Darwin Days @ Cornell: Dr. Massimo Pigliucci

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 9:40 PM Bookmark and Share
This week, many people across the globe are celebrating Charles Darwin's 200th birthday (this Thursday the 12th), and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species. Cornell University and the Museum of the Earth have put together a fantastic lineup of lectures and events and a website with all the details which can be found here.

This evening, and yesterday afternoon during the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology weekly seminar, I had the great pleasure of listening to Dr. Massimo Pigliucci. I won't go into great detail, but the bulk of his second talk "What's science got to do with it? When scientists talk nonsense about religion" was a gem to listen to, and touched on a many interesting issues central to the conflict between religion and science.

I would strongly encourage you to check out his website and blog, where you can find some of his writing, publications, lecture slides, and mention of some of his books on science, evolution, and philosophy.

Here is a short list of points that caught my attention during his talk, here written in my words and not his. These mostly related to evolution and creationism/intelligent design, but touch on aspects of general science as well:
  • When talking with someone (in his case, usually students) who is conflicted between their religious beliefs and learning about evolution, he gives these following words of advice: I won't ask you to believe it, I simply ask that you understand it.
  • Quoting Richard Feynman (the physicist) from The Meaning Of It All: Thoughts Of A Citizen-scientist, he reiterated that the root of much conflict between religion and science comes from the notion that (to use another Feynman quote) "Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt. "
  • The conflict between evolutionary theory and creationism/intelligent design is not a scientific conflict, but a sociological and philosophical one. Science can only prove or disprove assertions about the natural world and is limited (if not unable) to prove or disprove assertions of a supernatural nature.
  • That said, when religions make claims about the natural world (e.g. the earth 10,000 years old) a scientific approach can be used to evaluate them.
  • Scientists would do well to learn about and apply the philosophy of science in their pursuits! Understanding the strengths and limitations of science can (of course) make for better science. I particularly enjoyed his commentary on statistics, which can be found on his website.
  • Waiting until high school or college to teach basic science and critical reasoning is a no-no! This should be taught from early on, just like we teach reading, writing and mathematics.
My time is up for now, but I hope you get a chance to check out some of Massimo's work as well as any of the "Darwin Day" events that might be going on in your neck of the woods. That's all for now! :)


Posted by: Paul | 5/13/2010 9:52 PM

Here's a nice "debate" between the notoriously science-illiterate young earth creationist Kent Hovind (currently serving a 10 year prison sentence) and Massimo Pigliucci. Enjoy! :)

Post a Comment