Celebrate Darwin Day!

With all the religiously based days of celebration we have, don’t you think it’s about time we had one celebrating science and reason? Well on February 12, 2009, we have exactly that: Darwin Day. It marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species as well. What better way to celebrate science and reason than to celebrate the theory that did more to change how we view the world than perhaps any other idea in human history—biological evolution by means of natural selection—as well as the great man behind it? Well, those of us who are enlightened enough to not be religious fundamentalists anyway. :-)

POSTSCRIPT: I would just like to add that I think Charles Darwin is a really great example of what science is all about. He started out with the intention of being a clergyman, but when the evidence led him to doubt the literal truth of the Bible, he went with the facts, even though he knew his ideas would threaten the Victorian establishment—an establishment he was very much a part of himself.

Tags:

Michael, Lucan, Ireland

Michael, Lucan, Ireland’s avatar

Oddly enough, the trouble with focusing on Darwin is that it encourages “creationists”- most of whom are Americans. It’s clear that the US education system is incredibly poor, so that many Americans cannot distinguish provable fact from belief. They are used to quoting from a book in support of their beliefs, and ignoring the reality round them.

If you focus on Darwin, they think that you are only offering Darwin’s books as a counter to their books. They seem unaware that science has moved on since Darwin’s books were written one and a half centuries ago. No serious scientist today doubts that the world is billions of years old, and that evolution is a fact.

However, there has been intense research and debate over the past century and a half, about the details of how evolution works. Our understanding of it has developed massively since Darwin’s early commentary.

When the creationists hear this debate going on, they only hear that “Darwin’s book was wrong”. They ignore the century and a half of factual research and also the thousands of books on the subject written after Darwin’s. Focusing on Darwin allows them to ignore reality.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hurray for Darwin Day! As an Anthropologist you can imagine how much I revere Mr. Darwin. Though he is much feared and maligned by religious fundamentalists, his theories have prevailed among the enlightened for quite some time. I run up the stars and stripes on Independence Day. What kind of flag design would the readership suggest for Darwin Day(other than the well known ascent of ape to man scenario). Serious and comic ideas are welcome.

  
Quote
  Reply

Charles Darwin was a truly great thinker and scientist. Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin! Thank you for your great scientific contribution.

A Darwin flag? His profile is easily recognizable, maybe a profile silouette?

  
Quote
  Reply

Is it Happy Darwin Day, or Merry Darwin Day? I always get confused. I think that it would be a great idea to have such a day to celebrate science and reason. The only other day I would put forth as such a day would be Pi Day, March 14, which also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday. I feel just a bit more towards him, having come from a physical sciences background myself. There is hardly an area of physics he didn’t monumentally change, of course his groundbreaking theories in relativity (both special and general) photovoltaics, brownian motion, and particle physics are probably his most notable contributions. Not only was he a great physicist, he was a social activist. He spoke out against segregation in the US, against proliferation of nuclear arms, and for world government (although he thought the UN was too weak to ever be effective). In fact, by the time he died in 1955, he had a 1500 page FBI file!

NB: Einstein was offered the role as first president of Israel, but turned it down, as he was opposed to Zionism. Imagine if he had accepted it, how different the Israeli-Palestinian situation might be!

On a side note, any of your readers in the UK might be interested in the Darwin special exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. It has artifacts from his trip to the Galapagos, complete with handwritten notes and specimens personally collected, along with detailed explanations of how evolution by natural selection works and how his collections gave evidence of that. The exhibit will be here till April 19, and admission is free. Anyone on the fence about evolution should go, it is an amazing exhibit.

(I’m sure noone here is on the fence, but if you happen to know anyone who is, tell them to go.)

  
Quote
  Reply

It is interesting that people in the 19th century found the “descent of Man” to be so shocking. I like the fact that we are related to most (possibly all) other species, and that we are close relatives of mammals, especially apes.

