SPEAKER: This is a production of Cornell University.
WARREN ALLMON: My name is Warren Allmon. I'm the Director of the Paleontological Research Institution and the Museum of the Earth, and the co-convenor of "Darwin Days," Ithaca "Darwin Days," 2009.
Of course, this is a special one this year, because it's the bicentennial-- 48 hours from now is the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth. And I have a little bit-- I'm also the moderator for this panel tonight. But before I do that, let me do a few advertisements and acknowledgments. Some of you will have heard this about two hours ago. So I apologize.
This is the fourth annual Ithaca "Darwin Days." We've been doing this since 2006. And a number of people helped make this possible financially. We don't spend a lot of money to do this. But that little bit of money has to come from somewhere. And it has consistently, for all four years, come from an alumnus of the law school, Stephan Loewentheil, who is very dedicated to this cause. And we thank him profusely.
I also want to thank several units of Cornell, who you can imagine under the present circumstances that it's not easy to find money for extra things like this. But several units of the university, including Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Public Affairs, and the Speaker's Bureau all contributed to this event this year. And we're very grateful to all of them. And the PRI staff do most of the heavy lifting on this. And I appreciate all of their hard work.
Let me make a couple of advertisements here. If you don't have one, there are some of these cards in the back, which have the schedule for the entire week. If you don't have a card or don't want to get one, just remember ithacadarwindays.org or the PRI website, priweb.org, has all the events. It is, as far as I can recall, Tuesday. And so that means there's plenty more to come this week.
So I just draw your attention to tomorrow. The name David Campbell may not be familiar to you. But he is a very well-known teacher, high school biology teacher, in Florida. And he's a Cornell alumnus, class of '77. He's one of the leaders of the anticreationism response among Florida public school teachers and administrators. And so he will be speaking and participating in a panel discussion tomorrow, which I heartily encourage you to come and attend.
He came in today and told me about new things that have just happened in the last week in Florida, most of them not very good. So please come to those. Then Thursday-- and I should mention, former president Hunter Rawlings will be introducing David Campbell tomorrow afternoon.
Thursday, we have a lecture on religion and evolution by Ross Brand, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell. And then one of the main events of the week, President Emeritus Frank Rhodes, who in a previous life was a paleontologist, and then in another previous life was and still is a Darwin scholar, and is going to give I think a not-to-missed lecture on 20 or 30 years of studying Charles Darwin.
And then right after that is going to be the opening of what really is special this year for Darwin week, the opening of the Cornell half of a special temporary exhibit called "Darwin After the Origin." You all know Darwin wrote the Origin. But he lived another 20 years and wrote another shelf of books. And this exhibit, which is at Kroch Library and at the Museum of the Earth, celebrates and explores the books that he wrote after the Origin. So the opening of the Kroch half of that will be on Thursday afternoon.
And then on Saturday, Darwin's birthday party on Saturday night, at the museum, tickets available at the back or at the door; complete with cake and entertainment, and lots of unexpected surprises. Earlier in the day, Family Day at the museum. We don't do a lot for small children and families during the week. But we make up for that on Saturdays. So snakes and other accouterments on Saturday are promised.
And if you don't want to go to Family Day, come here, Don Prothero talk at 4:45-- 4:30. Don Prothero is a very well-known vertebrate paleontologist from Occidental College and Caltech. And he's just published a terrific new book on fossil evidence for evolution, which is a great read.
So there's plenty-- oh, I forgot one other new thing. This year we asked some local-- I guess I can say celebrities-- some local notables, and faculty, and other people to respond to a series of questions. And we are posting them on the "Darwin Days" website. And they include the lead singer for Bad Religion, who also got his PhD in zoology at Cornell; the president of Cornell, Professor Robin Davidson; a couple of Cornell trustees, all responding to questions about evolution.
So we're posting a few of those every day on the website in a blog format. So you can write in and say that you don't like bad religion if you want to.
So with no further ado, let me introduce our distinguished panel today. And it is a very distinguished panel. It is a very eclectic panel, and that's on purpose. But they are all very distinguished.
On my far right, your far left, is Professor S. James Gates, who is the Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland. He comes to this event this year courtesy of Cornell United Religious Work. Thank you to them. He gave a wonderful lecture in Sage Chapel on Sunday night. And he agreed to join us on this panel.
He is an expert in string theory, which is really cool. But what really is particularly engaging about him in this context is he is one of the major popular speakers around the country and outside the country in explaining physics to popular audiences. And he's appeared in a number of television documentaries about that. And he's very, very good at that.
Will Provine probably doesn't need any introduction to many of you. Will Provine is more or less the co-inventor of "Darwin Days" at Cornell and is a evolutionary biologist and historian of evolutionary biology at Cornell. He is currently the Tisch Distinguished Professor, which allows him to do what he does even more of the time.
And to my immediate right is Dr. Kenneth Kennedy, who despite all appearances is retired. But he is Cornell's physical anthropologist, has taught human evolution here for many years, continues to teach human paleontology and human evolution, even though he's retired. And we were just talking that Cornell is going to have to figure out what to do about that when he finally decides to really retire.
His expertise covers the waterfront, as we're going to hear a little bit about tonight. But most recently, he published a great, big, thick book on the paleoanthropology of Southeast Asia. So he has--
KENNETH KENNEDY: South Asia.
WARREN ALLMON: South Asia-- yes, sorry-- not to be confused with. So he's the genuine article in terms of being a physical anthropologist.
This idea for this panel was consistent with the notion of this whole week. A couple of the previous Darwin weeks here, we have picked a theme to try to encourage people to come back, if you came last year. This year, it being the bicentennial, we thought we would not pick just one theme. We would try to attract the broadest possible audience by trying to cover almost every subject that evolution touches on, which is impossible. But we tried to pick topics that we thought would generate a lot of interest.
And so we picked the obvious biggies, creationism and religion, teaching evolution. But we thought that we would assemble a group to talk about the potentially interesting topic of race and evolution. And when I solicited these folks to participate, I said simply come and say whatever you think is important about those two words.
I prompted them a little bit further by saying, if you want to think about it, what if anything does Darwinian evolution have to say about human races? They may or may not say anything in response to that. But they may.
Why are we doing this? If you're here, I probably don't need to answer that. But let me just point out a couple of really interesting things that make this topic perhaps particularly apropos right now. It's worth remembering that it wasn't so long ago that race was a completely legitimate biological subject taught in anthropology classes, and evolution classes, and all kinds of classes.
When I was an undergraduate, which admittedly was a while ago, I was very puzzled with why we talk about human races in one way and we talk about subspecies in another way. And I've heard that birds have races. And I've heard that people have races. And I've heard that Neanderthal is a subspecies. And so how does that all work? And the answer, of course, is that it was all muddled up anyway.
