This evening, we will hold the 13th annual Darwin Day event at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Our celebration will include a free lecture by renowned NASA scientist Lou Mayo, who will talk about the evolution of our own solar system. We will then have pizza, cake, and Darwin-themed trivia. (Stop by if you can: This event is free and open to the public!)
Why, each and every year, do scientists, humanists, and scholars from all around the world pay special attention to the life and work of Darwin on his birthday — February 12, 1809? (He was born the same day as Abraham Lincoln, by the way.) Why does International Darwin Day exist? Why do groups like the Hudson Valley Humanists literally make shrines to Darwin and bake evolution-themed cookies in his honor this time of year?
I am an unapologetic advocate of Darwin’s work and of the perspective that his work brings to our understanding of the human condition. Following are 10 reasons why you should celebrate Darwin Day:
1. The field of biology did not exist until after Darwin’s ideas on natural selection were published (see Allmon, 2011).
2. Our understanding of modern medicine is improved exponentially as a result of medical professionals understanding and applying Darwinian principles (see Nesse & Williams, 1995).
3. Darwin was an abolitionist, supporting equality among people regardless of regional or ethnic background, way before being an abolitionist was in style. In fact, in many ways, he was more of an abolitionist than was his contemporary Abraham Lincoln (see Desmond & Moore, 2014).
4. Darwin’s perspective led to research that has shed extraordinary light on issues that are specific to women’s health (see Reiber, 2009).
5. Darwin’s perspective has led to advances in how we understand elementary education (see Gruskin & Geher, 2017).
6. Darwin’s ideas paved the way for the advanced understanding we now have regarding the evolutionary history of modern humans (e.g., Hodgson et al., 2010).
7. Darwin’s ideas have been applied to help us better understand how humans can live in urban settings (see Wilson, 2011).
8. Darwin’s ideas paved the way for the field of paleontology, helping us understand how fossils from across the world fit together to explain the history of the earth (e.g., Bose & Bartholomew, 2013).
9. Darwin’s ideas sparked an extraordinary number of additional academic fields, such as ethology, ecology, immunology, Darwinian Literature, evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, and more (see Wilson, Geher, Gallup, & Head, in production).
10. Darwinian ideas have dramatically improved our understanding of the positive aspects of the human experience, such as art, music, happiness, gratitude, spirituality, community, and love (see Geher & Wedberg, in production).
This list is incomplete in many ways; Darwin's influence on our modern world extends well beyond the 10 points demarcated here.
Darwin’s impact on our modern world is simply extraordinary and hard to quantify. Without the publication of his ideas on the nature of life, we’d be without such academic fields as biology and paleontology. Our medicine would be far behind where it is now. And our entire understanding of what it means to be human would lack a science-based foundation.
Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin. And on behalf of hominids everywhere, thank you.
Allmon, W. D. (2011). Why don’t people think evolution is true? Implications for teaching, in and out of the classroom. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 4, 648-665.
Bose, R., & Bartholomew, A. (2013). Evolution in the fossil record. New York: Springer.
Desmond, A., & Moore, (2014). Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution. New York:: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Geher, G., & Wedberg, N. A. (in production). Positive Evolutionary Psychology: Darwin’s Guide to Living a Richer Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gruskin, K., & Geher, G. (2018). The Evolved Classroom: Using Evolutionary Theory to Inform Elementary Pedagogy. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 12, 1-13.
Hodgson, J. A., Bergey, C. M, & Disotell, T. R . (2010). Neanderthal genome: The ins and outs of African genetic diversity. Current Biology, 20, 517-519.
Nesse RM, Williams GC: Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, Times Books, New York, 1995.
Reiber, C. 2009. Empirical support for an evolutionary model of Premenstrual Syndrome. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology 3(1): 9-28.
Wilson, D. S. (2011). The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Wilson, D. S., Geher, G., Gallup, A. G., & Head, H. (in production). Darwin’s Roadmap to the Curriculum: Evolutionary Studies in Higher Education. New York: Oxford University Press.