We should be celebrating Copernicus, Galileo and Newton as well as Einstein. (Great point Sagredo about Einstein not being a Zionist). And Aristarchus, who put forward the heliocentric theory in the 4th century BC, and Eratosthenes, who calculated the approximate circumference of the Earth in the third century ….about 17 centuries before Columbus!

Carl Sagan points out wistfully in his book Cosmos that , had not religious zealots murdered Hypatia and burned down the Great Library of ALexandria, we might now be exploring the stars……

  
Quote
  Reply

I’m celebrating by throwing my poo at creationists.

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Michael, Lucan, Ireland
When the creationists hear this debate going on, they only hear that “Darwin’s book was wrong”. They ignore the century and a half of factual research and also the thousands of books on the subject written after Darwin’s. Focusing on Darwin allows them to ignore reality.

I always found this position to be utterly ridiculous and desperate. I mean, look at how much debate there is about the true meaning of the Bible! And that’s just one book. Besides, it’s because science always openly questions established ideas that it is such a superior method for examining the world – old ideas are constantly reviewed in light of new evidence. For example, in the unlikely event that somebody was able to conclusively demonstrate scientifically that evolution is actually an illusion, scientists would accept that. (I should point out that this is just a theoretical example – evolution is so well supported by such an overwhelming mass of evidence that this would never really happen!)

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Michael, Lucan, Ireland It’s clear that the US education system is incredibly poor, so that many Americans cannot distinguish provable fact from belief. .

I would think you mean that American k-12 education is incredibly poor, not the overall education system. Our universities are some of the finest in the world, otherwise we wouldn’t have such a large number of international students coming in to get degrees. Even Sachiko was partially educated in the US (allbeit at a Cal State campus, :P which one was it, anyway?), and I certainly wouldn’t call her poorly educated.

  
Quote
  Reply

I don’t consider myself an atheist. I consider myself a apatheist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism

I don’t think contemplation of the question of whether there’s an afterlife or not is relevant to human affairs. Let’s get rid of pain and suffering in this world, instead of contemplating what might happen in the next. It’s not like I want to wear a sandwich board with “I’m an atheist and proud of it” written on it.

I’m 34 now. Maybe, when I’m older, if I’m lucky enough to reach 50 plus and I know my biological clock is ticking down, I’ll think more about THE END. But, for now, I hope I’m in good enough health.

Anyway, maybe, this is not exactly on topic. Anyway, Sachiko writes that Darwin was part of the establishment and then he turned against that establishment. Kinda reminds me of what Barack Obama isn’t. Nearly a month into the job, I see scant evidence that Barack Obama is willing to challenge and threaten the establishment of what he is part, in any way.

On the question of religion, as I’ve written before, I don’t think religion in itself is a bad thing. It’s only when it’s mixed with politics that it becomes toxic. I respect any guy who chooses to believe in some wacky religious theory or platform or another. So long as they don’t try to stuff it down my throat. But, maybe, I’m wrong and I’m open to persuasion otherwise, I think… and I hope.

Speaking of US Presidents, has there ever been a US President who has been an atheist? I think Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. I don’t think Obama is turning any new ground there. I think he says he is religious. I read it’s rather difficult for atheists to become President of the USA. Sunday church attendance is obligatory for those aspiring for the highest office of that land. What about apatheists? Hmm, maybe, I should try. ;-)

  
Quote
  Reply

@Robert: Re: Darwin flag. I vote for a Saltire design with a picture of one of the animals he studied in between the cross arms.

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Sagredo
Even Sachiko was partially educated in the US (allbeit at a Cal State campus, :P which one was it, anyway?)

I went to Cal Poly Pamona. Does anyone know why they call it Cal Poly, BTW? I’ve never found out!

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Paul Carr
On the question of religion, as I’ve written before, I don’t think religion in itself is a bad thing. It’s only when it’s mixed with politics that it becomes toxic. I respect any guy who chooses to believe in some wacky religious theory or platform or another. So long as they don’t try to stuff it down my throat. But, maybe, I’m wrong and I’m open to persuasion otherwise, I think… and I hope.

