It’s Darwin Day, a celebration of science and reason | Machines Like Us

Darwin Day, according to the International Darwin Day Foundation, is “a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.” The idea of the celebration arose in 1993 as part of the activities of the Stanford Humanist Community, then headed by biologist Robert Stephens. And in the intervening 21 years, it has proliferated, with hundreds of events listed in cities around the world.

via It’s Darwin Day, a celebration of science and reason | Machines Like Us.

I liked this article, not just for highlighting Darwin’s birthday, but for this snippet:

It irks me the way Nye, and others who engage with creationists, allow the likes of Ham to call evolution “Darwinism”, and those who can comprehend natural selecton and the overwhelming evidence for it “Darwinists”. An over-reliance on Darwin as our standard-bearer diminishes a broad and vibrant science, giving the impression it begins and ends with a guy who was born over 200 years ago. I believe the creationists and their dullard adherents go further, implying that one white-bearded gentleman is somehow being slyly substituted for another; Darwin supplanting God.

I’ve written about this myself, but it always bears repeating.  Darwin was not a prophet, and ‘On the Origin of Species’ is not alternate scripture.  Darwin made an incalculable contribution to our understanding of reality, but there has been a lot of progress since his day.

Creationists tend to want to equate modern evolution as an ideological movement that sprung forth fully formed from Darwin’s writings.  In reality, the idea of evolution predates Darwin, he just added a natural mechanism to explain it, and the modern view of evolution has progressed since then.

That’s how science works.  No one has to read Galileo’s works to understand astronomy, or Newton’s to understand gravity, or even Einstein’s to understand relativity.  It’s the same with Darwin.

Interestingly, it’s not just creationists who seem to take this attitude.  I’ve seen some atheists, usually militant ones, take almost the same attitude toward Darwin and his books, rereading ‘Origin of Species’ again and again as though it were some kind of sacred writ.  As a nonbeliever myself, I’m pretty sure Darwin would have been one of the first people to say that we shouldn’t put him up as some kind of secular saint.

15 thoughts on “It’s Darwin Day, a celebration of science and reason | Machines Like Us

  1. Creationists also seem to revel in pointing out omissions in his work, never fully understanding that a theory is always evolving. Clear example: For the life of him Darwin couldn’t understand why the male peacock had such an elaborate display. It made no sense to him why an animal would seemingly waste such energy/resources. It seems so obvious to us today, but Darwin didn’t understand sexual selection.


      1. Just researching it a bit further: In 1860 (the year after publication of Origin of Species), Darwin mentioned in a private letter to colleague Asa Gray that “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” But by 1871, with the publication of “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex”, Darwin specifically used the peacock as an example of the principle of sexual selection … so he apparently had the problem solved.


    1. I can’t decide if your blog is serious or a joke. When I read that Neil deGrasse Tyson is an Agent of Satan because he tried to destroy Pluto, I decided that it’s a joke. But your sense of humour is so subtle I can’t be certain.


  2. Hi SAP,

    I find it slightly dismaying how those who are into philosophy tend to be very interested in reading three thousand year old texts written from a point of view ignorant of much of what we know today. I think it is much more valuable to read contemporary philosophy rather than Plato, Aristotle, or even Hume.

    So do you think that what you’ve said about science applies to philosophy also, or do you think that it is perfectly appropriate that philosophers tend to be so interested in ancient texts?


    1. My personal experience is that you don’t need to directly read the ancient writers to understand philosophy. But if you took courses in philosophy, they would make you read a lot of it. I think it’s one of the reasons I couldn’t be a professional philosopher. Are there benefits to the source material? Some of the regulars here are professional or aspiring to be philosophers, so maybe one or two of them would weigh in on the the benefits of that approach?


    2. Philosophy is one of those subjects that benefits from familiarity with historical texts, because philosophers are still interested in topics that have been of interest for hundreds or even thousands of years: what is the relationship between mind and matter? how should a person live? what is knowledge? And so on. It’s rare to find anyone now who wholly subscribes to what Aristotle, Spinoza, Hume or Russell had to say on a particular topic, but people like them for the most part created the philosophical agenda and had views that are still worthy of consideration, if sometimes only as an aid to further thought.
      At any rate, there’s nothing wrong with reading old texts if they still have meaning That’s presumably why some people still read the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare (who also dealt with some perennial issues).

      At any rate, academic philosophers these days are much more focused on recent philosophy than the classics. I’ve audited several courses the past few years and, although there were a few readings from the late 19th century (Frege, for example), almost everything we read was a recent journal article or from the second half of the 20th century. There’s even talk that the history of philosophy is being neglected now.

      For more insight into what philosophers really think these days, I recommend Some confess to not having read certain classics. Some think there’s no reason to read anything before such and such century. Some disagree. (My personal shame is one of the entries, so I know everything said there is the Truth.)


      1. Thanks Larry. After my comment above, it occurred to me that modern philosophers might read classical philosophers to see how they reasoned, how they deployed their logic, even if their conclusions aren’t necessarily that useful anymore. One of the few I read in college was Euthyphro, and learned something about rigorous thinking just by following Socrates’s reasoning.

        Still, it’s good to hear that philosophical courses don’t require reading pre-20th century philosophers as much as I feared.

        No worries on repeating phrases. I have a tendency to do that myself.


        1. You’re welcome, D.M. It’s a good question why old philosophy texts are often still relevant. Some think it means that there’s little or no progress in philosophy. I don’t think that’s quite true, but many philosophical questions don’t lend themselves to clear-cut answers or are simply unanswerable (a matter of personal or cultural perspective, for example). I suppose that’s why they’re philosophical questions. Anyway, it’s a topic some philosophers are interested in (and argue about): Is there progress in philosophy or not? If not, why not?


  3. I would love to celebrate science and reason, but on any other day than this. Darwin made a mess of biology and his theory has failed badly.

    Evolution is factual, but we knew about evolution before Darwin. Everything he added has turned out to be wrong.

    Gradualism? Darwin said that evolution was “numerous successive slight changes”. In fact, we now know that the history of life involves long periods of relative stasis within a genomic range, with sudden large leaps of genetic information and fully formed new features.

    Random happenstance changes? Absolutely not. If changes were actually random, life would never have survived. Mathematicians have been telling Darwinists that for decades. Now the scientific method has demonstrated to even the most hard core Darwinists: Mutations are NOT random. We can induce evolution by merely changing the environment of an organism. Then we can sit and watch as life evolves in a very specific predictable and functional way. Evolution is a predictable stimulus response top a changed environmental need, not accidents.

    Selection? Laughably stupid. You can’t select what doesn’t already exist in the first place. Selection can cause nothing. It is a filter, and as such, it can ONLY subtract. It can never add anything or enhance anything at all. Selection is a useless tautology. It’s empty rhetoric, not an actual thing that does anything to help evolution. 100% of the work of evolution is within the organism, NOT the \environment “selecting it”.

    Darwin is a disgrace to science and his theory reflects his bad logic, bad math and bad science.

    Happy Lincoln’s Birthday!


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