Darwin Days – success!

Darwin Days at ISU consisted of two events put on by two student groups at Iowa State University: the newly founded Freethinkers Alliance for Tolerance and Ethics and the 10 year old Atheist and Agnostic Society. FATE hosted “Darwin and Me: A Panel Discussion on Science and Religion” on Thursday February 12 at 7pm in the Cardinal Room of the ISU Memorial Union. AAS hosted DJ Grothe who presented “Darwin Made Me Do It: Secular vs Religious Ethics” on Friday February 13 at 7pm in the Campanile Room of the ISU Memorial Union.

Funding from the Secular Student Alliance was used to publicize both events, resulting in attendance that was much higher than we had imagined: about 120 attendees at the panel discussion (which was well over fire code for the room) and about 80 attendees for DJ Grothe (despite the event being immediately after a severe snowstorm on a Friday night).

We had about 20 new members sign up for FATE, and 5 new members for AAS. One third to one half of the people attending the panel discussion were community members from local churches, and many people attending DJ Grothe’s talk were already on the AAS mailing list, so the low number of new members is not very surprising. While the events were not effective in recruiting new members, they certainly were effective in improving visibility of both FATE and AAS on campus, which we think will eventually lead to improved recruitment for both organizations.

To compose the panel for Darwin and Me, we contacted religious student groups, known religious professors in the sciences, and personal contacts such as professors and colleagues of club members. This search resulted in a panel of six:

  • Abdelhamid Azzaz, Muslim graduate student in Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology
  • Michael Clough, Christian professor in the Center for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education
  • Clark Ford, New Age professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, Bioethics
  • Tom Ingebritsen, Christian professor in Genetics, Development and Cell Biology
  • Nimer Mehyar, Muslim graduate student in Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology
  • Barbara Pleasants, Jewish professor in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

The panel members shared their personal experiences in reconciling their religious faith and the teachings and books of their religions with the science they work with, particularly evolution. A very significant point was brought up in response to a question asked by an attendee: when my children are taught about evolution, aren’t they also being taught about atheism? Each panel member took a moment to explain that evolution and religious faith are not related. We feel that this event was a very important service to the community, helping both students and community members to come to a greater understanding of the relationship between religion and science.

DJ Grothe was already scheduled to speak at UNI on February 12, so we were able to bring him to ISU with greatly reduced expense. His talk about the origin of religious ethics spurred much discussion, with a question and answer session lasting over a half hour. Bringing such a well known and well respected speaker to ISU helps club members and potential club members to recognize the prestige of AAS and will hopefully encourage them to become more involved in club activities.

Our advertising for these events was through many venues. An advertisement ran in the Iowa State Daily on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for a total cost of $120. Additional ads were run on Thursday and Friday by the ISU Committee on Lectures, an organization that helps groups publicize events that are held in the Memorial Union for the benefit of the student body. Flyers publicizing each event individually were printed for a total cost of $25 and distributed by the official flyer distribution system for $25 in department mailboxes, dorms, Greek houses, and academic buildings throughout campus. 7 sandwich boards, made available for free rental by the ISU Government of the Student Body, were checked out and rotated through different locations throughout campus all week long. On the boards were large signs that were laminated to protect them from the elements throughout the week. Lamination was expensive, bringing the total cost of the signs to $75, but without it, rain would have destroyed the signs the first day they were out. The total advertising cost was $245. The Secular Student Alliance sponsored all of the advertising, and was recognized verbally at both events as being the sponsor that made all of our advertising possible, and was listed on all flyers, signs, the AAS and FATE websites, and Facebook events. Due to limited space, none of our sponsors were listed in the newspaper ads.

The ISU Interdepartmental Genetics department donated over $200 for birthday cake and sparkling punch for the panel discussion. They also purchased a slide advancing remote for the panel to use, as one was not available to us through other sources on campus. The Iowa Secularists donated $250 to pay for DJ Grothe’s travel costs. The Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers donated $50 for coffee, tea, and goodies for DJ Grothe’s talk. These sponsors were also thanked verbally and mentioned in all of our advertisements besides the newspaper ads.

These events would not have been such a great success without the help of our sponsors.

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