By MICHAEL McCAMMAN
Nov. 11, 2009
On November 6, 8, and 9, 2009, the American Humanist Association (AHA) held a series of events exploring science, evolution and creationism. The events featured leading scientists and academics and were open to the public and the press.
The kick off was a Friday lunchtime panel at the National Press Club featuring Eugenie Scott, Barbara Forrest and Kenneth Miller. All three were involved in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Areas School District case that found Intelligent Design had no place in science classrooms.
The panel, titled Evolution v. Creationism: the Politics, the Science, the Debate, was held in honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150thanniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.
Scott, who is the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, galloped through the history of the teaching of evolution and creation. She effectively pointed that while the text from which creation is derived has been static, (the Bible), the façade under which it has been introduced into curriculum has been ever shifting.
While in the past, creation has at times appeared outright theocratic and vulnerable to court challenges, "creationism du jour", is dressed in the garb of "academic freedom" and "critical analysis", and is a much more insidious foe. While academic freedom and critical analysis have benign, if not positive connotations, in the hands of the radical right they are weapons used to promote ignorance and biblical thinking.
As "academic freedom" bills make their way across the country, there are people like Barbara Forrest who stand up against them. Forrest's talk was specifically about her experiences with one such "academic freedom" bill in Louisiana. (Forrest teaches philosophy at Southeastern Lousiana University and is a leading proponent of science education and the separation of church and state.)
She spoke of the specific consequences of the bill. There have been some economic losses due to the bill, with conferences pulling out of the state; but, for the most part, it seems, to Forrest, that the state got away with passing a bill that requires support for teachers who choose to teach "criticisms" of evolution in the classroom.
While Louisiana got away with slapping evolution in the face, the United States may not.
Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology, as well as a science advocate, told of his experiences growing up following Sputnik. He spoke of "riding the wave" of scientific investment. Scientists were once superstars, not anymore. Now, with all the challenges and fights in our schools, Kenneth Miller asks "What are we teaching our children?"
Miller said that science is not held in high regard and the best and brightest students no longer go on to be scientists and engineers–but investment bankers on Wall Street. Look where that has gotten us, Miller pointed out.
On Sunday, I attended a special screening of a film at the Heritage Center of the Navy Memorial: Vivekanand Palavali's Creator of God: A Brain Surgeon's Story. (Palavali is a brain surgeon as well as a documentarian.)
Only a select few have seen the film at festivals around the country where it has won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Action on Film (AOF) International Film Festival. Those who made it to D.C., last weekend were able to join that elite group, free of charge. The film is not currently available in stores or through online vendors.
Approximately 60 people came to the screening. The film explored the historical and physiological origins of religious beliefs and phenomena. It was fast paced and had fantastic images from around the world. After the film, there was a short Q&A followed by a meet-and-greet with the director outside the theatre.
The following morning about 20 individuals gathered at the National Press Club to hear Jonathan Moreno and Andrew Light speak about bioethics and bio-politics.
Moreno, who was on President Obama's transition team for bioethics, began by trying to define those ambiguous terms, finally, comically, settling on a Wikipedia definition. He then raced through a history of bioethics controversies before presenting an interesting political analysis.
According to Moreno, some neoconservatives have their intellectual groundings in Marx (capitalism commodifies people–that's bad) and bioethicists didn't involve themselves in political fights until Clinton's presidency. I'm skeptical, but was fascinated all the same.
The charismatic Andrew Light followed with a discussion of climate change. According to Light, what was once a political fight is now a matter of physics. Even if the developed world stopped emitting carbon, Earth would still have intolerable warming because of growth in the rest of the world. As a result, while Kyoto could ignore much of the world, Copenhagen cannot.
Light also showed that many of the early estimates that Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied on were conservative. He advanced a new analysis from his employer, the Center for American Progress, that showed acting now actually saves the U.S. money over the next decade. It was the most interesting climate change talk I have ever heard… and I have heard many.
Light and Morena are both senior fellows at the Center for American Progress.
Light's talk and his Powerpoint presentation are available on our website along with multimedia from every one of the events. Please visit: http://www.americanhumanist.org/2009/November_Events
(Michael McCamman is the communications and policy assistant for the American Humanist Association. He holds a BA in history and political science from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.)