Speaking of US Presidents, has there ever been a US President who has been an atheist? I think Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. I don’t think Obama is turning any new ground there. I think he says he is religious. I read it’s rather difficult for atheists to become President of the USA. Sunday church attendance is obligatory for those aspiring for the highest office of that land. What about apatheists? Hmm, maybe, I should try. ;-)

I think telling people that it is okay to believe in something that obviously doesn’t exist is inherently dangerous, as it leaves them open to suggestion by wrong doers (usually politicians and religious leaders) and destoroys their logical and critical faculties. Democracy can only work if the population is well educated and skeptical. When it isn’t, you get dangerous morons like Bush being President.

And the US has certainly had a few anti-religious presidents (Lincoln being one, and the founding fathers were too), but none would ever openly admit to being atheist, perhaps even to themselves.

  
Quote
  Reply

@Sachiko – Well, I’m not sure Abraham Lincoln was anti-religious. What evidence do you have to back that one up?

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_and_religion

“Lincoln frequently referenced God and quoted the Bible, yet never formally joined any church.”. Which, is certainly interesting.

And the founding fathers too? You mean those guys who were around in the 1780s when the United States of America started? How were they anti-religious?

Anyway, regarding your original suggestion, yeah, I guess, we should celebrate Darwin Day. We should have a Government sanctioned holiday. We’ll trade off Good Friday. Why not? We’ve got so many religiously inspired holidays, which, by their nature, I think, exclude other religions and, indeed, those who practice none. Why not a scientifically inspired one which would include everyone. And, maybe, as you say, such a legally sanctioned holiday would put the brakes on the religious nutjobs, peddling their brand of fiction as “the one and only path”.

  
Quote
  Reply

Speaking of Lincoln, I find myself contemplating the shared birth date of Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin — both 12.Feb.1809. To a truly mundane practical scientist, this has to be an interesting coincidence, nothing more, nothing less. To discuss this further might be getting into some kind of poetry.

And somebody mentioned Jefferson, yes? Deist or not, he became one of the most caustic critics in history of certain highly revered documents, including certain portions of the Holy Bible. At one point, he called the book of Revelation “the ravings of a maniac”. For weal or woe, he was born too soon to take on either Darwin or Darwin critics.

I sense that Darwin enjoys considerably more popularity in Australia than in the US. I know there’s a “Port Darwin” in the North, but again, that must surely be one of those coincidences that puts little thorns in the flesh of proud scholars and professors. There’s a story behind the name, but I don’t know it. The last time I was there, it was on a stopover on a flight from Saigon to Sydney, and I was appalled at how stressful the flight over the equator had been. I drank a beer that cost $A 0.36 at the time, and tried to relax. Then, I thought about the name Darwin, and imaged the Beagle pulling up to the piers there. I never asked the brusque waiter for a reality check, because I sensed I might get a laugh for that. I was young, and slow to grow up enough to appreciate a budding comic gift.

I just visited the Darwin link quoted in Sachiko’s preamble above. I am grateful to find so much information in one place. One thing is for sure: Australia has to have won a very special place in that man’s heart, in view of the particular natural history that can be viewed there. I don’t discern this in those nickle and dime facts attributed to Darwin, but the spirit of “Uoc-Dai-Loi” seems to loom very large in the writings about “species”. And the Beagle did go there, at some point.

  
Quote
  Reply

@Paul Carr

Lincoln also said: “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion.”

As you are so fond of quoting Wikipedia, here’s the relevant bit from their Founding Fathers article:

Some of the more prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical or vocal about their opposition to organized religion, such as Jefferson. Some of them often related their anti-organized church leanings in their speeches and correspondence, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (who created the “Jefferson Bible”), and Benjamin Franklin.