Now, races is not a very common word in mainstream biological science. Yesterday, in the panel on the life sciences and evolution, Steve Kresovich, who's the Vice Provost for Life Sciences, tried to steal a little thunder from tonight by asking his panel, what do they think about human race? And the responses were brief and unanimous among the biologists that were assembled, which is, we don't think about it at all from an evolutionary point of view.
One of the panelists yesterday said it's a nonsubject as far as biologists are concerned. Well, of course, it's not a nonsubject as far as nonbiologists are concerned. And you all know you can pick your favorite or least favorite example of that.
We supposedly just elected a non-racial black president. Thursday is the 200th birthday, of course, also of Abraham Lincoln. But I just learned that it's also the 100th birthday of the NAACP, which convened-- I didn't know this until just this week-- it came out of a discussion of what was called a hundred years ago the "Negro question." And that was not just a social or political question, but it was also biological question. So it is not so long ago that that was part and parcel of evolutionary biology.
So with all of that as background, I want to throw it open to these three gentlemen to say what they'd like to say. The format, such as it is, is that they're going to give brief statements of a few minutes and then entertain any questions from the audience. And then we'll move on to the next speaker. And then we'll stay here afterwards as long as everybody wants to talk about it.
S. JAMES GATES: Well, thank you. On Sunday night, I indeed gave a presentation, which was the scariest presentation of my life because I am a physicist. And so I began the presentation by talking about three physicists, probably the three greatest physicists of all time, Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein.
And I used Maxwell as a particular focus because Maxwell was the least known of the fathers of physics, but in some ways he's the most interesting if you ask questions about faith. He was a traditional, customary, devout Christian. And yet he's one of the three greatest physicists of all time.
So what did he think about the issue of his faith versus his work? And so I thought that was a particular lens to work through in trying to address that question. And I would certainly encourage others of you to look at the life of Maxwell if you're thinking about such issues. I think he has something to teach many of us.
But, of course, the other reason I chose those three is because ultimately they give my field a type of evolution. Cosmic evolution comes directly out of the work of these three gentlemen. The fact that, as far as we can tell, our universe is about 13.7 billion years old, and started with an event that we call the Big Bang, and has been evolving ever since.
I contrasted that with the work of Charles Darwin, the single father of evolution in biology. And I guess that just goes to show you that it takes three physicists to make one good biologist.
But nonetheless, Charles Darwin, of course, is a figure of much contention even to this late day, and probably always will because his work challenges us on very many levels. I'm sure you know the basic facts of his life. So he was born on the 12th of the February in 1809, a birthday he indeed shares with Abraham Lincoln. He had a very long, a successful marriage to a devoutly Christian woman. In fact, her name was Wedgwood, as in the china, for those of you who collect such things.
Now, we're all pretty familiar with the Darwin story. Even as a young man, he started out as an adventurer, with a five-year voyage on a ship called the Beagle. And this voyage took him essentially around the world. And he had the occasion to visit Brazil, in the city of Bahia, and to go inland.
And there, for the first time, he actually saw the practice of slavery, which I think made quite an impression on him. One of the comments he later made in life was that whenever he heard a human wail in misery, he always thought about the first time he heard such a wail. And it occurred when he went to Brazil. And he goes on to relate a story about how some slave was actually being disciplined for some infraction. And he said he thought it was the most terrible sound that he'd ever heard.
He also went inland on that journey in Brazil, and not just to look at the society, a slave-holding society, but also to do what naturalists do, which is to look at the flora and the fauna of the region. And there's this one beautiful quote that the 22-year-old Darwin made, that I love and I'd like to relate to you. He said, "I was led by feelings to the firm conviction of the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul. While standing in the midst of the grandeur of the Brazilian forest, it is not possible to give adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind. I well remember by conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body."
Now, that's the young 22-year-old Darwin. But we all know-- at least those of us familiar with the story of Darwin-- that he winds up in a very different place at the end of his life with regard to religion. But one of the things that's to me most interesting about Darwin is that he was a scientist in a way that I admire the workings of all great scientists. Namely, that they are led on journeys of discovery. And they don't deny what comes out of that journey.
In the case of Darwin, we know that his work in science ultimately does undermine his faith as a traditional Christian. And yet, even at the end of his life, I think some remnants-- there's evidence that some remnants of that earlier Darwin was there. And, in fact, at the end of The Descent of Man there's this wonderful quote about grandeur. He says, "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few form or even perhaps one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to its fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, have been, and are being evolved."
Near the end of his life, when he is dying, one of the things that he tells his wife is, God bless you. And so even though he is at some level rather agnostic in his belief, there's some residue there of a spiritual view. And there have recently, in fact, been books talking about Darwin, that his work as an abolitionist may have well driven his views on evolution. I find that a little bit fanciful. But there are recent books to this point. And you may meet them and judge them on your own.
But what I say about Darwin is what I say about Einstein, is that these are people who are led by their science. And they don't deny where the science takes them. In the case of Darwin, of course, this five-year journey on the Beagle let's him had the opportunity to view many different life forms in various settings. Darwin, if you actually read some of the diary that eventually becomes his book, you find out that there's a keen observer of that work there, someone who notices details that perhaps most people would miss on a similar journey. And I encourage you to do the reading because it's actually kind of interesting.
And so this very careful eye, which actually talks, for example, about the details of the social behavior in the societies around here, is turned on nature in the same sort of way in recording detail. And so one gets the impression-- at least personally, the impression I get about Darwin-- is that he's a careful observer, a property that every scientist has to bring to the task of doing science.
So when it comes to the issue of race, where does he end up? Well, let's first of all be very honest about Darwin. He was a man of his era. So that does not mean that he had a kumbaya moment, where he said, you know, we're all brothers and sisters. And we will dance into the future together. That wasn't where he ended up on the issue of race.
But what he did do is recognize the unity of the human race. That it's a singular noun, not a plural noun. And though he may have felt that European cultures and European people were the highest example of humanity, he understood that there was a connection between all of humanity.
We are fortunate that we live in a time where the ideas of Darwin, in fact, have started to flower in a way that's quite unexpected. And I'm sure some of my other co-panelists will speak on this, particularly the co-panelist to my immediate left. But we live in a time where, because there was a Darwin, we are able to look at our bodies and recreate the structure of the story of our species as we populated this planet.
It's a marvelous story, that starts in East Africa approximately 165,000 years ago. There are successive waves of migration, that we can now track with our DNA, telling us who went where. And the first Africans to leave the continent essentially wind up inhabiting the subcontinent of India, and follow that route along the North Pacific.
