How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

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companion_cube
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How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby companion_cube » Sun Feb 06, 2011 9:56 pm UTC

I'm attending a university in a relatively socially conservative corner of the country, and I'm planning to give a presentation on evolution for my informative speech in a communication class. I'd like to effectively convey, in the span of ten to fifteen minutes, that doubting, let alone flat-out rejecting, the theory of evolution is ridiculous.
Since this, if done right, would intersect some religious convictions, and since that can't be handled gracefully in such a short time, I'd like to at the very least convince the class that it's irrational to deny evolution (in the sense that one would have to deny the scientific method and misplace the burden of proof to do so).
I'm looking for any tips/ideas about how to approach this in a manner that will actually leave an impression on people who are perhaps a bit close-minded to the topic, and would likely shut it out entirely as soon as they detect (or think they detect) a single blemish in my argument.
In preparation, I'm reading a couple of books, one of which is The Greatest Show On Earth, which is purported to present the evidence for evolution fairly well. I could spend the whole ten minutes going over the various corners of the evidence for evolution, but I'm doubting such a strategy's effectiveness, as anything that would go over their collective head might be dismissed as nonsensical jibber-jabber (I don't have a lot of confidence in their reasonableness, but perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit). Another approach would be to address a lot of the common platitudes spouted by proponents of ID and creationism, e.g. "my grandma wasn't a monkey," "it's just a theory," etc.

I'm also considering abandoning the topic altogether and instead giving a presentation on How to Avoid Logical Fallacies, which, if they take anything from it, would be more universally applicable; and I could insert examples every now and then that touch the topic of evolution. Do you think this would be a better approach?

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby ThePragmatist » Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:09 pm UTC

Yes. If you want to talk about evolution you have to address all the arguments for and against it. This will take a significant amount of research. I have read an entire book that attempts to disprove evolution and a large amount of its arguments are logical (i.e the unlikelihood of random mutations being beneficial, lack of transitionary fossils, unreliability of certain radioactive dating methods etc), but refutable. You would have to read up on the reliability of radioactive dating methods, the lack of transitionary fossils and explanations for this (Stephen Jay Gould proposes that evolution happens in spurts), and how macroevolution actually works.

Whereas if you did a presentation on logic, all you need to do is read some critical thinking textbooks and provide some case studies of commonly used arguments.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby companion_cube » Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:54 pm UTC

ThePragmatist wrote:If you want to talk about evolution you have to address all the arguments for and against it.


Point taken. While I know quite a bit about evolution, I certainly can't set aside the amount of time that would be required to anticipate any obscure question that might asked, and such an exchange (though not necessarily ultimately significant) is liable to make an already biased group of people much less receptive to the presentation.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 07, 2011 12:09 am UTC

It's a communication class? I.e., the presentation is more focused on how to effectively convey an idea/stance, than on the content itself?

If yes, you've got a few options, as it's basically just show and tell. You can give a presentation on some of the arguments surrounding evolution, and tentatively explore a couple of them, and which side you fall on. You can flippantly argue for either side, but this is a good way to piss off people. You can also give a presentation on logical fallacies, and throw pro/con arguments for evolution in as your examples.

Be aware that being contentious can be done in a manner to make people smile, or piss people off. You have to assume at least some responsibility for peoples reaction based on how you handle the presentation.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Wiggin2 » Mon Feb 07, 2011 11:29 am UTC

I'd like to effectively convey, in the span of ten to fifteen minutes, that doubting, let alone flat-out rejecting, the theory of evolution is ridiculous.


I think that's way too ambitious. You are setting youself up to fail.

In my opinion, for these sorts of presentations, you should take your inspiration from the BBC series Connections. Have you ever seen it? It's a fantastic show. The presenter jumps seemingly at random from one fact or historical event to another, but it all comes together at the end in a really eye opening way.

Example from the wikipedia entry:
Instant coffee gets off the ground in World War II and Jeeps lead to nylons and stocking machines smashed by Luddites, who were defended by Lord Byron, who meets John Galt in Turkey , avoiding the same blockade that inspires the "Star-Spangled Banner," which was really an English song all about a Greek poet discovered by a publisher whose son-in-law is pals with Julius Caesar Scaliger of chronology fame, whose military boss, Maurice, inspires Gustavus of Sweden, father of the runaway Christina, whose teacher René Descartes' mechanical universe inspires the book about brains by Willis, which is illustrated by the architect of St. Paul's, Christopher Wren, who's dabbles in investments like John Law's Louisiana scam that ruins France, and Pierre Beaumarchais, and later the French finance minister Jacques Necker, whose daughter is the opinionated de Stael, whose romantic pals get Thomas Henry Huxley looking into jellyfish so he can defend Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.


