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Controversy Brewing over the Darwin 2009 Project at the University of Oklahoma

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This year, the University of Oklahoma is celebrating Darwin with the Darwin 2009 Project. It appears from the speaker list (at least for the names I am familiar with) that where this project touches on the mechanisms for evolution or the wider debate about its potential implications for other areas of life, this is going to be entirely one-sided.

I know from some friends of mine that there is an undercurrent of opposition brewing from OU supporters, alumni, and other Oklahoma residents. Below is the letter I am writing to OU’s President Boren, and I hope that some of you will do the same. Please don’t copy my letter directly – write your own – but feel free to be inspired 🙂

David Boren, President
University of Oklahoma
Office of the President
Evans Hall Room 110
660 Parrington Oval
Norman, OK 73019-3073 
Re: Darwin 2009 Project 

Dear President Boren –

It has come to my attention that the University of Oklahoma is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species with a Darwin Symposium. I fully support the recognition of creative scientists such as Darwin who caused paradigm shifts within their fields. However, going through the list of public lectures and lecturers, it appears that the lecture list is entirely one-sided. Evolutionary biology is a diverse field, and I do not think that it does justice to Darwin or evolution to present to the public such a one-sided picture of science and present it as fact. Michael Ruse, Nick Matzke, and Richard Dawkins are outspoken public figures, all of whom present a very one-sided view of evolutionary theory and natural history, and of the relationship of science with other avenues of inquiry.

As an institution of learning in the state of Oklahoma, it is my hope that OU would present to the public the full range of opinion that is present within science over Darwin’s theories. In addition to the action of natural selection, many other theories as to the origin of the species have been considered and discussed, including, but not limited to, evolution by symbiogenesis (Lynn Margulis), biological self-organization (Stuart Kauffman), evolution through natural genetic engineering (James Shapiro), evolution by intelligent design (Michael Behe), and creationism (Leonard Brand). Aspects of all of these theories are within the bounds of current scientific discussions, and I listed the names of prominent proponents along with the theories.

Obviously, not all of these could be discussed within such a symposium due to time, space, and money constraints. However, with such a rich diversity of viewpoints within the scientific community, it is unfortunate that OU is focusing solely on one vocal viewpoint to the exclusion of others. In fact, the only mention of other viewpoints seems to be Matzke’s talk, for the purpose of deriding them rather than discussing them. If the purpose was to discuss them fairly, it seems that the best way to do this would to bring in a proponent of such a view to air a full hearing, rather than have a partisan opponent airing a straw-man version.

In addition, the inclusion of Richard Dawkins on the list of speakers gives the impression that this series will focus on Darwinian evolution not just as a scientific idea, but as a total worldview. Richard Dawkins hasn’t made any real contributions to science in many years. Most of his current work has been in evangelization for atheism and against Christianity. If the purpose of this symposium is to offer Darwinian evolution as a total worldview (and having Dawkins talking about “purpose” makes it appear this way), then I would hope that the University would provide some balance to the extremes of Richard Dawkins. I do not know of all of the lecturers on the list, but the ones that I do know all seem to have the same basic perspective, though Michael Ruse is at least much more cordial and thoughtful in his presentation.

As a native Oklahoman, it is my hope that the University of Oklahoma will be known for its freedom of inquiry, and not for one-sided dogmatics. It is my hope that you would take this into consideration, and be sure that lectures are scheduled which present a wider range of viewpoints.

Thank you for your consideration.

