IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Darwin’s birthday evolves into holiday

Thanks to the "intelligent design" movement, Charles Darwin's birthday is evolving into everything from a badminton party to church sermons this weekend.
Janet Monge, museum casting project coordinator, loads a cart of cast skulls in preparation for Darwin Day at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. The museum is offering an evolution teach-in on Sunday.George Widman / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thanks to the "intelligent design" movement, Charles Darwin's birthday is evolving into everything from a badminton party to church sermons this weekend.

Defenders of Darwin's theory of natural selection are planning hundreds of events around the world Sunday, the 197th anniversary of his birth, saying recent challenges to the teaching of evolution have re-emphasized the need to promote his work.

"The people who believe in evolution ... really just sort of need to stand up and be counted," said Richard Leventhal, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. "Evolution is the model that drives science. It's time to recognize that."

The museum's celebration will include birthday cake, a little badminton (reportedly a favorite game of Darwin's) and a reading of his masterwork, "The Origin of Species," by Penn junior Bill Wames, who volunteered to dress up as the 19th-century naturalist.

"Come to my party!" Wames, in costume, bellowed Wednesday while handing out fliers around campus. "Sunday at 1 o'clock!"

At the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, philosophy students will get a jump-start on Darwin Day on campus Friday by singing Darwin carols they composed.

Years of discovery
Darwin, who was born in England on Feb. 12, 1809, and died in 1882, was 50 when he published "The Origin of Species." His conclusion that species evolve over time was based in part on zoological and geological discoveries made during a five-year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle.

The intelligent-design movement challenges Darwin's theory, contending that organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher being. Critics of intelligent design say it is creationism camouflaged in scientific language.

Intelligent-design proponents suffered legal setbacks last year in Pennsylvania and Georgia, but Kansas education officials have approved science standards that treat evolution as a flawed theory.

Polls have shown many Americans don't accept evolution. A Gallup poll in 2004 found that about 35 percent of Americans believe Darwin's theory is well supported by evidence, another 35 percent thought it was not well-supported and 29 percent said they didn't know enough about it.

Religion and science get along
To show religion and science are not at odds, more than 400 churches of many denominations — most of them in the United States — have agreed to participate in "Evolution Sunday" by giving a sermon, holding classes or sponsoring discussions.

Organizer Michael Zimmerman, a biology professor and dean at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, said there is "no reason that people have to choose between religion and science."

The Darwin Day Celebration was formalized six years ago as a California-based nonprofit organization, but some tributes go back much further. Salem State College in Massachusetts has had a Darwin festival for 26 years.