  
Quote
  Reply

@Alcove6409 – The capital of Australia’s Northern Territory (Darwin) really is named after Charles.

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By MattI’m celebrating by throwing my poo at creationists.

I love it!
Happy belated Darwin Day!

  
Quote
  Reply

@Sachiko

It’s short for California Polytechnic University. Polytechnic just like it sounds means refers it being a technology & agriculture school. My wife taught there for a semester, and I had some friends who attended classes there. I liked the horse corrals they had just off campus, reminds me of home.

  
Quote
  Reply

Thanks Sagredo! That’s why I chose to study there actually – I really liked the agricultural setting. I guess they only use the term Polytechnic for universities that have agricultural training facilities? Wikipedia says it is simply interchangable with Institute of Technology, which doesn’t make sense.

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Sachiko

Lincoln also said: “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion.”

That strikes me as non religious, not anti-religious. You originally wrote that Lincoln was an anti-religious President.

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Paul Carr

Originally Posted By Sachiko

Lincoln also said: “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion.”

That strikes me as non religious, not anti-religious. You originally wrote that Lincoln was an anti-religious President.

I don’t know: I interpret his comment as a swipe at religion’s claims to define the moral high ground – sounds anti to me. Also, I think that back then, “non” and “anti” were pretty much the same thing.

  
Quote
  Reply

Unfortunately as someone has already mentioned, the U.S. public school system is very lagging in this area. I remember during my time in public school almost 25 years ago there weren’t any pro-Darwin teachers at that fine institution of learning. All my teachers were the garden-variety Christians (Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostols, and Presbyterians just to name the major Southern religions) who almost foamed at the mouth when it came to discussing Darwin and evolution in particlular.

Fortunately I always read books as a child and still do and they have little to nothing to do with the teachings of creationism. It was from my ensatiable thirst for reading that I learned of Darwin and others, not from a fine education in public schools which was more concerned with the free lunch program and their football team than providing an education.

It wasn’t until after I escaped from that wretched backwards backwater area of the country and joined the Navy that I found out that I wasn’t alone and there are more people like me and you good folks here. Over the last 25 years of traveling all over the world, thanks mostly to the Navy, I believe the world would be a much better place if all religions would just back off and let people be themselves.

Hopefully this makes sense, just got through loading cargo onboard for the last six hours in the lovely desert region of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. I’m a bit bushed for now so if I seem a bit cranky, blame it on the heat and sun.

  
Quote
  Reply

I certainly will not spend any time disparaging Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and the impact that this and the further refinement of the theory over the past 150 years has had on the understanding of the interlacing of all components of the ecosystem to give us the amazing diversity of life we see today, and what the fossil/genome record shows us in the past.

However, just like President’s Day in the US, is the amalgamation of recognition of Washington and Lincoln’s Birthday, we should not forget the others who played a significant role in aiding Darwin. These two others of the same age were also just as right in their own major contributions to the current understanding of evolutionary genetics and modern paleontology and also gave Darwin the moral courage to fully encompass his revolutionary ideas when he was sure to have been potentially ostracized by his other scientific peers of the time.

We should not forget Jean Baptiste Lamarck – who actually proposed inheritable traits (his theory was dubbed Lamarckism). He got the mechanisms wrong and what traits were passed down, but it may well turn out his subtlety of traits being passed down, will be found to be true, as we are finding out that susceptability to environmental conditions also are passed on through both genetic and chemical developmental processes during gestation and initial years of development, which also have genetic triggers.

We should also not forget Charles Lyell, the geologist/paleontologist, whose book Principles of Geology, Darwin brought with him on his voyage on the Beagle. Charles Lyell also had the moral courage to disagree with Catastrophic Creationism, and instead produced evidence that supported Uniformitarianism (proposed by James Hutton) which Lyell said showed the slow, steady and cumulative effect of natural forces had produced continuous change in the course of the earth’s history.

