Darwin Day

February 12th

Darwin Day is about celebrating the life and contribution to science of one of the world’s most eminent biologists, Charles Darwin.

Renowned for his work on evolution, Charles Darwin is credited with coming up with the notion that all species are descended from common ancestors. This theory is now widely accepted as fact in both the scientific community and much of the rest of the world. Over time, Darwin’s scientific discoveries have come to form the foundations of the life sciences.

Darwin Day

On the Origins of International Darwin Day

While there have been numerous commemorations and tributes to the brilliance of Charles Darwin since his death in 1882, the annual Darwin Day celebration did not begin until the 90s. The idea for a national Darwin Day was original conceived by Dr. Robert Stephens, who used his connections in the humanist community of Silicon Valley to initiate an annual Darwin celebration day in 1995.

Two years later, Professor Massimo Pigliucci organised a Darwin Day at the University of Tennessee. Then, in 2000, another professor began a Darwin Day celebration in New Mexico. Together, these three scientists created the Darwin Day Celebration non-profit organisation to promote the work of Charles Darwin, and to promote science generally.

Who Was Charles Darwin?

Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shropshire, England, in 1809. His father was a wealthy doctor and financier who, somewhat reluctantly, funded much of Darwin’s initial research. In particular, it was Darwin’s father who paid for his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, which produced much of the evidence Darwin used to write his groundbreaking book, The Origin of Species.

Darwin’s work on the theory of evolution made him a controversial figure in religious circles. According to many, his work undermined the Church’s assertion that life was part of a predetermined hierarchy that was constant and unchanging.

Darwin was not always so popular with the scientific community either. During what is known as The Eclipse of Darwinism, between 1880 and 1930, his concept of evolution went largely out of fashion. However, in the 1930s Darwin’s theories found new significance when scientists developed the modern evolutionary synthesis - which brings together various theories to explain evolution - and since then they have been the foundation of the modern life sciences.

On Darwin Day it is important to remember Darwin’s commitment to intellectual honesty, hard work, perseverance, and science - as it was these aspects of his life that defined him. He continued working, despite health problems, up until the end of his life.

What to do on Darwin Day

The best way to honour the contributions of Charles Darwin on Darwin Day, is to read his own work. So sit down in the garden, park, or other natural environment - perhaps the local botanical gardens - and read one Darwin’s excellent books: On The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man or Selection in Relation to Sex.

What to do on Darwin Day with Children?

While The Origin of Species was intended for a popular audience rather than a scientific one, it might still be a tricky read for children. If you’re wondering how to celebrate Darwin Day with your kids then why not try some of the documentaries and films created to celebrate the life and work of the illustrious scientist.

Movies & Documentaries

Creation (2009) - The film focuses on Darwin’s relationship with his wife, Emma, and his struggle to complete On The Origin of Species.

Galapagos: Beyond Darwin (1996) - This documentary takes a look at the deep water world around the Galapagos islands, an area Darwin was never able to explore himself.

Master and Commander (2003) - This movie offers a more entertaining - and a lot less scientific - depiction of Charles Darwin that older children are sure to enjoy.

Hands On Discovery

For a more active Darwin Day activity head to the beach, woods, or other nature spots and hunt for fossils like the great naturalist himself. Or purchase a bug catching kit and perform some rudimentary biological analysis on whatever insects you can find. Be sure not to cause them any harm and release them once you’ve taken a look.

The main thing to emphasise to children on Darwin Day is the importance of thorough scientific research on informing our understanding of life and our place within it.

Happy Darwin Day!

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