Darwin's Birthday?

By Phil Plait | February 12, 2009 3:30 pm

What? Today is Darwin’s birthday?

I didn’t know. It’s not like he was Hubble or Galileo or Copernicus.

What, he was? Oh, for biology. Well, happy birthday anyway.


Comments (35)

  1. bjn

    You too are a tetrapod. Cheers to Chuck!

  2. o rly

    If it took until 1992 for Galileo to be “right”, how long will it take for the knowledge that we’ve acquired since Darwin’s observations to be “right”.

  3. Darth Robo

    I predict it will take a lot longer…


    Just watch)

  4. slang

    I don’t think he can hear you!

  5. Ken

    What about Lee Smolin’s idea of cosmological natural selection? Doesn’t that mean that even astronomers should celebrate?

  6. Dan

    Ya know, I was reading today that they took a survey:

    Only 39% of Americans believe in evolution.

    Phil? Can I get that “DOOMED” picture you put up so much?

  7. chris H


  8. John Phillips, FCD
  9. I still [SARCASM]LOVE[/SARCASM] the whole deathbed conversion LIE…

    Darwin’s family all denied the story and campaigned against it. Darwin’s son Francis wrote in a letter on 28 May 1918:

    “Lady Hope’s account of my father’s views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but have not seen any reply. My father’s agnostic point of view is given in my Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I., pp. 304‚Äď317. You are at liberty to publish the above statement. Indeed, I shall be glad if you will do so.”

    After the story had been revived in 1922, Darwin’s daughter Henrietta Litchfield stated in The Christian for 23 February 1922 in an article titled: Charles Darwin’s Death-Bed: Story of Conversion Denied by Mrs. R.B. Litchfield:

    “I was present at his deathbed, Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A. … …The whole story has no foundation what-so-ever.”

    Manufacuversy as always… ūüėČ

  10. Daniel J. Andrew

    The biology department of the university is having its annual Darwin’s birthday party. In honour of the 200th year they obtained some extra funding so it’ll be in a fancy place (nothing wrong with the old place though…we had all the upstairs to ourselves). Fittingly, one of the profs is presenting his powerpoint of his trip to Mecca….er, I mean the Galapagos.

    It’s always a fun time there especially when the normally quiet genetics prof has had a few….the students await this event in anticipation every year and every year he doesn’t disappoint. Too bad astronomers are going to miss out on such a fun time–you are invited, but bring your biology dictionary so we don’t have to explain our biology jokes. ;–>))

  11. > Oh, for Biology.

    Oh, SNAP!

  12. @o rly and Darth Robo:

    Actually, it looks like the church got this one right:

  13. Woo hoo! Happy Monkey indeed!

  14. Ted H.

    Though Galileo’s birthday is coming up in a few days, the 15th.

  15. