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Darwin Day

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Darwin Day, Today is Darwin Day, the 205th anniversary of the birth of the father of the theory of evolution. It’s a scientific “holiday” that has had its evolutionary ups and downs. Five years ago, for the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his publication of “On the Origin of Species,” celebration was robust, with Darwin Days proclaimed on dozens of college campuses, in museums and in the halls of government. Today, well, not so much. The oldest known ancestor of the holiday, pushed these days by the American Humanist Assn., arose at Salem State University in Massachusetts, in 1980, which still holds a weeklong Darwin festival.

But the first event linked to the humanist community was held at Stanford University in 1995, and featured a lecture by anthropologist Donald Johanson, who discovered the early human fossil dubbed Lucy. The association is pushing for congressional recognition of the day — an effort that has failed twice before in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. It was first introduced in 2011 by California Democrat Pete Stark of the Bay Area, the first openly atheist member of Congress.

When Stark left Congress last year, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who has a doctoral degree in physics (and is a five-time Jeopardy! champion who beat the famed Watson computer at the game) reintroduced the measure and has offered it again this year. “Like Galileo, Newton and Einstein in the physical sciences, Darwin in the life sciences provided a new framework for thinking that led to great new understanding and eventually greatly improved the quality of life for millions of people,” Holt said in his introduction of the resolution.

The resolution states that evolution “provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth” and that its validity has been “strongly supported by the modern understanding of genetics.” The resolution warns that “teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States’ education systems.”

Such language won’t sit well with Science Committee member Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who has called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

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