Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy Darwin Day, Sort Of

So now we're celebrating Darwin's birthday as Dawrin Day, partly because his ideas have been so important, and partly to help us to educate people about evolution (though holding it on a Sunday probably doesn't serve to facilitate that purpose), but mostly, I think, to stick it to creationists (and holding it on Sunday definitely facilitates that purpose). And believe me, I'm all for sticking it to the creationists. I can even show you where on creationists I want to stick it, if you'd like.

Just ask me where on this diagram of a creationist I would like to stick it.

But is calling it Darwin Day really the ideal way to stick it to them, or to faciliate evolution education? I mean, haven't biologists and others who are pro-science and know anything whatsoever about contemporary biology been trying to shed the silly label "Darwinists?" Because let's face it, modern biologists aren't really Darwinists, in the same sense that modern physicists aren't Keplerians. Biology has actually produced some advancements in the last 150 years. Wouldn't it be better to call it something like Evolution Day, then? That way, we don't look like we're Darwinists worshipping at the alter of Darwin. We could still hold it on Darwin's birthday, or maybe the closest weekday (the Friday before or the Monday after, giving science teachers a chance to reiterate the importance of evolution to their students). But the name itself would help to convey the fact that we're not celebrating a 150 year old theory, because we're celebrating a very contemporary theory; one that continues to, for lack of a better word, evolve, just as any good scientific theory does.

So Happy Evolution Day,everyone, and may you have many more.

7 comments:

Razib said...

darwin day is too specific, and evolution day is too general. perhaps evolutionary biology day?

Brandon said...

The problem, I think, is that it would be a bit difficult to get many people (other than biologists) celebrating evolutionary biology day. I actually like the idea of Darwin Day; the major trouble is that it doesn't do much when it's all on its own. What one needs is a full-blown Comtean December. Well, maybe not full-blown.

Chris said...

Brandon, thanks for the link to the comtean calendar. That is great.

I really just don't like the idea of Darwin Day. I don't really care what it's called, otherwise. I know that scientists are prone to a sort of hero worship, and probably always have been (I picture Scholastic natural philosophers sitting around discussing how great Aristotle was). Physicists have Newton, biologist, Darwin, psychologist James (maybe that's just me), linguists Chomsky, and so on. But I don't think that's something that most nonscientists really get, or are all that interested in. With the exception of Einstein, who was as much a public figure as he was a physicist, I can't think of any great scientist who's all that widely admired. And then there's the perception, exclusive to biology, that evolution is an old idea, stated (perhaps in its complete form) by Darwin, and no real evidence has been found for it since his time. I'm all for clearing up those misconceptions, but since most people won't hear PZ Myers lecture, or hear anything but "They're celebrating Darwin Day today," I'm not sure the name Darwin Day is the best way to do that.

Lizzie said...

I think Darwin Day is great. I think it humanizes science, and what better human by whom to humanize the subject than a humble, generous, exceedingly compassionate gentleman who hated both slavery and animal cruelty. Besides, as a theorist, he actually got a mind boggling amount RIGHT. What's more, he not only figured out the fact of evolution, but he was the first person to identify how it works --without even knowing about genes, he identified the mechanism of natural selection. He even unraveled out the paradox of sexual selection. These findings are incomprehensibly profound! (To an extent very, very few people realize- including, I think, contemporary scientists.)

Darwin figured out the essential mechanism of how living things got to be what we are. He gave concrete answers to some of the most eternal, formerly unanswerable questions ever asked- "Who am I, Where did I come from?" His contribution to our understanding of life on earth was much, much more than "only" evolution, and he and his ideas definitely deserve all the attention we can bestow on them.

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