March 2008

What Would Darwin Do?

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group

by Craig Wilkinson, MD

David N. Campbell is a retired university professor. He is founder and past president of the Center for Inquiry Community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Currently, he becomes Charles Darwin for a weekly cable television show and for live performances. He prepared for this over a three year period, reading everything Darwin wrote that was available, including the four volume, From So Simple a Beginning edited by E.O. Wilson. He read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species three times. The article “What Would Darwin Do?” is a synopsis of some of the main points he makes during his presentations.

Quoting from the article: “When people proudly announce, as so many do, ‘I don’t believe in evolution.’ I politely reply, ‘Neither do I. No one believes in evolution. Evolution is science. It is not about believing in anything. We either know and understand–which is why you have these electric lights, and can expect to live beyond the age of 40–or we are in the process of knowing and understanding.'” In just a few words the author summarizes my philosophy of life. I think most humanists, agnostics, and scientists would agree with Darwin. The only message we can hope to pass on after our demise is what science has achieved, how it has transformed all our lives, and how much more there is to know and understand. There are no true alternatives, just a desperate longing for some hope to be spared, to be exempt from the reality we have finally come to know.

Darwin’s life was a transformation from a more standard philosophy of life to that of a scientist. Many people do not know that he completed a degree in theology before he became a naturalist, and before he journeyed around the world on the ship HMS Beagle. He, himself stated that early in the voyage of the Beagle he talked with his shipmates about his natural science studies from a biblical language, but by the end of the voyage he used a more “naturalistic” language.

Darwin struggled with his own religious hopes and yearnings for many years. Quoting again from the article: “There must be ‘something’ beyond this world. There has to be a creator, a mover.” Darwin went through this questioning acutely when his precious Annie died in his arms at age ten. Darwin wrote, “After that, I no longer accompanied Emma to church. I knew for sure then that there was no loving benefactor anywhere in this world or the universe. I was just beginning to understand. What obviously existed was the struggle to survive that I had observed.”

The article ends with Darwin’s admonishing us about others. “I know firsthand, as do all scientists, that it is not easy thinking, and perhaps we should consider the possibility that we can never expect everyone–or even most–to think in this fashion.

I would end with the admonishment; we need to expect others to think rationally, we really have no other choice.

President’s Message

February was a busy month, starting with our annual membership meeting and social. We enjoyed an evening together with excellent food and some lovely music performed by Anke Summerhill and Bill Stoye.

On February 12th we had our first annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” I’m happy to report that it was a great success. There were about 80 people at both of the featured lectures.

Planning this event was a first for most of us on the Darwin Day committee, and we worried about the size of the crowd. So the number of people who actually showed up, gave us a sigh of relief and let us enjoy the happenings.

Professor Kristen Hawkes and her associate Henry C. Harpending, started with presentations about Anthropology and Genetics. In the afternoon we showed an excellent video on the life of Charles Darwin. Our evening speaker Professor Scott Sampson gave a presentation focused on the need to address scientific illiteracy. We ended the day by celebrating with a birthday cake with the likeness of Darwin on it.

I want to thank the many people who made this event possible: the Board of Directors of the Humanists of Utah who believed in and approved this event, and the Darwin Day committee members who worked hard for many weeks to make everything happen: Cindy King, Sarah Smith, and John Chesley. Special thanks are in order for Dr. Craig Wilkinson for arranging the speakers and for his work and enthusiasm for the event. I’d also like to give special recognition to Julie Mayhew, for all her work in coordinating our efforts with the various entities at the University of Utah. We also had many volunteers, whom we are very grateful for and appreciate their help. Lastly, I wish to thank the Utah Friends of Paleontology for their fine display of fossils and for being there with us on Darwin Day.

At this point I want to include a portion of my opening remarks for Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah, so those of you who didn’t attend will know why I advocated for this event.

“Today, February 12, 2008, is the 199th birthday of Charles Darwin. We are here to celebrate this milestone, his life in general, and most importantly, his invaluable contributions to science. I can think of no better way to honor this great man than by our being here today. I think Mr. Darwin would be proud that we are here, on this campus, acknowledging the role science plays in our lives and the importance of keeping it at the forefront in all that we do.

When one thinks of Charles Darwin, of course evolution is the first thing that comes to mind. As we all know, evolution is not just a theory or an idea, it is a fact, and as part of that vast body of knowledge we call science, is one of the greatest discoveries ever made. This alone is a great reason to celebrate.

But there is another reason to have events like this one, and that is to advocate for science. Science is always under scrutiny, and rightly so. But recently it has faced not only scrutiny, but also outright attacks, which alarmingly are on the increase. I suppose that there have always been those who have a hard time with new information that supplants the old. That is understandable.

However, to those who say the earth is only 6000 years old, I say, NONSENSE!

When they say that the Grand Canyon was carved by the Flood, only a few thousand years ago, I say NONSENSE! I could go on and on. And I will, saying one more thing while I have the bully pulpit.

When a Creationist web site states, and I quote, “the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us” I am unwilling to take this crap lying down. We must be willing to combat this nonsense and these false accusations. I think events like this today are an important way to do just that.”

And now we start planning for next year. On March 9th the Darwin Day committee will meet and begin working to make Darwin’s bicentennial birthday celebration a grand event. We already have people from other departments at the University of Utah expressing a desire to be a part of next year’s celebration, as well as individuals at Westminster College. There is much to be done in order to make this expanded Darwin Day a success. With that in mind, I ask that you consider joining our committee and help us make it truly a grand event. Also please consider making a donation to help finance this event. Hosting an event of this kind requires a substantial commitment of resources of both time and money. The budget we can put together for this event will determine how “grand” we can make it.

The board of directors is also hoping to host one other event each year, perhaps a forum on the U. S. Constitution or the separation of church and state; an event on a subject other than science. Suggestions are welcome.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU