Darwin Day: Threat or Promise?

February 9, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

Darwin BobbleheadsFebruary 12th, 2009 is the 200th birthday of Chas. Darwin. Yes, one of our famous politicians shares that exact birthday, but Abe the rail splitting lawyer is not the point of this post.

So what does Darwin Day mean? To most of the world, he was a man who found the missing link between the observation of evolution (that was accepted as reality before he was born) and a workable theory explaining it. He changed the understanding of how it happens from “What the (expletive)?” to “Well, duh!”.

But this is America. We have to be different. We have to be independent. Less than half of Americans seem to share the world consensus on the value of Darwin’s contribution. A survey conducted by Science Magazine (313:765-766) showed only Turkey having a lower public rate of understanding of the theory of evolution than the United States. Of course, the survey didn’t have access to even more starkly theocratic nations.

Here’s the summary of what people think of the theory of common descent:

Darwin Day is almost upon us. Schools and universities are playing it up. But the Florida Legislature has just floated a new bill to require (not just permit) religious views of how we got here to be taught in science classes, in the name of Academic Freedom. Louisiana passed a similar law allowing it in 2008, so the Discovery Institute has apparently gotten bolder.

Our new administration has promised to put science back where it belongs. But about half of America seems to think science belongs subordinate to the bronze age understanding of the world we live in. It’s fine until the conclusions of rigorous study conflict with ancient Just So stories.

So Charles Darwin is a convenient figurehead to attack when such conflicts occurs. Never mind that most of the solid evidence for evolution hadn’t even been discovered in his lifetime. The kernel of his theory has survived 150 years of dedicated challenges. That is worth celebrating.

But then the Creationist crowd promotes the idea that non-believers “worship” Darwin, that he is an atheist saint. That the only reason that evolution is taught in schools is because of a conspiracy to conceal the Truth of the Lord led by blind allegiance to the Holy Darwin. There are actually those who believe this. And movements to celebrate Darwin Day feeds this conspiracy theory.


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Category: American Culture, Evolution, ignorance, Religion, Science

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. What Darwin did not know, but you do. | Dangerous Intersection | February 11, 2009
  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Dan: Your point is a good one. When Darwin wrote Origin of Species, most of currently available evidence for evolution by natural selection had not yet been uncovered. Since Darwin, so much evidence is now available that the case for natural selection would be overwhelming even if no one had ever discovered a single fossil. It's laughable to see the fundamentalists and Discovery Institute "scientists" trying to discount the fossils, given that they are merely one type of evidence, among an overwhelming array of evidence.

    When I see the stats that you pasted in your article, I am reminded of Richard Dawkins appearing on countless radio and TV shows fielding comment after comment that evolution is misguided, pointless, destructive, immoral, etc. I then hear Dawkins' voice in my mind saying something like this:

    "You need to go your public library to check out a good book or two on evolution–there are plenty of such good books. You'll need to spend a few days reviewing the evidence and the basic principles described in those books, but you will be able to understand them as long as you put in the time. After you've done that, I'd be happy to talk with you further."

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    The Catholic Church is almost ready to freely admit the obvious:

    Conceding that the Church had been hostile to Darwin because his theory appeared to conflict with the account of creation in Genesis, Archbishop Ravasi argued yesterday that biological evolution and the Christian view of Creation were complementary.


  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    The Catholic Church pardoned Galileo about 400 years after he took his case to the public in defiance (actually explicit ridicule) of the Pope.

    It's only been 150 years since Darwin (more politely) published a popular book outlining the previous 90 years of evolutionary theory plus his own addition.

  4. Dan,

    It must be remembered that in the case of Galileo vs the Catholic Church, it was never a question of Galileo being right, but a question of Authority and who gets to tell the public. Copernicus, after all, was himself a cleric, and did his work at the behest of the Church (in order to fix the mess of the calendars) and many in the Church at that time knew Copernicus's results were more than just lines on the sky.

    The Church insisted privately that Galileo was just too cocky and he was calling their authority into question. Publicly, to make that stick, they tried him for heresy—but it took them 28 years to do it.

    This doesn't put them in the right—but it makes the issue a matter of power rather than truth.

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