Celebrating Darwin Day. (International Humanism)

Article excerpt

Celebrating the birthday of Charles Darwin--February 12, 1809--has grown significantly to become an international event called Darwin Day. The Geological Society in Queensland, Australia, for example, has been holding its annual gathering on Darwin's birthday for years. For 2002, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin, Australia, will hold a series of lectures for secondary school senior science students. And the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, the Rationalist Press Association, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union have enthusiastically added their support to promoting and encouraging celebration of Darwin Day.

In the United States, Darwin Day was celebrated by local humanist and freethought groups until last year when the national campus organization, the Secular Student Alliance, adopted it as a major project, a dedicated website was established, and independent tax-exemption was obtained.

A strong gauge of the importance of Darwin Day is the number and distribution of scientists and educators who have permitted the use of their names to promote it. They include Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and honorary president of the Darwin Day Program; Philip Appleman, editor of W. W. Norton's Darwin anthology; Robert C. Fleischer of the Smithsonian Institution; Steven Pinker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education; Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University; and numerous other professors and researchers from universities in Canada, Japan, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Add to that the endorsement of leaders of nearly every major American humanist and freethought group, and you have an impressive body of support.

The original intent of Darwin Day was to recognize Darwin's remarkable powers of observation and profound insight into the evolutionary connections between all life on Earth. His contribution to understanding nature has forever changed the way scientists and the public view our world. In "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought" in the July 2000 Scientific American, leading evolutionary scientist Ernst Mayr writes: "Darwin's accomplishments were so many and so diverse that it is useful to distinguish three fields to which he made major contributions: evolutionary biology, the philosophy of science, and the modern zeitgeist."

The importance of Darwin's work has been reinforced by current research into genetics. Decoding of the human genome has captured world attention, and genetic research has made obvious the close evolutionary relationship between humans and all other living things.

Despite the acceptance of Darwin's ideas by most thoughtful individuals, nearly half of the general population in the United States rejects them. …