exhibition explains how, as the world changed in the past 210 million years, mammals have evolved and become more diverse. Unlike traditional mammal dioramas, this hall views mammals in settings that tell specific stories of their evolution and adaptation over time, in response to their changing habitats. Robert Sullivan, associate director of the museum, stated: “This hall is about us. Everyone who visits this hall is a mammal…a successfully adapted mammal” (as quoted in Schmid, 2003). In fact, the exhibition’s theme is “Welcome to the Mammal Family Reunion” Come meet your relatives.” Commenting on the grand opening, Randolph Schmid, an MSNBC newswriter, observed:

all mammals are descended from a common ancestor. The exhibition discusses how evolution produced today’s great variety from the tiny shrew-like creature, Morganucodon oelheri. Affectionately known as Morgie to the scientists, this creature lived in the shadow of dinosaurs 210 million years ago and is represented by a bronze model and bigger than life fuzzy toys for sale in the museum shop. An eight-minute video traces the evolution for visitors, who watch in the company of Harriet, a life-size sculpture of a chimpanzee seated on one of the benches (2003).

So, a child gets to watch an evolutionary movie while sitting next to one of his or her alleged ancestors. If that weren’t enough, adults can pay the museum gift store a chunk of money, and receive a fuzzy stuffed animal that will help reinforce these evolutionary teachings.

The new exhibit opened November 15, 2003, and will be catering to children by the thousands during the upcoming holiday season. Sullivan made a point of noting that “none of the animals on display was killed for this exhibit” (Schmid, 2003). While our furry friends may not have been injured for the exhibit, I can’t help but wonder how many young souls will be “injured” as a result of this “exhibit.” Parents and grandparents—beware! Souls are at stake, and the Smithsonian has your children and grandchildren in its sights.


Boston, Gabriella (2003), “Mammal Mania,” The Washington Times, [On-line], URL :

Schmid, Randolph (2003), “Smithsonian Opens New Mammal Hall,” MSNBC, [On-line], URL:


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