A Question about Darwin Day


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Hey @Patrick, honest question to the atheist.

Is Darwin Day more about Darwin or evolution? In other words, if it would help people understand evolutionary science, would you accept it being renamed “Evolution Day”? Or is it important that this be focused on Charles Darwin?


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #2

To me Darwin Day is a celebration of the man who made a profound difference in the way we think about “who we are and how did we get here”.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #3

Yes, Darwin’s contributions as a scientist were truly remarkable. Patrick, I would hope that Darwin Day events would also educate the public in another important way by underscoring his contributions as a philanthropist and humanitarian. There is so much horrendously false and extremely unfair propaganda constantly spewed about Darwin, as if he originated racism. Obviously, in actual fact, he hated slavery and poured huge sums of money (mostly from his book royalties) into abolitionist causes. Indeed, the entire Darwin extended family was for a series of years ranked as the #1 most generous source of donations to abolitionist societies—including various Christian ministers in the U.S.A., such as the tireless, slavery-hating Henry Ward Beecher. I’m talking enormous sums of money devoted to “the plight of the oppressed African”.

Yes, royalties from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life were used to print hundreds of thousands of scripture-filled anti-slavery tracts written, published, and distributed by activist clergymen, fiery preachers, and their congregations all over the U.S.A. [By the way, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the sister of Henry Ward Beecher, if I recall correctly. The scripture tracts and sermons which were indirectly sponsored by Charles Darwin helped inspire her to write the novel which played a huge role in Northern resolve against the Confederacy in the Civil War. Her book led many men to volunteer for enlistment.]

When Charles Darwin died, pulpits across America eulogized him for his partnering with them in opposing slavery. How do we know this? In those days it was common practice for Sunday sermons to be published in the local newspapers by the following Tuesday or Wednesday. So historians have been able to consult those old newspaper archives in order to study the sermons and reactions of American Christian ministers to Darwin’s passing. Obviously, you will never read about this on the Answers in Genesis or Institute of Creation Research websites when they promote their routine vicious attacks against Darwin’s character. (Of course, in doing so they are also illustrating the Ad Hominem Fallacy as well as the Genetic Logical Fallacy.) I would never claim that Darwin was some sort of paragon of virtue, but how many people are? Yet, I am so impressed by his willingness to “put his money where his mouth is”. He not only lamented in his writings the terrible injustices heaped upon the enslaved, he actually did a great deal to stop those horrors.

This is an issue that frustrates me greatly, and even downright angers me. Christians should not be guilty of bearing false witness. It is doubly evil when they falsely attack Darwin with incendiary accusations which are the very opposite of his most generous and heartfelt efforts at doing good.

Patrick, I have never observed a Darwin Day event but I certainly hope that these historical facts receive due emphasis to where all of this will eventually become common knowledge—and that the disinformation promulgated by far too many Christian ministries will be extinguished.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

Darwin did make a profound difference. There is some oddity here, both in the irrational opposition he calls down:

On the other hand, there is also some irrational veneration of him. If it is merely because he was a great scientist, why don’t’ we also have an Einstein, Kepler, or Hubble day? Why is he the only scientist that is granted a day of celebration? Can you help me make sense of that?


Why Venerate Darwin?
(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #5

Yes, there is some irrational veneration of him, especially in the US. Why not a Copernicus day? Since Copernicus had as profound effect on our thinking as Darwin. After Copernicus, Earth and Earthlings no longer had a special place in the universe. We were just the 3rd planet from the Sun, and we orbited it. We were nothing special in the universe after Copernicus.

The irrational veneration of Darwin, I believe is in some ways for secular humanists of the Enlightenment to get back at the Catholic Church’s treatment of science and scientists. Copernicus destroyed our being in a special place in a God created universe. Darwin, specifically by showing that all living creatures on Earth are related through common decent, destroyed the specialty of human beings. We are just another animal species without souls like all the other animals. It was Darwin who destroyed Adam. So the irrational veneration of Darwin is for doing that to the oppressors of science and Enlightenment thinking and reasoning.

However, for me as an American, a MLK holiday is much more important than a Darwin day.

Finally, I think the most significant discovery of mankind is the one made in my hometown Holmdel, New Jersey - That the universe had a beginning. No, I am not advocating for a Penzias and Wilson Holiday but in terms of significance, I go:

  1. Penzias and Wilson
  2. Einstein (not Newton)
  3. Copericus
  4. Darwin

Why Venerate Darwin?
(Retired Professor & Minister.) #6

Yes I can. Very few (if any) organizations and commonly recognized public figures are engaged full-time in discrediting Einstein, Kepler, or Hubble and in denying the value and rationality of their scientific discoveries.

In view of the many organized and well-funded campaigns against Darwin’s science (and Darwin personally)–and the massive disinformation which confuses the public—the “irrational veneration” is mostly a manifestation of what is sometimes casually described as “for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So much of the venom aimed at Darwin and the Theory of Evolution has implications denying the validity of science itself. (How many Americans have an unhealthy dose of science denialism because of the falsehoods they’ve been told about Darwin and evolutionary biology?)

So even if I dislike the “irrational veneration”, I can very much understand why it is essential that Darwin’s contribution (and the evolutionary biology discoveries which followed for over a century and a half since Darwin) be defended and explained.

Is the strong push-back represented by “Darwin veneration” irrational? I suppose it depends upon how one defines “irrational.” Yes, that veneration can be excessive. Sometimes it even involves irrational anti-religion nonsense which have no scientific basis. But I think it is to be expected in the light of the irrational opposition from so many vocal opponents.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #7

Unfortunately, what has been called The Conflict Thesis is itself a myth and irrational. I can think of very very few historians of science who still support The Conflict Thesis. (Yes, many scientists—and journalists and much of the general public—are unaware of this fact. Of course, most scientists have very limited foundations and training in the history of science.)

I’m not a Roman Catholic and I’m not generally known for defending RC decisions down through the centuries. But I’m well aware that the cases of Copernicus and Galileo are often misunderstood by non-historians. I also know that the RC Church did much to fund and defend scientists in an era of several centuries when scientists were extremely vulnerable to attack by non-scientists who didn’t understand what they did and who often feared that the scientists might pose a danger to their communities.

No. Indeed, it has been a long time since I read Darwin’s books but I do recall Darwin denying the idea that evolution somehow destroyed “the speciality of human beings.” Furthermore, for centuries many theologians have stated that the Imago Dei which makes humans special is not necessarily an anatomical or biological set of features or traits. Common Descent does not at all destroy the “speciality of human beings.”

I wish I had more time to expound upon these very interesting topics but my schedule has not been allowing much forum time.


(T J Runyon) #8

I think those other scientists should have days as well. But Darwin explained life. Something we are a part of. Life means a little more to us than Gravity I guess. So maybe a little more cause for celebration?


(T J Runyon) #9

realizing the truth of evolution didn’t lower our status. It elevated all other animal’s status. They are even more special to us now because now we know we are all connected and family


(system) #10