Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy Darwin Day!

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

I read "Silent Spring" before exploring "On The Origin Of The Species" by Darwin. Both books have been a big influence on my life. It is interesting that the Key to the Kingdom of Nature was a particularily drab subset of species of bird, the Galapagos Island finches. The bird kingdom has some of the flashiest, most beautiful of all living creatures but it was the least of these that revealed to a great mind the greatest insight into Nature Herself. So let us celebrate Darwin Day by filling the birdfeeder.
Charles Darwin has been the father of the theory of evolution, for a long time the worst enemy of the religious belief in creationism. However, things seem to have changed over the years, as nearly 450 Christian churches around the US plan to celebrate the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin on Sunday with programs and sermons intended to emphasize that his theory of biological evolution is compatible with faith and that Christians have no need to choose between religion and science.

"It's to demonstrate, by Christian leaders and members of the clergy, that you don't have to make that choice. You can have both," said Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who organized the event, according to The Chicago Tribune.

"Evolution Sunday" has drawn participation from a variety of denominational and non-denominational churches, including Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, Baptist and a host of community churches, including at least 16 congregations in Illinois.
Finally tracked down this story and boy, was it in an obscure corner of the net.

Darwin Day Headquarters:
Darwin's 200th Birthday will occur on February 12, 2009; it will also be the 150th Anniversary of the publication of his famous book On The Origin of Species. So, together we have time to evolve a truly International Celebration to show our appreciation for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity.
Wouldn't it be nice to throw a party here? I would go.
At this juncture in history, the world has become so small and interdependent that we need a Global Celebration to promote a common bond among all people. The Darwin Day Celebration was founded on the premise that science, like music, is an international language that speaks to all people in very similar ways. While music is both intellectual and entertaining, science is our most reliable knowledge system, and it has been and continues to be acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity. Moreover, evolution via genetic variation and natural selection, introduced by Darwin, has become the central organizing principle in biology. In addition, evolution also plays a central role in astronomy and cosmology, where it refers to the way that stars, galaxies and the entire universe 'change over time.' To study biology while neglecting evolution would be like studying physics without Newton's laws that govern the universe or chemistry without the periodic table. Clearly, Darwin himself has become an internationally acclaimed figure, whose influence on progressive modern thought continues to be both profound and pervasive (Ernst Mayr, Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought, Scientific American, July 2000).
Incidentally, this is Lincoln's birthday, too, and you can imagine the speed at which he is spinning in his grave. I will note that the GOP, far from celebrating their founder's birthday, are strangely silent about this.

Republican Party Headquarters.No mention of Lincoln. Lots of stuff about how Reid is corrupt because he refused to vote for something Jack Abramoff wanted. Heh. Talk about twisted. How did these idiots evolve, anyway? Devolution is what describes them.

Poor Lincoln, his party home to the KKK.

Darwin Day isn't big news in America. The craven media owners don't want to alienate people who haven't evolved their thinking since the last Ice Age. There is no mention of Darwin Day in the New York Times. They do slog on with many articles about the science of biology and evolutionary issues but they don't have anything about this. And Lincoln! I remember when we had this holiday called "Lincoln's Birthday" as well as "George Washington's Birthday" and both were turned into "President's Day" rendering both meaningless and no one, absolutely no one, pays attention to this holiday at all anymore except for used car dealers.

Indeed, I found no mention of today in any news source online that was American. Plenty of English sites.

This is most depressing. Next to Newton and Einstein and Aristotle, Darwin ranks as one of the greatest scientists and like many scientist who break the truth out into the open, always under siege by religious fanatics. Even as Americans pretend to be angry about religious fanatics in the Muslim world, we are hardly a shining light of liberal thought. Indeed, the dark night of vicious anti-intellectualism is cloaking our nation and it is a severe problem, on nearly every level, popular culture to political agitation, the forces against intelligent thought are growing stronger, not weaker, here at home.

The ability to rationally think ebbs and flows throughout history. We have seen great flowerings of intellectual thought get crushed under the military boot heel. Sometimes, cultures collapse so totally, the documents and philosophy of the previous times nearly totally disappear so all that was created becomes obscure even as it still stands guard like Stonehenge, once a great observatory for tracking the sun, the moon and the stars, devolving into a magic rite site and then a stone quarry.

Great cultures are by definition, fragile. And this is why we have to pay attention as interest in scientific thought, reading out of curiousity and difficult to acquire and use cultures like classical music or dance, are abandoned as "too difficult" or worse, "boring". I will note how, just the other day, I took great joy in seeing a geologist's predictions about a riddlesome place, the Gulf of Mexico's connection with the New Madrid Fault, was ignored. I saw not a single news story about this matter. Indeed, the weird happenstance of a largish earthquake at a previously thought "stable" earth zone should have made headlines.

It wasn't even noted!

Isn't that bizarre. The earthquake caused by Darwin was noted right away back then. I own some very old children's books that were printed once a year, called "Annuals" which were handed out at Christmas. Here is a typical page from the 1881 edition of "Nicholas":

This page is the "Agassiz Association" which the publishers launched in 1880. Each month, readers do various projects and then write back about the results.

This book has a thousand pages of stories, history, biographies, legends, nature information, riddles, discussions of science, a smorsgeborg of subjects showing inquiring minds at work. Compare this Victorian mainstream literature with modern born again Christian claptrap they are trying to pass off as "learning" and one is amazed at the mental deterioration going on today. As the facts in the case build for scientific thought, the ability to think even slightly is imploding rapidly. This doesn't bode well for our nation. This book from my great grandmother's generation is very dense, the print is fine, the book is for multi-family children from tot to adult since the family often sat around a table together to read it in lamplight. The young scholars wrote letters the previous year which get published each Christmas and these letters are well written and show questing minds seeking more information and asking about nature, how to run an aquarium, for example, or how to classify beetles and put the collection on display properly.

The letters come from surprizing places. Like homesteads out in the Dakotas! Sending letters from the frontier back then was expensive and difficult, yet the young scholars, eager to learn, tried to communicate. My grandpa was born on the frontier, in Nebraska, out in the middle of nowhere, in a town founded by his father and a handful of others, and thanks to books like this, he grew up hungering for more science and it helped launch his career as a well known astronomer, famous enough to have a crater on the moon named after him. There are even stories in this book explaining how circuses work, namely, how they are put together and managed and how the financing works. Amusing stories about school boys trying to help local firemen but end up tossing out a big mirror from a house that wasn't on fire because they wanted to save the beautiful 16 year old girl who lived there and how they were puzzled when she flipped out. Amusing.

Anyway, the verve and intelligence displayed is a shock. Far from being grim, this book is, as I show in the paragraph above, a joy to read, full of curiousity and desire to understand foreign cultures, other religions, everything. Little children back then didn't hardly have any books for themselves, they were content to sit nearby the elder children and listen in. The pandering to small minds which seems to obsess our culture today is producing...small minds. I am probably lucky to have grown up around a stern, science big-shot who was a dyed in the wool Victorian all the way down to his fob watch in his vest pocket. So he wouldn't sit around reading, "Goodnight, Moon." He would pull out a book about lunar topology and lecture me (and I LOVED it!).

When writing about science, I can hear his stern voice in my inner ear.

And to stop being way off topic here, I want every one to join me in blowing out the candles on both Darwin and Lincoln's birthday cakes. May their writings and deeds live forever.
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