The European branch of our family is actually very interesting. It has a very interesting story. I don't know how many of you know it. But the European branch of our human family also heads eastward, until about 80,000 years ago, when it decides to make a 180 degree turn and winds up entering modern Europe.
And so without Darwin, this story of our connections to each other is not possible. And to me that is one of the most wonderful gifts that science has given us in the last 50 or so years because science itself was used to perpetuate the myths of the multiplicity of the human race. There was phrenology and brain cavity capacity, and supposedly scientific studies which told us why we were different. And yet now we find our scientists turned around because its inherent error-correction mechanisms is telling us a different story, a story of a human family, a singular human family.
And it's a story that we don't always accept so readily. So, for example, when genomic studies started to tell this story, there were debates about the singular origin of mankind or whether there were possible multiple origins? And so, for example, there were studies in 1998 asking the question, was the Chinese branch of the human family a possible separate origin place?
Those of us who follow such things know the way that this story ends. All the evidence that we can get from genomics tells us that we're all African. It's a very interesting point. The African peoples who survive today have the broadest genetic diversity in the genome.
If people had left that group, you would expect that under those circumstances the diversity of the genome is narrower. And, in fact, it is. So, in fact, all of our science says precisely what our religions tell us, what our spiritual and faith beliefs tell us, that we're actually brothers and sisters. And we're not so very far removed from each other.
And to me, this is one of the greatest gifts that Charles Darwin has left us. We may argue with him about religion. But the fact that he has told us in a very precise way how we are related to each other, I think is something that we should celebrate. And that's why I'm particularly happy to take part in this panel.
WARREN ALLMON: Questions for Dr. Gates? Gene.
AUDIENCE: Dr. Gates, it's interesting that the Church of England allowed him to be buried in the cathedral.
S. JAMES GATES: Yes. Well, Darwin was-- if you look at the totality of Darwin's interaction with society, it's actually very interesting because right after Darwin's work appears, very quickly opposition. And he was very much aware of the fact that people would interpret this as an assault on their religious beliefs.
And yet he achieves great fame and honor in his life. There has been a sustained period afterwards where Darwin, in fact, is not held in such high regard. And, in fact, almost is banished from biology-- but maybe I'm stepping on my colleague's story here-- but is almost banished from biology.
So it's not surprising to me that in his lifetime his fame is sufficiently great. And the contribution that he has made is sufficiently well known that this concession was made by the Church. I think probably what's to me a more interesting thing was, in fact, how he is able to animate his beliefs in abolition because that's a really uncomfortable position perhaps to hold at that time in society. But the Church indeed made its peace with him in his time-- well, at the end of his life.
There two hands. Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: I saw your lecture on Sunday. And I was hoping to hear you say how Maxwell was influenced by Darwin and [INAUDIBLE], especially how Maxwell realized the threat to free will that Darwin and [INAUDIBLE] posed and his unsuccessful attempt to rescue the concept of free will. Could you elaborate on that?
S. JAMES GATES: Well, it's a little bit off-topic from this panel. But I will say something. Maxwell, of course, as I said, is one of the three greatest physicists that ever lived. And though a devout Christian, he really didn't believe in manifest destiny. That, in fact, free will is also-- in Maxwell's terms, that free will is also a gift from our creator. And so it's consistent with his religious beliefs.
But to me, the thing that Maxwell does most effectively is to try to put to rest this idea that you can use science to justify religion. And to me, that's a much more important point, is that science by-- as you know, I said on Sunday science by its very design is incapable as a belief system for threatening religion. Now, the people who advocate both sides can attack each other. But if you actually look at the systems themselves, science is actually incapable of attacking religion. And I can go into that for other audience members later.
So arguments about free will come out of this belief, both as a scientist and also as a Christian. So he's being consistent in this argument. But he's also saying don't use science against religion and don't use science to argue metaphysical points. And the question of free will at that point in time is a metaphysical question.
There was another hand at the back.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. I assumed that Darwin was deceased by the time of the rise of social Darwinism. I don't know. Maybe he wasn't. So what did he think about the use of his theory and application to society?
S. JAMES GATES: I don't want to-- I can say some things. But I'm going to have to defer to other members of the panel on this.
He was not deceased by the right by the time that social Darwinism arose. However, he is not the father of the idea either. That's a point of confusion.
I mean, it's the name that's attached to the set of ideas. But he's not the father of these sets of ideas. In fact, one of his relatives were, if I remember my history correctly.
WARREN ALLMON: I'm sure we'll come back to that question.
S. JAMES GATES: OK, good. Well, let me stop here then. And maybe it will be more adequately treated by someone else. So let's hold off on that. And perhaps one of my other panelists-- There was another hand out here.
AUDIENCE: Oh, yes. Now, you've pointed out the impact of DNA on understanding race, that we are really one people, as our president says. But now, how about brain energy? Will that throw a light on spirituality perhaps?
S. JAMES GATES: If I believe, as Maxwell-- and I do-- you don't use science-- yeah. If you're asking questions about a physical reaction to spirituality, if that's your question, then, yes, I can see how science is useful. But if you're asking a more essential question, that we will ultimately understand why we're spiritual because of some set of physical observations, along with Maxwell, I don't believe that.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: I've had an average two MRIs every year since 1995. They disagree with each other regularly. And they are nearly worthless for evaluating whether my tumor is growing or not. I do not believe that they are going to be able to analyze our spirituality with an MRI machine or a functional MRI machine.
WARREN ALLMON: But they found out that you didn't have that part of the brain that does spirituality.
S. JAMES GATES: You can tell when your friends are on a panel. Gee-whiz.
WARREN ALLMON: OK, so let us now move on with that, to Will Provine.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: When I came to Cornell, I had no doctorate degree. And I finished writing it the first year here. It was a history of population genetics. And immediately, when I finished that over spring break, I started a new research project, which was the history of biologists' attitudes towards race differences and race classes.
I started in on that research. And indeed, I started with Darwin. And I found out that Darwin had a very interesting view of human races. He believed they were all of one species, but they differed mightily between each other.
And he had a whole category. The lowest, at the bottom-- take a guess. Do you think it's Fuegians or Australian aborigines? Which do you think? He saw them both. And in the end, he decided the aborigines were the lowest because they didn't seem to ever be able to learn anything, even though they were very good at maintaining themselves out in the Outback.
Anyway, he had a whole hierarchy. And he believed that the races up at the top, intellectual races, were going to exterminate all the lower ones. And the example of the Tasmanians is one that he saw on the voyage of the Beagle. And he thought that would continue.
