Jerry Coyne, In Murray Ky. 2


I will tell you it is difficult to get a pic of Prof. Coyne that isn’t blurry, or undignified in some manner. He moves around a lot, and gestures with his hands. As a result I only got a few that were focused well, or didn’t catch him forming some word that left him with mouth agape, or lips pursed. There were a few pics that focused ok, but his arm was moving with a blur. I only got 2 pics out of several, that I would deem publishable. This is the one I went with. Even this one isn’t as well focused as I’d like, but you take what you can get. It’s strange, and I know this is cliche, but I thought he would be taller. I also kept getting the odd impression, that if he was wearing a Fedora, he would resemble Indiana Jones. I in no way mean any disrespect here, it is just one of those odd human tendencies to associate new things with things you already have an impression of…Oh, anyone who follows JC’s website will know about his boot thing, so I made sure to get a shot with boots.

No trouble finding the event this time, as in my post on the first talk that outlined the drama we had to endure, I knew exactly where to be this night. I did not see my airplane tossing friends this evening.

The talk was everything I was expecting, and I must admit I am in agreement with most of it. How science relies on peer review, falsification, converging lines of evidence, and having the tendency to throw out that which has proven to be no longer credible. All of these things religion does not have going for it. In fact religion is the exact opposite, it lies in a static state for the most part. Their supposed truths unreachable, non falsifiable, and lacking any tangible evidence of their existence. He also elaborated on the never ending assertions from theoligans who consistently, and often self refutingly, attempt to either reconcile religion with science, or try to put religion upon some pedestal, untouchable, unknowable by science. I thought he did a magnificent job of making his case.

The Q & A after the talk, was interesting. One of the first question-eers was a gent sitting on my left, who announced that he was a Dr. and a x-ian (though being a medical Dr. shouldn’t one be aware of evolving viruses?), then he proceeded to stammer and stumble about, trying to ask a question that I never did really figure out myself, but JC, grasped some intent of a question in there and refuted the guy handily.  There was another self proclaimed believer who admitted he accepted evolution, but maintained a belief in god, JC let him know, in as nice a way as possible, that was an untenable position. That is probably the biggest thing I took away from this, that JC has an incredible ability to make, what many would consider crass remarks about religion, but he has the capacity to do it in a very non confrontational way, almost with a smile on his face, that left me very appreciative of his style. I have great respect for someone with an ability as that. Myself, I would likely descend quickly to a “you are full of shit, and you know it, and you have no evidence whatsoever to back up your claims” kind of response. Which I know is not a diplomatic way to handle these touchy subjects. So I gotta hand it to him, he has the gift.

In one of his replies to a question I don’t remember this morn, JC touched on the free will argument. This is one I am slow to warm up to. I understand that we are all subject to physical laws, and neurons firing back and forth in our brains, and I find it interesting the modern studies that show scientists can predict the way a person will answer a question, before the subject actually answers the question. Fascinating. I just have trouble believing this concept of free will, is an illusion, when I thought my whole lifetime I had the ability to choose. That is a hard one to accept. I am a determinist for the most part, feeling that most situations (non social) are unforseeable, unknowable occurence of events. We have to duck and jive to stay alive. The boulder that falls from the mountain, and crushes a man, no one saw that coming. Fate has no concience. The earthquake or the tsunami has no remorse, and no choice in its effect on us puny humans. These things happen, the best we can do is try to stay out the way. Or survive the event.

When it comes to social circumstances I tend to lean towards a neccessitarian point of view. During the Q & A, I asked this question last night, it comes off as a joke, and there was a good laugh in the room, but in all seriousness, if we have no free will…how does a man answer his wife to the question: ” do I look fat in this dress?”  I made a comment recently at Mak’s blog “Random Thoughts” where I posited the same question on a post about free will, and followed with: “Social situations can and do pivot on decisions made in the here and now. Social situations can end in a moderately upset wife, or a nuclear war, depending on the situation. (admittedly sometimes a moderately upset wife borders on nuclear war) So, I truly believe in fate, in that it is an unkowable, unforeseeable, circumstance of events. I also believe that using great wisdom (which I would think an opportunity for free will) when faced with social settings, a cautionary way to proceed through life.”

This is how I have to see things at this point in time. As much as I would like to buy into the science behind “free will is illusory”, it just defies my perception so broadly, it is hard to accept, for now. As always I am open to new evidence, and logical arguments.

…as I understand it, both of the talks were recorded and will be made available at either youtube or here  how soon, I have no idea. I do know, at last nights talk, the mic used was having multiple issues of failing for some reason, and when it was working, when JC turned his head away from the mic, his words became unintelligible, I was close enough I could hear most of what was said, but last nights recording may have some difficulties with audio.

That wraps up my experience with the Jerry Coyne talk at Murray State University. I really enjoyed the event, and I thank JC, as well as  for putting on this talk. Usually these things happen so far outside of my location, it would take an endeavor similar to an Arctic expedition for me to attend. It was indeed fortunate, and fateful, that this even occurred a mere 40 min drive from home. Again, thanks Prof. Coyne, and

Jerry Coyne, In Murray Ky.

I did manage to catch most of Prof Celing Cat’s talk last night, although it was not without its problems. First, it was difficult for me to find pertinent information concerning its location. The info, that I caught on WEIT (Why Evolution is True website run by Prof. Coyne) was just a poster detailing one of his two talks, one Thursday, the other Friday. The poster I remember seeing said the talk would be at Freed Curd Auditorium. I was unaware that the poster I saw was for the Fri. night talk, not the Thurs. night talk. So from the get go I had problems. Searches on the internet, and Google Earth gave me nothing to go on either. Google turned up no address for Freed Curd Auditorium, and Google Earth showed no building designated as such. I figured what the heck, I can find it.

