Why do we celebrate Darwin?

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

2009 is the Year of Evolution. It has been 200 years since Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species. There have been many celebrations, events, and lectures all in his name with more to come throughout the year.  February 12 is even considered “Darwin Day,” and celebrated every year.

All these celebrations beg the question: Why do we celebrate Darwin?  We don’t celebrate other great scientists or thinkers.  Where is Einstein Day?  Or Newton Day? Even among the history of evolutionary theory, he was not the first or only person to propose the idea. So what is the deal?

I don’t really have the answer, but I do have a few ideas.  The first is that he is the figurehead for a scientific understanding of where we came from.  This has profound philosophical implications for humans and their relationship with other animals.  In fact, I think these implications are why so many people are willing to make every excuse in the book to deny the reality of evolution (for example, The Discovery Institute).

Another reason could be that it is the only scientific theory that is constantly being accosted by people based on their belief system and not on evidence.  This constant attack puts people on the defensive.  It makes them want to fight for the theory that Darwin proposed so many years ago.

Of course, biologists have their own reasons for celebrating.  Biology and medicine would be nothing without evolutionary theory and the ideas that come out of it.

Undoubtedly, it is a combination of all the above, plus others that I have forgotten.  I still find it a bit odd to single out Darwi, but I think any public celebration of science is a good thing.


Darwin Day > Academic Freedom Day

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The Discovery Institute decided to have an “Academic Freedom” day on the same day as Darwin Day, February 12, 2009. It seems that they can’t let scientists and evolution believers actually have any fun without some sort of attack. Of course what they really mean by Academic Freedom is the freedom to be devoid of reality. It even has a slogan taken from Charles Darwin himself:

A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

What a great and appropriate quote! So what would a fair result be in the evolution/ID debate?  Let’s see…Clearly the facts are on the side of evolution. Fossil evidence, genetic evidence, and experimental evidence point to evolution. The argument of random mutation and natural selection is clear, concise and elegant. Intelligent design has no supporting fact and its arguments consist of denial and logical fallacies. I am thinking that evolution is somehow coming out ahead.  How fortunate for evolution proponents that they picked such a slogan!

Just as an aside, I am a big supporter of academic freedom. Real academic freedom. What the Discovery Institute is peddling is ideology and pseudoscience wrapped in the protection of the word freedom. You can have all the freedom you want, but science is fact based and not a democracy.

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Year of Evolution in Philly

The Skeptick over at the Way of the Woo reminds us that this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.  Philidelphia is celebrating the anniversary by having a “year of evolution.”  It looks like a wide variety of pro-science organizations and museums are participating, including the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Philly zoo, and many local museums.  Here is a list of the scheduled festivities.  I hope other cities around the nation and around the world will join in the fun.

Of course these events could not go on without the people at the Discovery Institute taking notice.  Anika Smith wrote a post entitled its Anno Darwini in Philadelphia.  In this post, Smith of course has to turn these celebrations into an anti-religious witch hunt:

It’s the final quote in the story that sounds an ominous note for dissenters from Darwin: “We will try to find ways of persuading people that it’s not in conflict with their faith,” Dr. Brown said.  Since the pro-evolution-only lobby ignores the scientific evidence that doesn’t support Darwin’s theory, they’ve decided to address what they can afford to acknowledge as a problem for many people: Darwinian evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Just a couple things.  Darwinian evolution only conflicts with a small sect of religion: fundamentalists that take Genesis as literal fact and believe the earth is only 6,000 years old.  But modern geology, archeology, paleontology also all conflict with their religious beliefs.  Also, I have not seen any “scientific evidence that doesn’t support Darwin’s theory”?  All I see from the ID side is ignorance dressed up as complex explanations.