His friend, Thomas Huxley, was also, like Darwin, an abolitionist and believed that humans were one species. But he was absolutely clear in hereditary mental differences between African blacks and whites. He thought they were completely different in their abilities. And he said if the contest is held between blacks and whites with minds, there's no question that the whites will win. If it's conducted by jaws, the blacks might win.
And he goes on, the whole history of biologists' attitudes towards race differences and race classing are just like this all along. I mean, people were as upset as they could be as biologists, in looking at these questions. And they believed what their society was basically believing around them.
So all they did was to take their biology and rationalize that with what they already knew anyway. Would you believe that when Mendelian inheritance is rediscovered, all you get is the same darn thing all over again, except now Mendelism supported the new kind of views about hereditary mental differences between human races. And Mendelism is used to argue against human race classing.
So in the early 20th century, you can look at a great summary of these in the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910 and '11. And I challenge you to look up the article entitled "Negro" and read what it says in the Encyclopedia Britannica. This was written by a physical anthropologist, who knew just exactly what he was talking about. And I'll just let you take a look at that.
But it didn't change then. And it didn't change all into in the 1920s and '30s. The modern eugenics movement was just perfect for this.
And to me, I began to get a little bit discouraged on this research project. So when civil rights came along, and I saw this great evolutionary biologist, and I had a chance to interview him and write a book about him, and I said I am going to put that race book aside. And I'm going to go and work on that for a while because it was a very discouraging story and one that didn't change until after Nazi atrocities in World War II.
That was a watershed period of time, but not an immediate one. It changes the minds of the older geneticists not one iota, not one iota. But it does change the minds of younger ones. And the younger ones then began talking about greater equality of races and so on. I'm thinking of particularly Leslie C. Dunn, a geneticist who worked at Columbia with Theodosius Dobzhansky.
Now, what has happened to ideas about race among evolutionists since then? And the answer is unbelievable. Because, first of all, we get molecular biology. You can use that to deduce how long it was since humans separated from chimpanzees. You can do it now for Neanderthal. It's a grand thing.
Now, if you use this kind of molecular technique, can you find out when all the variety of humans all over the world shared a common ancestor? And this is worked out in 1983-- or no, 1987 maybe. Something like that, in the 1980s. And the lab at Berkeley works out the most recent common ancestor by using mitochondrial DNA, which is just through the line of women. And they get a figure of 200,000 years ago.
That was an amazing thing because it took what people thought were millions of years of differences between human races and crunch them all the way down to only 200,000 years ago. And that figure has come down by these same kind of gene genealogies, to about 150,000 years ago. That's where we are right now with gene genealogies.
When it's done on Y chromosomes, we do it through males. It started out around 175,000 years ago. And it's also dropped to around 150,000 or so, in that neighborhood. Wow.
So now we can see that we are all brothers and sisters. But it gets more interesting than that. What if you suppose humans have two parents, and not just one? If you do it through the gene genealogies, you get a certain kind of answer. But if you do it through real genealogy, giving everybody two parents, you get a completely different view about how we have a most recent common ancestor.
I've put up here on the board a place. If you copy that down and enter that into your web browser, you will come up with a PDF of the article from 2004 in Nature magazine that has completely revised our ideas about when we share a most recent common ancestor by using the genealogy of humans actually having two parents.
So when does this take place? When do we share a most recent common ancestor, everybody in the whole world? About 6,000 years, depending upon the model that they happen to use. And if you go back a few thousand years beyond that, everybody on Earth shares the same heritage from that point back in time.
We are truly all brothers and sisters. And what I like about this is that I don't care-- I don't give a hoot whether it turns out to be 6,000 years for the most recent common ancestor. I don't care whether it's that, or 20,000 years, or what it is. It's nice, at long last, to have biology be on the right side. And it's taken a very long time for it to happen.
And now the job is to get this article widely dispersed, widely understood. And there's one interesting thing that the creationists will absolutely love about this. It's clear that the MCRA occurs in the last 10,000 years.
Thank you very much.
WARREN ALLMON: Questions, please, for Dr. Provine.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: Yes.
AUDIENCE: That's a very powerful message. And I'm glad you shared it. And Dr. Gates, I'm glad you shared yours. And you have the same basic point.
My concern is, sitting here, let's say is there some threshold? Let's say you did the same research. It was 100,000 years ago or 5 million years ago. Is there some threshold where it makes an ethical difference? And I'm starting to think now in terms of us and chimpanzees as an example. Is there some other--
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: I've never held the view that what's true of biology should determine my ethical views about race differences. It's not a biological issue whatsoever. We don't know anything about what the hereditary mental differences between racial groups and so on are. I suspect they're basically nothing now that we understand a little more about our phylogeny.
But in any case, I don't think it depends upon the biology on which I based my ethical view. My ethical view is everybody gets the same treatment. It has nothing to do with biology, absolutely nothing.
So to me, I agree with your point. And I've argued that for years, and years, and years. It's not a biological point. It's purely and simply a basic ethical point.
AUDIENCE: It's a talking point.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: It's more than a talking point, Jim.
S. JAMES GATES: May I make kind of a discussion? I think that, certainly as a physicist, when I look at this debate-- and obviously as a human being. So I take part in it from that point of view. But one thing that I always try to keep in the back in my mind is that we also have to be as brief as Darwin about this. And that is, to follow where the data leads us.
And so if there are differences that are significant, we ought to be very honest about that, too. But as my colleague Will just said, that should not be how we fix our ethics.
AUDIENCE: Are you a vegetarian?
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: I'm not. I feel just like Mr. Massimo Pigliucci this afternoon. When he gave his lecture, he said, you know, I really should be a vegetarian. But I love a good steak. No, I'm not a vegetarian. But I'm tending more and more in that direction virtually every year of my life.
WARREN ALLMON: Other questions for Will?
AUDIENCE: Will, what was Wright's position on race?
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: I talked with him a good deal about that. He didn't agree with his colleagues, who had more of a racialist kind of view. One of his teachers was Edward Murray East at Harvard. And East was a very intense racist in his writings. And Wright clearly did not agree with that.
On the other hand, Wright had a lot of sympathies for eugenics. And what we find of the eugenics movement is that it gets up to World War II in pretty darn good shape. But after World War II, it wasn't popular to have the word "eugenics" in anything.
So we get an American human genetics society. We get all this sort of stuff, but no eugenics. And so eugenics has been basically pushed out of American society. And what's interesting is that under that situation, we've now got a powerful eugenics movement going right now.
It's known as genetic counseling. And it's very powerful. And it's going to be more powerful in the future. What we have is a booming eugenics, that's going to get more and more intense. Maybe we should think about that.
