As promised, here is part 2 to my previous Darwin Day post.

The next speaker in the lineup after Barbara Forrest was Denise Marie Sobieski. She is a high school science teacher in Indiana, and has been for seventeen years. She gave us a nice overview of how to introduce kids to evolutionary concepts. Her speech was set up in a similar manner to what she would use in a classroom, with “student” participation and all. She called on members of the audience to hold up props and signs and asked us questions to which members of the audience were asked to raise their hands if they knew the answer. To show how she would make the timescales involved in evolution understandable to the kids, she had a calendar showing major geological and evolutionary events on signs to be held by a line of participants. I was holding one of the signs for December (Lots of things happened in December, including the entire history of life.) I was surprised to note that the formation of the Pangea supercontinent happened pretty late in “December.”

I had a question for Ms. Sobieski, and it was wether or not she had experienced any issues with parents over the teaching of evolution. She said she had, but that the evolution standards are written into the Indiana state curriculum and that she had plenty of backup. It had not been much of an issue.

Dr. David Orentlicher spoke about the history of legal challenges against the teaching of evolution, starting with the Scopes “Monkey” Trial and ending with a discussion what what will happen next after the Dover trial.

Dr. Michael Zimmerman discussed his involvement with the Clergy Letter Project, and campaign to gather the signatures of clergy members who support the teaching of evolution and believe it has no conflict with their faith. He also gave a timeline of the approaches the scientific and religious communities have taken to Darwin’s theory. When the Origin of Species was first published the approach was to just ignore it. Later there were attempts to outlaw the teaching of human evolution (Scopes “Monkey” Trial), require that creationism be taught (Arkansas Act 590), endorse Intelligent Design (Dover), and finally to work in such language as “strengths and weaknesses” and “teach the controversy” into the science curriculum standards.

Lauren Becker discussed the events that were happening in society when Origin of Species was published. It just happened to be in a time of great social upheaval when the people were starting to reject God and the king for guidance on how to live their lives and were looking for alternatives. She discussed about how Darwin’s ideas were grabbed out by several who were working out a new system for society. Darwin’s idea of natural selection was badly distorted by many of them, leading to such atrocities as “Social Darwinism.” I found it to be a very fascinating discussion and useful in better understanding modern resistance by many people to the idea that humans evolved from “lower” animals.

That is a wrap-up of the speakers at Darwin Day 2010 in Indianapolis. I had a wonderful time there and learned a lot. After the conference we all headed over to the CFI office for a bit of food and talk before heading back to Louisville. I’m looking forward to the next time I can go to a conference there.