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Aug 16 2010

CFI Vancouver presents Dr. Christopher DiCarlo: We Are All African

It was another big weekend for Vancouver skeptics. We hosted Dr. Christopher DiCarlo for a discussion of human origins in Africa, and we once again handed out flyers at a reading by self-proclaimed ‘psychic medium’ John Edward.

On Friday, August 13th 2010, Centre for Inquiry Vancouver hosted a talk by Dr. Christopher DiCarlo entitled “We Are All African”. In the presentation, Dr. DiCarlo discussed the anthropological evidence for speciation of homo sapiens in Africa, and some of the potential implications this knowledge might have.

Of course I was thrilled to attend this talk – African origin of humanity has long been a given to me, but I’d never really examined the evidence. Being both recently descended from Africa and interested in racial issues, this presentation was right up my alley. I will not do a full writeup of the talk, since this is not a science blog, but I thought I would share a small portion of the presentation that particularly resonated with me. As before with Dr. PZ Myers, I am declining to post the entire lecture, but I will put up this one slice. CFI will post the videos soon (having decentralized the process, so now we can work on them here and post to the CFI YouTube channel), and when they are up, I will link you.

Dr. DiCarlo hits my absolute favourite point at the :50 mark – the idea of in-group and out-group biases (the heckler is his wife, incidentally apparently a random drunk roaming through UBC campus – my bad :P). Regular readers will remember that I talked about this type of bias as the defining feature of racism, and that when we re-draw our tribal maps, we eliminate the “us vs. them” kind of mentality. Dr. DiCarlo suggests that perhaps the fact of common African ancestry could become a way of ultimately doing away with the arbitrary borders we draw around our groups.

We went out for beers after the talk, and I got a chance to chat briefly with our speaker. He had told us a story about how he lost was denied a tenured position at Wilfred Laurier University, seemingly due to complaints from students that his teachings were religiously insensitive. After inviting an Aboriginal student (in his critical thinking class) who had expressed her incredulity at the accuracy of the science to present her own evidence, so as to spark class discussion:

The tone was not sarcastic but, rather, a sincere attempt to perform the function for which the University employs him — to teach students about critical thinking. The woman never returned to his classroom. Instead, she complained to the University, along with two other students who were opposed to his “religiously insensitive” position on evolution. The objections apparently focused on Dr diCarlo’s comments on religion and evolution, but also indicated concern about fair grading and “talking about sex in class.”

While this is an incredibly unfortunate incident, it reveals that some people are not willing to accept those facts that conflict with their world view. A group particularly ill-suited to receive the implications of this kind of information is evangelical/fundamentalist Christian groups (though conservative Muslim or Jewish groups would be similarly resistant). I suggested to Dr. DiCarlo that it might be an interesting experiment to present these findings to black evangelical Christian churches, of which there are a number in the Toronto area. My thinking was that for a group of people who already buy in to the idea of African origin, these people would have a unique perspective, and it may be a way of introducing the idea of evolution as a positive thing, rather than a subject to be resisted at all costs.

All in all I enjoyed both the talk and the reception immensely. Once the video is up, you’ll have the chance to check it out, and I highly recommend that you do.

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7 comments

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  1. 1
    Ian

    A couple minor points:
    -I don’t think he lost tenure so much as was denied from getting it at WLU.
    -I’m also not sure if the heckler was his wife. I think she said some other lady came in who she thought might have been drinking, said she’d be quiet, made a couple rude comments and left. Jamie should be able to elucidate this story better.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    Ah, thanks for the clarification Ian. I was facing front at the time with the video camera, so I only heard the sound. I assumed it was his wife just joking around with him, because the voice came from where she was sitting. I’ll have to ask Jamie.

  3. 3
    Brian Lynchehaun

    It definitely wasn’t his wife. I saw the lady in question, and I saw his wife. Definitely different people. ;)

  4. 4
    Jamie

    I don’t think she was drunk, just some sort of insensitive hippy idiot. She came and whispered to me ‘I’ll be quiet’ and not a minute later she was yelling! I sent her out telling her to be quiet, and she was spouting some sort of conspiracy theory nonsense ‘you won’t be able to stop it when they come and get us!’ or something like that. Grrr!

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    Hahaha, did she ask you if you were a member of the Illuminati?

  6. 6
    Jamie

    No, I haven’t had that happen for a while :)

  7. 7
    CanadianChick

    And how many bars did you close out this time? Wish I could have been there, but I was (and still am) out of town

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