Darwin Day An International Celebration (December 2001)

The Darwin Day Project (website: www.darwinday.org) was established to promote an annual International Secular Celebration of Science and Humanity on February 12, Darwin’s birthday. Many groups have independently established annual events to celebrate the contributions and insight that Charles Darwin gave to the world concerning the evolution of all biological life on this planet.

For instance, the Humanist Community in Palo Alto, Calif., began a Darwin Day celebration in 1995 and has had an annual event since that time. Dr. Pigliucci established a Darwin Day program at the University of Tennessee in 1996 that has continued to expand each year.

Clearly this is an idea whose time has come. The Darwin Day project was established to serve as a “clearing center” where individuals and groups can register their events, thereby gaining a common sense of purpose. In addition, the website is a source of information to help first-time participants plan their events. It already houses an extensive source of information and is linked to many other sources of information and organizations including FFRF. We are here to encourage, cooperate, support, and assist any individual or group plan and carry out a public celebration of verifiable knowledge and humanity.

Our long-term goal is to establish a global celebration by 2009, for Darwin’s 200th birthday. In the intervening years we intend to build toward this goal by reaching out to scientists, science organizations, humanists, secularists, freethought organizations and rationalists around the world. In 2001 there were 24 events registered from across the United States on our website. This year we have worked hard to establish international contacts and one of the gauges of our success can be seen from the number and distribution of eminent scientists who have already been willing to permit us to use their names in support of this project.

They include: Richard Dawkins, Oxford University, serving as our Honorary President; Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University; Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education; John Maynard Smith, University of Sussex; Daniel Dennett, Tufts University; Patrick Bateson, Provost, Cambridge University; Carlos Saavedra, Instituto de Acuicultura, Spain; Steve Jones, University College London; Massimo Pigliucci, University of Tennessee; Pavel M. Borodin, Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Russia; Helena Cronin, London School of Economics; Steven Pinker, Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and many more that you can review by visiting our website.

We are also coordinating our activities with domestic and international freethought organizations including International Humanist and Ethical Union, British Humanists, Rationalist Press Association, Friends of Darwin, and the British Secular Society. Considering all of the above activities and others currently in the works, we anticipate a significant growth in the number of celebrations in 2002.

The importance of Charles Darwin’s work rings loud and clear today because of current research into the specific biological mechanism that is responsible for the evolutionary process, namely genetics. Decoding of the human genome has captured the attention of us all and makes obvious the close relationship between humans and all other living things. In this context Darwin becomes a symbol for us to show appreciation to the great minds throughout history who have contributed to the development of a stable knowledge base with which to build a global civilization.

A recent book, Annie’s Box, written by one of Darwin’s descendants, Randal Keynes (2001), provides us with a greater appreciation of Darwin’s humanity. He was a sensitive and caring family man who cared deeply for his wife, Emma, and was a loving, tolerant father who felt painful anguish from the loss of three of his 10 children. Annie was his second oldest child and died at 10 years of age. However, as a rational person he accepted the realities of life without bitterness. The Darwins’ other seven children lived to become very productive people in their own right. These, together with many other warm human characteristics, make Darwin a worthy symbol for the celebration of both science and humanity.

We feel strongly that this is a unique time in history, with the public interest in science very high as a result of research into the details of the human genome, stem cell research, and their application to improving human health. It is also a time of significant controversy about the teaching of evolution in our schools, and on a daily basis we see how these issues are being politicized. Therefore, Darwin Day should be viewed as an important positive opportunity to bring interested groups together in a way that improves their public visibility and strengthens their voice in the arena of ideas so they can better serve as an inspiration for the future.

Freedom From Religion Foundation