I've just had a look at the OU Department of Zoology lecture/seminar series for the Darwin 2009 and it strikes me as interesting, though fairly unremarkable. I am fairly confused as to how you can possibly say it's one sided either. I don't understand what, exactly, it is that you expect a science department of a university to have seminars on if it isn't science. And they have bothered to cover quite a few fields and not just centred in Zoology. I must say I've been surprised to find out that they even bothered to have a talk refering to intelligent design. Frankly, Prof. Allen Orr's talk on genetics of speciation sounds brilliant. It's a shame I couldn't go. I will follow your advice letting them know what I think of their choice of talks. Ithaisa
Hey smander, Thank you for the invitation to reevaluate my critique. I agree that the point of the opening paragraph of the OU Department of Zoology Statement on Evolution is merely to provide a general treatise on science education. As you say, simple. Oh, and I apologize for “cherry picking the data,” in spite of the fact that you’ve got access to the original and in your turn, quoted just about as much as I did. But I’m sure my methodology is a clear indication of bias. You’re also right that I’ve always been “generally frustrated with inductive reasoning.” But you’ve helped me get past this, and now I see that variation within species is all the evidence that any smart person needs to sign on to Darwin’s big idea. Finally, I agree that sprinkling water on a window is analogous both in scope and complexity to the work that the scientists did when they, according to the article, “created new species using the same mechanisms that produce species naturally.” Thanks for setting me straight. -sb SteveB
I can't see how anyone could take the use of "stalinist" so literally. I doubt anyone is suggesting that the The Zoology Department at OU wishes to advance Russian nationalism. When I first read it, I took it as a reference to Stalin's rigid authoritarianism. ScottAndrews
Riddick, it's very interesting that you should say that. Your insistence on legitimizing the use of the word "Stalinist" keeps our discussion centered around a moot and ludicrous point. This, in conjunction with a glaring lack of an original retort to the more substantive parts of my argument, leads me to believe that you are unfamiliar with the concept of a gravamen in general. smander
Smander: "Insisting on the usage of the word “Stalinist” is misguided. If you are going to use a word, you must acknowledge its meaning in its entirety. Stalin did not agree with Darwinian evolution. Your comparison of OU Zoology to Stalin, by default, is a failure." SteveB: "I’m inclined to agree with you [smander] that labels like “Stalinist” are uncalled for, as they typically add heat but no light." Your responses to my use of the "S-word" have me wondering if you even grasp the gravamen of this discussion. I refer you to Chapter 16 of Jonathan Wells' book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. riddick
By the way, nice try Riddick. I fully realize that Kenny G has been a far less devoted contributor to music theory as, say, Schenker. You managed to prove my point all by yourself. If Kenny G's novice music theory fails to put the saxophonist in the category of "music theorist," then anyone who does not specialize in the study of zoology is not a "zoologist." By your own logic, your PhD in music theory may place you over Kenny G in a discussion on Schenkerian analysis, but it does not make you a relevant authority on zoological lines of inquiry. SteveB, thank you for acknowledging that inflammatory diction has no legitimate use in our debate. The opening paragraph does not equate safety from certain doom to teaching evolution in public schools. It simply states that kids need "the best possible science education." I am uncertain as to how prescribing a superb science education is fear-mongering. As far as supporting broad claims with specific evidence, I can see how you are generally frustrated with inductive reasoning. If you had cited the entire paragraph rather than cherry-picking your data, you could not have avoided: "Furthermore, the evidence based on facts from molecular biology and geology (i.e. gene sequences, dated fossils) clearly indicates that all living species, including our own, share a common ancestor that is over 3 billion years old." I would say that is a generalized example. I am unsure how a human, intelligent replication of a process automatically makes the original process intelligently governed. I could conceivably replicate the pattern of raindrops on my window, but that does not mean each raindrop had a preordained destination. Those things being said, I invite you to reevaluate your critique. smander
Hi smander, I’m inclined to agree with you that labels like "Stalinist" are uncalled for, as they typically add heat but no light. Having said that, I did read the statement published by OU Zoology, which I frankly was not impressed by. Leaving out the things that have already been mentioned, the writers: • Start by making an appeal to fear, with vague references to impending medical and environmental consequences that our children will be “hobbled by” if evolution doesn’t get more attention in public schools. • Supply a very broad definition of evolution (evolution is said to explain how organisms “diversify into new species,” among other things), while supporting it with very narrow examples. In this case, the irrefutable “observable fact” that insects and viruses are known to evolve into… insects and viruses, respectively. • Contradict their own most cherished maxim—probably without even realizing it. Consider the claim, “humans have created new species using the same mechanisms that produce species naturally.” If humans have created new species, this only happened through the use of the very intelligent agency which evolutionary theory expressly denies. In the end, that reasoning of this quality is trotted out to support the “central unifying theory of biology” is disturbing, to say the least. While I applaud OU’s desire to promote K-12 education, the institution would do well to start by devoting more of their energies to ensuring that students--and maybe even faculty--can think critically. SteveB
