Location: Noel Ryan Auditorium, Mississauga Central Library - 7 p.m. Date: February 10, 2009, 301 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Mississauga
Present: Edgar Coxeter, Marc Devenish, Elka & Ernie Enola, John & Doreen Giesbrecht, John Jackson, Andy Krantz, Dave McCamus, Bene Pirtam, Fred Riche, Kevin & Lisette Saldanha, Shaun Lalla (new).
After an introduction by our Past-president, Elka Enola, Dr. Douglas Currie, Entomolgy Curator at the ROM, gave a preview of the new Schad Gallery of Biodiversity, which is scheduled to open in the middle of May, 2009. This all new gallery will have 7 ecosystems represented: Coral Reef, Western Alberta, Great Lakes Basin, Grasslands, Tropical Forest, Boreal Forest, and the Arctic. There will be a special section called the Earth Rangers Studio with high tech presentations as well as live birds and animals on display. Among the many other features there will be an active Leaf Cutter Ant colony. Dr. Currie indicated that they are expecting in excess of 250,000 visitors per year. It all sounded very exciting, and it does serve to illustrate the story of evolution in a way that will undoubtedly appeal to a very broad audience.
This was followed by the keynote speaker of the evening, Dr. Jason Wiles, from the University of Syracuse, who was introduced by our President, Dr. Kevin Saldanha. Dr. Wiles is also the co-director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University. He began his discourse by indicating that there appears to be a relatively high level of awareness of the theory of evolution amongst the general public and academia. By way of illustration he presented two humorous videos one entitled the “Evolution of Homer Simpson”, and a Canadian Tire commercial called “The Evolution of Need”, both suggesting that the public are generally aware of the theory of evolution, but with a very fragile grasp of the fundamental principles involved.
He went on to talk about a statement recently signed by leading senior scientific officials representing 67 countries around the world (in some cases representing more than one country) about the Theory of Evolution. They agreed that the world began 4.5 billion years ago and that life appeared 2.5 billion years ago and that, while life has taken many forms, DNA research reveals a common primordial origin.He outlined why the study of evolution is so important:
- It provides a fundamental understanding of science and how it should work.
- It requires a basic understanding and integration of Biology, Geology, Astronomy, etc.
- Nothing in Biology makes sense without evolution.
- In the field of medicine, without the Theory of Evolution how would one explain the development of antibiotic resistant drugs? How would it be that using animals to test drugs can possibly work, if we are not related to the rest of the animal kingdom?
- In agriculture, we have a very long history of using selective breeding, or perhaps more accurately, “directed evolution”, in order to evolve stronger, larger, more disease resistant, and fertile strains of crops and animals.
- In the environmental sphere we are rightly concerned about the ability of many species to adapt to the altered reality that we humans are creating. It is essential that we gain a far better grasp of the critical issues involved before we lose more and more of world’s biodiversity.
- A basic understanding of the Theory of Evolution is essential to grasp the fundamental imperative that we as humans must continually adapt or ultimately perish. “The very future of humanity is at stake”!
Dr. Wiles warned us not be complacent about the teaching of the Theory of Evolution in Canada. He stated that “it is not unusual for Canadian students to go through their entire public school career without being taught about evolution”. Indeed, it is often omitted from the curriculum, or taught by teachers with limited knowledge and/or commitment to the subject.Dr. Wiles went on to discuss the recent controversy about the Canadian Government’s denial of a grant to the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill to conduct a study of the teaching of evolution in Canadian schools on the basis that there was not adequate justification provided for the assumption that evolution is correct versus intelligent design, an objection which not only revealed an appalling lack of insight into the subject area, but which was also totally irrelevant to the purpose of the study. Apparently, they have found other funding for the study and are planning to proceed regardless.
His final message was:
- Learn the science of evolution well.
- Help educate the world about evolution.