Darwin at 59
|Observed by||Various groups and individuals|
|Significance||The day celebrates Darwin's life and work|
|Related to||Evolution day|
Darwin Day is a recently instituted celebration intended to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12, 1809. The day is used 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 February 12, the 100th birth anniversary of Darwin and the 50th 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, 1909 the Royal Society of New Zealand held a "Darwin Celebration". "There was a very large attendance."
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 State College in Massachusetts has held a "Darwin Festival" annually since 1980, and in 2005, registered "Darwin Festival" as a service mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The Humanist Community of Palo Alto, California, was motivated by Dr. Robert Stephens in late 1993 to begin planning for an annual "Darwin Day" celebration. Its first public Darwin Day event was a lecture by Dr. Donald Johanson (discoverer of the early hominid "Lucy"), sponsored by the Stanford Humanists student group and the Humanist Community on April 22, 1995. The Humanist Community continues its annual celebration of Darwin, science, and humanity, on February 12.
Independently, in 1997, Professor Massimo Pigliucci initiated an annual "Darwin Day" event with students and colleagues at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The event included several public lectures and activities as well as a teachers' workshop meant to help elementary and secondary school teachers better understand evolution and how to communicate it to their students, as well as how to deal with the pressures often placed on them by the creationism movement.
In the late 1990s, two Darwin enthusiasts, Amanda Chesworth and Robert Stephens, co-founded an unofficial effort to promote Darwin Day. In 2001, Chesworth moved to New Mexico and incorporated the "Darwin Day Program". Stephens became Chairman of the Board and President of this nonprofit corporation with Massimo Pigliucci as Vice-President and Amanda Chesworth as member of the Board, Secretary, and Executive Director. Stephens presented the objectives of the organization in an article titled "Darwin Day An International Celebration."
In 2002, Chesworth compiled and edited a substantial book entitled Darwin Day Collection One: the Single Best Idea, Ever. The objectives of the book were to show the multidisciplinary reach of Charles Darwin and to meld academic work with popular culture.
In 2004, the New Mexico corporation was dissolved and all its assets assigned to the "Darwin Day Celebration", a non-profit organization incorporated in California in 2004 by Dr. Robert Stephens and others and the Mission Statement was expanded.
Darwin Day Celebration redesigned the Web site, DarwinDay.org, from a static presentation of information about the Darwin Day Program to a combination of education about Darwin and the Darwin Day Celebration organization, including automated registration and publication of planned and past celebratory Events and the automated registration of people who want to receive emailings or make public declaration of support for Darwin Day.
Various events are conducted on Darwin Day around the world. They have included dinner parties with special recipes for primordial soup and other inventive dishes, protests with school boards and other governmental bodies, workshops and symposia, distribution of information by people in ape costumes, lectures and debates, essay and art competitions, concerts, poetry readings, plays, artwork, comedy routines, reenactments of the Scopes Trial and of the debate between Thomas H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, library displays, museum exhibits, travel and educational tours, recreations of the journey of the HMS Beagle, church sermons, movie nights, outreach, and nature hikes. The Darwin Day Celebration Web site offers free registration and display of all Darwin Day events.
The Perth Mint, Australia will launch a 2009 dated commemorative 1oz silver legal tender coin depicting Darwin, young and old; HMS Beagle; and Darwin's signature.
Some celebrants also combine Darwin Day with a celebration of Abraham Lincoln, who was also born on February 12, 1809. Still others like to celebrate the many noted individuals that influenced or were influenced by Darwin's work, such as Thomas H. Huxley, Charles Lyell, Alfred Russel Wallace, Carl Sagan, and Ernst Mayr.
The 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 12 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 12. 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 11,100 clergy, as of April 18, 2008, have 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 to 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. In 2008, Evolution Sunday was expanded to an Evolution Weekend to incorporate a wider range of faith traditions and 814 congregations from 9 countries participated.
Some advocates would like a public holiday declared for February 12, 2009. Robert Beeston was successful in championing this effort in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2003; progress has also been made in England and Australia.
2009 marks an important year for Darwin Day celebrations. The year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, and also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Events are already being planned; most prominent among them are celebrations in Shrewsbury, the University of Cambridge and at the Natural History Museum in London.