Three prominent evolutionary scholars held a discussion in Corwin Pavilion yesterday that added two hours to the long, controversial debate over evolutionary theory.
Florida State philosophy professor Michael Ruse, author Jonathan Wells and UCSB geology professor Bruce Tiffney discussed the finer points of evolutionary theory. Their discussion revolved around several subjects, including the nature, aims and limitations of biology; the contemporary status of evolution as a scientific theory; anti-evolutionary theories; the political dimensions of contemporary discussions; and debates over evolution both in scientific circles and in society at large.
Art Battson was the co-organizer for the program and also an organizer of a program last year entitled “The Journey: Search for Our Origins.” He develops programs for UCTV and said the motivation behind his programming is to encourage both faculty and students to open their minds to new perspectives.
“I think that creationism is a ridiculous remnant of ancient superstitions,” said computer science sophomore Loren Williams, who attended the discussion. “As Marx once said, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ I believe this to be true.”
The discussion lasted two hours, and a sense of civility and humor dominated the night. Wells argued for the validity of religious belief systems, while Ruse argued for Darwinian theories and Tiffney took the middle ground.
Ruse compared the probability of a DNA strand being a double helix to the probability that Tiffney was a space alien. Tiffney responded by sticking his fingers behind his head and doing an impression of a space alien.
Tiffney, who has been a UCSB professor of geological sciences since 1994, focuses his research on a comparative study of fossil fruits and the seeds of angiosperm, plant-animal interactions and the broad-scale evolution of land plants. He is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and has taught at both Harvard and Yale.
Wells is the author of the highly acclaimed book Icons of Evolution. He has two Ph.D.s, the first in cellular biology from UC Berkeley and the second in religious studies from Yale.
“Science is the search for the truth,” Wells said.
Ruse teaches the philosophy of biology, including Darwinism and ethics, as well as the history and philosophy of science at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He is the founder and editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy and is on the editorial boards of eight other scientific philosophy journals. He is the general editor of Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology. He is also part of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Science ultimately is the attempt to understand the world, a physical world,” Ruse said, “And that includes the mental world, in terms of unbroken, natural regularity – in other words, in terms of law.”