Forget sweet 16: Darwin, Duquesne fete 200 years
Duquesne professors David Lampe, left, and John Pollock, pose for a portrait inside the university's Mellon Science Hall. The pair will be holding a Darwin Day celebration to recognize Darwin's birthday and the importance of evolution in life.
Share with others:
Almost two centuries after his birth and nearly 150 years after publishing his seminal work on evolution, Charles Darwin still stirs controversy, even though his ideas are the foundation of modern biology and medicine.
To add clarity to the controversy, Duquesne University biology professors David Lampe and John Pollock are pressing forward with a university campaign to school the public on evolution.
In the next 18 months, they plan to take their campaign citywide to help eliminate residual doubt about the theory that's fueled the science versus religion debate.
"Initially, some people were hostile and sent e-mails to the [university] provost in protest," said Dr. Lampe, who has organized the university's Darwin Day celebrations since 2003. "But now it's diminished to almost nothing. Maybe people are getting the message, or maybe they are just worn out."
With Darwin anniversaries dotting the calendar, Duquesne's celebration will surround the 200th anniversary of Darwin's Feb. 12, 1809, birthdate, and the 150th anniversary of the Nov. 24, 1859, publication of "On the Origin of Species."
Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the first public discussion between Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace about the idea of evolution by natural selection.
Next spring, experts in evolutionary science will give weekly lectures at Duquesne and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, with six evening lectures addressing broader impacts of evolutionary theory on religion, politics, psychology and human identity.
Duquesne also is partnering with museums and institutions citywide to emphasize Darwin's ideas that describe life's development on Earth.
Dr. Pollock, who produces films with scientific themes, is developing "A Synthetic Darwin" in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.
The display, destined for the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore, will allow people to ask Darwin, or at least an actor depicting him, questions about his life and ideas. Other experts will answer questions about scientific developments since Darwin's death and the cultural repercussions of his theories.
Darwin biographer Janet Browne of Harvard University will lecture at the Carnegie Music Hall on Darwin's life and thought.
Various displays honoring Darwin and discussing relevant principles of modern biology are being planned for Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Science Center, among others.
Duquesne's Red Masquers will present George Bernard Shaw's play, "The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles."
Information, dates and times on events will be posted at www.duq.edu/darwin2009, where people can sign up for e-mail alerts of upcoming events.
Each event also will focus on teachers and curriculum development in evolution for elementary and middle schools.
"What Darwin set in motion is a fundamental theory of science that is essential to education," Dr. Lampe said.
Still, some science teachers in public schools hesitate to teach evolution, leaving students unprepared for college-level biology classes, Drs. Lampe and Pollock said.
Despite U.S. court rulings forbidding public school teachers from teaching explicitly religious alternatives to evolution, one in eight high school biology teachers still present creationism as a scientifically valid alternative, a Penn State University study concluded in March.
That trend represents "a disconnect between legal rulings, scientific consensus and classroom education," the study said.
The Penn State study found that most biology teachers spend five hours or less on evolution, the cornerstone of biological science.
"When they do teach it, they catch flak," Dr. Lampe said. For that reason the Duquesne campaign will focus on teachers "on the front line of the fight."
"Our goal is to try to help people understand that evolution is important science and need not conflict with religious beliefs."
First Published July 3, 2008 12:00 am