COLLEGE STATION - Two of the nation’s top scientists will visit the Texas A&M University campus next week to discuss one of the hottest topics in modern science as part of the annual Trotter Endowed Lecture Series.
As recipients of Texas A&M’s 2005 Trotter Prize, Dr. William Dembski, an associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University, and Dr. Stuart Kauffman, director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary, will address the origin of life in a public lecture Monday (April 4) at 7 p.m. in Rudder Theatre. The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a reception in the Rudder Exhibit Hall.
Two central questions will form the basis of their scholarly debate: What are the defining features of life, and what causal processes can originate life and subsequently increase its complexity? For Dembski and Kauffman, the answers depend largely on approach, not to mention widely differing perspectives.
Dembski, a proponent of intelligent design, approaches these questions through his notion of "specified complexity," which he claims resides in living systems and constitutes a form of information that only intelligent agents are capable of generating. His presentation, Intelligent Design’s Place in the Natural Sciences, centers on teleology, which is widely disregarded in current evolutionary theory. Dembski will outline intelligent design’s attempts to bring it back into the natural sciences in a way that is rigorous, fruitful and empirically detectable, and also examine its prospects for success.
Kauffman, a self-organizational theorist, counters with his argument for "autonomous agents," which he characterizes as a self-reproducing system capable of carrying out thermodynamic work cycles. For Kauffman, it is these laws of self-organization, not intelligent design, that promise to explain how communities of autonomous agents can arise and evolve. In Toward a Physical Definition of Life, he will analyze Schrodinger's What is Life, which, for all its bio-molecular discoveries -- DNA, the genetic code and gene self-regulation, to name but a few -- may have missed the overall mark. Kauffman suggests Schrodinger overlooked some core concepts and that others from Darwin render the biosphere incapable of finite pre-description and, therefore, may bear on a response to intelligent design arguments.
"I’m very much looking forward to a spirited discussion among the speakers and the audience," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.
A mathematician and a philosopher, Dembski is a senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle and also executive director of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. He has previously taught at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Dallas and done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton University. In addition, Dembski is the author/editor of 10 books, including In The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities.
Kauffman, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Pennsylvania and an external professor and co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, is a leading thinker on self-organization and the science of complexity as applied to biology. Twenty-five years ago, he developed the Kauffman models, which are random networks exhibiting a kind of self-organization that he terms "order for free." A MacArthur Fellow, he is the founding general partner and chief scientific officer of The Bios Group, a company that applies the science of complexity to business management problems. Kauffman is also a physician, though he no longer practices, as well as a prolific author.
The Trotter Prize and Endowed Lecture Series, presented by the College of Science in collaboration with The Dwight Look College of Engineering, seeks to illuminate connections between science and religion, often viewed in academia as non-overlapping if not rival world views. The series was established by Ide P. Trotter Jr. and Luella H. Trotter with a matching contribution from ExxonMobil Corp. in 2001 to honor Ide P. Trotter Sr., former dean of Texas A&M University’s Graduate School, and to recognize pioneering contributions to the understanding of the role of information, complexity and inference in illuminating the mechanisms and wonder of nature.
For more information on the event, contact Sidney Zubik in the College of Science Dean’s Office at (979) 845-9642.