Smander apparently ignores the ramifications of the zoology department's statement. His attempt to provide an analogous situation in my department is laudable, but flawed. Imagine that the OU music theory department published a statement that promoted one theory over another. Further, the statement went on to say that the department will brook no competing theories. A statement of this nature would affect all areas of the department: hiring of faculty, guest lectures, graduate student applications, course content, etc. In essence, the statement would rail against every plank of academic freedom. Smander, is this the sort of situation you desire in colleges and universities? By the way, nice try, but J.S. Bach and Kenny G are composers and performers, not theorists. riddick
Smander @ #5 sounds like those dudes who answer like: "You ID people are wrong because today we don't follow darwinism, but NEO-darwinism!" MaxAug
Riddick: I'm not going to apologize for my PhD in Music Theory... Anyone with a Ph.D. in music theory can't be all bad. You might enjoy my piano albums (Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt, Gershwin), available for free download here. GilDodgen
Riddick, your PhD in Music Theory is indeed respectable. However, you must acknowledge that there are certain limitations that your degree places on you--as is the case with any degree. I do not have a PhD in Music Theory; therefore, I would entertain any theories I have on voice leading far less than any you might have to offer. It's nothing personal, it's simply realistic. Insisting on the usage of the word "Stalinist" is misguided. If you are going to use a word, you must acknowledge its meaning in its entirety. Stalin did not agree with Darwinian evolution. Your comparison of OU Zoology to Stalin, by default, is a failure. The self-prescribed duty of OU Zoology is to confer to students the "best possible science education" (your link). I would imagine that the duty is similarly reflected in any other reputable university department. Students are more than capable to take a shotgun spread of classes within the College of Arts and Sciences, educating themselves in science, philosophy, religion, what have you. All of these lines of inquiry are used in concert to explain observable phenomena. It is left to the student to adjust the degree to which he or she relies on each academic mode. That being said, why should Zoology teach anything but what is accepted in science? Diluting a particular department would sentence OU to offering a skewed academic caricature. Such a process would be a disservice to the university's students. OU Zoology admirably serves its function, and is an overwhelmingly legitimate and defensible institution. As far as this frustration toward Darwin 2009 is concerned, let's look at it terms of music theory. Imagine the OU School of Music were to celebrate a significant anniversary pertaining to Johann Sebastian Bach. Imagine the school united virtually every academic department at OU for this cause. If an event were to be organized that intended to bring Bach's musical theory to the public on a wide scale, would you object to it? Now, what if there was a growing movement to have the theoretical accomplishments of Kenny G juxtaposed to those of Bach in an egalitarian fashion? Riddick, what would you do? Would you ignore it, and proceed to preserve your intent to celebrate Bach? Or would you immediately acquiesce, and make the event a political rather than an academic endeavor? smander
Evolutionary biology is a diverse field, and I do not think that it does justice to Darwin or evolution to present to the public such a one-sided picture of science and present it as fact. Michael Ruse, Nick Matzke, and Richard Dawkins are outspoken public figures, all of whom present a very one-sided view of evolutionary theory and natural history, and of the relationship of science with other avenues of inquiry. Nick Matzke? Isn't his area of expertise Geography? Guess his suckin'-up has finally paid off. What a schmuck! Robbie
“However, there is no controversy in the scientific community about the fact of evolution.”
I don't know why, but every time this quote comes up I notice they leave the "s" off the word "facts". Cornelius Hunter has done a masterful job on the website referenced by Gil (#4) of demonstrating the many problems with the "facts" of evolution. Every facet of evolution is unsettled and questionable, but no one doubts the theory or seriously questions it. No wonder these presentations are lopsided! DonaldM
sparc: Yes, Dembski was at OU a couple of years ago and his reception was not very friendly. The film clip you mentioned was filmed and sent to the Harvard film unit were it was deemed a copy of a copyrighted film with the narration changed. The attorneys for Harvard sent Dembski a cease and desist letter and he apparently removed the item from subsequent presentations. A return visit to OU by Dembski is likely again to receive lots of opposition, but he seems to relish such controversy! salamander
smander: Your response to riddick is typical of what we have come to expect from evolution apologists (though you yourself may not be an apologist for evolution). Rather than responding point-by-point, the ad hominem approach is taken beginning with a genetic fallacy (if riddick is in music, his viewpoint muste be inferior), continues with a seemingly deliberate misunderstanding of the adjective "Stalinist", and then ends with another logical fallacy, namely an Appeal To Common Practice (if other universities and departments agree with OU's views, then who is riddick to question it?). Why not take the time to address the points in riddick's letter? For example, do you agree that Dawkins is currently involved in evangelizing for a materialistic worldview (rather than anything approaching hard science)? If so, why shouldn't an objective, free-thinking, public university such as OU be willing to allow views that are counter to materialism? Is science closed to those that allow for design detection? Need I point out that modern science is built on the backs of those that presumed the involvement of an intelligent designer? Did you take the time to see Expelled! (all the way to the end). Dawkins made a fool of himself. He basically said (and I paraphrase) that we may be designed (seeded, for example) and we may some day detect evidence of that design, but he's *confident* that it wasn't done by "God." By his own words, he confirmed the validity of the search for design detection within biology. Unfortunately, Dawkins so hates religion that he is forced to conflate ID with religion because he just can't handle the potential metaphysical consequences of ID. Never mind that design detection is a perfectly legitimate technique in other scientific endeavors (SETI, cryptography, archaeology, forensics, etc. For some reason, biology has a protected status making it immune from consideration of design detection. Sounds more like a philosophical postion than a scientific one. mtreat
