On stage, On the Origin ... author endures a dramatic trial of faith
Intelligent design leads Darwin to rethink evolution in a play for Festival of Science, writes Zoe Corbyn
Academics generally prefer to express their ideas through research conferences and journal articles, but the sociologist Steve Fuller has always been keen to push traditional boundaries.
The latest offering from the controversial University of Warwick professor is a play that he wrote, directed and starred in. It acts as a platform for his views in support of intelligent design - the theory that an intelligent being is responsible for creating life.
The play was staged in Liverpool this week during the annual Festival of Science organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA).
The play, which is more than an hour long, is in the format of a talk show. In it, Professor Fuller resurrects the historical figures Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution, and Abraham Lincoln, the president who helped to abolish slavery in America. Both were born on the same day (12 February) 200 years ago next year.
The characters, played by Professor Fuller's students, reflect on what has changed in the politics of science and race since their era. The two protagonists are offered the opportunity to remain in 2008 or return to their time. Lincoln decides to stay, but Darwin goes back to the 1800s to rethink his ground-breaking theory.
"Darwin becomes convinced by the end of the play that perhaps there is intelligent design in nature," Professor Fuller, who plays a sidekick to the talk-show host, told Times Higher Education.
He said the message of the controversial play, which is his first, is that society cannot rely on these icons of the 19th century to save it.
"Lincoln comes out a bit better, I think. He is a man of compromise and could roll with the punches pretty well ... Darwin is much more principled. He has got some pretty clear views of what is knowable and not knowable, and this gets challenged over the course of the play."
He expects the play to stir up Darwinists, even though its aim was not to "beat (the Darwinists) over the head" or argue that they had to believe in God. He said he was seeking to show that the evidence base Darwin had to work with had "really shifted a lot".
Writing a dramatic work had been an interesting experience, he said. "(It) requires a different kind of thinking from normal academic work. You have to lay the stuff out much more slowly than you would if you were writing a paper, where someone has the option of rereading."
Professor Fuller wrote the play, Lincoln and Darwin: Live for One Night Only!, as a "creative" replacement to the usual symposium he would be expected to give in his capacity as president of the sociological section of the BA festival.
He hopes to stage the work at next year's festival of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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