Darwin Day is February 12th and, depending on how you count the anniversary, it could be the 20th anniversary today.* I know some scientists are a bit wary of a day about science, which should be about testing ideas regardless of authority, being based around one man. What you have to bear in mind is that when these events were started historical conditions were quite different.
Back in 1997, scientists were worried that a right-wing movement was trying to sideline scientific evidence to promote their own dogma. Hard as it is to believe, there were politicians in the US who openly promoted a primitive form of creationism over the evidence. Others were essentially fabricating their own ‘facts’ in order to argue for a wacky ‘intelligent design’ hypothesis. Darwin’s character was slandered in order to attempt to discredit evolution – which makes as much sense as thinking if we could discount Newton as a Satanist, then we could magically float everywhere because gravity wouldn’t matter anymore.
Scientists concentrated on the evidence but didn’t have much success. The problem was that this wasn’t an argument about the science of Natural Selection, but the politics. This might seem odd to scientists, but authoritarians appreciated that Natural Selection was a serious threat. Mark Steel explains it in his programme on Darwin.
Before Darwin, the authority of the Church was much stronger. Even today in the UK there are Bishops in the House of Lords purely due to their religious authority. If Natural Selection emphasises we came from a common ancestor then it becomes a challenge to those who demand respect through some god-given authority. When weak people rely on their authority science’s independence is a problem, not a strength. Of course, the days when someone would attempt to bluster their opinion over some easily demonstrable facts have long gone, so is there still any value in marking a Darwin Day?
There’s a website that shows there is. Leading up to February 12 are events around the world, not just about Darwin, but also about the value of science in general. Going to one of these events would support the organisers but if, like me, you don’t live close to a Darwin Day event, there’s something else you can do.
Feb 12, I’m going to blog a little about my favourite science book. If you have a blog you can too, but there are other options. On Facebook you could make a public post about your favourite book and hashtag it #DarwinDay (hashtags work on Facebook, as well as Twitter). Or you can tweet the cover of your favourite book. Or take your significant other out on the pretence of a romantic day out before ending up in a bookshop and getting him / her a science book.
If you do something on Facebook or Twitter and you’d like us at AoBBlog to see it, you can find the link to your post by clicking on the timestamp, the part that says when you posted something and leaving the URL as a comment here, or on one of our Sunday posts. It might be Monday before I see them though, as I’ve told my significant other we’re going for a romantic trip out.
* Counting from Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, who organised annual Darwin Day events at the University of Tennessee beginning in 1997. But other events started earlier.