Charles Darwin's 200th Birthday
written by Charles Sumner
Lincoln freed the slaves; Darwin freed minds.
Two hundred years ago on February 12 two great men were born. One of them became one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. He freed the slaves. The other became one of our greatest scientists, Charles Darwin. He freed men's minds.
When Charles Darwin came up with his discovery that natural selection was a cause of biological evolution, he knew that it would cause an uproar among the religious people who believed that the Bible was to be taken literally. If evolution was to be believed, then religious belief would suffer.
And even now, these many years later, there is an organized movement against the teaching of biological evolution. These are the people we call fundamentalists. They have spread a tremendous amount of misinformation and have left many people without a good scientific education. They will say "I am not descended from a monkey," which, of course Darwin never claimed. So a purpose of Darwin Day is to give people a better understanding of evolution. It is to emphasize the significance of scientific inquiry and biological science to both our understanding of the world and our well being.
Those who advocate teaching creationism or so-called intelligent design in science classes are interjecting faith, which does not qualify as science. Those topics belong in classes on comparative religion, which most fundamentalists do not wish their children exposed to. Our youth need a good education in science in order for our nation to hold its place in the world. Science requires that a theory be subject to falsification. You may not even find this term in the dictionary, but it means that the test of a theory is attempting to falsify or refute it. Natural selection has gone through this testing for 150 years and come out shining. Biologists have learned things over the years which have changed some assumptions, but Charles Darwin had the basics right, and his work provides the unifying theory of biology.
The majority of mainline denominations seem to have no great problem with evolution, largely because they do not regard the Bible as inerrant. In fact, over 12,000 clergy from many denominations have signed something called "The Clergy Letter," which states that they do not regard evolution as conflicting with their beliefs. So although much of the celebration of Darwin's life has centered around freethought groups, scientists, universities, and museums, there are also sermons being given in churches around the world. Some 854 congregations are participating in Evolution Weekend. Ten are in Tennessee and two in Nashville.
Here is an excerpt from the Christian version of the Clergy Letter:
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.
Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity. It is specifically a celebration of the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin -- the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor, and also a man who is known for his kindness, consideration, tolerance, reflective thought and deep appreciation for the similarities, as well as the differences, among us. Darwin Day does not seek to worship Darwin, or claim him flawless, rather simply to honor him for his contributions and his character.
See the notices in this issue of two Darwin events being held in Nashville.
Why Do We Need a Progressive Newspaper?
published in the September 3rd edition of the Nashville Free Press
Jefferson's "Wall of Separation"
published in the August 6th edition of the Nashville Free Press
The Sage of Monticello
published in the June 18th edition of the Nashville Free Press
The Enlightenment and Deism
published in the June 4th edition of the Nashville Free Press
America as a "Religious Refuge"
published in the May 7th edition of the Nashville Free Press
Conflicts over Religion and Government
published in the April 23rd edition of the Nashville Free Press
Roger Williams - Freedom's Forgotten Hero
published in the April 9th edition of the Nashville Free Press
Religious Liberty in Colonial America
published in the March 12th edition of the Nashville Free Press
Religious Liberty Requires Government Neutrality
published in the February 26th edition of the Nashville Free Press
Charles Darwin's 200th Birthday
published in the February 12th edition of the Nashville Free Press
Is Posting the Ten Commandments Moral or Immoral?
published in the January 29th edition of the Nashville Free Press
Three-Minute Introduction to Separation of Church and State
published in the January 15th edition of the Nashville Free Press