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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Darwin Day 2013

By Phil Plait

If Charles Darwin were alive today, heâd be celebrating his 204th birthday.

However, millions of years of evolution have prevented humans from living that long. Still, that doesnât stop those of us who are alive today from celebrating the man and his work.

Evolution is the basis for all modern biology. It is the central tenet, the organizing theme, the trunk from which all branches grow. It has changed considerably since the early days when Darwin (and his contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace) first proposed the idea that species change over time*. They didnât even have an idea behind the mechanism for it at the time, but that came eventually. We now have a far better understanding of genetics, and how random mutations can lead to gradual change for adaptation.

For biology, Darwin is the founder in much the same way Newton or Galileo was for physics. Things have changed, improved, but the root idea is still there, and has grownâyou might even say evolvedâsince.

Because of this, there has been an informal movement over the years to declare February 12 as Darwin Day. I think thatâs a fine idea. A lot of folks are taking the opportunity to throw various events, like art contests and biology lectures.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) actually submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives to declare February 12th as Darwin Day, which I support, though I have more than a suspicion he has an uphill battle ahead of him on this. Far too many members of Congress think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, with far too many of them sitting on the House Science Committee. Of course, to be fair, having even one is one too many.

The American Humanist Association is asking people to write their Representatives in support this resolution. You can also celebrate Darwin Day; look for events in your region. And because science is always under fire, why not toss some cash the National Center for Science Educationâs way? They are fighting to make sure that some day, an idea like evolution is understood by everyone for what it is:



[*Note: In an attempt to be brief, I wrote that Darwin proposed the idea that species change over time. That idea had actually been around for some time; Darwin's big idea was to ascribe that to natural selection. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.]


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