Sunday, April 1, 2012

Midwest Science of Origins Conference 2012

What a fine gathering of thoughtful, interesting, and engaged people...

Daughter Cassandra and I drove three hours Friday afternoon to join son Erik in Morris, Minnesota, for the MSOC.

Friday evening featured a nice lecture by PZ Myers titled The Evolution of Creationism.  Given his strong feelings on the topic PZ really was very, very nice as he reviewed the development of Young Earth Creationism over the course of the 20th century.

After PZ's talk Cassie, Erik, and I took the Dob to a dark spot just out of town for a look at Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and the moon.  The sky was just a touch hazy, but the kids were impressed with the five-inch Bushnell.  They look forward to enjoying it at their grandparents' lake cabin this summer.

On Saturday came the bulk of the program.

Professor Marco Peloso gave a very engaging lecture on what we know (and how we know it) about the evolution of the universe since the first second after the Big Bang.  Dr. Peloso has a very engaging style and made all attendees comfortable by the grace with which he entertained questions from the audience.

The organizers then led break-out sessions, which they called the World CafĂ©, in which attendees were invited to express their reasons for coming to MSOC and their thoughts regarding the role of science in modern society.

In the down time between sessions Cassie enjoyed Craig Ferguson's memoir American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot.  Having left my current read in the motel, I read the first book of the Koran on my iPhone. Yes, there's an app for that.

After lunch we retired to the Morris Area High School auditorium where Neil Shubin PhD gave a fascinating review of his team's discovery of Tiktaalik Roseae in the Canadia Arctic, right where the science told them it should be.  He was signing his book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey in to the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, but alas, while its on my Goodreads to-read list, I do not yet own a copy for him to inscribe and the campus bookstore was closed Saturday.  Dr. Shubin's presence resulted in positive local media coverage in the  Morris Sun Tribune.

Having been told about our inner fish, Dr. Michael Wilson reminded us of our inner ape.  He reminded us that our nearest cousins share many of our finer qualities as well as our baser instincts.

The presentations ended with a talk by Professor Dan Demetriou and student Miles Taylor in which they discussed an idea they're developing for publication.  They propose adding Honor Ethos to the Jonathan Haidt's six moral foundations.  I look forward to following the evolution of their idea.

The day's talks concluded, many of us rolled over to Old No. 1 for beer, burgers, and spirited follow-on conversations, especially about the Wilson and Demetriou talks, at least at our end of the table, which is where the good doctors were sitting.  Also at our end of the table was Brianne Bilyeu, blogger of Biodork and Minnesota Skeptics fame.

On Sunday Cassie and Erik planned to play a round of disc golf at Pomme de Terre park while I attended the final lecture of the conference by Chris Stedman and participated in a service project.  Unfortunately, my Sunday morning sleep-in was interrupted by a call from the office and we had to drive home earlier than anticipated.

The first annual Midwest Science of Origins Conference was a wonderful achievement for its student organizers, especially considering their minuscule budget.  They should be very proud of what they accomplished.  We're already looking forward to next year.  Well done, Morris Freethinkers, well done!

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