The wikipedia entry on the homunculus, the little man inside the sperm cell, one of the earliest concepts on how inheritance works, is really interesting. Francis Crick, the discoverer of the double helix, dabbled with the concept of panspermia, and also with the cortical homunculus model in neuroscience. There are some funny connections to be found there. Mandrakes for the win!

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby quantropy » Mon Feb 07, 2011 2:29 pm UTC

I've read quite a few books where the author seems to think that if they manage to present the evidence for evolution in a convincing enough manner, then it will force the creationists to change their minds - but it never seems to work. I would say that if you are trying to change peoples minds then you need to attack creationism rather than defend evolution (but in a way that doesn't seem that you're attacking your listeners, which may well be a problem).

A couple of ideas

1) Creationists seem to think that evolution is an atheistic philosophy, but many religious people support it, e.g. the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury (who called creationism a 'category mistake'). You can probably find some support from St. Augustine too.

2) Creationists argue that teaching creationism in schools is a case of being 'open minded'. You could give examples of how ridiculous this openmindedness would be if fringe ideas were included in the syllabus for other subjects.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby quantropy » Mon Feb 07, 2011 3:01 pm UTC

Another idea might be to give a presentation on some of the ideas which have been seen as part of the religion vs science debate and to debunk some of the myths surrounding them e.g.

Atomism - dangerous atheistic doctrine
Hey Galileo, what about parallax?
Flat earth - hasn't been a mainstream viewpoint for thousands of years
Big Bang (creationism) vs Steady State (atheistic)
and maybe: The Pope vs Stephen Hawking
and finally evolution - OK it was tied to a some pretty dubious ideas when it was introduced, but it's moved on

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Feb 07, 2011 3:08 pm UTC

I don't think that there is any realistic way to be able to present enough information in the period of time you're looking at to really convince anyone of anything, to be honest. It's not that the arguments against evolution are all that sophisticated, there's just so many of them and unless you're knowledgeable about a rather broad suite of apparently unrelated topics, it's unlikely that you'll be able to counter them all. Talk origins is probably one of the most comprehensive resources around for information about evolution and related topics, if you need material.

I would be more tempted to suggest that you give a presentation on, say, the theory of Intelligent Falling, and, co-opting some of the arguments from Intelligent Design, try to convince your audience that IF should be taught in schools along side the theory of gravity.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Qaanol » Mon Feb 07, 2011 3:27 pm UTC

Present the Flying Spaghetti Monster viewpoint with complete sincerity.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Goldstein » Mon Feb 07, 2011 3:36 pm UTC

If you're serious, I wouldn't attempt to belittle anyone or go for anything tongue-in-cheek. I agree that it seems almost impossible to change people's minds so fundamentally in fifteen minutes, even if only because people being convinced of something new need time to adopt it for themselves rather than having it hammered into them.

Your idea for a presentation on logical fallacies sounds good, constructive, less obnoxious and more accessible and palatable for those with whom you don't agree. No-one will be against you from the moment you open your mouth and, in the ideal view, it'd achieve everything your talk on evolution should and more.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Spambot5546 » Mon Feb 07, 2011 4:00 pm UTC

I believe that the best way to go is simply an explanation of how extremely sound the evidence for evolution is. Don't even bother dealing with the arguments against it, just explain how it is very logically consistent and give several examples of the science behind it and why it works.

Most of the evolution deniers are people who have never heard of evolution except once or twice their parents remarked something like "if we evolve from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?". These people are the only ones you have any hope of winning over, no matter how much time/evidence you have, so they're the ones you want to focus on.

Now, if you have any reason to expect that after your presentation people will have the opportunity to "challenge" you, i recant my remark about not familiarizing yourself with the arguments against. Nothing will lose you the moderates faster than being faced with a bunch of questions you can't answer.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Mr_Rose » Mon Feb 07, 2011 4:02 pm UTC

quantropy wrote: and finally evolution - OK it was tied to a some pretty dubious ideas when it was introduced, but it's moved on

Which ideas were those exactly?
Microevolution is a term — when used by creationists — that is the evolutionary equivalent of the belief that the mechanism you use to walk from your bedroom to the kitchen is insufficient to get you from New York to Los Angeles.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby quantropy » Mon Feb 07, 2011 4:34 pm UTC

Mr_Rose wrote:
quantropy wrote: and finally evolution - OK it was tied to a some pretty dubious ideas when it was introduced, but it's moved on

Which ideas were those exactly?


