Chillin’ with the kids

September 3, 2010 • 12:14 pm

This morning I spent 45 minutes, via Skype, with Professor John Willis’s Genetics and Evolution course (Bio 102L) at Duke University.  It’s an introductory course for all biology majors, and they’re reading, among other things, Why Evolution is True.  John, a University of Chicago Ph.D. who took my graduate classes, asked me to speak to the students via the internet.  I took a few minutes at the beginning to explain why I wrote the book and who my audience was, and then fielded questions from the students.

You may be surprised at how many of them wanted to talk about religion and evolution. In my experience this is absolutely typical.  It’s a pressing subject, one that, despite my membership in the Strident Gnu Atheists Club, I try to handle with respect, but without diluting my opinions.

If you want to see, the link is here.  Start in at 14:25 (the stuff before it is the class preparing their questions). My part ends at 58:30, and the class continues its discussion for a while thereafter.

The audio is a bit wonky at the start, but improves dramatically after the call is re-started at around 19 minutes in.

20 thoughts on “Chillin’ with the kids

  1. So, this is a bit tangential…but might you be able to recommend a reading list that would get a typical college graduate in a non-science field up to speed on biology? Say, a list that starts with what freshmen should already know and at least gets one to about where you should be by the time you’re starting upper-division classes?

    My last formal education in biology was in high school…more years ago than I care to admit. Aside from the popular press (including Science News and the like) and the ‘Net, I’m sure I’m waaaaay out of date….



    1. I’ve been following Biology 101 by Bora Zukovic on his blog. His lectures are valuable and his “hand-outs” are very good also.

    2. Do you want comprehensive (and long/expensive) or accessible but not so detailed (shorter, cheaper, and more numerous lighter reading)?

      The standard intro level book for biology is simply called “Biology” and has been written by Neil Campbell for ages. It is now in its 7th edition and is now co-authored by Jane Reece. Below I’ve included a snippet from Amazon, just to show you what a monster it is.

      Biology, 7th Ed.
      Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reece
      Hardcover: 1312 pages
      Publisher: Benjamin Cummings
      ISBN-10: 080537146X
      ISBN-13: 978-0805371468
      Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 9.1 x 1.6 inches
      Shipping Weight: 7.4 pounds

      1. Apparently, I’m thinking of an old edition, as it appears to now be in its 8th. And the reason it is co-authored is because Campbell died in 2004. Thus spake Wikithustra.

  2. Ben, I know you weren’t asking me…and why should you? But I am in basically the same place you are, and if it’s at all useful, I’m happy to list the books that helped me feel more up to speed:
    At the Water’s Edge, Carl Zimmer
    Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin
    WEIT, of course
    Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll
    Demons in Eden, Jonathan Silvertown
    Forms of Becoming, Alessandro Minelli
    Life Ascending, Nick Lane

    Those are heavily, heavily evolutionary biology and I realize there’s more to biology than evolution (foundational as evolution is), but since much of the newer information related to genetics and evo-devo IS covered in those books, you could probably do worse than to pick up some of those title.

  3. I’d add Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale myself.

    As a near-layman, I found it packed with fascinating information, and – for the most part – not too technical.

    I already have WEIT, Shubin,Zimmer and Carroll, I’m pleased to say…. I must hunt up the others mentioned above!

    1. Indeed, you really owe it to yourself to get The Ancestors Tale by Dawkins. Each tale in itself is fascinating but when considered as a whole the work is magnificent. It puts all of biology into the proper context– that is, through the lens of evolution.

    2. It is an incredibly compact book. More like a library.
      I don’t know how he managed to squeeze that much info into one volume.

  4. Well done for taking the time to talk to the class, such personal communication is always motivating. I think you are incredibly patient to answer the questions about religion that you must have heard so often. I’m afraid I would have found religious questions in a college level biology class to be more a ‘depressing’ than ‘pressing’ subject.

  5. I like the sort of cheap shot lead-in to the actual question @ 48 mins.

    “… could just pop up out of the primordial ooze”

    I’m still looking for the science books that speak of “popping” and “primordial ooze”. So far I can only find them in religious anti-science propaganda.

    Like it’s cousin, the “cell popping into existence”, I have trouble finding where these claims are made in the scientific literature.

    It’s almost as if they aren’t real scientific concepts at all. o_O

  6. Very cool. Thank you for doing this! I learned some new things, and found it very accessible, well-reasoned, and enjoyable. 🙂

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