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Our Biological Roots

July 2008

In 1925, as what would become known as the Scopes Monkey Trial began in Dayton, Tenn., Msgr. Ulrich Hauber-renowned scientist and priest, St. Ambrose professor of biology and textbook author, and president of the college from 1926-30-published "A Catholic Opinion on the Evolution Controversy." The pamphlet attempted to address the thorny issues arising from what he called "the experiment in Tennessee."

In it, Hauber wrote that "Those who oppose sound scientific theories, such as the general theory of evolution has a right to be called, are doing harm to the cause of truth. Catholics especially should be ready to accept new findings in the scientific world without losing their grasp on the more fundamental truths of religion."

Somewhat amazingly, more than 80 years later the evolution versus creationism debate is still front-page news. And with 2009 marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species"-as well as Darwin's 200th birthday-biology professor and evolutionist Rich Legg became intrigued by the opportunities the events presented for St. Ambrose to once again explore this issue.

So this spring Legg approached theatre professor Cory Johnson to arrange a reading of "Inherit the Wind," the 1955 play about the Scopes Trial, for his fall Evolution course. He invited fellow evolutionist and author David Sloan Wilson (see A Third Way of Thinking) to tackle the topic as the Hauber Chair Lecturer on Sept. 15.

From these seeds evolved-pun entirely intended-the Darwin Project, St. Ambrose's year-long celebration, exploration and, yes, debate of the Father of Evolution's discoveries and his life.

The play reading has morphed into a staged production in October at the Galvin Fine Arts Center. Shows in the Catich and Morrissey galleries will delve into the theme of natural selection. In fact, the Darwin Project has engaged academic departments across the liberal arts-psychology, theology, philosophy, history, theatre, English, art, music-which, Legg says, "speaks to the impact of Darwin's ideas and how they penetrate every discipline."

It's also what lends the project such broad appeal. "The issue of origins and its genesis creates heat among the general public," he says.

Along with Wilson, two other nationally-known speakers will deliver lectures: Michael Ruse, the philosophy professor from Florida State University who testified in an Arkansas trial against teaching Biblical creation in 1981, and Rev. George Coyne, director emeritus of the Vatican Observatory, who will pose such provocative questions as "Did we come about by chance or by necessity of the evolving universe? Did God make us? Can we conclude that there is an Intelligent Design to the universe?"

Legg is sure that the answers, as with the entire Darwin Project zeitgeist, will be as provocative and multi-faceted.

"For me, the theory of evolution is a very powerful set of ideas that colors almost every way I see the world," he says. "It explains everything we see in biological nature. Our hope is that people who engage with the Darwin Project will acquire this great new tool for understanding their world."

It's almost as if Hauber's spirit, or his DNA-or both-still linger in the halls of St. Ambrose.

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