February 24, 2007

AAAS Symposium: Evolution at the Grassroots

Since Tara* and John have both written about the symposium already (follow the links), I thought I would just highlight a couple of things that occurred to me during the presentations.

Eugenie Scott gave a brief history of creationism/evolution with respect to citizen science organizations, noting that the internet has given these groups a greater platform from which to distribute information. I finished E.O. Wilson's The Creation before I left for San Francisco, and he devoted the entire last chapter to "Citizen Science", encouraging (and relishing in the thought of) nonscientists - business persons, lawyers, chefs, moms, dads and kids, etc. - helping in bioassays, bioblitzes, compiling data, volunteering at labs and conservation organizations to not only get people outside, but to open wide the doors of science and make it accessible. If education is indeed the end goal, the coup de grĂ¢ce to creationism and pseudoscience, hands on learning like this is far superior to any other form. Giving science a face (as with blogging), making it personal, without jeopardizing its objective integrity might ease some of the difficulties the general public has with science (and math, for that matter).

Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project talked about Evolution Sunday and its successes for a bit, seeking to reframe the dialogue between evolution accepting people and the believers of creationism (There was much talk of knee jerk reactions to creationist assertions and of setting the parameters of the argument between all of us at The Stinking Rose on the previous night.) Zimmerman had 612 congregations participate in Evolution Sunday this year, a 30% increase from last year.

Other measures of success? "Lots of people have been calling me offensive," said Zimmerman.

Evolution Sunday leaves room for the pastor/congregation to decide how to celebrate, one of the greatest aspects of the event, said Zimmerman. One congregation from Colorado constructed a sort of labyrinth of science and distributed rosaries depicting the scientific events of the formation of the universe/earth/life.

In the future he plans to include congregations from other religions, specifically Judaism and Islam.

A couple of organizers from the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) spoke at the symposium, and one of the most poignant criticisms of the Clergy Letter Project came from Connie Bertka, program director of the DoSER.

Bertka's concern was that Evolution Sunday was too limited to be a comprehensive solution to the anti-evolution movement.

"Evolution Sunday will not reach evangelicals," said Bertka, the main religious group denying the evidence for evolution and condemning the faithful that embrace the idea. She's right; of the 612 congregations that signed on to participate in Evolution Sunday, only one signatory was evangelical.

Bertka said the main problem with Evolution Sunday is that it is not framed in the context of religious discussion. She questioned whether the choice of Darwin's birthday as the day for discussion among churches was "wise", suggesting that even this small detail could lead to polarization in the current climate.

Bertka also promoted a "contact" model between science and religion (as opposed to a NOMA style model), encouraging the admission that the two "fields" do intersect, and a continuing dialogue is the only immediate solution.

Rev. Henry Green, an evangelical Baptist minister straight out of my hometown of Annapolis, Maryland, shared his experiences with Evolution Sunday and the culture wars in his area. Very early he made a distinction between fundamentalists and evangelicals, saying that, at his church, "We don't check our brains at the door."

Green believes that fundamentalism is a result of fear; xenophobia, the fear of technology and the loss of tribalism ("gangs") are all threats to fundamentalists. They see themselves as victims, define themselves by oppression. "They are the new puritans," said Green.

Finally, Jon King of the Darwin Festival in Shrewsbury, England gave a PowerPoint tour of Darwin's birthplace, while Bob Stephens of the Darwin Day Celebration spoke a bit about his organization and the event. (I might be taking a little trip to England next year if time and money permits. Shrewsbury looks like a lovely place.)

With eight speakers and one moderator (Irv Wainer from the National Institute on Aging and the Alliance for Science), there was little time for questions, but several teachers were able to address the issue of evolution in the classroom and discuss the potential for change in the future. The gears are starting to rotate, but it will take a constant effort to build up momentum for this movement in the public forum.

*An incriminating photo did surface over at Aetiology...

No comments:

Post a Comment