Think n Drink September summary

The South Florida Museum hosts a monthly Think n Drink science talk. The subject for September was: “‘Hey, its just a Theory’ – Evolution 101.” Jason Bilotta attended and was kind enough to write up a summary of what happened for us. Here is Jason’s guest post:

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At the most recent Think n Drink, the public got to join Jeff Rodgers, Director of Education at the South Florida Museum, for an overview of what the theory has to say about life on Earth, and a discussion about the current state of the debate.  In the end, we really never made it to the “controversy” – we were all way too involved with the science!

Imagine sitting at a table with several other people, enjoying your adult beverage and chatting it up, when you are given a group assignment:  Take a dozen photos, each one a scene of either Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs, and for good measure add in a few new items, like a scene in the woods showing Grandma tied to a tree, the pigs proudly standing over her.  Or how about a picture of grandma pushing a pig into a trap?  Got it?  Good.  Now, your group needs to take these pieces of data and form an explanatory story that accounts for all the data.  Keep in mind your own prior knowledge, beliefs and point of view as you do this.

Now imagine a room of 60-70 people, all in their own little groups, all looking at the same data, and all working up a general explanation that puts all the data points (cartoons) into play and does not contradict itself.  If you were a gambler, would you bet that every group produced the same explanation?  Of course, every group produced a completely different story, even though they all started from the same data!  Why is that?  Precisely because we all do bring our own preconceived notions, prior knowledge, bias and beliefs!  And it was with this understanding that we joyfully learned about the origin of On The Origin of Species.

The event was originally billed as a discussion on Evolution 101 and the state of the debate, but the discussion stayed with the history of the development of the theory of natural selection and evolution in general. This group simply had too many great questions about natural selection, deep time, and the mechanics of evolution.

Other topics were discussed as well, such as the future, where we fit into it genetically, what the impact of genetic engineering of people and foods and other crops will have, and what the pros and cons of these are.  (This happens to be the topic of the next Think n Drink, so we didn’t go too deep into it).

In the noise of the never ending battle over evolution, when half to a third of the nation does not even accept evolution, we can lose sight of this one great inspiring point:  The story of how we got here is elegant, simple, undirected, random, long and beautiful.  Jeff Rodgers did a great job of telling that story, and it was quite refreshing!

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Thank you for that summary, Jason. Jason is the founder of Skeptikids, a SW Florida hands-on science program for kids that gets kids contributing to real, current science. They’re branching out and forming chapters around the country.  Jason is also a contributor to Science Based Parenting, a website for parents about raising critical thinkers.

4 Responses to “Think n Drink September summary”

  1. Teresa Says:

    Excellent summary – really makes me wish I were there! What a fun way to segue into the topic, and how nice it didn’t turn into a loud argument (or given that there were drinks involved, a brawl…LOL!). 🙂

  2. RBH Says:

    Of course, every group produced a completely different story, even though they all started from the same data! Why is that? Precisely because we all do bring our own preconceived notions, prior knowledge, bias and beliefs! And it was with this understanding that we joyfully learned about the origin of On The Origin of Species.

    I hope there was some follow up to this, because that’s exactly Answers in Genesis’ argument that their view (6000 year-old earth, etc) is just as valid as orthodox science’s view.

  3. Ryan Slat Says:

    Neat concept to introduce evolution to a class. Here are the resources they used: http://www.southfloridamuseum.org/Education/ProfessionalDevelopmentIST/IST3Resources/tabid/181/Default.aspx

  4. Jason Says:

    RBH,

    keep in mind that the “data points” do not actually tell a single story. That’s intentional. The point of the exercise was to illustrate how our bias can affect the interpretation.

    The flip side to that, of course, is the nature of scientific inquiry, which aims to filter out bias as much as possible. That side of the discussion came out in the history lesson about the development of natural selection. I should have made that clear in my review.

    Jason