Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Darwin Day

Darwin Day is a recently instituted celebration intended to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12, 1809. The day is also an opportunity to highlight Darwin's contribution to science and to promote science in general.

The celebration of Darwin's work and tributes to his life have been organized sporadically since his death on April 19, 1882, at age 73. Events took place at Down House, in Downe on the southern outskirts of London where Darwin and members of his family lived from 1842 until the death of Emma Darwin in 1896.

In 1909, 265 scientists and dignitaries from 167 countries met in Cambridge, England, to honor Darwin's contributions and to discuss vigorously the recent discoveries and related theories contesting for acceptance. This was a widely reported event of public interest. Also in 1909, on Feb 12, the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species were celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History. A bronze bust of Darwin was unveiled. On June 2 of 1909 the Royal Society of New Zealand held a "Darwin Celebration". "There was a very large attendance."

On November 24-28, 1959, The University of Chicago held a major, well publicized, celebration of Darwin and the publication of On the Origin of Species.

Scientists and academics sometimes celebrated February 12 with "Phylum Feast" events --- a meal with foods from as many different phyla as they could manage, at least as early as 1972, 1974, and 1989 in Canada. .

In the United States, Salem College in Massachusetts has held a "Darwin Festival" annually since 1980. In 2005 Salem College registered "Darwin Festival" as a service mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office .

he earliest support for Darwin Day came from freethought organizations. Council for Secular Humanism, The Freedom from Religion Foundation , the Center for Inquiry , and the American Humanist Association in the United States, as well as the British Humanist Association in the UK, have helped to spread awareness about Darwin Day. In 1999, the Campus Freethought Alliance and the Alliance for Secular Humanist Societies began promoting Darwin Day among members. Humanist and skeptic groups welcomed the event and an increase in celebrations on or around February 12th spread across the US and in several other countries. The organizers behind this effort included the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Massimo Pigliucci, Amanda Chesworth, and Joann Mooney.

D.J. Grothe continues to champion this effort among groups associated with the Center for Inquiry Campus and Community programs. Center for Inquiry branches across the world also organize Darwin Day events. Free Inquiry magazine, the flagship publication of the Council for Secular Humanism, and Skeptical Inquirer, the flagship publication of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, advertised the event and attracted further individuals and groups. The Secular Student Alliance , and other organizations committed to reason and rationality also participate in the annual celebration.

With Dr. Robert Stephens, a scientist, as its President, Darwin Day Celebration has sought (particularly by emailing) and received support from scientists and science enthusiasts across the globe. Educators began to participate by offering special lessons to their students on or around February 12th. Darwin Day Celebration has joined COPUS, the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science, reflecting an increased emphasis on science education and appreciation.

Public relations emailings to major publications lead to coverage by media such as the The Guardian in the UK, Scientific American, New Scientist, the Discovery Channel. In 2006 Darwin Day was covered by major news syndicates such as Associated Press, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times. Over 150 articles appeared in major newspapers across the world and helped to attract more participants.

Increasingly scientific organizations such as the National Center for Science Education, and the Linnaean Society, endorsed the holiday. Further, scientists, philosophers, historians, and physicians lent their name in support of the effort, including Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Eugenie Scott, Steven Jones, Elliott Sober, Sir John Maddox, Helena Cronin, William Calvin, John Rennie, Paul Kurtz, Carl Zimmer, Edward O. Wilson, Michael Shermer, Susan Blackmore, Michael Ruse, Richard Leakey, Niles Eldridge, and Colin Tudge, among other well known evolutionists. Musicians and entertainers such as Richard Miller and Stephen Baird also participated.

In 2004, Michael Zimmerman, a professor of biology and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, founded the "Clergy Letter Project" in which over 10,800 ministers signed a declaration that a person of faith does not have to choose either belief in God or belief in evolution. In 2006 Zimmerman developed the "evolution Sunday" movement. In 2007 lectures and sermons were presented at roughly 618 congregations across the United States and 5 other countries, on Darwin's birthday. evolution Sunday is intended to show that faith and evolutionary science are compatible in many religious traditions.

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