Charles Darwin’s birthday is today – February 12. It is a big deal among the science and humanist communities. Local groups in Fairfield County hold an annual banquet to honor the event (rescheduled to Feb 16 due to the storm – you can still register).
The International Darwin Day Foundation’s website has a good explanation for why we celebrate Darwin’s Birthday on or around February 12:
Charles Darwin as a Symbol for the Celebration of Science and Humanity
Celebrations are an important part of every culture. They provide a tradition and a common bond to be shared among those who make up their culture, permitting them to experience a meaningful connection to one another and to the principles to which they subscribe. Unfortunately, most celebrations are based on ancient traditions that are relevant to only a specific country or culture, and they have often been, and continue to be, the source of serious conflicts.
At this juncture in history, the world has become so small and interdependent that we need a Global Celebration to promote a common bond among all people. The Darwin Day Celebration was founded on the premise that science, like music, is an international language that speaks to all people in very similar ways. While music is both intellectual and entertaining, science is our most reliable knowledge system, and it has been and continues to be acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity. Moreover, evolution via genetic variation and natural selection, introduced by Darwin, has become the central organizing principle in biology. In addition, evolution also plays a central role in astronomy and cosmology, where it refers to the way that stars, galaxies and the entire universe ‘change over time.’ To study biology while neglecting evolution would be like studying physics without Newton’s laws that govern the universe or chemistry without the periodic table. Clearly, Darwin himself has become an internationally acclaimed figure, whose influence on progressive modern thought continues to be both profound and pervasive (Ernst Mayr, Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought, Scientific American, July 2000).
Current research in the field of genetics, including that on the human genome, has conclusively shown that all humans are essentially identical and that we are genetically related to all other living things on this planet. Thus an enlightened view of genetics is one of unity and equality among all humans and also one that fosters a deeper sense of respect and appreciation for all life. Today the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rests in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of genetics. Therefore, we conclude that Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol on which to focus, in order to build a Global Celebration of Science and Humanity that is intended to promote a common bond among all people of the earth.
Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer” on Slate, suggests celebrating Darwin Day by making a contribution to the National Center for Science Education. Great idea!
Happy Darwin Day!
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