WARREN ALLMON: That was actually one of the points that came up yesterday in the panel about the life sciences. Yesterday, it was called personal medicine-- not my term. Gene, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: We all started with a common ancestor. Yeah, biology can instruct us as to why we have races on this planet right now. Can you comment on why we have races?
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: Well, one thing that we know for sure is that Australia has had aborigines there since about 30,000 years ago or maybe even longer ago than that. How can it be that they are part of this most recent common ancestor, within the last 10,000 years? And the answer is, there was so much migration of human beings that they are not separated biologically from the other human beings in Asia and so on.
The rate at which humans spread across the Pacific Ocean is absolutely stunning. And all it takes is about 150 years for people to come across the Bering Strait, and then go to the southern tip of South America. It's absolutely incredible how mobile we are.
And everything that looks like, gosh, these things are all completely primitive or something like that, it's not true at all. So the so-called different race that was in Australia was actually changing genetics back and forth with different groups. And I think that the argument of a more recent-- most recent common ancestor is so strong I can't get it out of my mind. I'm just thrilled.
AUDIENCE: I'm probably going to go the other way and say that natural selection perhaps, or environmental factors, had an impact on why we have Asian Pacific versus Caucasian European versus Native American versus aborigines, whatever.
WARREN ALLMON: Well, there's no question that natural selection has acted on skin color, for example. No biologist that I know debates that. The question is-- and we've known this since the '60s-- and I'm surprised Will didn't say this-- but one of Will's old professors got famous for doing this, Richard Lewontin. For demonstrating for the first time in the 1960s, that there are no human races.
And that sounds-- that's a big surprise to people who are outside of biology. But what that means biologically, right, Will, is that if you test people who we would call one race, and we compare them to people of another race, there is far more variation "within races" than "between races." And therefore--
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: That was Lewontin's very strong argument. Yes.
WARREN ALLMON: So in that sense, what you-- but that doesn't remove the biology of humans or of natural selection. It just means that what we see as skin color is only one tiny piece of this much larger puzzle.
OK, so Kenneth, you're on.
KENNETH KENNEDY: Thank you. I'm a biological anthropologist. I have done most of my fieldwork in paleoanthropology of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. But I've also been very interested in the history of biological anthropology, which goes back a few centuries.
What I would like to clarify, and continue with what has just been said, is the concept that the race concept-- the traditional race concept is defunct in science. It's not there. What happened?
Well, let me give you a very brief background to that. It was in entomology and ornithology that biologists had trouble with the subspecies concept. They didn't disagree that birds, or frogs, or what have you were not of the same species. But there were differences within the species, even though they might interbreed and have fertile offspring. But how do you account for those differences and how do you identify them with a name?
Well, they go back to Linnaeus. And Linnaeus had no problems with that. In his early taxonomy, but particularly in the 10th edition of his System of Nature, in 1758, he listed a number of different groups of humans living, and decided that those were indeed races.
So that traditional concept of race has been around for over 200 years. It's still alive and well. If you apply to Cornell University as an undergraduate, you're going to follow-- or have to follow-- the traditional race concept. Are you white, are you black, are you Hawaiian, are you Native American, and so on? And you check the right box.
Well, what happened is that we have a traditional concept of race that essentially is a social concept today. And I agree, if you compare an Intuit, naked Intuit, with a naked Ituri Mbuti pygmy from the Congo, they look very different. And it's not unusual that people would say, well, they have to belong to different races.
But what are we really looking at? Because races don't exist according to scientists. And I'll go back to that point in a moment. But the thing is, that what we're looking at is diversity of physical characteristics. And there are a lot of them. And most of my work has been with skeletal biology. But I had courses when I was a graduate student also in looking at differences in living human beings.
Well, what actually has happened, beginning in the 1930s, was that ornithologists and entomologists began asking the question about these members of an agreed common species, who were different from one another, but could interbreed and have fertile offspring. So what are we going to call them? This is the subspecies concept. And interchangeable with it have been ideas of varieties, and breeds, and so on.
Well, they had a hard time describing that because they said, well, what if we find 60% of traits shared in common? Does that mean that we now have, the 40% that's left over, a new race, even though they're the same species, but a race of the species, a subspecies?
Well, the question came up, naturally, well, what if it's 59%? What do we do then? Also, it was recognized that the traits that we look at visually, or with instrumentation, X-rays, so on, these are arbitrary traits. They're selected. And skin color is a classic example because it's the most obvious thing.
When you meet a person for the first time, your first concept is sex. I mean not that you're obsessed with it.
Is it male or female or can't you decide? The next thing is essentially the stature of the individual. And the third thing is the skin color.
Now, these are traditional concepts. But they are not natural concepts. They're not natural entities.
Well, it wasn't until 1960 that a number of biological anthropologists, most of them still living, went to a conference and talked to the ornithologists and the others, who were having this subspecies problem. What do we call these subspecies? And what percentage of traits do they have to share or not share?
Well, the anthropologists said, glory, hallelujah. This is the same problem we have. This is exactly the same problem we have with human beings. We don't know what to call them. Where do you draw the line?
Now, therefore, in earlier biology, it meant you can't use the concept of race in the traditional way. So what's happened today is that we have the concept of race. Yes, existing in a traditional way, in documents, and census reports, et cetera, et cetera. It has nothing to do with science, nothing to do with reality.
And although it may be true that we were surprised by the range of differences, what we're forgetting is one simple fact. And that fact is that each trait that we decide we're going to use as a criterion for a racial assessment is a gradient. That is, that trait has its own history. And wanders around in space and time in different populations.
Do you ever find a cluster of all these traits in one population? No, you don't. People thought they should find them. But they didn't find them.
So we're looking really at separate traits, that have their own, if you like, geographical history, in their spread across time and space. And then we generalize where we see more of the same kinds of traits and higher frequencies in certain populations. And traditionally, we call those a race.
So my position, and that of my colleagues in biological anthropology-- I don't even know any exceptions-- is that the race concept is defunct in a scientific sense. But there certainly is tremendous physical, biological diversity in our species. And, yes, we had a common ancestor that came out of Africa. And what is amazing to me is how quickly some of these gradations, some of these discrete traits, and measurements, and so on, spread so very rapidly.
And the result of this is-- and this is my last comment unless there are questions-- the result of this is what we call the out-of-Africa hypothesis. And I don't think we can disagree with that because certainly the earliest examples we find of anatomically modern Homo sapiens come from Africa and also from the Near East, in Israel also.
The alternative hypothesis is, yes, we may have come out of Africa, all right. But very quickly we began, through adaptation, operation of natural selection, to see that some traits were more adaptive in given environments, which is a broad term, but in different ecological settings, of which solar radiation is one. But also the ability of certain plants for foraging, certain animals for hunting, and so on. And that these are all traits that, as I say, have their own history, but are found in greater frequency-- yes, sure-- in some populations, but not ever 100%.
