February 05, 2009

Events planned to mark Darwin’s 200th birthday

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will mark the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin this month with lectures, a movie and a panel discussion.

The annual Darwin Day events are set for Monday, Feb. 9, and Wednesday, Feb. 11, at SIUC. Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, will give two lectures followed by a film presentation and panel discussion.

The College of Science at SIUC, along with the departments of anthropology, geology, microbiology, plant biology and zoology, and Sigma Xi are sponsoring the events.

Richard H. Thomas, associate professor of zoology and chair of the events committee, said Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural section is arguably the most powerful scientific idea ever.

“It is certainly in the top two or three. If the previous century was the century of physics, then this century is surely the century of biology,” Thomas said. “Just witness the rapidly growing importance of genomic science to our national economy through agriculture, medicine and pharmaceuticals, and increasingly, energy production. The theory of evolution is at the core of biology, unifying fields as diverse as molecular biology and ecology.”

Forrest is the co-author of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design,” which explains the political and religious goals of the creationist movement. She is also a board member of both the National Center for Science Education and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She has appeared on numerous television and radio news programs and in 2006 received the American Society for Cell Biology’s Public Service Award (along with a co-recipient.) In 2007, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry selected her as a fellow.

Forrest will give two lectures on Feb. 9, the first aimed at the University community. It is titled “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: Intelligent Design Since the Dover Trial.” Forrest will detail the change in tactics forced on creationists who would impose their religious beliefs on science classrooms. Such efforts were addressed in “The Dover Intelligent Design trial of 2005,” and ended with creationists’ comprehensive defeat. Forrest was a key witness in the trial.

This lecture is set for noon in the Life Science III auditorium.

Forrest will give a second lecture, this one open to the general public, titled “Slam Dunk for Science and the Constitution: Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District 2005.” It is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Student Center Auditorium. A reception and book signing in the Corker Lounge will follow the lecture. For more information, contact Thomas at 618/453-7425.

On Wednesday, Feb. 11, the University will present the feature-length documentary “Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus.” The film chronicles the debate between condescending scientists and extreme intelligent designers, poking fun at both sides while shining light on the seriousness of this issue dividing the public. The film begins at 7 p.m. in the Life Science III auditorium.

A panel of SIUC scientists will hold a discussion following the film. Organizers also promise “a special surprise,” along with coffee and cookies. For more information, contact Frank Anderson, associate professor of zoology at 618/453-4136.

Thomas said if Darwin were alive today he’d be impressed with how far science has progressed in understanding heredity and the unity of all life.

“Darwin lacked a proper understanding of the mechanism of heredity, and he knew this was a problem for his theory. He also knew that one day we would figure it out,” Thomas said. “Once we did, it put the theory of natural selection on a very strong footing, upon which we have continued to build. Darwin knew what the problems were, and he knew how central his ideas are to our understanding of life. He would be very pleased to see how far his ideas have taken us, and the vistas they have opened to us.”