Thursday, February 12, 2009

Celebrating Darwin Day 2009

Last night we had our celebration of Darwin Day. It featured a showing of the PBS NOVA documentary Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. We were fortunate to have two of our scholars come and speak to put the film in context and answer questions from the audience. This was definitely a treat as both professors were knowledgeable, insightful, and engaging. I opened the event with some short remarks about Darwin Day and the purpose of our event: to recognize the achievements and legacy of Charles Darwin and to promote public understanding of evolutionary sciences. With almost 30 people, we had a pretty good audience, and I feel encouraged that we can do more events like this one here.

I did not take great notes on the professors' remarks as I was just really caught into listening. But I did manage to catch a few lines:

From Dr. Don Killebrew's remarks (Professor and Head of Biology Department):
  • took some time to explain how science works using rational processes. He used examples of how we make decisions to illustrate the point, showing how we do research and test choices before making a big decision, like buying a hybrid car.
  • On the idea that evolution is "just a theory," he explained that in science, a theory is a powerful thing, more so than the mere facts. This is so because a theory is a powerful documented explanation of a process.
  • In science, God is not part of the process because his presence cannot be tested. It does not mean God or miracles do not exist; it means they are not testable.
  • Dr. Killebrew also pointed out that most scientists are actually religious; he mentioned there are surveys and polls that show that (I may need to look some up for linking).
  • Science deals with natural phenomena. A theory is tentative precisely because it is testable. The theory of evolution continues to explain biological processes today.
  • Biology classes have become the ground zero as creationists try to discredit science teachers or science itself. A second tactic creationists use against science is their push for intelligent design.
  • After the film, he told us of one student who chose to drop his class. The reason the student gave was: "I cannot learn something I don't believe in." Personally, I find that to be a very sad answer, refusing to learn something and close yourself to other ideas because you yourself may not believe in it.
  • Intelligent design may try to poke holes into evolutionary theory. However, evolutionary biologists constantly try to poke holes in their own theories as well, including evolution. They are trying to learn what they don't know.
  • Science is not a democratic process; it is evidence-based.
From Dr. Wesley Hickey's remarks (Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Superintendent Program):
  • Told us that the documentary will look at the Kitzmiller case, which was decided in 2005.
  • He began his remarks with some context and case history, starting with the Scopes Trial.
  • Noted that Texas is a strong anti-evolution state, which can be seen in some of the recent actions of the State Board of Education.
  • ID is invoking the supernatural, which is meaningless to science.
  • The Constitution does require that our public institutions stay out of religion. Therefore, Americans need to be proud of two things: science and the Constitution (as in these are two great American achievements).
  • The Kitzmiller case is likely to go to the Supreme Court some day in some form given the persistence of the ID groups.
  • After the film, Dr. Hickey mentioned that science is about looking for a natural explanation. Religion deals with the supernatural, seeking to make the supernatural legitimate.
About the film, I have to say that it was excellent. After the showing, audience members expressed that they liked it as well and found it to be well made. I will say that it does provide a very good overview of the case but also of the issues surrounding the debate between evolution and intelligent design. PBS NOVA clearly tried to make a very balanced presentation, and it shows. I highly recommend this film, and for our locals, the library does own it, so feel free to go check it out. And I would like to take a moment to thank our professors who gave of their time to give us a great educational experience. And I would like to thank those who came as well for participating and for their questions.

Finally, I would like to provide some additional links in honor of Darwin Day for my two readers:

  • Learn more about Darwin Day at their official website.
  • 2009 is the Year of Science, from the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science.
  • Professor P.Z. Myers's blog, Pharyngula, is very popular. He is an assistant professor of biology at U. of Minnesota-Morris. When not writing about biology and evolution, he does blog about ID and other issues of science and society.
  • Panda's Thumb is another excellent blog on evolution and biology.
  • Nature has some podcasts on Darwin today. After today, you can probably find the podcasts on the site's archive.
  • The National Center for Science Education was mentioned in the film. They are a great resource for science education and the defense of science.
  • The Humanist Community sponsors the event. Here is their observance site.
  • And though it pains me personally to link to it, in the interest of showing the ID side, this is the link to the ID think tank Discovery Institute. For a quick overview of the think tank, here is their Wikipedia entry.

1 comment:

John M. Jackson said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful Darwin Day event. Thanks for sharing and providing the helpful links.