The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre was nearly filled by 6:30 p.m. Friday. Strangers sat next to strangers, crowding into rows to witness the seventh annual Darwin on the Palouse celebration.
The event featured two speakers and musical guest artist Shelley Segal, all of whom addressed a theme of reason in science and an ever-changing world. Darwin Day is an international celebration in honor of the birth of Charles Darwin and “science, humanity and rational thought,” according to Humanists of the Palouse President Cassie Seubert. Humanists of the Palouse hosted the event, along with the University of Idaho Secular Student Alliance and the American Humanist Association.
Seubert, who introduced the speakers for the event, said “they’re going to talk to us about really pressing and interesting scientific issues.”
The first speaker, UI PhD student Hannah Smith, addressed the characteristics of the Anthropocene era. The Anthropocene is the current geological age characterized by human-released carbon, and acknowledging its existence means that the effects of pollution will be visible in the layers of the earth forever. The situation can seem overwhelmingly negative, but Smith introduced a message of hope.
“My heart is saddened when I talk to people and they say, ‘that’s just too much for me to think about, so I don’t think about it,’” Smith said. “It seems hopeless… but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore it.”
Smith also incorporated the stages of grief into her message, urging her audience along the path to a productive period of acceptance.
“It’s important for us to accept that this is real,” Smith said.
PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota Morris, returned to Darwin on the Palouse as the second speaker of the evening.
Myers presented at the inaugural Darwin on the Palouse celebration, giving a talk that focused broadly on “listing creationist arguments and debunking those,” according to event organizer Steven Simmons. This year, however, Myers branched out to address the easily misunderstood and ever-growing field of epigenetics and its implications for the fields that contribute to Neo-Darwinism.
Simmons said that he was glad to hear Myers tackling the pseudoscience behind epigenetics.
“People that aren’t going to be convinced, aren’t going to be convinced,” Simmons said of evolution.
Instead of being limited by a timeless argument, Myers instead discussed a very contemporary issue of popular demand for a “revolution” to what fields are included in evolutionary science. He encouraged the audience to not rely on the promises of epigenetic inheritance or jump onto every fad epigenetic treatment.
“Epigenetics matters, but maybe not as much as everyone thinks,” Myers said. “What matters is, do you feel better?”
Following a Q&A session and short intermission, Darwin on the Palouse’s first musical guest took the stage. Segal performed several activism-focused pieces for the last lingering audience members, with themes ranging from global love and well-being to the watershed ecosystem of the Puget Sound. The evening wrapped up on a note of hope and purpose, with a loud round of applause for Segal’s “fight song.”
Beth Hoots can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org