I wish each of you belated Happy Darwin Day! Sorry I didn't mention this last week, for Sunday, February 12th was Darwin Day, celebrating the 208th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the formulator of the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Oh, it wasn't on your calendar? Truth be told, it wasn't on mine, either. Probably not embarrassing at all to you, but I actually am a little embarrassed. After all, I've been trying to study all things Darwin for a number of years – and I completely missed his birthday! To my rescue came Jim Stump, Senior Editor at BioLogos, who mentioned it in a blog post this week. Well, it could have been worse. At least I didn't forget my wife's birthday! I do have an excuse: I was in Ghana, getting ready to fly home to the USA; and like Jim Stump, I celebrated the day as I usually do each Sunday by going to a Christian Church.
Seriously, there is a movement afoot to celebrate Darwin's birthday. It was first started by three Darwin enthusiasts. Dr. Robert Stephens set up the first celebration in 1995 in Silicon Valley, followed by Prof. Massimo Piliucci at the University of Tennessee in 1997, and then by Amanda Chesworth in New Mexico in 2000. Supporters even have their own website.
The people behind Darwin Day want to turn it into a recognized holiday. No doubt, Hallmark won't object. However, Darwin was born the very day of someone whose birthday is already celebrated – Abraham Lincoln – though his birthday is now celebrated on President's Day, the 3rd Monday of the month. The "Darwin Day" advocates want us to remember the famous English scientist because, in their words, it "will inspire people throughout the world to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin."
The website appears to me to have very much of a secular humanist bent; and the implication, of course, is intellectual bravery and hunger for truth "other than Christianity". In our fast-paced world, where everyone seeks simple, "either/or" answers, that type of thinking is appealing. Traditional supporters of Darwin tend to think that if you believe in Darwin, then you must obviously reject Christianity; and on the other side, many conservative Christians believe that if you are a real Christian, then you can't possibly believe much, if anything, that Darwin has to say. In my mind, very neat, very clean … and very wrong!
Wrong to the point that I want to go out on a limb and make a prediction. The prediction is, there will eventually be a Darwin Day, and it will be on the Christian Church calendar. I say this because I think more and more Christians are going to come to the conclusion that not only is Darwin not antithetical to Christianity, his ideas actually are beneficial to Christians, and help reinforce things that Christians already hold dear. That's the argument I've made in my book, The Unexpected Perspective. The problem, of course, is to get people to reframe the issue.
Christians, I believe, are coming to realize that embracing Darwin offers a number of benefits to them. Let me share three of them in particular. First, there is an increasing realization that original sin is the downside byproduct of evolution by natural selection. Christian de Duve, a 1974 Nobel Prize in Medicine winner, drew that conclusion in his book Genetics of Original Sin (see my recent blog post on this), and I make a similar argument. As I maintain in The Unexpected Perspective, original sin is the most basic doctrine in Christianity. So Darwin's theory provides a modern day "bridge" to understand this ancient Christian concept.
Second, Darwin can provide a "bridge" to help Christians evangelize the well educated. Whereas for most of the past two thousand years, most educated people in the West were Christian, increasingly, that's not the case. In fact, many well educated people seem to think the Bible is just a bunch of hocus-pocus. It follows from the same type of "either/or" thinking we see is increasingly common in all walks of life: if you're Chrstian, you must reject science in general and Darwin in particular; and if you reject science, then you must be stupid. Darwin, I argue, can provide a bridge for Christians to have a serious, thoughtful conversation with well-educated non-Christians about science, Christianity and the Bible.
Third, Darwin can provide a way to bridge the problem of how to teach science in the public schools. For the past 100 years, many Christians have been fearful that if children in schools are taught Darwin's theories, they'll be on the road to rejecting Christianity. In response, some Christians have sought to have alternative ideas such as Creationism or Intelligent Design taught, to the horror of scientists and many educators alike. The result has often been that children aren't taught any science, to the detriment of all. As I argue in The Unexpected Perspective, there is a way for Christians to embrace Darwin without fears that their children will be set on the path to atheism. In fact, it may actually be the atheists who have to worry.
The bottom line is that the idea of a Darwin versus the Bible and Christianity dichotomy really is a fiction. Not only can Christians accept Darwinian science, they can love it. They can love it for different reasons than do atheists. If Christians can love it, they'll have a reason to celebrate Darwin, including the anniversary of his birth. So it didn't happen this year, and it may still not happen next year, but pretty soon I predict, you'll see Darwin Day on the Christian calendar. Charles Darwin, happy belated 208th birthday!