Irish bookmaker Paddy Power made headlines last week for offering 4-1 odds on the existence of God. In October, plans for an atheist ad campaign on London buses attracted similar attention; the proposed posters read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Today, the lecture "Talk Radio Evolution: The War on Science and the Second Coming of Scopes," featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes, aims to take a more reasoned and in-depth look at one of the most hotly debated issues of our time.
This is the third and final lecture in the "Faith, Reason, and Evolution" lecture series, conceived of more than a year ago by Professor of Biology Bruce Kohorn, Associate Professor of History Dallas Denery, and Professor of Philosophy Scott Sehon. It will be followed tonight by a panel discussion, moderated by Kohorn, featuring Humes alongside Professor of Biology Nathaniel Wheelwright, Professor of Government Paul Franco, and Associate Professor of Biology Michael Palopoli.
"Especially in this era of sound bites and quick dismissal of opposing points of view, we thought that it would be good to have a substantive and civil discussion of these issues," Sehon said.
Edward Humes began his writing career as a journalist. In 1989, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his work about the military. According to Humes, it was "the fifth-best thing that has ever happened" to him as well as "thrilling" and "humbling."
He then went on to write non-fiction, starting with true crime books. He began to look more at the justice system in the United States. This trail led him to the 2005 case of "Kitzmiller v. Dover" in Pennsylvania, a trial which examined "whether the alternative of evolution known as intelligent design is appropriate for public school science class or represents an unconstitutional introduction of religion into the public schools," Humes said.
Last year saw the release of Humes's ninth book, "Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul," a work about the trial in Pennsylvania, which, according to Denery, inspired his selection as a speaker.
Concepts of evolution and intelligent design are at the center of "Monkey Girl."
"It's wonderfully well-written, but what I liked in particular was Humes's attention to the local details in Pennsylvania, among the teachers and members of the school board, that exacerbated the controversy over intelligent design," Denery said.
"My approach in writing 'Monkey Girl' was to strive to be fair in representing all viewpoints and characters involved in this case. Emotions ran high in Dover, where this issue divided a school, a community, and even members of the same family. So I worked hard to create a well-rounded portrait of the people and the ideas at issue," Humes wrote in an e-mail to the Orient.
"Given that the first two meetings of the colloquium concerned some of the big ideas and intellectual problems behind current debates, it seems like a natural to focus in on the specific ways those problems actually took root in a specific community," Denery added. "It is amazing to learn how little some of the people who were central to the controversy actually understood about evolution and intelligent design."
Kohorn noted that, however polarized the debate may seem, there is "a continuum. And you can't draw lines between [the extremes]."
"If you don't know the answer to something, people like me are quite happy to say, 'I don't know the answer.' Other people may say, 'Yes, we don't know the answer, but since I believe in God, I know there is an answer.'" In between, "There are people saying, 'I have no idea whether there's a god,'" Kohorn added.
The three lectures in the series follow an intentional progression. In the first, Professor Jon D. Levenson of the Harvard Divinity School explored "Genesis and the Creation of the World." Because Genesis is "the book that generates all the controversy," and because "a lot of people don't know what it says," it was a fitting place to begin, according to Denery.
Last week, Professor Patrick H. Byrne of Boston College presented the second lecture, "Why Do People Think Science and Faith Are Incompatible?" Byrne addressed the ways the two are alike and how they are different.
"What's the difference between religion and a scientific belief?" was the question that provided the foundation for the talk, according to Denery.
"Do they use different kinds of evidence? A lot of the debate arises from people who say, 'My belief in creation is exactly the same as your belief in the big bang, or evolutionary theory,'" Denery added.
Above all, the lecture series emphasizes understanding and open discussion across the board. Kohorn believes that young people today have "access to far more information and far more explanations of how things work than previous generations." However, "the interpretation is harder because there's more of it and it's more complex. So the job of science is to be able to present it in an understandable fashion to non-scientists," he said.
"It's okay to have a belief and be able to accept scientific concepts," Kohorn added.
Kohorn hopes today's discussion will carry on, but sees it moving in a different direction.
"I think it's got a lot of people talking and thinking, which is great?that was the intent," he said. "Just the ability to explore and have people decide for themselves."
"Talk Radio Evolution: The War on Science and the Second Coming of Scopes" is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Cleaveland Hall, Room 151, followed at 7:30 p.m. by the panel discussion at Kresge Auditorium in the Visual Arts Center.