Monday, February 18, 2013

Confessions of an Oklahoma Evolutionist

I gave a presentation last Saturday afternoon in Tulsa. There were 35 people in attendance. It was every teacher’s dream. Not every lecturer’s dream: if your idea is that the audience will just passively absorb what you say, then this audience was not for you. But they were actively engaged in my presentation, and then asked questions for a half hour afterwards. While I think my presentation was good and had many valuable insights, the best part was clearly the audience discussion. In particular, I was not always the person to answer the question. I was ready for disagreement, but it turned out there was none. Convened by the Humanist Association of Tulsa, the audience seemed to consist mostly of Unitarians. But they were very knowledgeable people, including some who were retired scientists and science writers.

Briefly, my point was that evolutionists cannot ignore religion. Religion evolved and may be an instinct. Religion can be good or bad, and we should facilitate the good things and oppose the bad things. I focused on my own experiences, and those of my ancestors in Oklahoma. It was a very personal story, long on experiences and short on science, as appropriate for this audience. A PDF of the script from which I extemporized is at my website. The direct connection is here.

The audience brought up some interesting things to discuss. If I get a chance to post video clips from this session (which I will announce later), I hope to include some of the audience dynamics. One person wanted to know whether technology speeds up or slows down natural selection. Another wanted to know about the humanity and intelligence of the Neanderthals. Another wanted to discuss the origin of languages and the possible pivotal role of women in this process. While I had a lot to say from my extensive reading and writing on these topics, I was happy to defer to my wife, Lee Rice, who has studied and taught linguistics. She took a break from being a camera-person to leading a brief discussion. Thanks!

Julie Angle, on the education faculty at Oklahoma State University, was present, and whenever there was discussion of teaching evolution in Oklahoma, I was able to ask her to help. I said that if I have questions about science education, I would turn to her. I did not plan her presence; it was a lucky blessing. Thanks!

It is always a pleasure when a speaker, even one dressed up like Charles Darwin, can let the audience keep a good discussion going. I tend to be a control freak, but I have learned to deliberately let discussions take on a life and an evolutionary trajectory of their own.

Thanks to Larry Roth and the Humanist Association of Tulsa for sponsoring this presentation.

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