Today is a big day. Actually…it’s the anniversary of a big day. A day when the world literally changed forever. Both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on this day in 1809, making today their 200th birthday. Interestingly, the both peaked at around the same time as well. In November 1859, Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” which more than any other text has guided the study and interpretation of modern biology. One year later in November of 1860, Abe was elected President of the United States and guided the nation through its most bitter and bloody conflict, the Civil War. The impact of these two men goes far beyond their initial individual contributions and extends into history far more than they would ever know. Darwin’s work on evolution would shape biology, medicine, genetics, agriculture, and many other fields well into the 20th century. Lincolns contributions would ensure a unified nation that would eventually go on to become a lone super-power.
On the issue of Darwin, obviously a lot has been written and surprisingly (to me anyways) there is still debate about his famous “theory.” This debate was framed in the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005 which has since been profiled on PBS’s NOVA. Their documentary ‘Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial’ which you can watch after the link is fantastic. It profiles many of the key players in the battle of science teachers and religious fundamentalists intent on removing rational science discussion from the classroom. It also profiles a school board bent on introducing creationism (religious doctrine) into a school science class under the guise of “intelligent design”. The teachers and parents stood up against this affront to modern science and in my mind (despite my criticism of the public school system) are true heroes of the profession. In addition, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs to say that intelligent design (ID) is NOT SCIENCE. Thus, the inclusion of this BS in a science classroom is a clear violation of the establishment clause of the 1st amendment. Darwin would be proud of both of them. The idea that after 150 years since its publication, the science and observations at the very heart of this little “theory” have not seen any weakening despite substantial attempts at refutation. Few theories have been tested so thoroughly and stood up so well to such scrutiny as has evolution. And yet, we still live in a country that while unified (thanks Abe) is also firmly divided on some key issues. Evolution is just one that separates those who can view no reality outside the light of faith and those who see no inherent contradiction between religion and reason. I will say that I do appreciate the explicit statement by the catholic church and a number of protestant faiths that evolution is not at odds with their dogma and that truth and religion cannot be opposed because they are one. I think its nice that they have moved a bit closer to the 20th century but I do, of course, believe that there is an inherent contradiction between science and religion…but that’s just my bias. Of course they won’t ever admit that…but they do refrain from saying Darwin’s soul is in eternal damnation (not that he believed in such a thing) and that’s a nice gesture. So with that, HAPPY DARWIN DAY!!!