Yesterday, out of the clear blue, I got a call from Gail Marshall, former ombudsman of the Fresno Bee, and now working with Fresno's mayor, Alan Autry.
For you non-Fresnans, Autry is not just an ex-Hollywood type, best known for his role as 'Bubba' on the TV series In the Heat of the Night. Autry is also a former NFL quarterback with the Green Bay Packers, a popular two-term mayor of Fresno (he won reelection in 2004 with 72 percent of the vote) who will leave office next year, and (this is the connection with Gail)a local celebrity who is trying his hand at talk radio on KYNO 1300.
Anyway, Gail knew of me due to letters and other pieces I've written over the years to the Fresno Bee sticking up for science education. It turns out that Mayor Autry wanted to chat up evolution and intelligent design (ID), and since I know that Autry is a conservative Christian it came as no surprise that he would be perched on the creationist side of the fence. There was a possibility that if I accepted, that I would be 'set up' with a prepared foe or a bunch of 'straw man' arguments.
But yours truly, publicity whore for science, turning down an offer to fence with the mayor of Fresno? Not hardly! Damn the torpedoes and any potential ideological mine fields, and full speed ahead! So it was that yesterday, between 10:00 and 11:00 PST, I went on the program:
Autry began with a folksy bit of sly mockery in which he discussed his 'cousin' the stromatolite, showing again that the real concern of many conservative Christians is the claim of common descent. We had one caller, who seemed to be animated by pro-life convictions and had bought into the idea that evolution was somehow responsible for the 'eugenics' of a Margaret Sanger or the atrocities of the Third Reich. I dispatched that with a full well-aimed thrusts and hopefully without sounding too aroused or anxious, and then had a rather pleasant, if not terribly edifying exchange of views with my host.
My overall impression was that we covered a lot of ground fairly quickly and that there were no obvious stumbles on my part. I tried to use my appreciation for some of Autry's interests in a positive way to build empathy between myself and the mayor's audience. I did encounter some misleading arguments or assumptions in conversation, but I thought that these were held honestly and did my best to address them, and I thought the Mayor treated me fairly when I did.
Toward the end, His Honor detoured into what was clearly the main concern, which is common descent and squaring it with the Genesis account. I declined to get into theological specifics, simply pointing out that educated Christians have long known that there are multiple sources within the text, but honor both. I'm not sure if whether or not I happened to be a Christian played any role in the invitation to appear, but there can be no doubt that it helped keep things civil. No minds were changed in the broadcast booth, but perhaps a few misconceptions about evolution were aired and dispelled out in the ether. I would do this again if asked, though I would hope to focus more time on the science and less on the personal beliefs of this or that. But as they say, baby steps.
You can listen to the audio with Quicktime by downloading this mp3 file here. A word of warning: I had trouble listening to the whole thing with ITunes. Also a piece of disclosure: the image of Autry waving through the window doesn't due the mayor justice, but I didn't have time to take a lot of shots. The picture of me has been retouched to make me look more attractive, but as usual it didn't work. As the joke goes, I have a face for radio....
Hey, this post is getting a lot of traffic from all sides of the aisle! How about leaving me a comment? Identify where you stand on this business, and then tell me what you wished I would've said or what could've been better explained/defended, etc......I would love to hear people's thoughts and I invite criticism!