As part of a "back door" strategy to teach intelligent design on college campuses, an Oklahoma-based creationist group is sponsoring an Origin Summit at Michigan State University. Faculty and students are divided over how to respond, especially since the event will be attacking the work of an eminent MSU scientist.
News of the Origin Summit caught MSU's scientific community largely by surprise, reports Vivian Callier at InsideScience. The creationist organization, called Creation Summit, secured a room at the university's business school through a student religious group, but the student group did not learn about the details of the program—or the provocative titles of the lectures—until later.
The one-day event, scheduled for November 1, will include 8 workshops, which, according to Origin Summit's website, will include:
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Another workshop targets the research of MSU biologist Richard Lenski, who has conducted an influential, decades-long study of evolution in bacterial populations.
As InsideScience reports, MSU has a prominent community of evolutionary biologists:
In addition to Lenski, it is the home campus of biologist Robert Pennock, who provided high-profile testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a 2005 federal court case that produced a ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. MSU is also the lead partner in the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a multi-university effort funded by the National Science Foundation that pursues a wide range of evolution-related research and education efforts.
Lenski, who declined an invitation to participate in a debate at the event, is among a group of faculty members who is advising his colleagues to ignore the Origin Summit. "In my opinion, this event will be just another forgettable blip in the long history of anti-science, anti-evolution screeds," Lenski says. "I suppose the speakers chose to target our research … because their event is being held here, and maybe because they find it confusing to their worldview that evolution isn't supposed to happen."
The MSU administration has said that it won't interfere in any way with the event. Still, some on campus are perturbed:
Emily Weigel, an MSU graduate student in evolution and a member of the BEACON center, says the event has made her feel like she's under attack—in part because of her own religious faith. "As a religious BEACONite, I've never felt unwelcome" at MSU, she says. "But this conference on campus has made me uneasy about my identity on campus for the first time. It's anti-academic in the way it is being carried out, and honestly, it is shaming for fellow Christians to target individuals in an attack such as this one." MSU plant biologist David Lowry says that he and some colleagues also worry that the event could harm MSU's reputation within the scientific community.
Mike Smith, the founder of Creation Summit, decided to call the event Origin Summit because he believes "the word origin is more palatable to the secular audience than the word creation."
In a recent interview on the YouTube series, Revolution Against Evolution, he further explained:
They use the so-called separation of church and state to block the teaching of creationism in public schools.
What we're doing is to come in the back door. Since they wont let us in the classroom our strategy is to book our speakers and rent the facilities to bring the message on campus.
In an email to ScienceInsider, Smith said Creation Summit is "not overtly evangelistic," but "we hope to pave the way for evangelism by presenting the scientific evidence for intelligent design. Once students realize they're created beings, and not the product of natural selection, they're much more open to the Gospel, to the message of God's love & forgiveness." In his YouTube interview, however, Smith is more explicit about who has been blocking this message; he says young Christians raised as regular churchgoers turn away from their faith because "they get under the influence of agnostic professors."
Meanwhile, Creation Summit is trying to find a partner organization to help organize a similar event at University of Texas, Arlington.