Detailed Schedule of Events
Director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science; Florida State University
Is Darwinism past its 'sell by' date?
In this talk I compare the theory of Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species, published 150 years ago in 1859, with the modern theory of evolution, the theory of 2009. I want to see if any parts of Darwin's thinking persist to this day and if so what parts and what has been changed or discarded and why. In respects, I argue that Darwin's theory is like the People's Car of Germany in the 1930s. Today, there is not one piece of that car still being manufactured and incorporated into today's cars. And yet, the Beetle of today is still recognizably the car of yesterday. To make my case, I look both at the structure of Darwin's theory and then at the various parts of biology - instinct, paleontology, biogeography, systematics, morphology, embryology - and see how they fare today.
David Sloan Wilson - 10:30-11:20 am - Monsanto Auditorium
Distinguished Professor, Departments of Biology and Anthropology, Director of EvoS; Binghamton University
Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives
For complex reasons, evolutionary theory was largely confined to the biological sciences and avoided for most human-related subjects for most of the 20th century. That is now rapidly changing. Like water from a burst dam, evolutionary theory is spreading into virtually every human-related subject, including the humanities in addition to the human-related sciences. This is not fringe science (as often portrayed), but is being reported in the most rigorously peer-reviewed journals. Yet, it is not yet reflected in higher education, public policy formulation, or public understanding of evolution. In the future, evolutionary theory will be as essential for understanding and managing human affairs as the laws of chemistry and physics are essential for understanding and managing the physical world.
Gillian Beer - 11:30-12:20 pm - Monsanto Auditorium
King Edward VII Professor Emeritus; University of Cambridge
The Uses of Extinction
We currently view extinction with dismay and even horror and are encouraged to do so by specialist commentators and by the popular media alike. Darwin saw extinction as ordinary and as necessary to evolutionary change. The degree to which extinction is fundamental to his theory is not much talked about now. Indeed the question - what might be the uses of extinction - may seem to be in bad taste. Such a question is certainly absent from popular discussion. Instead, it is largely taken for granted that extinction is a bad thing, something to be dreaded and fought against. Newspaper headlines highlight the impending loss of beautiful and fascinating species such as tigers and pandas, though mosquitoes and the plasmids that cause malaria are not offered much sympathy or protection. What was the importance of extinction in Darwin's theory? And why have our attitudes towards the concept changed?
Ronald L. Numbers - 2:00-2:50 pm - Monsanto Auditorium
Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine and of Religious Studies; University of Wisconsin-Madison
Creation, Evolution, and the Boundaries of Science and Religion
Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, debate has raged about the proper boundaries of science and religion. Darwin's followers insisted that supernatural explanations should not count as science. His critics, especially during the antievolution movement of the 1920s, argued that speculative theories such as Darwin's did not deserve the good name of "science." A half-century later some antievolutionists began insisting that their views-which they called "creation science" or "scientific creationism"-should pass muster as real science. During the past fifteen years or so a new, nonbiblical, form of opposition to evolution has arisen under the banner of "intelligent design," which seeks to "reclaim science in the name of God" and to change the very rules governing the practice of science.
3:30-5:00 pm - Monsanto Auditorium
Panel with Michael Ruse, David Sloan Wilson, Ron Numbers and Gillian Beer
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, Director Evolution and Human Adaptation Program; University of Michigan Medical School
Why didn't natural selection make humans healthier and nicer?
One cannot help by be amazed, even awed, at many aspects of the human body shaped by natural selection. The eye is so remarkable it disturbed even Darwin. Now that we are trying to imitate what selection shaped, the near-perfection seems even more amazing. Even the best artificial hips only last a decade. Our heart valves open and close 2,500,000,000 times without leaking; no artificial valve comes close. We can climb stairs better than any robot. We can love others and find others who genuinely care about us.
If natural selection can shape such extraordinary near-perfection, why did it leave us with wisdom teeth, narrow coronary arteries, and a narrow birth canal? Why does the eye have a blind spot? Why do we love the very foods that make us obese and send us early to the grave? Why can't we be more satisfied with our lives, and more accepting of people in different groups? Why can't we all just get along?
The tendency in medicine, and in social science, is to think of bodies and minds as amazingly perfect machines that sometimes break and always wear out. But our bodies are very different from machines. They were not designed, and they were shaped to maximize reproduction, if that results in suffering or early death. Recognizing our origins in evolution is the first step to understanding what is wonderful about life and why it can sometimes be so awful. It is also the key to making life longer, healthier and happier.
David Geary - 9:30-10:20 am - Monsanto Auditorium
Curators' Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences; University of Missouri
Darwin and the Evolution of Psychology In the closing pages of On the Origin of Species, Darwin (1859) states, "In the distant future, I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history" (p. 488). The evolution of psychology as a field is proving Darwin's prediction to be correct. The talk will provide a synopsis of the history of evolutionary thought in the field of psychology, and will illustrate how evolutionary principles are being used today to broaden and enrich our understanding of topics traditionally studied by psychologists.
Ann Gibbons - 10:45-11:35 am - Monsanto Auditorium
Correspondent, Science Magazine, author of The First Human: The Race Discover Our Earliest Ancestors
The human Race: The Quest to Find Our Earliest Ancestors
Darwin set in motion the race to search for human ancestors in Africa. Over time, Darwin has been proven right on many points including, in the Descent of Man, his theories that humans were more closely related to chimpanzees than Asian apes, and that the earliest hominids arose in Africa, not Asia. Some of Darwin's ideas have been tested by the discovery of new fossils of human ancestors. His notion that the large brain, upright walking, and tool use all evolved in concert, for example, has been proven wrong. It has now been shown instead that upright walking and tool use came before the big brain. The complex set of issues involved with searching for our earliest ancestors means that the teams doing this research are by necessity interdisciplinary. In fact, the most successful teams are comprised of dozens of Ph.D. level researchers, ranging from geneticists that trace ancient DNA and compare human and primate DNA to paleontologists, geologists, botanists, isotopic chemists, and others. Basically, the National Geographic myth of a tan fossil hunter on camel back stooping down to collect fossils is, well, just a myth.
11:45 am-1:00 pm - Monsanto Auditorium
Panel with Randolph Nesse, Ann Gibbons and Dave Geary