Of course Charles Darwin’s own grandfather Erasmus Darwin also noted components of the progeny’s inheritance of traits. Although Charles openly/publicly dismissed his grandfather’s notations, it is possible that some notion of this germinated in the fertile mind of Charles Darwin when exposed to the wonders of the world on that trip taken on the Beagle.

On the flipside to the honoring of Darwin as an vaccination against religious idolization, please be made aware of the “religious evolutionary evangelism” of Michael Dowd.
http://www.thankgodforevolution.com/
Michael Dowd preaches the “holy trajectory” of evolution.
Of course this goes back to ideas of manifest destiny, and of course like most religious logic, is highly dubious, but I don’t think Atheism needs to be perceived like this religious zealot.

Instead let science stand on it’s own and let the honors of those who are knowledgable and truthful be taught on their merits as the basis for future scientific breakthroughs, while those who are ignorant and untruthful be forgotten as the historical footnotes that they deserve to be.

  
Quote
  Reply

@Sachiko – - The capital of Australia’s Northern Territory (Darwin) really is named after Charles.</

Blessings! Thank you, Sachiko.

In spite of my psycho-physical discomfort during my brief “Darwin” stopover, I do recall a place of unexpected beauty, beginning with the descent over the coastal area that displayed all sorts of green and blue colors in the shallow waters. Sitting in the lounge soon afterward, I could see some local embayments in the shoreline with overhanging trees — it was my first and only real in-person look at tropical Australia. I didn’t spot any black swans or crocks there, but, in spite of towering horse-latitude thunderclouds, I did sense a remarkable ambient peace unlike anything I’d known before. Sometimes, as the journey continued, that feature made me fearful — but of course I was coming from Vietnam, where there had been no time to be afraid of anything.

I promise I will read up on the town of Darwin, and how it came to be named thusly.

  
Quote
  Reply

@JohnFourtyTwo – Welcome back John! Have you been able to look at the Bye Bye Bush video yet?

@Akacra – Your very important point is well taken!

  
Quote
  Reply

As we are proposing a day to celebrate science and reason, we must also remember those in the physical, as opposed to life sciences, as many of their discoveries led, just as Darwin’s idea did, to fundamental shifts in how we view the universe. Ultimately, they all have contributed to improvements in our way of life. Just to name a few:

The celestial achievements of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton, whose works helped initially shed the yoke of the church’s dogma against scientific observation. Their combined efforts paved the way for understanding celestial mechanics, gravitation, and would lead mankind on his boldest endeavor: the exploration of extraterrestrial worlds, not to mention lay the foundation for later discoveries that would unlock the age of the universe.

In addition to his work on mechanics and gravitation, Newton’s laws of optics, along with the work of Snell and Fresnel, and Galileo’s pioneering of lenses contributed later to Jenner’s discovery of the germ theory of disease, and Fallopius’ discovery of sperm and egg reproduction, thus catapulting medical science into a modern age.

Medicine was also helped along by Bernoulli, whose equation of fluid dynamics not only contributed, along with the work of Mach, to helping man soar above the clouds, and reduce the time of world travel from months to hours, but enabled the dynamic study of the circulatory system.

Also, the works of Clausius and Kelvin in thermodynamics taught us why everything decays and must die, disproving the biblical claim of immortality.

Much of our modern world relies upon the development of Faraday and Henry, whose discoveries of induced voltage are the basis for all electricity generation and distribution, and Einstein’s mass-energy relationship gave birth to an entirely new form of power.

Last but not least, without the work of Bardeen, Shockley, and Brittain, computers would not be as fast, as powerful, and economical as they are today. Maxwell’s compilation of the laws of electromagnetism, and Marconi and Tesla’s work in wireless technology, made communication via EM waves possible. Without all this, our little blog chats here would be impossible.

Sorry to belabor the point. Not to belittle Darwin’s contribution, especially on his birthday, but we must remember that our civilization is a testament to many great men and women who contributed, and if we celebrate the science and reason that got us where we are today, it must be done with all of these great individuals in mind.

