UI scholar gave Rome presentation

BY MEGAN DIAL | APRIL 10, 2009 7:30 AM

He gardens, cooks delicious meals, and enjoys driving his John Deere mower around his lawn. And he gave a presentation to high officials of the Catholic Church last month.

David Depew, the UI interim director of the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry and a communications professor, was among one of many elite professors from the United States and Europe to present ideas about evolution at the “Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories” conference in Rome last month.

“Luckily, I’m on leave this semester,” the 66-year-old said, explaining how he found time to prepare his presentation on a philosophical analysis of the concept of adaptation by natural selection.
“Even that morning, I was chopping parts out of it,” he said. “I was nervous.”

Depew spoke to a crowd of elite professors of paleontology, biology, anthropology, philosophy, and theology, along with high officials of the Catholic Church.

“Even though the pope didn’t show up, this pretty much had the endorsement of high, high officials,” Depew said.

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The crowd heard a total of 45 presentations exploring the possibility of the Catholic Church and scientists coming to a mutual agreement on the theories of evolution and creation.

“I don’t know why it’s important right now,” Depew said. “I would wish [the church] would come out in favor of evolution.”

Phillip Sloan, a professor in the graduate program in the history of philosophy and science at the University of Notre Dame, recommended Depew to present at the conference.

“He’s an outstanding scholar,” Sloan said. “He’s written a major text on Darwinism evolution, and I’ve used this regularly in my graduate classes,”

The professors have known each other at least 20 years, Sloan said, and both attended the conference in Rome.

“I’ve gotten to know him much better because we’ve been working on very similar areas,” Sloan said. “I would consider him a warm and congenial colleague, a very fine presenter of materials, and a person with an extremely wide-range of knowledge.”

Depew grew up in Pasadena, Calif. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from St. Mary’s College of California and attended three different graduate schools before finishing his degree in the history of philosophy.

The avid gardener taught at California State University-Fullerton — where he got involved in the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology — for 23 years before moving to the UI.

His wife of 32 years, Mary Depew, is an associate professor of classics at the UI. In 1990, she began working at the UI department while her husband was still teaching in California.

“We commuted for five years,” she said. “We felt extremely fortunate to have jobs in the same institution.”

David Depew said he plans to retire next year and write more on evolution. Mary Depew said she knows he is excited about retiring, but he will miss his students.

“It’s always kind of a trade off between teaching, advising your graduate students, running the institution — helping run the institution — and your own research,” he said. “And basically when I retire, I just hope to do a lot more of the last.”

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