Happy Birthday Darwin!

By Becky Garrison 02-12-2009

090212-darwin-birthdayIn commemoration of Charles Robert Darwin's 200th birthday, Darwin Day Celebration, a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational corporation, is hosting Darwin Day. This international celebration of science and humanity is held on or around February 12, the day that Charles Darwin was born.

I wonder what this English gentleman would think of these current debates raging on in his name. My hope during this celebration is that both atheists and their equally strident Christian counterparts can take a few pages from Darwin's playbook and follow not just his methodology but also his manners. As evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson observed in his book Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives,

[Darwin's] interactions with people from all walks of life were primarily respectful and cordial. We can learn from his humility and good humor in presenting his theory to others, in addition to the theory itself.

Some atheists claim that all evolutionists worth their scientific salt are atheists. (Obviously, evolutionary biologists and professed Christians Francis Collins, Joan Roughgarden, and Kenneth Miller would beg to differ.)

While researching The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith, I had the opportunity to sift through a few biographies on Darwin. I learned that this naturalist, who once considered the priesthood as a profession, was a lifelong member of St. Mary's in Downe, England. If you look over a timeline of Darwin's life, it appears he started to veer toward agnosticism following the death of his 11-year-old daughter in 1851. Also, a quick romp throughout history will note a number of biblical battles between religious authorities and scientists. No wonder Darwin was reluctant to go public with his findings.

Hence, I'm not prepared to concede that Darwin was a hard-core atheist. One could argue that Darwin, like many other great minds, wrestled with many of the same questions about organized religion that have troubled thinkers throughout the ages.

These questions bring to mind a cartoon that my buddy Jon Birch did over at his Web site ASBO Jesus. (ASBO are 'anti-social behavior orders' that are awarded by the British courts to people who are deemed to be constant trouble in their neighborhoods.)

Happy Darwin Day.

Becky GarrisonBecky Garrison is featured in the documentaries Nailin' it to the Church and The Ordinary Radicals.

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