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.