Thursday, February 19, 2009

AWESOME Week at BYU...Charles Darwin's 200th birthday all week long

So, last week at BYU there were daily presentations given by BYU professors all over campus about evolution, because it was the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. LOVED it. Very enlightening. Evolutionary Biology is the capstone senior-level course for Biology majors at BYU, and it's so cool for me to be taking that class during this historical time of Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his book Origin of the Species.

One of the talks was given by a professor of entomology, and it was about how there's different ways of learning: by faith, by study, by science, by consensus, etc. and that Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln (who shares the same birthday as Charles Darwin), and Joseph Smith, each left us a legacy of one of those types of learning. I pasted a short article about it from BYU's Daily Universe newspaper below.

There was another good article that I feel represents the true feelings of professors and students here at BYU on the topic of evolution. It basically said that most students here do not view the scientific theory of evolution and the story of the creation as described in Genesis as being an "either-or" proposition. I pasted that article below on top of the other.

I think it's TRULY sad that Texans will be voting in March on an amendment as to whether creationism/intelligent design (sometimes called "scientific creationism" by it's lobbyists) will be taught along with evolution in public school science classes. That is SO backwards, because it's TAKING us backwards to the dark ages when truly enlightened thinkers were burned as witches. Creationism isn't's faith-based. You don't go about learning natural laws of science by bringing in the stories of Genesis. You just don't. Science and scientific theories are self-correcting, because they can be disproven or falsified. Anything that is faith-based cannot be falsified, and so it isn't a science -- and therefore, "scientific" creationism is not scientific.

Even creationism's leading intellectual, Duane Gish, PhD said in his book, "Evolution: The Fossils Say No" (page 42), "We cannot discover by scientific investigation anything about the creative processes used by the Creator." The main leader of creationism plainly contradicts his own claims and backs our own point that "scientific" creationism isn't scientific -- so, should it be taught in science classes? No. It belongs in a theology class, if anywhere.

Anyway, our mandate to "to keep the earth and have dominion over the earth" denotes that we are only stewards. I LOVE the Creation, as I believe God also does, more than we know. If we are indeed fellow creatures of all the living creations of our Heavenly Father, and if we have a duty to "keep" and be stewards of the earth, then I think it's more faith-inspiring if we ARE related -- genealogically, genetically, and evolutionarily -- to our fellow creations. And THAT knowledge alone gives me more faith to be a better steward, conservationist, and "keeper" of the earth and the fellow creations that live upon it.


Science professors don't view evolution as an 'either-or' proposition

By Alicia Moulton - 9 Feb 2009

Most biology faculty and students do not have a problem reconciling faith with their study of evolution, and many even find it spiritually inspiring.

"Too often we assume a false dichotomy," said biology professor Jerry Johnson. "Yet one can accept evolution and still be a faithful follower of Christ."

Students study evolution every semester, whether in the senior capstone class Biology 420, evolutionary biology, or in Biology 100. Charles Darwin's theories are not a controversial side-topic for the sciences but a core, connecting theme.

Johnson and biology department chair Keith Crandall referred to a quote by geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky that "Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution."

BYU biology professors Johnson, Crandall, Michael Whiting and Jack Sites said they have had positive experiences teaching evolution and few problems. They are careful to teach evolution so students' concerns are addressed, and they spend time in class discussing the issues. Professors resolve religious questions by referring students to the packet of LDS First Presidency statements on evolution. They said they pay close attention to feedback on student ratings and that many students say taking the class strengthened their testimonies.

"We spend time dispelling the myth that evolution and religion are incompatible," Johnson said. "We try to unburden students from the idea of either-or. That's baggage they don't have to carry."

"Faith-affirming" evolution

Johnson said his study of evolution has not diminished his faith, but has strengthened it by giving him a greater understanding of the creation.

"It gives me insight into the creator's mechanism," Johnson said. "I hope every student comes out of my class with a greater testimony of the creation God has made."

Whiting, who teaches a Book of Mormon class this semester as well as evolutionary biology, said he finds it much more impressive to view God creating species through the mechanism of evolution rather than individually.

"I find it very faith-affirming," Whiting said. "We learn about the nature of the creator."

Johnson said sometimes fitting together science and religion does create challenges, but students should not let this become a roadblock.

He gave an analogy of building a rock wall. When he finds a good rock, but it doesn't fit into the wall, instead of throwing it out, he sets it aside to see if it will fit later. Johnson said often in biology, religion and life, all the answers do not come immediately, but that does not mean we should discard good ideas, such as evolution.

"We need to be careful not to think that we understand everything, both from a science and religious perspective," Johnson said. "It's OK not to have all the answers."

Professors said it helped students to understand the view of the creation in LDS theology, which does not always align with traditional interpretations of the creation story in Genesis.

"The first thing is to realize we are not creationists the way the world understands it," Crandall said.

He said understanding this makes it easier to fit the two together.

Evolution at BYU

Professors do not avoid the topic of evolution at BYU or modify Darwin's theories in class.

"We're teaching a solid, rigorous evolution course," Johnson said.

Johnson said in national standardized exams, Biology 420 students score higher in evolution and ecology than the national averages.

Johnson and Sites completed their post-doctoral teaching at other universities before coming to BYU, and found that students of all faiths are interested in knowing how evolution fits in with their beliefs.

"You might be surprised to learn that I've had the exact same questions about evolution and religion asked of me everywhere I've taught," Johnson said.

Rather than finding greater conflicts at BYU, professors said there were greater opportunities.

