"I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection."
Charles Robert Darwin, 1809 -- 1882
"On The Origin of Species"
Darwin's 198th Birthday will occur on Monday, February 12, 2007; it will also be the 148th Anniversary of the publication of his famous book, On The Origin of Species. The objective of Darwin Day Celebration is to encourage existing institutions worldwide, such as municipalities, public and private schools, colleges and universities, libraries, museums, churches, private organizations and individuals to celebrate Science and Humanity every year, on, or near, February 12, Darwin's birthday!
"Darwin Day" began its life in 1995, the brainchild of Robert Stephens and fellow humanist, Arthur Jackson who have watched their celebration evolve into "an International Celebration of Science and Humanity as well as a year-round educational website. "The short term goal of the organizers is to increase awareness of Darwin Day and "build excitement" between now and 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, which program officials hope will be marked by global celebrations of Darwin's legacy, while "promoting understanding of science and critical inquiry within our global community."
Often, the mention of Darwin elicits discussions of science and religion. Recently, theologians and scientists have come together to discuss this tension in American society, and how we might all work together to develop better understanding of how science and religion can complement each other. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's DoSER (Dialog on Science, Ethics and Religion) conducted a series of workshops with leading theologians and scientists regarding evolution and the social controversies surrounding teaching and learning about evolution in American schools, colleges and universities. Recently, AAAS published "The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding" as a product of the DoSER workshops. "The Evolution Dialogs" is intended to spark conversations about evolution in homes, churches, schools and communities. In alternate chapters, it presents a description of the development of evolutionary theory from before Darwin to the present and the rich and complex historical interaction of evolution and Christianity. It further presents accounts of the nature of science and of Christian approaches to understanding and the history of life as revealed through the evolutionary sciences. "The Evolution Dialogs" is accessible to the public--it is not a dense scholarly treatise. Rather, it is a resource for thoughtful discussions.
In a similar vein, theologians have initiated similar discussions through a movement called "The Clergy Letter Project." Michael Zimmerman at Butler College leads The Clergy Letter Project. He states, "For too long, the misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict has created unnecessary division and confusion, especially concerning the teaching of evolution. I wanted to let the public know that numerous clergy from most denominations have tremendous respect for evolutionary theory and have embraced it as a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith." Since 2004, more than 10,000 theologians have signed the letter. This Sunday, February 11, more than 500 churches will celebrate "Evolution Sunday" in honor of Charles Darwin and the understanding of the natural world that science provides.
Many others will also celebrate Darwin and his discoveries. You can find a listing of Darwin Day celebrations on line at the Darwin Day website. There may be an event in your community.
Why is SETI Institute concerned with Darwin and evolution? Understanding the evolution of the universe--galaxies, stars, planets, and life--is at the heart of our research. In Darwin's autobiography he states, "Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." Discovering these "fixed laws" that govern the origin, nature and distribution of life is the core mission of the SETI Institute, and exploring change over time is the powerful theme that unifies all of our work, from laboratory to classroom. The work of our scientists working on the NASA Astrobiology Institute research team focuses on the co-evolution of life and its planetary context, in projects that range from studies of life's emergence on early Earth to the habitability of planets orbiting relatively cool M-stars. This project will directly impact the Institute's search for evidence of life that, like us, is sufficiently complex to reflect upon its own origins. The evolution of complexity and intelligence is a challenging research area, but one that can be probed scientifically, and Institute research seeks to tease important insights out of both the fossil record and animal communication systems. Darwin would no doubt be fascinated!
We live in a very special time. We are the first generation with the scientific tools necessary to explore a world that has grown beyond the confines of Earths atmosphere. We seek evidence of life's origin at ocean bottom hot spots, in the rocks and soils of Mars, and in the interstellar chemistry of our galaxy. We also seek evidence of intelligence by searching for signals from technology that transmits from distant planets.
What might be found can best be understood from a basis of self-knowledge. Where did we come from? Where are we going? What else is out there, and how did it evolve? What will we become? Big questions to ponder on the birthday of a man who helped us shape them