A report on my talk at the Harvard Museum

May 9, 2012 • 10:23 am

Harvard Science, a section of the Harvard Gazette, has a piece on the talk I gave last week at the University Museum.  The report, “The whys of religion vs. evolution,” is actually a pretty accurate of what I said. There was a fair dollop of religion stuff at the end, but the audience didn’t seem to mind: Harvard is probably a hotbed of unbelievers anyway.

I’m told that the video will be put up within a week or so.  I think it went pretty well judging from the audience reaction, the questions, and the number of people who bought my book afterwards. And thank Ceiling Cat for that: in the audience were many Harvard luminaries, including my own adviser Dick Lewontin, anthropologist Richard Wrangham (who posits that the domestication of fire helped promote the enlargement of the human brain), Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak (helped discover telomerase), and lots of Harvard biology faculty and students (many of whom I knew), not to mention the 300 or so members of the educated/interested public (it was an overflow crowd, so about 50 people had to stand in the aisles).  I usually don’t get nervous before talks, but this was an occasion for perspiration. I couldn’t afford to blow that one!

h/t: Andrew Berry

24 thoughts on “A report on my talk at the Harvard Museum

  1. Szostak…typo.

    Ordinarily, I don’t indulge in copy editing, but in this case, for a Nobel laureate working on the origins of life, I’ll make an exception.

  2. I hope the video shows that fantastic introduction. I learned from the intro, e.g. Coyne et al. vs Nixon et al. ( now that’s one great teaser).

  3. Remember Feynman’s story about his first lecture at Princeton where he was discussing his Phd thesis which dealt with advanced waves. In the audience was Einstein, Pauli and von Neumann. Now that had to be a bit intimidating.

  4. Tough crowd! Did you start with a joke? I’d like to know one that could make all of that audience laugh!

  5. That’s whet my appetite!

    Do you intend to make the slides available, Jerry, as you did for your debate with Haught?


  6. I’m left wondering why our society is so dysfunctional. The best I can come up with is the concentration of power and wealth by a few individuals at the expense of the overwhelming majority.

    And, sadly, historically, such inequality has rarely been remedied by other than violent means. I’m not sure how we’re going to do the job this time around, though I’m pretty sure that, no matter what, it’s not going to be something anybody will want to live through.


    1. The great strength of the Anglo-saxon countries has always been the relative willingness of the ruling class to pay taxes. The inability of the French King to get the aristocracy to pay tax was one of the main reasons for the French bankruptcy which lead to the Revolution. Unfortunately the USA seems to have taken the more European route, and the wealthy have used their power to largely exempt themselves from taxation. This is obviously unsustainable in the long run. If 1% of the pop owns 80% of the assets and pays almost no tax, you’re screwed.

      Fortunately it’s not always necessary to revolt, the credible threat is often enough. The most successful method of getting concessions out of the ruling classes is the threat of violence and withdrawal of labour, ie. unionization. The ruling classes are a fraction of 1% of the pop. and being parasitic, rely entirely on the labour of the working classes (in which I include the middle classes who certainly work) to meet their needs, and make money for them. They are quite at our mercy and they know this, even if we often lose sight of it, which is why conservative parties put so much effort into dividing us along religious and other frivolous lines. If we can all be made to tear each others’ throats out over gay marriage or abortion then they don’t have to worry so much about us noticing that we do all the work and they make all the money.

      I suspect one of the reasons the ruling class in the USA has been so successful in dividing the workers against each other in the USA is the racial situation which countries like Australia just don’t have. It is very easy to divide people who are so clearly already divided. But I’m just guessing. The important thing is not to squander the opportunity to rein in the greed of the wealthy provided by the Global Financial Crisis. This is your best chance in decades to claw back some equity into the system, I hope you don’t miss it.

  7. Thanks for talking to us, Jerry! And thanks for hanging around and signing all those books. I was way at then end of the line, and I’m sure you had a nice dinner waiting for you. I’ve got a lingering question from the talk, but I’ll post it once the video becomes available to everyone.

  8. Speaking of Richard Wrangham, his book CATCHING FIRE: HOW COOKING MADE US HUMAN is a great read. It’s not often we gain an understanding of WHY species evolve the way they do, particularly ours.

  9. Can someone tell me where (on the internet) I can access the 2009 study showing the connection between societal dysfunctionality and religious belief?


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