"We have the best of both worlds," Whiting said. "We can teach in the light of the restored gospel. [When students have a] better understanding of evolution, they realize their faith isn't being challenged."

Johnson said evolution is his favorite class to teach and that he hopes every biology class will cover it. He said questions regarding evolution will come up wherever his students go after leaving BYU, and it is a benefit to be able to discuss these topics while they are here.

"I'd much rather have my students wrestle with hard questions here at BYU where they can be basked in [this] environment, than somewhere else," he said.

The distinction between science and religion

Most biology majors do not have a problem studying evolution and some tire of the religion-evolution debate.

"The constant debate wears you out after the first day," said Mike Streeter, a junior from Tucson, Ariz., majoring in physiology and developmental biology.

Many do not find a problem because they see science and religion as distinct spheres with their own unique functions.

"When we talk about evolution, it's just facts and what you can observe," said Aaron Fordham, a senior from Byron, Ill., majoring in biology. "I can view evolution as a very good mechanism to understand our natural surroundings and still have a testimony."

Fordham and other students said LDS First Presidency statements on evolution were helpful.

Caitlin Nichols, a sophomore from Orange, Calif., majoring in molecular biology, said she thinks it is important to learn about evolution as a science.

"I don't think science has to conflict with religion," Nichols said.

Sites said he is opposed to requiring public schools to teach religious views of the creation alongside evolution in science classes because religion is not science. He said religion has a separate place.

"Science can figure out the laws and how they work, but it can't ask 'where did the laws come from?'" he said. "Science is not equipped to do it. That's not its purpose."

He said if he put God as the one who orchestrated those laws, there is never any conflict.

Good from Darwin

While some may not know where Darwin fits in the rock wall, professors say his theories have many positive contributions.

"It's amazing to think of all the applications the theory of evolution has in daily life that we take for granted," Johnson said.

Among these are advances in medicine, agriculture, conservation, vaccine development and research to understand HIV and other diseases using knowledge of viral evolution.

"All these advances are firmly anchored in the theory of evolution," Johnson said. "To tout this as an evil thing is a paradox. I think it's the opposite. It is a blessing of knowledge that we know how evolution works."

Darwin's theories have not only benefited biology, but all the life sciences.

Geology professor Brooks Britt said Darwin's theories are integral to everything he teaches. Surrounded by an office with dinosaur bones and fossils, he studies and teaches what he calls "genealogy in deep time," the lineage and relationships of prehistoric species such as dinosaurs.

The concepts of evolution enable paleontologists to find how dinosaurs are related to birds, crocodiles and other species, through identifying common features on bones and fossils.

"This earth isn't static," Britt said. "Organisms have changed dramatically. [Evolution] is the glue that binds biology and paleontology together."

Whiting said much good comes from competent biologists who understand evolution. He said LDS biologists refuted claims that challenged the credibility of the Book of Mormon because they understood DNA signatures.

"I think that evolutionary biology has not only blessed humankind but the church and students," Whiting said.

Sites said the theories of Darwin and colleague Alfred Wallace are the landmark story of biology, followed only by the discovery of the DNA molecule in the 1950s.

"It's our story in biology," Sites said. "It has important lessons for us, so it ought to be taught."

Copyright Brigham Young University 9 Feb 2009



Lincoln, Darwin and Smith, men that shaped history

By Whitney Clark - 12 Feb 2009

Not only was Charles Darwin born 200 years ago this week, but two other important men were also born around the same time making a great impact on people for centuries to follow.

Thursday night, Professor Riley Nelson of the biology department gave a lecture to a full house on the importance of three great men in history: Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith, Jr., two of which, Darwin and Lincoln, were born 200 years ago today.

"We are making comparisons on how these people looked at the world," Nelson said, "and how the world affected them."

Nelson structured his lecture into three different topics. First, the ways in which we as people learn.

We can learn by either faith, force, consensus, art or science, Nelson said.

"Good things can happen when there is a combination of ways of learning," he said.

The second topic discussed was the idea that the time period, The Enlightenment, in which they lived helped all three of these men create their influences on society.

"It was a time when discovery tools were coming better into common knowledge," Nelson said. He added that because of the time period, these three men were more able to look at many different types of learning.

Nelson said though Smith focused mostly on faith, Lincoln on consensus, and Darwin on science, all three of the men used several types of learning to come to their conclusions.

"I appreciated that he talked about the fact that there are many different ways of learning to gain truth," said Kimberlee Sirstins, a senior from Salt Lake studying communications disorders. "I think it is something that is very overlooked."

The final topic discussed by Nelson was the similarities and differences among the three.

"Each one had a turning point in their life," Nelson said.

Smith's turning point came when he questioned the different churches around him. Lincoln's came when he left the ax on his farm behind and started a career in law. Finally, Darwin's turning point began when he traveled the world on the HMS Beagle.

Nelson said all three men took the time to learn about their surroundings and the world, as well as had great influences in their lives to help them in their quest for knowledge.

All three men were greatly influenced by their wives and fathers, as well as their outlook on religion.

"The lecture was great," said Michael Hebdon, a freshman from Royal City, Wash. "[Nelson] just inspires me the way he puts these things in his life."

Nelson said that these three men have made it possible for works of many others to accomplish great things.

"We have learned that through their actions, they have not died in vain," he said.

Copyright Brigham Young University 12 Feb 2009


Anonymous said...

didn't read it all, but I like you're beginning points.

Greg said...

Given the discussion between creation and evolution, I thought you might enjoy reading What is an Endowment?.