So I think that anthropologists who are aware of biological anthropology would be in agreement with this today, universally. There are exceptions. In Russia, they have a racial classification that they believe is natural.
That's not to say that individuals in our own population don't feel that the diversity they see is a key to something that is natural. It's natural only in the sense that there's diversity. It's not natural in the sense that it forms clusters. And that those clusters can have a name.
So the alternative has been, instead of using the old racial topologies, like, oh, Dravido-Aryan, Serbo-Australian, and so on, and so forth, we refer to populations by their geographical location. And this is safe. And it's good. It makes sense.
Because at least we need to know what we're talking about. And the way to do that is not to use an outdated vocabulary, but rather to see where the geographical distribution is for these populations which are of interest to us. Thank you.
WARREN ALLMON: Beautifully put. I should have kept my mouth shut. OK, so let me throw it open for questions to both Kenneth and the whole gang.
S. JAMES GATES: There was a question from a gentleman that I postponed. So if you could ask that question again, maybe the panel can address it?
AUDIENCE: The one about social Darwinism?
S. JAMES GATES: Yes.
AUDIENCE: I think Professor Provine may have approached that because he suggested that I believe that Darwin did believe in gradations among human beings.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: There's no doubt he believed that.
AUDIENCE: Did he believe in the great chain of being?
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: No, he did not believe in the great chain of being. That's a much older idea. And he rejected the idea of a great chain of being.
But he was absolutely clear that there was a racial hierarchy among human races. When his cousin, Francis Galton, became the founder of eugenics and gave it its name, Charles Darwin wrote to him about it and said he was sympathetic. But he also believed that the lower classes in Britain were not keeping up on the having of babies.
They were so unhealthy they weren't having as many babies. So Darwin said, I don't see a real problem. And I don't think we have to institute any eugenic rules. And Darwin never participated in that direction. But he told Francis Gordon that he was sympathetic to his idea of eugenics.
WARREN ALLMON: Social Darwinism, though, is somewhat different. Social Darwinism, I suppose, could grade into a racial discussion. But social Darwinism was an even broader concept of saying basically those who were on top deserved to be on top by merit. And those that are at the bottom, however you define that, deserve to be there. And that, as many of you know, has been used in all kinds of different ways.
Your original question though is important. He did not coin the term. And it was coined before his death. And its peak was probably reached around the same time-- or around the a hundred years ago, for the first centennial. And today, it's actually-- if you google social Darwinism, you'll see that there is a fair historical literature on it still and what its implications have been. And only part of that, from my reading, is racial. It's industrial policy, and immigration policy, and all kinds of other things.
Other questions for-- yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: I was just wondering about the idea, like the race concept. And that certainly occurred. We're all familiar with the idea that there aren't any meaningful clusters of traits, especially not that go along with skin color.
I've heard some people discussing in a medical sense that there might be some conditions that are more associated. Would that be more associated with specific geographical local populations or would that be more kind of-- like a statistical fluke? Like if you measure enough things, statistically some things are going to be correlated with other things. So if you measure enough medical conditions, and just by sheer fluke some of them are going to be associated with race. I was wondering if you could speak to that?
KENNETH KENNEDY: Well, let's give an example. Tay-Sachs disease is very common of people of Near Eastern descent, Jewish people particularly. And it's higher among men than among other populations. But it's not restricted to one population. The gradient that causes that has also been elsewhere and pops up.
We could think of a number of examples where it's very hard to explain why they occur. Big, thick brow ridges, which we associate with Home erectus, and to some extent with Neanderthals, still occur in parts of the population. And a study that was done by my colleague, Loring Brace, among Scandinavians, found big brow ridges among Scandinavians. I didn't tell them they were Neanderthals, of course.
But the point is that some of these traits were adaptive perhaps at one time in our biological history. And now they just hang around as genetic junk. But they still appear. So I don't know of any traits that are so peculiar that they can be related just to one population. They're spread. There's different frequencies.
WARREN ALLMON: That did come up in yesterday's panel with Carlos Bustamante and Andy Clark talking about, again, this personal genomics that they see as the future of medicine. They were talking-- and I'm skating onto thin ice here by paraphrasing them-- but they were essentially predicting that rather than grouping people by races, not too long from now we will all be sequenced individually.
And that will be the basis for, instead of saying, oh, you're white, we can treat you this way. We'll just say, here's your genome. And we'll treat you that way, with all the potential negatives that that encompasses. And that was their specific answer to that specific question yesterday.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: I think that there is some severe limitations to having our personal genomes. The reason why I say that is because if you have your personal genome, you don't want to share it with your life insurance company, right. But it turns out that it's no big deal for the following reason.
When they trace diseases back in your genome, it's funny, they disappear on the way down to the genome. And you get 4%, or 5%, or 6% of the variations accounted for by getting to the genome. So it's just what's happened to heredity? So about these diseases, what's happened to heredity?
It turns out that your genome won't be very much use to your life insurance company. What they're going to care about is what they've always cared about, your family history and things like that, which is much more telling than your genome. Don't worry about your personal genome. Forget it.
AUDIENCE: Thank God. Dr. Kennedy, I remember taking your undergrad classes back in the '70s. And you were just as eloquent about these same topics then as you are now. And I appreciate what you had to say. I had a question, I guess. There's four of you up there. There are probably four different opinions on this. And I know it potentially naive.
So here, the racial concept is in terms of biology justly discredited. And yet even today, people use it as their basic way at Cornell, classifying admissions. Why? Is there a prospect of change in that? And why does it continue?
KENNETH KENNEDY: Well, I find with my students, when I talk about human diversity, that many of them do believe in the traditional race concept. And they may think of themselves as having parents of different ancestry. In fact, the word "ancestry" is what we use more often because once you have a population geographical area, you ask what their ancestry is, well, that gives you some idea. But it doesn't deal with race. So-- I'm not sure I'm quite answering your question though.
AUDIENCE: Well, I guess again-- once again-- if the race concept-- and I accept this notion because I trained trade with you-- that the race concept doesn't have a basis in biological discrete units.
KENNETH KENNEDY: No. That's right.
AUDIENCE: Why is it continuing? And is there future hope that it won't continue? Is it useful to people somehow?
KENNETH KENNEDY: What continues is this--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] for socioeconomic status. And Cornell, in its admissions now does not look just at race, but at parental education, rural, urban, single parent household, a number of variables. But race is something that the federal government requires of the university, to get a sense of where the student population is coming from. But race in some respects is a proxy. And it's not accurate because you can have an African American whose parents are both neurosurgeons.
