Happy Birthday Charlie: Darwin Celebrated With Cake, Fossils
12-02-06 Suggested by: Jack of all Trades
by Jeffrey Tannenbaum
At La Sierra Community Center in Carmichael, California, a ``Happy Birthday, Charlie'' cake will be served.
The day in question is Feb. 12, and the honoree is Charles Darwin, who would turn 197 this Sunday had he not succumbed in 1882 to the natural-selection process of the grim reaper.
Across the U.S. and around the world, Darwin admirers are honoring the British naturalist with hundreds of lectures, parties, films, concerts, sermons and museum exhibitions. Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, will devote Sunday to the Cambrian explosion, which brought forth a diversity of animals on Earth about half a billion years ago -- and a slew of fossil records.
Shrewsbury, England, the scientist's birthplace, has assembled a chorus of 30 children, three adults and a chamber ensemble to perform ``Darwin's Dream'' by conductor-composer Graham Treacher, the musical highlight of a monthlong festival.
In Scientists' Corner in Westminster Abbey, Darwin is probably resting peacefully of late. Since the beginning of last year, at least two U.S. court cases and the settlement in a third have favored the inquisitive scientist who released ``On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life'' in 1859, more than two decades after exploring the world on the H.M.S. Beagle.
In December, U.S. District Judge John Jones barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching the ideas of ``intelligent design'' in science classes alongside Darwinian evolution. In January 2005, another federal court ordered the Cobb County, Georgia, school district to remove disclaimer stickers from science textbooks. Just this month, a legislator in Wisconsin promised to introduce a bill to outlaw ``pseudoscience'' in science classes.
And in New York, at the American Museum of Natural History, some 140,000 people have visited the ``Darwin'' exhibition since Nov. 19. That's one-third more than an Albert Einstein show attracted in a comparable period.
``Most of the conversations in the exhibition are hushed, almost reverent,'' says museum spokesman Michael Walker. There haven't been any nasty protests, he says.
Using specimens that Darwin collected, fossils and letters that he wrote, the curators document Darwin's theory: that humans and other life forms descended from a common ancestor, and that the variety and complexity of life on Earth reflect an evolutionary process of ``natural selection,'' in which species adapted to changes in the environment over millions of years.
Many creationists shorten that span to some 6,000 years during which God created the planet's flora and fauna pretty much as they are today. Proponents of intelligent design, an outgrowth of creationism, hold that some organisms are too complicated to be explained by natural selection. They look hopefully to their friends in state legislatures. Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah all have introduced ``anti-evolution'' bills.
But the bills may proceed slower than the Galapagos tortoises that greeted Darwin. Glenn Branch, 37-year-old deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that defends the teaching of Darwin, detects a change of pace. In light of the Pennsylvania ruling, ``we are going to see fewer and fewer legislators willing to call for intelligent design,'' Branch predicts.
Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809, the same day as Abraham Lincoln. At least 600 birthday events will be held, twice as many as last year, says Robert Stephens, a 74-year-old biologist who heads Darwin Day Celebration, a Redwood City, California-based nonprofit that promotes science. The globe-spanning celebrations can be sampled on the special Web site, http://www.darwinday.org .
Londoners may take advantage of special tours through the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road that will show off zoological specimen that floated home aboard the Beagle. An ocean and a continent away, the University of California at Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology is offering a display of Galapagos finches, a species studied by Darwin.
One man who says he isn't planning to join in the fun on Darwin Day is Michael Behe, the 54-year-old author of ``Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,'' a critique whose 10th anniversary edition will be published in March by Simon & Schuster's Free Press division. Molecular biology is ``irreducibly complex,'' confounding Darwinism, according to the author.
``I probably won't attend'' any Darwin Day event anywhere, says Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. ``It's not simply meant to celebrate science or Darwin. It's an in-your-face exhibition, saying, `Look what we have on our side, and you guys who aren't with us are a bunch of dopes.'''
A talk on the compatibility between evolution and religious faith is promised at Christ Episcopal Church in Macon, Georgia. ``The Bible wasn't designed to be a textbook, certainly not a science book,'' says Wesley Smith, 52-year-old rector of the Macon church. ``You can espouse Darwin's theories and still believe in a loving Creator.''
The First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego plans a Darwin reception at 8 a.m. on Feb. 12, followed by a concert in the afternoon. Organizer Vicky Newman says the music will be from a genre called ``scientific gospel,'' which aims in part to promote the theory of evolution.
Scopes Monkey Trial
``Darwin was a religious person,'' says Newman, 60, a research dietitian. ``We want to celebrate that he was a religious person as well as a scientist.''
Because he pondered the origin of life, Darwin looms large for theologians as well as scientists. ``In the U.S., there's a widespread belief that some conflict has to take place between Darwinism and Christianity. But that's not the case,'' says David Lampe, 42, a biologist at Duquesne, a Catholic university.
Religious zealots in the U.S. have long tried to influence the teaching of science. In the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, John Scopes in 1925 was found guilty of breaking a state law by teaching evolution. Lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan -- the subject of ``A Godly Hero,'' a new biography by Michael Kazin that Knopf published this month -- faced off at the trial.
``Every time evolution or the theory of natural selection gets `challenged' by schools or courts or politicians, it prompts more people to learn about Darwin's actual life and work,'' says Ann Weber, a 53-year-old professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Weber, who teaches how Darwinian and other theories influenced schools of psychology, plans to mark Darwin's birthday by showing Stanley Kramer's 1960 film ``Inherit the Wind,'' based on the Scopes trial.
Back at the natural history museum in New York, staff scientists will be welcoming visitors bearing fossils and other mysterious objects for them to identify on Darwin Day. Everyone is welcome. As Walker sees it, ``Darwin, with his insatiable curiosity of the natural world, would be pleased.''
Publicado originalmente en