Philosopher of science to speak at Darwin Anniversary Conference

April 21, 2009 | Events
By Shannon Wermer

Learn more about Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection at the Darwin Anniversary Conference Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25.



The year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday and the 150th anniversary of his famous book, On the Origin of Species.

Dr. Robert T. Pennock, professor of philosophy, biology and computer science at Michigan State University, will give the keynote address Friday, April 24, from 6 to 7 p.m. in Student Union Room 2584 on Main Campus.

His 2003 Nature article shows “how complex functions can originate by random mutation and natural selection.” His talk, “Design by Darwin: How Digital Evolution Is Extending the Darwinian Revolution,” will feature computer simulations that show how rudimentary life forms develop complex solutions to environmental challenges over the course of several generations. A question-and-answer session will follow the address.

In 2005, Pennock was called as an expert witness in the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Board case wherein a policy to teach intelligent design in a public school was found to promote religion and go against the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. The trial was the subject of a “Nova” episode, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” Visitors to for this episode can hear experts such as Pennock explain that science takes place within self-imposed limits, unlike other disciplines, such as metaphysics or theology.

Methodological naturalism and other ideas are discussed in his books Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism (1999) and Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (2007). His most recent publication is the anthology, But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (2009), co-edited with Michael Ruse.

A Student Showcase featuring undergraduate research will take place Saturday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Student Union Room 2591.

Students in the UT philosophy course, Darwin: Man, Myth and Nature, will give talks and present posters on Darwin’s development as a scientist, natural selection and its implications, man’s place in the world, and the relationship between religion and science.

“Although the anniversary commemorates the past, our conference looks to the future by featuring 21st century cyber-models of natural selection and the next generation’s perspective on Darwin’s legacy,” said Dr. Madeline Muntersbjorn, UT associate professor of philosophy.

For more information on the free, public conference, contact Muntersbjorn at 419.530.4513 or e-mail

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