KENNETH KENNEDY: I think the answer is the persistence of the traditional race theory among people who are not biologists or geneticists. I know that traditional view is false.
WARREN ALLMON: Jim, did you want--
S. JAMES GATES: Yes, I did actually want to say something on this issue. Let's be very clear that in some sense we Americans have evolved our own definition of race. And that's particularly true if you read enough of the history of this country. Race in this country was defined because of the institution of slavery. It was an easy moniker to decide who would be a slave. And therefore, the accompanying benefits, as well as deprivations, that accompany that assignment.
So in some sense, we have invented in this country a definition of race. Its perhaps not uncommon to see this in societies. Where there's a peculiar history of the topic here.
All I think scientists can tell you is that we don't see it in biology. We don't see it in anthropology. We don't see that concept makes sense.
However, the social construction of race is very alive in this country. And that's something that we as a people-- because the American people have to deal with this issue in a certain way because we made this definition. That's something that we're going to continue to wrestle with. And I don't expect to see major changes, except that I'm actually an optimist about what this country is capable of doing.
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: I am too. And I think having our president will help more than any other one single thing.
S. JAMES GATES: You're a real optimist.
WARREN ALLMON: Question over here?
AUDIENCE: Well, maybe I'm misunderstanding the conversation here. I can think of right off the top of my head, CCR5, which is the immunological antigen. That is latitude dependent. It only appears on Northern Europeans, and increases with latitude. And it's a basis for natural immunity to AIDS. As far as I know, that only occurs in Northern Europeans.
KENNETH KENNEDY: Yes, I agree with you. There are some traits that are unique in certain populations. We don't find them elsewhere. And that's a case of a variable having a rather limited geographical distribution in one population. And that does occur.
I think we all know about the steatopygia among what were formerly called Bushmen, Hottentots, now called the San people. And they speak the San language. That does not occur in Europe or Asia as far as we know. It is sporadic in Africa.
So you can find some traits that are limited to certain areas. Not every radiant is going to spread around the world. But the fact that some of them are so widespread suggests that this represents contact between people. That contact is probably based primarily on economic factors, of trade, and exchange of goods, and barter, and so on. And it's not quite like a sailor having a girl in every port.
But in the course of this movement of people across space for economic reasons, there's going to be some gene exchange. It has some gene flow. And that may be something that turns out to be very adaptive, or it be maladaptive, or it may be just genetic junk-- doesn't have any role.
But we don't know the distribution of all of these traits. We know the distribution of some. And "traits" is probably not even a good word. I would say genetic variables, that are represented phenotypically in different amounts, in different populations around the world. And some are absent in other populations.
WARREN ALLMON: Question, all the way in the back? Right? Did you have your hand up?
AUDIENCE: Oh, I do. Let me just say I, first of all enjoyed the panel. And it was very pleasing from a personal, as well as intellectual standpoint, to see at this occasion of the celebration of Darwin's birthday, that we can now say that race is scientifically defunct. And I'm pleased by that. I also know it's become quite common now to simply say that race is socially constructed.
However, I remember not too long ago-- and that's what gave me pause. When you called, I was trying to remember the author of this text. I don't know if all you can help me with this. It was a big thing on psychology and intelligence. You know where--
KENNETH KENNEDY: The bell curve?
AUDIENCE: The bell curve bell, yeah. And I saw books being rolled into the campus store on hand dollies, in numbers that I have never quite ever seen any book roll into the campus store. So there was this fascination, obviously widespread, about race and intelligence. Are we did take from your discussion this evening that the resistance is over?
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: Not in the least. But I do know one thing for sure. I ordered Herrnstein's book for my classes. I wanted for people to read that book. I wanted for them to analyze that book. And we had one heck of a good time doing it.
It was a wonderful book for us to use. And we also used Jensen's 1969 paper. We used a number of these documents in order to see what kind of arguments were being used for hereditary mental differences between races.
And those studies were very sadly, deeply flawed. And that's what we looked at by ordering these documents for use in our classes. But I ordered Herrnstein's book.
WARREN ALLMON: That explains the 300 copies.
AUDIENCE: That's what assumed initially.
KENNETH KENNEDY: One thing we touched on here was the measurement of intelligence in different populations. Well, there is a lot of work to be done on that subject. But one of the earliest ideas of measuring intelligence by a physical characteristic was looking at cranial capacity.
Now, cranial capacity is the amount in your cranium that's filled up with the brain. And there are various ways of estimating it. You can do it by measurements and formulae. Or, if you have a skull, you can turn the skull upside down and pour number 8 shot into it. And then put it in a graduated cylinder. And you'll get a reading-- all kinds of things you can do.
The point is that-- and I think some psychologists would argue with me here. That's fine. I'll take them on-- the idea is that the larger the cranial capacity, the more intelligent the individual.
Well, let's look at-- imagine we're in the British Museum of Natural History skeletal basement. It's a fascinating place. And I spent a year down there looking at different populations. It turns out that the range for modern humans is about from 850 cubic centimeters to about 2,000 cubic centimeters for brain size.
Let's look at some examples. Anatole France, whose skull-- the French have-- had a cranial capacity of 1,000 cubic centimeters. Bismarck, who established modern Germany, had twice that. It was over 2,000 cubic centimeters. Now, these people were equally intelligent. What's it related to?
In fact, I had in a class a lovely, little Russian lady, whose husband had been on the faculty here and passed away. And you can take estimates of cranial capacity. It does not involve beheading. And she had a brain capacity of 750 cubic centimeters. Now, she is a very distinguished artist. And she is also a poet.
So, so much for cranial capacity being a measurement of intelligence. What it might be related to-- and I think most anthropologists would agree-- is total body size. That is, its allometric. So smaller body sizes are likely to have lower ranges in cranial capacity than larger, more robust body sizes. But that's a very, very general statement.
If you want your cranial capacity measured, come to my lab. And I'll be very happy to do it for you.
WARREN ALLMON: Question in the back?
AUDIENCE: Isn't the average of mental cranial capacity higher that the Neanderthal?
KENNETH KENNEDY: Yes. Their question was that the observation that Neanderthals have a higher cranial capacities. Yes, that's true.
And I think Neanderthals have had very bad press because if we know the archaeology associated with them, not only do we see developments in tool making, but also when the Upper Paleolithic people come in, from [INAUDIBLE], you need a name, the Neanderthals are able to produce the same kind of tools as anatomically modern Homo sapiens.
I-- now, don't quote me now. My feeling about Neanderthals is that they, yes, are Homo sapiens. But they're what we call an archaic form of Homo sapiens.
