Saturday, February 11, 2012

Darwin Day

Tomorrow is Charles Darwin's birthday.  My school celebrated "Darwin Day" on Wednesday with a seminar during the lunch hour and an evening event including a speaker, panel, and yes, even birthday cake.

Being the nerd that I am, I attended all of it and was probably one of very few students not required by a teacher to be there.  I overheard a lot of students complaining about having to go, and the fact that the place was packed proves that they were being coerced.  Otherwise those seminars are full of faculty and staff, but pretty devoid of students - except yours truly.

Earlier this week, I was discussing evolution with a couple other Biology Ed majors.  The big thing that stuck out to me in our discussion was that people think they have to choose between evolution and religion.  One of my classmates told about a girl that was completely turned off to science altogether because of evolution.  I think that is probably quite common.  And it's sad.  I don't believe that science and religion or a faith in a Supreme Being should be mutually exclusive or that in order to be a good scientist, you need to be atheist.
But that is exactly the question I posed to the panel - are they mutually exclusive and do you need to be atheist?  The panel had 2 BYU professors on it who responded and then an atheist philosopher who argued every point the others made, and in fact, they went off on a tangent about the Book of Mormon and lack of DNA evidence tying the Native Americans to the middle east and it started an argument.  It wasn't my fault, I swear.  So obviously the BYU people think it's fine to have both science and religion, and the atheist said bluntly that it definitely makes it easier to be atheist and believe evolution is how the natural world works.

Dr. Heath Ogden was the one who gave the speech prior to the panel and he pointed out that only 40% of Americans accept evolution, but that a bunch of religions (including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I belong to) have stated that they have no problem with science.  I mentioned in my question that I don't get the vibe that this kind of open-mindedness is returned by the scientific community.  I feel like the people on the panel were the exceptions to the rule, and that many scientists are more like the philosopher was.  (This goes back to my post on Darwin as Dogma.)

One of them did point out, however, a few good examples.  Many contributers to evolutionary science are religious.  Then there is the poignant exaple of Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins.  Dawkins is an atheist who said "you can't be a good scientist and religious."  I remember seeing this quote when I was searching for general science quotes last year and that really got me thinking about how scientists see religious people.  The panelist said that in response to this, Francis Collins challenged Dawkins "show me how you've been a better scientist than I have," to which Dawkins had no response.

The philosopher on the panel said that it's definitely easier to be an atheist because of Darwin.  Before then it was pretty impossible.  As it turns out, this man was regurgitating a quote by Dawkins:
"I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin's Origin of Species was published"  "...although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist".
-- R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton, London, pp. 5,6  (http://community.beliefnet.com/go/thread/view/43991/22490045/Einstein,_Hawking,_and_the_Mind_of_God?pg=11)


The day after all this, I went to a meeting put on by the Wildlife and Botany Clubs about research and internships, and Dr. Ogden wants to do research on how to teach evolution to help people accept it.  I went and met with him Friday because I want to help with this.  Turns out he's LDS too and so we might take the angle of finding out how LDS people view evolution, what teaching methods would be effective in increasing acceptance of evolution, etc.  I'm really excited to get to help with this research.  I hope to prevent having my own students decide to hate science because it tries to rob them of their faith.

I love how this Coexist logo includes science with all the religions!

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