Social Darwinism, eugenics and the like. The idea that 'survival of the fittest' justified inequalities in society. Stephen Jay Gould explained why evolution was seen in such a negative light at the time of the Scopes trial, in the essay A Visit to Dayton, (in the book Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes).

Also, it has been suggested that (Fabulous Science. Fact and Fiction in the history of scientific discovery. by John Waller.) the idea that evolution was antagonistic to religion was to a large extent promoted by scientists (in particular T.H Huxley), who wanted to take biology out of the hands of amateurs such as clergymen and into the hands of professional scientists

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Kow » Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:11 pm UTC

Genetic Algorithms. Basically it's repeatable empirical evidence for the process of evolution.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Moose Hole » Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:32 pm UTC

Just show them a picture of Jesus riding a stegosaurus, and explain how difficult it is to break a stegosaurus' spirit, even if you change the water in their trough to wine all the time.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Tass » Tue Feb 08, 2011 7:32 am UTC

Youtube channels AronRa, cdk007 and potholer54 has some pretty good videos on evolution. You might find some good inspiration there.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Idhan » Tue Feb 08, 2011 8:19 am UTC

I'd recommend narrowing it down a little. Maybe talk about canine evolution -- how artificial selection has lead to a huge variety of morphologies from the basic lupine form. Give a few details about the evolution of sight-hounds, scent-hounds, toy breeds, akitas, and other notable dogs and their relations to each other. Artificial selection can provide evidence of how much dramatic change is possible from one generation to the next.

Or, you could talk about the evolution of a specific protein or something -- trace cytochrome c through the tree of life: in saccharomyces cerevisiae, in homo sapiens, in ginkgo biloba, in tulipa gesneriana, in passer domesticus. Look at the little substitutions -- where humans and sparrows have a valine and yeast have a leucine, and that sort of thing -- and see both how much commonality is conserved in all life and the ways in which we've all changed over the ages.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby HungryHobo » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:15 am UTC

companion_cube wrote:that doubting, let alone flat-out rejecting, the theory of evolution is ridiculous.

In science everything should be doubted up to a point. I know it's a bit of a farce in the states but there's no need to abandon the scientific method.
Of course in this case it's doubt like considering the possibility that you'll win the lottery 3 weeks in a row.
it could happen but the odds are slim.

if you're considering instead doing a talk about how to Avoid Logical Fallacies may I sugest instead a slightly easier to approach subject, simply how to think rationally, how to let go of ideas once they're shown to be wrong, again keep it abstract . As long as it's abstract people will accept it because it makes sense. because if you link it to ideas people are too attached to they'll reject rationality right away rather than rejecting what they already believe.

Introduce a few ideas like russles teapot etc without first linking it with things they disagree with you about so that they can accept the logic of it first before they have reason to reject it.


ThePragmatist wrote:the lack of transitionary fossils and explanations for this

this one never made sense to me at all, every fossil is a transitionary fossil with the exception of fossils of species which were shortly thereafter utterly wiped out and left no decendents.

Kow wrote:Genetic Algorithms. Basically it's repeatable empirical evidence for the process of evolution.

It refutes the idea that random changes are too unlikely to lead to positive results but it doesn't refute the beliefs of ID hardliners. becase of course the person who programmed the simulation was of course and intelligent designer. etc etc etc.


If you really must talk about evolution rather than logical fallacies or rational thinking then don't touch any of the classics like apes-humans.
Go after a small area which isn't normally attacked.
This little book has a step by step walkthrough of the evolution of the eye.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby companion_cube » Wed Feb 09, 2011 5:07 am UTC

Thanks for the feedback, guys.
I'm probably going to go with a talk on logical fallacies.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby awesomejess » Wed Feb 09, 2011 5:54 am UTC

Sounds like the grading for this assignment will be highly subjective.
If its anything other than a completion grade, avoid making your instructor look/feel like a moron. They don't tend to like that...

