Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=227916
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DARWIN

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Charles Darwin circa 1854, five years before he published "On the Origin of Species."


It's (still) debatable: Darwin's 205th birthday showcases culture clash over human origins

by Kevin Clifford
Feb 12, 2014


If Charles Darwin were somehow alive today, two-thirds of Americans would show up to his birthday party to watch him blow out 205 candles. Instead, evolution proponents in the U.S. and abroad host events in celebration of Darwin Day on Feb. 12.

But why commemorate Darwin? What makes him stand out amongst the pantheon of scientists throughout the ages?

“Darwin provided the first explanation of where we came from and the diversity of life on Earth that was not based on myth,” said Matt Cole of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago.

In the United States, however, a solid portion of the population would contend the myth lies with evolution. The Pew Research Center in December found one-third of Americans reject the idea of evolution, believing instead that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

“The religious explanation of our origin is not testable; it’s an answer that can’t be questioned,” said Cole, also a former middle school science teacher. “Darwin came up with something that could be questioned.”

Ken Ham, president/CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum in Kentucky, who took the national spotlight in a debate recently against Bill Nye, released this statement:

“Because evolution is the dominant worldview being taught in our public school science classes, a day like today could be a golden opportunity for students to use their critical-thinking skills and analyze Darwinian evolution, but warts and all.”

Among those pointing out the "warts" of evolution and questioning the legitimacy of Darwin Day is Brian Young, director of Creation Instructional Association in Nebraska.

“It’s not that Darwin was all wrong on what he said or believed, it’s just that his interpretations of what he observed were wrong,” Young said. “Therefore, what Darwin Day celebrates is wrong because it’s based on faulty science.”

“We shouldn’t hold Darwin in as high esteem as other people who have contributed to science in more tangible ways,” Young added.

For example, Young points to Matthew Fontaine Maury, a 19th century oceanographer nicknamed Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology. Maury, a devout Christian, made significant contributions to charting winds and ocean currents while seeking the “paths of the seas” mentioned in Psalms 8:8.

“You can believe in creation and also be a scientific innovator,” Young said, giving a more recent example of Raymond Damadian, the young earth creationist who invented the first magnetic resonance scanning machine (MRI) in 1969.

Anne Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation brought frosted brownies with Darwin’s visage on them to the group’s Madison, Wis., headquarters Wednesday. Contrary to Young, Gaylor said evolution is paramount for scientific understanding.

“The fact that one-third of Americans believe in creationism is a black mark on our country,” Gaylor said. “How can we compete globally with that amount of scientific illiteracy?”


According to a 2006 study published in Science Magazine, the United States ranked 33 of 34 postindustrial nations in accepting evolution — only Turkey ranked lower.

“We celebrate Darwin today because he needs better PR in this country,” Gaylor said.