Was Gerard Krefft sacked for being an evolutionist?
Published: 5 November 2015 (GMT+10)
The Australian Museum1 claims it has righted a wrong against one of its earliest curators Johann Ludwig Gerard Krefft whom they say was sacked for being—wait for it—an evolutionist!
Known as Gerard Krefft, he was curator from 1864 to 1874, and was physically removed from office in a public and humiliating manner. He subsequently sued for unfair dismissal and the government of the day agreed to pay some compensation but—for various reasons including that he refused to accept the terms under which it was awarded—he did not receive the full amount.2
The museum’s current director, Kim McKay, has given up her traditional office space and turned it into the ‘Krefft Room’ as a tribute to the zoologist and palaeontologist. Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, devoted almost seven minutes to that story on its 7.30 television program.3
After talking about Mr Krefft’s expeditions and how he had to eat a bandicoot4 to survive, reporter David Spicer said:
“A meal also led to his most significant scientific discovery. A lungfish served at a dinner party prompted him to describe it as the missing link between fish and amphibians. And so his discovery of direct evidence of evolution made him a natural ally of Charles Darwin.”3
(The Australian lungfish is no longer considered to be a transition between fish and amphibians).
Speaking about Mr Krefft’s dismissal, Ms McKay said:
“In those days the trustees were mostly creationists; Charles Darwin’s new theories of evolution through his Origin of the Species book had really not taken hold but Krefft was a very forward-thinking scientist of his day and he really embraced Darwin’s new evolutionism theories and the Trust didn’t like it so they wanted to fire him.”3
But the reporter’s handling of the story is a sad reflection of the way in which the media on many occasions presents an unbalanced view because—in this case—the museum’s spin on the story is accepted, evolution is assumed to be true and newspaper reports and/or court documents are not referenced. A simple online search clearly reveals that far from being the victim of some vendetta, it was Mr Krefft’s obstructionist actions that actually contributed to his dismissal.5 Even the judiciary disagreed over whether the trustees had the right to dismiss Mr Krefft,2 as did the politicians of the day.6
And when Mr Krefft appealed for help from his staunch ally Sir Henry Parkes (who is known as Australia’s ‘Father of Federation’) the then premier made the following pointed reply:
“You have been much to blame for indiscretion & in some cases disobedience … I have great respect for your undoubted ability & am truly sorry that you should be involved in such a disagreeable difficulty.”2
The Parkes government was even accused of siding with Mr Krefft against the museum’s trustees.6
While the decision of the present-day curator to honour Mr Krefft for his scientific achievements may have merit, questions remain about the manner in which the man conducted himself while in charge of the Australian Museum.
Trying to determine the supposed agenda of the trustees in the 1870s is impossible but any suggestion that Mr Krefft was sacked solely because he was an evolutionist is to read something into the public record that is simply not there.5
After all, why sack any scientist just because of what they believe about origins? Of course, the double standards are staggeringly obvious more than a century later because creationists do lose their jobs because they express doubts about evolution as has been particularly well documented by Jerry Bergman in his book Slaughter of the Dissidents as well as by Ben Stein’s confronting film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
Compare what happened to Mr Krefft with the numerous clear cases of discrimination against creationists in modern times7 and decide for yourself if any wrongs need to be righted.
References and notes
- The Australian Museum is in Sydney and is the nation’s first such institution. Return to text.
- Krefft, Johann Ludwig (Louis) (1830–1881), adb.anu.edu.au, accessed 23 July 2015. Return to text.
- Spicer, D., Museum curator sacked for supporting evolution gets overdue tribute, abc.net.au, August 2014. Return to text.
- A marsupial from the order Peramelemorphia. Return to text.
- Australian Museum, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 April 1875, p. 9; http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28403194; Note the report details the accusations against Mr Krefft. Return to text.
- The Parliament, The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 24 April 1875, p. 531; http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162489747. Note: Other newspaper articles detail parliamentary debates about Mr Krefft. He had both supporters and detractors. See trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper?q=. Return to text.
- To, L., If you can’t beat them, ban them, J. Creation 23(2):37–40, April 2009; creation.com/slaughter. Return to text.