Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Lecturer to discuss work of Alfred Wallace

he ALLELE lecture series will continue its education of the public on evolutionary topics with a free presentation Thursday by James Costa, professor of biology at Western Carolina University.

Costa’s lecture, which will occur at 7:30 p.m. in the Biology Building Auditorium, will concentrate on the studies of Alfred Wallace, a legendary figure in the areas of biology, biological exploration and biogeography who lived from 1823 to 1913. Titled “Alfred Russel Wallace’s ‘Species Notebook’ of 1855-1859,” Costa’s talk will focus on his recent analysis of one of Wallace’s never-before-published field notebooks, which he kept through the 1850s while exploring Southeast Asia.

“Wallace, although well-known in some ways, for example his co-discovery of the principle of natural selection, has also at the same time been underappreciated in terms of just how insightful he was and how much he understood about the evolutionary process,” Costa said.

Costa said he will discuss how Wallace’s work parallels that of Charles Darwin, and that his analysis is interesting because it shows how the lines of evidence leading to evolution that Wallace pursued, such as fossils, geographical distribution, behavior, instinct, embryology and anatomy, were exactly the same lines that Darwin followed.

(See also “ALLELE lecture on literary Darwinism Thursday“)

“I hope that it might pique curiosity about the way naturalists of the 19th century have figured out this process of evolution, and especially a new appreciation for Alfred Russel Wallace in particular,” Costa said.

Costa is the executive director of the Highlands Biological Station and has published five books on the evolutionary process and insect social behavior. He has taught, lectured and studied extensively on both topics. He is a research associate of entomology at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting students and faculty and sharing my passion and enthusiasm for Wallace and the history of the field,” Costa said. “It’s always very exciting to having an opportunity to talk to students and others and answer their questions.”

ALLELE, Alabama’s Lectures on Life’s Evolution, is an 8-year-old lecture series designed to improve the public’s understanding of evolution. Each year, a number of renowned scientists in disciplines ranging from physics to biology, psychology to history, are brought to the University to address the subject.

(See also “Smith Hall to host science, evolution celebration event“)

“I think in general there is not a good appreciation for the importance of evolution in science,” Leslie Rissler, UA associate professor of biology, said. “It is the unifying concept in biology and permeates many different disciplines.”

The long-standing program has spurred the creation of an evolutionary studies minor and an evolutionary studies club at the University. It has also helped produce the “Speaking Evolution” website, an information source for K-12 teachers in Alabama.

Costa said he hopes even those uncertain about the idea of evolution will still attend his presentation.

“What I would suggest to students that might be skeptical is that the most important thing is to have an open mind,” Costa said. “As mind-boggling as it is, it’s a process that happens. For those that feel like the challenge is their religious beliefs, I might only suggest that they consider that many people of faith who are also very good scientists have no problem with the idea of species changing, or evolution as we call it. In fact, they simply think, ‘Why couldn’t the Creator have worked through a process like natural selection?’”

Rissler said she hopes students can gain an excitement about the field of evolution through speakers like Costa and not be afraid of the subject.

“I think there’s that unreflective knee-jerk resistance to thinking about these ideas, and I’m hoping that listening to my talk might bring some people to step back and think about things in a different way,” Costa said.

(See also “Harvard professor to speak at ALLELE series“)

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