Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finding Darwin’s God (Part 2)

Today I attended the first in a series of book discussions on Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God. It is being held by the Religious Studies program and the Purdue Religion and Science Group. You can read more about the specifics from a post I wrote previously about the event. We met in the round discussion room on the top floor of Beering overlooking campus which was very nice. That was the first time I had ever been in that room. There were roughly sixteen people who attended this first discussion although it sounds like there are around twenty who are participating as some were unable to be there today. Apparently, we also caused nearly every book store in the city to sell out of the Finding Darwin’s God as they ran out of copies to give out to those participating. The discussion was started by going around the table and having everyone introduce themselves. The group was largely made up of faculty and staff with some graduate students largely from the Religion and Philosophy departments. There were a couple people from the Biology department and even one professor from Civil Engineering. What I found interesting is, as far as I could tell, the only two undergraduate students were engineers, a girl from Civil Engineering and then myself. I would have expected at least one or two undergrads from the Liberal Arts department or possibly even the Biology department. During the course of the discussion a couple people came out and stated their religious position including one atheist who, if I understood him correctly, believed that evolution does not, in and of itself, lead to a belief in God but supports a naturalistic view of life. We also had another person identify herself as a Christian Biologist who saw no problems with the compatibility between religion and biology.

One of the topics that was brought up by one of the coordinators of the discussion was how, or if, science and engineering courses teach about the classics of their fields, such as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Newton’s Opticks. She mainly asked this of the engineers in the room as the majority of the people there were from liberal arts backgrounds and did not know how we, engineers, were introduced to this material. We basically had to tell her that we do not go over any kind of classic engineering or science material. That those works have become almost exclusively relegated to classes on literature or the history of science and technology.

The topic of evolution in High School came eventually came up as well. Professor Ryba, one of the coordinators of the discussion, brought up a point from Miller’s book were Miller said he never had any introduction to evolution through his High School classes. Many of the people there were roughly the same age as Miller and thought that kind of strange as they had evolution in High School. A possible reason that was brought up for this is the differences in location. Different areas of the country, and world, have brought evolution into the classroom at different points in time.

A good point was made by the person who stated they see evolution as supporting a naturalistic view brought up a point about one of Miller’s statements in the first chapter. In it Miller makes the statement,
And does [evolution] rigorously exclude belief in God?
He made the contention with Miller’s choice of the word “rigorous”. He argued that science rarely ever can be said to be rigorous in its definitions or predictions, possibly making the point of the book kind of specious.  Another point was brought up dealing, again, with Miller’s choice of words. This time it was with his choice of using the term “traditional” in reference to religion. It was brought up that the definition of “traditional” can by very vague and spread across a fairly large spectrum of beliefs. It will be interesting to see how Miller defines it further.

The next meeting is in two weeks for which we were asked to read up to chapter six and to come with questions and pages highlighted.

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