Revolution Online, March 30, 2009

Taking Up Darwin Day in Hawai’i

Taking up the challenge to popularize Darwin Day that was issued in Revolution #156 has been a real eye-opener and wake-up call!

On February 12 (Darwin Day), Gallup Poll released a survey indicating that only 39% of Americans “believe in the theory of evolution” ( .Hawai`i is a pretty “liberal” place and, until recently, religion has not played a very big role. Consequently, we didn’t think the poll accurately reflected sentiment in Hawai’i.

We had two important experiences in taking up Darwin Day that we wanted to share with Revolution readers.

Taking Darwin Day to the University Campus

On Darwin Day, Revolution Books set up a table and display at the University of Hawai’i’s campus center. What we learned at the table more reflected the Gallup Poll than our previously held ideas.

Many, many students avoided the table, refused leaflets, or dismissively said “I don’t believe in evolution” when we attempted to engage with them. Some asked who Darwin was. We were condemned to hell or worse. A student from a Christian fundamentalist campus organization who had been assigned a table next to us told us that we needed to reject evolution or suffer eternal damnation. He then packed up his stuff and vacated his table!

A religion instructor self-righteously informed us that he didn’t believe in any religions—including “Darwinism”—arguing that there was no such thing as “truth,” and that evolution was simply another belief system. Several people admonished us for saying evolution is “true” (even though they agreed that it is), leading to discussions around truth, the difference between relative and absolute truth, and the danger of the current trend in universities to avoid fighting for any truth at all.

On the other hand, some faculty and students—many of whom had seen leaflets posted on campus bulletin boards or were recipients of a massive e-mail blitz prior to Darwin Day, came to congratulate us for taking up Darwin Day and perused the table. They were the ones who hung out, telling us about experiences in classrooms, sharing their fears about the rise of creationism and religious fundamentalism, or lamenting the fact that some professors were avoiding any discussion of evolution because they didn’t want to face the controversy. Some students also told us that they had had no exposure to evolution in high school, and were at a loss when science professors taught their classes as though they had a grasp of the basic principles of evolution.

A student told about being in a large biology class where a student demanded that the professor give equal time to creationism in the class, and challenged others to walk out of the class with her if he didn’t. While no other student walked out with her, many privately talked about having the same sentiment, but said they couldn’t walk out because they needed the grade.

What we learned was that students are very polarized around evolution. Many don’t accept the theory of evolution, but they study what is necessary to regurgitate the answers and pass the course and are not challenged to really examine the theory of evolution critically. Evolution seldom becomes the subject of open debate and discussion among students. Even students who felt strongly about evolution acknowledged that they never spoke about it with friends who completely rejected evolution because they didn’t want to “step on their religious beliefs.”

We think this was the first year that Darwin Day became a broad social question on the UH-Manoa campus. Revolution Books and World Can’t Wait–Hawai’i posted hundreds of brilliantly colored leaflets on campus prior to Darwin Day. World Can’t Wait showed the Nova film, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial in a campus theatre and put up large orange signs reading “Celebrate Darwin Day 2009” at several campus locations. The Darwin Day issue of Revolution was distributed at the table and on the mall. Science departments sponsored a film-showing on the evolutionary history of the Hawaiian Islands, and a prominent evolutionary biologist was the featured speaker at a Darwin Day seminar. More than 500 copies of the Celebrate Darwin Day leaflet produced by the Defend Science Project were distributed at Campus Center.

The book table enabled us to get into deeper conversations about evolution and science more broadly than we had ever engaged in. We were disappointed by the number of books that were actually sold, but many took leaflets advertising Skybreak’s The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism or purchased the Darwin Day issue of the paper. Dozens bought Darwin emblems or stickers for their cars, bikes, or office doors.

Darwin Program at Revolution Books

On February 24 Revolution Books organized a talk on “Early Animal Evolution” by evolutionary biologist Dr. Mark Martindale. The talk, which was adapted from one he had given the previous week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference in Chicago, related the fascinating results of his research exploring the base of the evolutionary tree of early animals. Throughout his talk, Martindale emphasized the importance of evolution and brought to life the dynamism of the scientific method. He conveyed both the profound joy of knowing what is actually true, as well as the necessity of understanding what’s true in order to solve the immense environmental problems confronting the world. One particularly provocative point he made was how critical it was to have a truly scientific approach, and recognize that every question that is answered will give rise to even more questions. The talk itself really resonated with those of us who have been studying Bob Avakian’s new synthesis and Marxist methodology.

For almost two hours after the talk ended, scientists and laypeople continued to debate issues of science and religion—the growing distrust of science among many “progressive” forces, the impact of postmodernism, the often thorny relationship between science and cultural traditions, and more.

One of the most challenging parts of taking up Darwin Day was organizing for the talk. Many people—even people who have supported the store for a long time—could not understand why the store was sponsoring a talk by a scientist “who isn’t even political.” Revolution Books organizes many programs featuring speakers and artists who aren’t Marxist, including scientists who have also spoken about the government’s attacks on science. But most people just couldn’t understand why we were asking an evolutionary biologist to talk about his own work in evolutionary theory.

Before the program began, a long-time store supporter came in asking “why we are giving up on revolution and getting into science.” Another customer asked if now, since Obama was elected, we had given up on the possibility of revolution and were replacing politics with science! Numerous people—especially those into identity politics—ridiculed having a scientist come to speak, saying “science is the problem.” While this was not unanticipated since many scientists at the University of Hawai’i are increasingly relying on military and corporate grants to do research, these questions challenged us to get into principled discussions around just what science is, how science is being used by the system, and why critical thinking and the scientific method are so important (including, but not limited to, making revolution and realizing communism). One scientist, questioning why a revolutionary bookstore was sponsoring a talk by a scientist, charged Marxists with being anti-science, even citing Karl Popper as his source. (Fortunately, we could actually unravel this in a non-dogmatic manner given Bob Avakian’s recent dissection of Popper’s profoundly unscientific charges against Marxism.)

In building for this program we learned there is a very serious divide between “science” on the one hand, and “politics” on the other. Most people accept that there is such a thing as “science.” But at the same time they argue that Marxism cannot be scientific because it’s political and therefore the antithesis of science. And they certainly don’t see that a scientific method is necessary to make a communist revolution and transform the world.

Getting into Darwin Day and evolution has underscored just how path breaking and crucial the new synthesis developed by Bob Avakian is—and that we have to engage with it continuously and bring it to life in the way we take it to the masses. That we have to fight through with the masses to continuously deepen their (and our) understanding of it. Portions of the new synthesis resonated with each new experience and challenge, as we were reminded over and over again that communists must be scientists. That we have to operate like teams of scientists. That we have to fight for the scientific method in society more broadly. And that we have to do this in a way that truly conveys the joy of scientific discovery (whether that discovery fits our preconceived notions or not!). If a scientist in the biological sciences can exhibit so much enthusiasm over discovering that humans developed from the genetic line of jellyfish, and that the previous understanding that humans evolved from sponges is wrong, how much more exuberant shouldn’t we be over discovering (step by step and piece by piece) the road to communist revolution and the liberation of all of society?

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