Now, there has been a professor at University of Binghamton that has called those skulls-- any skulls-- that are pre-Neanderthal in date, or right up to the time of modern humans, he's called them Homo heidelbergensis because the first specimen was a mandible found in Heidelberg.
OK, that might work fine for Europe. I'm not so sure that specimens that I've seen in India, and China, and elsewhere, that term would fit. But it's certainly true that Neanderthals fit into a category of post-Homo erectus hominids. And we don't quite know what to do with them because what we find, say in Heidelberg, is very different than what we find in South Africa. And very different than what I've worked on in India-- with the Narmada specimen, and so on.
So these are perhaps individuals that have evolved from a Homo erectus stock. And for lack of a better term-- and I don't like Homo heidelbergensis, although I like the person who coined it-- I think it's better just to call them archaic Homo sapiens.
WARREN ALLMON: Kenneth, what would be the consensus on calling Neanderthals a separate species versus some subspecies, whatever? What would be the current consensus?
KENNETH KENNEDY: It depends upon who you're talking to.
WARREN ALLMON: I know. But if you just took a poll, what would it be right now?
KENNETH KENNEDY: I think it would be Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.
WARREN ALLMON: OK, so that was what I was talking about. As an undergraduate, I couldn't figure out if Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, which is technically a subspecies name, but the ornithologists and entomologists call subspecies races. Then does that mean that Neanderthal was a race? In which case, I said to my anthropology professor, what color were they?
And he said, well, you know, that's actually a really-- he, seeing a teaching moment, sent me to the library to read all the literature that Kenneth was just talking about, about subspecies. And my discovery I think, lo those many years ago, taught me one important thing, besides some anthropology and evolutionary biology. It taught me that the undergraduates-- and I was nosy enough to be asking those questions and the other students in the class weren't-- that the vast majority of undergraduates, even today, do not get, or do not know, or do not process most of what we've said up here.
And I'm talking about Cornell undergraduates. So the great unwashed, that don't have the benefit of Cornell. And I think that's one thing that I've already heard several times this week, is that-- it came up in the Pigliucci talk just a few hours ago-- that what we talk about here on the Hill is all well and good. But until it actually becomes-- a term I heard recently-- MacDonaldfied out there among-- or I suppose we could say YouTubed or Facebooked-- until it becomes really out there as part of the popular culture, which race is, then it doesn't matter.
I mean, if you took a poll of Cornell undergraduates or people at the mall, about do human races exist, I suggest that we would not hear what we've heard up here at the panel. And that has come up again in these other discussions of the implications of Darwinism. And I expect it will come up later this week. Is that the implications of Darwinism don't matter a damn if people don't know about them.
Is there another question?
AUDIENCE: About the Neanderthal, older than 165,000 years or 200,000 years, [? I think significantly ?] [? older ?] than that. So when you call them a subfamily of Homo sapiens--
KENNETH KENNEDY: Subspecies.
AUDIENCE: --subspecies. Please explain that a little bit.
KENNETH KENNEDY: I think the trinomial neanderthalensis is useful for recognizing what we're all talking about. Now, we can use just plain English, Neanderthal man and woman, all right. But I think that what we're using when we use the subspecies neanderthalensis is not a taxonomic category, so much as it is a way of recognizing what we're looking at.
A parallel of that is with Homo erectus in Africa. And sometimes the fossils found there are called Homo erectus. But there are other specialists, paleoanthropologists, who say, well, they're not all Homo erectus. There's some that are Homo ergaster. So Homo ergaster would be a different species of Homo erectus.
So that's not even dealing at the subspecies level. But there certainly are arguments in any biological situation about what species are. It's not that clear cut. That when you get into the fossils-- what you can do is have two-- a male and female fossil-- of the same so-called subspecies-- and put them in the lab. And have a candle lighting and some Chopin playing in the background.
Are they going to be interfertile? No. You go on your lab the next morning, they're still in the same position where you left them.
So this is one problem we have with Neanderthals is, whether they're able to interbreed with what we call anatomically modern Homo sapiens, whose features are quite distinctive in many ways from Neanderthals.
WARREN ALLMON: Jim?
S. JAMES GATES: Oh, yes. You know, I've been thinking about these questions for a while, even before I knew I was going to be asked to join this panel. And the one thing that I take away from this debate is a rather simple statement, that if we as humans are going to define race, then it should be looked at someplace other than in evolution. And I think that's the most important message that evolution of race has, is that you have to look for a definition that's somehow outside of evolution.
WARREN ALLMON: One more question.
AUDIENCE: This will actually lead a little bit from the question. It came up in my mind while listening today. Could there be any connection between the denial of special creation, not evolution, but the denial of special creation and abolition, for instance, in Darwin's period or in Darwin's work at all?
Because if you read Darwin, the conclusion is evolution. But throughout that argument is, therefore special creation shouldn't provide. And so I was wondering if it was possible in that period if the theological concept turned, for instance, into an abolitionist concept or thought. And that's what occurred in my mind while listening to the panel today.
WARREN ALLMON: You want to take that?
WILLIAM B. PROVINE: No.
WARREN ALLMON: Well, I'll just say that-- I mean, not being an anthropologist, I just know what I read. If you read the history of natural science around-- just after Darwin, so the 1850s, 1860s, and particularly-- because this was when the whole world had-- the whole scientific world had to decide.
It's like being a geologist in the 1970s. You had to decide if continents moved. And so in the 1860s, biologists had to decide, did evolution happen or not? And we celebrate the ones that picked the right team. But there were a bunch of them that picked the wrong team.
And so it was fascinating to read that literature now and notice that, as I think Will said, that you can change the rules of the game, and people's opinions don't necessarily change. In other words, people who were not particularly racist by the standards of the day, and liked evolution, weren't particularly racist after they adopted evolution.
And people who were creationists, who were abolitionists, didn't become more or less abolitionist after evolution came along. In other words-- and maybe this reinforces what Jim just said-- that opinions on race didn't have anything to do with the adoption of evolution just historically. People were racist before and after, regardless of what they thought about evolution.
And that's quite striking. Louis Agassi being the type example of somebody who accepted-- who did not accept evolution, but was a vicious racist. And there were other people who were aggressive abolitionists, who were also creationists after Darwin.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Dr. Warren Allmon, Hunter R. Rawlings III Professor of Paleontology and director of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), leads a panel discussion on the role of evolution on race.
The panel included:
William B. Provine, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and professor of history at Cornell S. James Gates, the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and member of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Kenneth Kennedy, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell
The panel was held on February 10, 2009 in Goldwin Smith Hall on the Cornell University campus.
Darwin Day is an annual, international commemoration of the birthday and ideas of Charles Darwin, a British naturalist born February 12, 1809, and author of the seminal book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection."