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Culture » Culture Features

Darwin At COCC



As a professional biologist, Jay Bowerman can probably be excused for taking a purely non-political perspective on his latest endeavor, a nearly yearlong series of lectures on Charles Darwin and his landmark work on natural selection and the accompanying theory of evolution. A former president and executive director at the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory, Bowerman has long been fascinated by the lasting impact of Darwin's theories and the evolving scientific framework, which Bowerman calls "an incredible unifying theory for all the life sciences." Not unlike the theory of relativity in physics, just about every process in the natural sciences can be traced back to Darwin's pioneering theories.

The Nature Center, led by Bowerman and Executive Director Kathy Pazera, is hoping to shed greater light on the importance and lasting impact of Darwin's work with an ambitious and unprecedented lecture series that will bring seven leading evolutionary scholars to Central Oregon beginning this month and wrapping up in November. The lectures will range from an examination of the underlying science of evolution to an exploration of its ramifications on religion and philosophy.

The series, titled "Darwin's Legacy: 200 years of insights and challenges," kicks off this week at COCC on Thursday night with a lecture on the evolution of sex and death from Patrick Phillips, director of the Center for Ecology and Biology at the University of Oregon.

While the science around evolution has long been accepted in research circles, the topic remains controversial in many religious realms. Bowerman said the lecture series, which is sponsored by COCC and the Nancy R. Chandler Visiting Scholar Program, isn't going to tip toe around that. In fact one faculty member already objected to the notion of COCC hosting the lecture series, requesting that the college make room for alternative viewpoints, according to Bowerman. (Nevermind that the college is already open for faith-based groups to use.)

But Bowerman said the idea isn't to stir up controversy, but rather to educate the public on the lasting impact of Darwin's work and that of his successors. If the series is a success, look for the Nature Center to take on other lecture topics in the future as the organization works to expand its influence beyond Sunriver.

Asked why the apolitical Nature Center wanted to wade into the topic of evolution for its inaugural series, Bowerman said without a hint of irony, "It seemed like evolution was a logical starting place."

Darwin's Puzzles: The Evolution of Sex and Death

6:30 p.m. Thurs. Jan. 14 Willie Hall, COCC - Bend. 514-593-4394.
All ages. $10/ $3 students.

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