The editors of that book helped found Darwin Day in the 1990s, honoring not just Darwin, but also "the achievements of humanity as represented in the acquisition of verifiable scientific knowledge." People had already been celebrating Darwin's birthday every Feb. 12 for decades, but Darwin Day became a broad, global holiday for science, with Darwin as its patriarch — sort of like a less jolly, more scholarly Santa Claus.
But while Darwin's discovery of natural selection has revolutionized science, it has also inspired generations of critics. Some distrust it for religious reasons, seeing it as a threat to Creationism or Intelligent Design, and some just don't like to think of people as animals. Darwin wasn't anti-religion, though — he was on track to be a clergyman before his fateful Galapagos trip, and his body is buried at Westminster Abbey.
Promoting peace between science and religion is the focus of another Darwin-themed event this weekend: the Clergy Letter Project's Evolution Weekend, which marks its seventh anniversary Feb. 10-12. The idea is for religious groups to discuss evolution, whether it's the basis of a sermon or just a side topic in Sunday school. Some advocates of Intelligent Design dismiss this as a push to "Darwinize" people, but it has nonetheless spread to 560 congregations in 10 countries and all 50 U.S. states.
If you'd like to commemorate this Darwin-packed weekend, but aren't sure how, here are a few suggestions:
• Host a Phylum Feast: Darwin enthusiasts have been holding yearly Phylum Feasts on Feb. 12 since at least the 1970s. A Phylum Feast is a potluck dinner in which all the dishes are as biodiverse as possible — ideally, each should come from a different phylum. Darwin reportedly enjoyed eating "birds and beasts ... unknown to human palate," and many people still see this as a way to embrace our evolutionary past. "Most of our day-to-day food comes from a small number of domesticated vertebrates and grasses," writes naturalist and Phylum Feast authority Frederick Schueler, "but by seeking out and identifying the diverse biotic sources of our diet in this meal, we remember our origin as omnivores, and our relatedness to other lineages."
• Make "primordial soup": Of course, the idea of a Phylum Feast can make conservationists cringe, especially when the menu includes exotic items like minke whale meat. Phyla diversity is also limited at some grocery stores, often making such feasts impractical. But you could always just make another Darwin Day favorite instead: "primordial soup." Named after the cocktail of amino acids believed to spark the first life on Earth, this dish is wide open to interpretation — from simple stews to Phylum Feasts in a pot. There's also Julia Child's version, if you're feeling more literal.
• Attend a Darwin Day event: There were more than 800 Darwin Day events worldwide in 2011, and darwinday.org offers a partial list of those being held in 2012. Some are one-day affairs, like Friday's Darwin Day exhibit at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Saturday's Darwin Day Beach Cleanup in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; or Sunday's annual Darwin Day Lunch in Oxford, England. Others are more stretched out, like a monthlong Darwin exhibit in Bologna, Italy; "Darwin Week" festivities in San Antonio, Texas; and a variety of three-day weekend celebrations. Darwin Day originally focused on lectures by prominent scientists, but today it has expanded to include debates, museum exhibits, film festivals, art shows, essay contests and more. Some even use the holiday to jointly honor U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who was also born on Feb. 12, 1809.
• Go to church: In addition to Darwin Day, this is also Evolution Weekend, organized by the Clergy Letter Project in hopes of mending an old rift between Darwin and some religious groups. The goal is to foster open discussion about evolution in places of worship this weekend, an attempt to "show that religion and science are not adversaries." That doesn't mean capitulating on the scientific validity of evolution, though. It just means spending one weekend focusing on common ground rather than rehashing the same old debates from the Scopes monkey trial (even though those debates are still raging in many places — including New Hampshire and Indiana, both of which recently floated "anti-evolution" bills in their state legislatures).
As the CLP explains on its website:
"Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God."
• Read "On the Origin of Species": Not only is the full text of Darwin's seminal work available online, but so are all of his publications. It's a lot to absorb in one day, or even three days, but a chilly weekend like this one might nonetheless be a good time to dig in — with a steaming bowl of primordial soup, of course.
For more information about evolution by natural selection, check out this classic (and animated) explanation by the late astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan:
Have other ideas for celebrating Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend? Let us know in the comments below.
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