Risking redundancy...seems probable that your instructor identifies with the conservative majority in your area. If the assignment was for a science class I'd say go for it. Communication? Proceed with caution. =)

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby companion_cube » Wed Feb 09, 2011 6:25 am UTC

awesomejess wrote:Sounds like the grading for this assignment will be highly subjective.
If its anything other than a completion grade, avoid making your instructor look/feel like a moron. They don't tend to like that...

Risking redundancy...seems probable that your instructor identifies with the conservative majority in your area. If the assignment was for a science class I'd say go for it. Communication? Proceed with caution. =)


Well, what's reconciling about my university is that most of the faculty isn't nearly as conservative as the student body. I think he'd probably find it amusing if I pissed off the class.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby tomandlu » Wed Feb 09, 2011 6:59 am UTC

A couple of thoughts/ideas:
  • Talk about deep time (as it relates to evolution - to establish the scale which evolution has to work in)
  • Talk about one of Gould's examples (e.g. the panda's thumb)
  • Talk about how a theory mustn't just explain an observable phenomena, but must also make predictions that can be proved or disproved. Open a box, show it contains an object, say that the box was empty a moment ago and a fairy placed the object in the box. Invite anyone to prove otherwise.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby awesomejess » Wed Feb 09, 2011 8:32 pm UTC

companion_cube wrote:
awesomejess wrote:Sounds like the grading for this assignment will be highly subjective.
If its anything other than a completion grade, avoid making your instructor look/feel like a moron. They don't tend to like that...

Risking redundancy...seems probable that your instructor identifies with the conservative majority in your area. If the assignment was for a science class I'd say go for it. Communication? Proceed with caution. =)


Well, what's reconciling about my university is that most of the faculty isn't nearly as conservative as the student body. I think he'd probably find it amusing if I pissed off the class.


Oh! Well if you're sure of your audience...annoint some holy text with fire and beat those in the front row with their tailbones, appendices, and misplaced visual cortices

I attend UT Dallas which; although in the middle of Texas, is an excellent math/science/computer science school with a large portion of students from all over the world. My classes and instructors there are a breath of fresh air, so I was *shocked* to see a sign on campus yesterday about a lecture reconciling evolution and creation. Le sigh....I feel your pain.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby tomandlu » Thu Feb 10, 2011 4:05 pm UTC

awesomejess wrote:My classes and instructors there are a breath of fresh air, so I was *shocked* to see a sign on campus yesterday about a lecture reconciling evolution and creation. Le sigh....I feel your pain.


Is that necessarily a bad thing? (and I write as an emotional atheist with logical agnostic tendencies). i.e. interpreting the creation myth as a metaphor for human evolution.
How can I think my way out of the problem when the problem is the way I think?

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Eternal Questionner » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:31 pm UTC

If I were you, and I wanted to get people thinking properly about evolution, I wouldn't start with evolution. Start with a simple example, easily refutable, that doesn't go completely against their belief system. Perhaps something like homeopathy would be a good place to start - the physics is rediculous and the clinical trial data is utterly revealing. Show them that Science works - and that can provide a basis for being right about things. And doing this for a neutral example means they won't completely shut you out from the first minute of your talk. Perhaps then they can start thinking about Science differently - maybe then they will start to examine their own beliefs on evolution.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby iop » Sat Feb 12, 2011 2:27 am UTC

awesomejess wrote: My classes and instructors there are a breath of fresh air, so I was *shocked* to see a sign on campus yesterday about a lecture reconciling evolution and creation. Le sigh....I feel your pain.

These kind of lectures (as well as e.g. the BioLogos Forum) are attempts to get orthodox Evangelicals to accept evolution, rather than to get atheists to accept creation. It's more likely to succeed, and thus more likely to do good, than a lecture by Richard Dawkins, IMHO.

eternalQuestioner wrote:If I were you, and I wanted to get people thinking properly about evolution, I wouldn't start with evolution. Start with a simple example, easily refutable, that doesn't go completely against their belief system. Perhaps something like homeopathy would be a good place to start - the physics is rediculous and the clinical trial data is utterly revealing. Show them that Science works - and that can provide a basis for being right about things. And doing this for a neutral example means they won't completely shut you out from the first minute of your talk. Perhaps then they can start thinking about Science differently - maybe then they will start to examine their own beliefs on evolution.

