The University of Oklahoma is celebrating Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, along with the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species," with a full year's worth of events. OU professor Barry Weaver said it all adds up to arguably the biggest and best Darwin celebration taking place this year.
Dawkins will speak in a free event at 7 p.m. Friday at the McCasland Field House on campus.
"The major goals are both to celebrate Darwin's very considerable scientific achievements, which go far beyond the publication of 'The Origin of Species,' and to give a present-day assessment of the status of Darwin's ideas and their impact on a range of academic disciplines and on the human view of our place in the universe," Weaver said.
To help in that assessment, the Darwin 2009 steering committee is bringing Richard Dawkins, one of the most well-known evolutionary biologists in the world, to speak at OU.
"Richard Dawkins has been amazingly active and productive in promoting evolutionary science, in terms of public talks, his numerous books and TV documentaries," Weaver said.
Dawkins' lecture, "The Purpose of Purpose," will focus on the desire to see purpose all around by looking at the differences between the appearance of purpose, as seen in evolutionary development, and true purpose, being the product of the mind. He will argue that perceived and true purposes are both the products of Darwinian evolutionary adaptation.
Weaver said some have questioned whether the Darwin celebration should include alternative points of view to evolution, but he doesn't see the validity in that argument.
"A perfectly valid point of view is that 150 years' worth of evidence since the publication of 'Origin of Species' so overwhelming supports evolution by natural selection that it is, to all intents and purposes, a fact," he said. "If there was a Newton celebration at OU, would there be the suggestion that other points of view should be represented regarding gravity theory? Or, if there was an Einstein celebration, that other points of view should be represented regarding relativity theory?"
While the Darwin 2009 project is sticking strictly to a scientific discussion of the origin and development of life, Weaver said student-run creationist and intelligent design groups are sponsoring their own talks and debates.
Controversy aside, the goal of the project is not to drown out other points of view, but to promote a better understanding of Darwin and his work.
"We hope that, as a result of Darwin 2009 events, people will be educated about who Darwin really was, what his ideas really mean, and thereby might come to an appreciation of the wonder and beauty that evolution theory brings to our understanding of life and our place in the natural world," Weaver said. "Eric Webb