Charles Darwin was born 203 years ago Sunday, 50 years before he would forever change the field of biology with “On the Origin of Species.” Another book, published 143 years later, dubbed his opus on evolution “the single best idea, ever.”
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.”
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