You see to think that creationists are anti-science. There may be some, but I've met plenty of creationists who are excellent scientists otherwise. They just happen to be Evangelicals as well. Similarly, I've met scientists who staunchly believe that a stock market crash that makes people lose lots of money means that some banks are getting filthy rich, because all that money has to go somewhere. Scientists don't necessarily get it right, and they're smart enough to find plenty of great excuses for their wrong belief.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby iChef » Sat Feb 12, 2011 2:56 am UTC

You can convince everyone about the truth of evolution in the first 30 seconds of your presentation. Bring in a vial of drug resistant TB and smash it on one of the front desks with a hammer.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby achan1058 » Sat Feb 12, 2011 3:24 am UTC

iChef wrote:You can convince everyone about the truth of evolution in the first 30 seconds of your presentation. Bring in a vial of drug resistant TB and smash it on one of the front desks with a hammer.
I wouldn't be so dramatic, but I do think using the fact that evolution will kill whether you like it or not, and that the only way you can defend against it is to learn about it and use its tools, can be a good idea. If you can instill enough fear for them to not reject evolution, it could be a success.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Coffee » Thu Feb 17, 2011 1:32 pm UTC

Edwin Friedman wrote:The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.


No matter the strength of your logic, no matter how irrefutable your argument, no matter the facts stacked in your favor, you will never convince someone who is already convinced you are wrong.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Kou_Kagerou » Fri Feb 18, 2011 2:55 am UTC

I'm sorry I don't have anything to contribute, but I am very interested in the outcome. I would like to express my interest in you posting about your results, right after your presentation, again 1 or 2 weeks after your presentation, and then again later in the future should the results of your presentation come back to visit you later in life.

Good luck!

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby iop » Sat Feb 19, 2011 12:48 pm UTC

iChef wrote:You can convince everyone about the truth of evolution in the first 30 seconds of your presentation. Bring in a vial of drug resistant TB and smash it on one of the front desks with a hammer.

Nope. Unless the audience is full of bleeding heart creationists, they're already accepting adaptation just fine. It's just "macroevolution", i.e. that "a fish should become a bird" that they won't accept.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby achan1058 » Sat Feb 19, 2011 11:48 pm UTC

Coffee wrote:
Edwin Friedman wrote:The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.


No matter the strength of your logic, no matter how irrefutable your argument, no matter the facts stacked in your favor, you will never convince someone who is already convinced you are wrong.

http://www.relationshipsincorporated.com/Grow.pdf
Is that really true? With the right circumstances, and reality crumbling behind them, putting enormous stress, they can be made to change their belief. That's why some people convert to religion when XXX died. Granted, insight alone probably won't do anything, but with the rest of the world against them strong enough......

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby HungryHobo » Sun Feb 20, 2011 12:27 am UTC

the specific story is made up but such situations are real

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotard_delusion
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby MHD » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:13 pm UTC

Also, you might want to underline that Evolution is a theory the same way Gravity is. That is, make clear the difference between casual, everyday meaning of the word "theory" and the scientific one.
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby Mr_Rose » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:27 pm UTC

Specifically that evolution happens, is happening, whether we want it to (or "believe in it") or not and that understanding it is the only way to make it work for us; to which end the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory is our best attempt yet.
Microevolution is a term — when used by creationists — that is the evolutionary equivalent of the belief that the mechanism you use to walk from your bedroom to the kitchen is insufficient to get you from New York to Los Angeles.

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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby HungryHobo » Mon Feb 21, 2011 3:12 pm UTC

my instinctive response to people saying they don't believe in macro-evolution but do believe in adaptation is a sarcastic

"I don't believe in continental drift.
I mean I believe the continents are moving apart at like a few millimetres a year, they can measure it with really precise lasers etc, but they're thousands of miles apart! how could they ever end up that far apart with only microscopic changes every year! has anyone ever seen 2 continents split? I don't think so!"
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Re: How to effectively give a presentation on evolution

Postby GroverCleveland » Tue Feb 22, 2011 12:33 pm UTC

I recently watched this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGfhAevhy_0&feature=related) which is part 1/3 in a debate between Kent Hovind, a firm believer in creationism and biblical literalism, (who is currently in jail. I lol'd when I learned that) and Martin Brazeau, who was at the time a graduate student pursuing a PHD in evolutionary science. It addresses many of the arguments used by ignorant people, and shows how to avoid the straw man comparisons many creationists make to evolution. It might help if you were going to have a Q&A after the presentation.


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