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Robinson Professor James Trefil Next Up in Vision Series

February 28, 2012

James Trefil. Creative Services photo

In the next Vision Series lecture, Robinson Professor of Physics James Trefil will tackle “Why Creationism and Intelligent Design Should Not Be Taught in the Public Schools.” He will give the talk on Monday, March 5, at 7 p.m. in the Founders Hall Auditorium on Mason’s Arlington Campus.

Admission to the lecture is free and no tickets are required. An informal reception with light refreshments will follow the presentation.

Attempts to introduce creationism – the doctrine or theory that the world was created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in the Bible – into public school science curricula have been a constant feature of American life since early in the 20th century, Trefil says.

These attempts raise two different kinds of issues, he argues. One of these is legal and concerns the question of whether or not they violate the First Amendment to the Constitution. The second is scientific and concerns the question of whether creationism and intelligent design constitute sound science.

Starting with the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ in 1925, a long series of court cases has progressively restricted the kind of counter-evolutionary materials that can be presented in the public schools.

At the same time, evidence for evolution has become much stronger with the incorporation of data based on modern molecular genetics, as well as with important new fossil discoveries, Trefil says. In this talk, Trefil will weave together the legal and scientific arguments that have developed in recent years to bolster the scientific understanding of evolution. He will also  discuss how these arguments can be used to counter the increased pressure from creationists.

Trefil is the author or co-author of more than 30 books, including “Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy,” which he wrote with Robert Hazen in 1991; and “Human Nature: Managing the Planet by and for Humans,” which was published in 2004. In 2000, the American Institute of Physics presented him with the Andrew W. Gemant Award for outstanding and sustained contributions in bridging the gap between science and society.

Trefil has a BS in physics from the University of Illinois and BA and MA degrees from Oxford University on a Marshall scholarship. He finished his studies as a National Science Foundation fellow at Stanford University, where he received an MS and a PhD in theoretical physics. Trefil taught at the University of Illinois and the University of Virginia before joining Mason in 1988.