  
Quote
  Reply

@Sagredo – Your point is well taken as well, but I think that Akacra was pointing out that as this day celebrates Darwin and his ideas, it is important to remember that other people were involved as well.

I think the physical sciences should be honoured on another day, perhaps the pi day you mentioned.

  
Quote
  Reply

I do understand Akacra’s point, and yes, other people contributed to Darwin and his development of evolutionary theory, but I was primarily responding to your original post of Darwin day being a day to celebrate science and reason. If it is simply that, then we should celebrate ALL science and ALL reason, and not discriminate between the disciplines. After all, the heliocentric theory went against the church’s teachings, and was immensely revolutionary. So did the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and Hubble’s Law. If you want to segregate the sciences, fine, but don’t say Darwin day is a general day to celebrate science and reason, if you only mean, to celebrate one part of it.

But, I digress. If it is a day to celebrate the achievements of a man who challenged the world to rethink itself, I salute him, and all those before him who contributed to his work, and all those after him who refined it, and all the practical benefits that have come from it. Cheers, Mr. Darwin!

  
Quote
  Reply

Sachiko, et al: You may like this blog: http://www.mikero.com/blog/2009/02/20/more-darwin The artist there has made Darwin posters akin to those of Barack Obama. They’re really cool!

Re: Lincoln’s religion and faith: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/lincoln.htm .

  
Quote
  Reply

Thanks Aspasia. That Positive Athesim site is great! Those Darwin posters gave me a chuckle too. :-)

  
Quote
  Reply

Originally Posted By Sachiko@JohnFourtyTwo – Welcome back John! Have you been able to look at the Bye Bye Bush video yet?

Hi Sachiko!

Unfortunately I’m not able to download that video due to severe bandwidth restictions here. I tried but it never loaded. We’re all having problems with trying to keep e-mail up and going these days. As soon as I get back Stateside, it’ll be the first thing I load up since I’ll be able to use my laptop instead of this old work computer. Unfortunately it’s one of the drawbacks of being on deployment.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Sachiko,

I accidentally stumbled on your website and found it thoroughly interesting, for a number of reasons. More on that later.
At this point, I want to express my amazement at the fact that you went to the same university where I taught for 43 years! Can I ask what year(s) you were there? I am pretty sure we overlapped, unless you attended the SLO campus.
The other thing that amazed me was that you express the same basic ideas about life, religion, God, personal responsibility and evolution as I do. I also delight in reading your friends’ comments, and as an evolutionary biologist it ‘gladdens my heart’ see the degree of concurrence running through the letters.
But I want to comment on one issue regarding religion. All religions are like a house of cards – if you start poking at the foundations, they easily crumble, because none of them can match reality. On the other hand think of what would happen if all the believers lost their God (like in: News Flash: “We interrupt this program with an important announcement: “God decided to cancel Heaven as of midnight, last night. He declined to comment further” or: “God announced that He will disown humanity on Earth, because they can’t govern themselves and expect Him to do the job. God said, other humans on thousands of other planets are doing a much better job”). Now imagine all the righteous ones being turned loose at this point, feeling like they are in a foreclosure, having just lost a piece of Heaven. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight. So you see – religion is the glue for most people that keeps them normal – more or less.
Talk later – keep up the good job!

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Manduca, and welcome to my blog! It was several years back now, and I’m sure you would never have recognised me at all: I was just a young, naive Asian girl back then, who had only recently just started speaking English. Hell, I even still believed in gods, and I also had complete (almost blind) faith in capatalism! Coming from Taiwan, it just seemed that everything about America was great – I really had no idea about its dark side back then. Wow, it’s frighteneing to think how naive I was! :-)

The scenario you paint is pretty frightening too, but fortunately, very unlikely to actually happen. ;-)

  
Quote
  Reply