From Riddick's link: "evolutionary theory has spurred entirely new disciplines of biology (e.g. biogeography, behavioral and evolutionary ecology, evolutionary medicine, genomics)." That's codswallop. Evo medicine is a joke and has nothing to do with real medicine - i.e. no real doctors need Darwinian theory to function. Genomics? Not at all. Darwin knew practically nothing of the cell. According to our "friends" at wikipedia "Genomics was established by Fred Sanger when he first sequenced the complete genomes of a virus and a mitochondrion. His group established techniques of sequencing, genome mapping, data storage, and bioinformatic analyses in the 1970-1980s." More than 100 years after Origin! And look at this hyperbole, "attempts to falsify evolutionary theory using the scientific method have failed. ...However, there is no controversy in the scientific community about the fact of evolution." So there you have it ladies and gents, it has never been falsified, even though many of it's predictions - often post hoc and ad hoc - have failed. Curiouser and curiouser. Then once again we see the ubiquitous bull droppings of there being no controversy. Well that explains why they had to add that line in - to make sure no one believes there is a controversy. If there really were no controversy they would not have had to write that line at all! Such hubris is yet another denial of the fact that a lot of highly qualified scientists seriously doubt Darwinism. "Biological evolution, defined as genetic change in species over time, is an observable fact" Well jeepers, even creationists would agree with that def. "(e.g. non-random natural selection acting on random mutation) by which organisms change over time (microevolution), become more complex, and diversify into new species (macroevolution)" Ah that's where it no longer works in the real world - macro = micro + Giga years? Sorry you can't just do that kind of extrapolation. Micro is all there really is in the real world and no, there is no evidence at all that extrapolations of micro into macro are valid nor observable or realistic. So this is yet more Darwinist conflation of 2 different things to confuse the innocent. Its amazing that so many generally smart people can also be so incredibly stupid. Take zoologist Richard Dawkins for example - I rest my case. Borne
Smander's ad hominem argument doesn't deserve a response, but I'll provide one anyway. I'm not going to apologize for my PhD in Music Theory, a discipline with a long and distinguished history. "Stalinist" is a perfectly good adjective for describing the current situation in much of academia: intimidation, coercion, and suppression of opposition. My own department at OU is comprised of a number of scholars, and we do not agree on everything. There are many competing ideas in music theory, and we discuss them openly. I couldn't imagine working in a department (like zoology, e.g.) that limited discussion to only one side of any issue. That the statement of OU's Zoology department is "consistent with most major American universities" is sad, indeed, and does not bode well for the future of science in particular and the academy in general. riddick
A few things come to mind when reading Riddick's comment. Riddick is indeed employed by the University of Oklahoma, but records indicate that he is an instructor in the school of music. He does not have a tenured professorship. This position does indicate any legitimate expertise on Zoology curricula, and his attack on the Zoology Department's teaching method needs to be taken with as much salt as is due. Riddick's comment also suggests an inaccurate grasp of historical perspectives. It is unclear how OU Zoology adheres to "Stalinist" points of view. Stalin explicitly opposed Darwinian biology, while Riddick's link indicates OU Zoology utilizes it. Riddick's attack on OU Zoology has two glaring errors worth addressing. For one, OU Zoology has a statement on evolution consistent with most major American universities. Secondly, Darwin 2009 is an event sponsored not only by OU Zoology, but also the departments of Anthropology, Botany and Microbiology, History of Science, Philosophy, Psychology, the School of Computer Science, the College of Education, Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics, the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College, Oklahoma Biological Survey, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, Religious Studies Program, and University Libraries. A pointed attack on OU Zoology based on Riddick's evidence is simply without merit. smander
From Riddick's link: "Indeed, the most useful theories are those that generate many testable predictions and thus leave themselves particularly susceptible to being proven wrong." The abysmal record of Darwinian predictions was just discussed here: https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/darwins-predictions/ GilDodgen
"However, there is no controversy in the scientific community about the fact of evolution." You're right riddick. Here we go again. critiacrof
The Zoology Department at OU is about the most Stalinist institution in academia one can imagine. Check out their statement here: http://www.ou.edu/cas/zoology/evolution.htm After reading that, you'll understand why the presenters at this year's Darwinfest are basically on one side of the argument. As a professor at OU, I am familiar with the formation and acceptance of the statement, as one of my colleagues was the sole dissenter on the committee which reviewed it. riddick
Didn't Dr. Dembski present his version of "The inner life of the cell" at OU just recently? sparc

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