Murray State is a pretty big campus, and at least eight or nine people I approached had never heard of Freed Curd Auditorium, as it was quite evident by the blank stares I recieved, then the accompanying dialogue confirming this fact. I finally accosted an individual who directed me in the right direction. With Freed Curd Auditorium found, it was a ghost town. I mean no one around, and it was ten minutes till 7:00 when it was supposed to begin. So I was a tad confused. Not the first time…quite probably not the last.

Then, there were a couple of students out in the hall. They appeared to be of Iranian, or Pakistani descent (or any number of countries in the region), given their middle eastern appearances, and their conversing in (what I assume was) Arabic. They were out in the hall, with a tape measure, marking lines for something, I didn’t pay too much attention at first, I was more concerned with the talk that wasn’t going on here. So I waited around a few minutes hoping someone would show up with some sort of explanation, and none was forthcoming, but in that time it occured to me that these guys of middle eastern descent, out in the hall, with a measuring tape, in this day and age, I had the slight notion they could be up to no good out there, gathering intell or something. So when I went back out into the hall to look about for people that weren’t showing up, I noticed the two students had been joined by a third, of oriental descent, and they had paper airplanes. Yes, paper airplanes. One guy was standing maybe two or three feet from a corner in the hall, and he was tossing planes, that when thrown, went around the damn corner, and down the other hall. Being a bit of a nerdy geek kinda guy, I recognized the paper plane design, and asked to look at one. It had been modified somewhat from the design I am aware of, and I had to ask “how in the heck did you get these to fly around the corner? One student looked at me with a big grin and said “engineering.” I was damn impressed. So I stood there for a few minutes watching these guys toss airplanes around the corner, and one of them was taking notes. I had a moment, right then and there, experiencing a moment of clarity, seeing they were just kids having fun, but also doing serious work at the same time, and I must admit I both relieved and jealous at the same time. Anyway…

A janitor came down the hall, so I saw a chance to inquire about this talk that I could not find, and he didn’t know much either, but he was nice guy. I told him about how no one seemed to know the location of this auditorium, and he let me in on the secret. This bi domed building that I saw in the Google Earth search, is nicknamed the “Dolly Parton” building. He told me not to tell anyone he told me that, but I guess the cat is out of the bag now. So a tad dejected, we left (I had one of my sons, and a friend of his with me, my wife didn’t make it having had a rough day at work, and my youngest son decided to stay home with her and keep her company, and we would all go tonight to the next talk) So we left the building. As previously mentioned  I had noticed from my Google Earth search, that this building had 2 domes. having found that Freed Curd Auditorium was in one of them, I though maybe the other dome would have the talk. So we walked around this fairly large building, in the dark, with a light rain falling, and finally got to the other dome, and it turned out to just be a bedecked entryway. At this point I was ready to call it and just go home. My son said something about not giving up yet, so when we went back towards the car, we looked in on on Freed Curd again, it was still empty. Upon leaving the building, I saw there was another building across the way that had a kiosk of sorts with posters all over it in the entryway, so I walked in and looked. There was a poster there for Fridays talk, but nothing about Thursdays talk. Figures. So we went inside, and I asked a lady who worked in a shop there if she knew anything. Finally after much asking and searching, we had found someone to direct us to the talk. It  was in a building called Mason Hall, and not too far. We arrived at the talk 20 minutes late, Prof. Coyne was well under way, so we walked in quietly and found a seat.

As it turns out, his talk pretty much covered stuff I already knew, but I knew my brat and his friend were soaking it up. I have read Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True at least 3 times already, and have searched the talk origin archives, as well as picked up a few things here or there on the subject of evolution. Prof. Coynes talk touched on a lot of material in his book, so the talk for me was a tad boring, but it was a pleasant experience, being there, and hearing it from quite literally, the man who wrote the book. The best part of the talk for me, came after the talk was over, and Prof. Coyne took some questions from the audience. Then I got to see the real guy inside come to life, and he spoke enthusiastically in his replies. I should also mention the students asked very good questions, and JC’s replies were concise, to the point, and obviously from the heart. Yep, glad we went. Even after all the hugaballoo trying to find it. After the talk and  Q-A session JC said he would sign books. Yay! I had brought my copy of WEIT but did not know if he would be available to sign books after, and dared not ask during the Q-A, because those students were asking such good questions, and I could not bring myself to ask the one question I had, because it was a purely selfish one. So I was elated to see that he would indeed sign books. Trouble was I left it in the car. So I had to hustle out, half jog half walk to the car, and hopefully get back in time. I was in luck there were still a handfull of people waiting with books that needed signing when I got back, and I got in line. JC greeted me with a “glad you came” I replied with a “it was my pleasure.” I had seen him ask the person in front of me if they had a cat, so I infomed him that I did indeed have cats, and he drew me a cat pic to go with the autograph. But I had to suffer the indignity of a meow. Yeah, a meow. He said something about there being a secret word, and I was dumbfounded, so I looked around for some help, but no one else appeared to notice the predicament I was in, and JC finally said “it’s a meow, you gotta say meow” So, I reluctantly let out a lightly spoken meow, in a questioning manner, and he seemed pleased I passed the test, and drew my cat.

I took a couple of pics during the talk, neither of them came out, they are out of focus. Stupid auto focus got the persons head in front me focused in, and not my target. I will shoot for more pics tonight, and make sure there are at least a couple that are in focus, will post them next time.

At least, I know exactly where to find his talk tonight. I wonder if my airplane tossing frinds might be there…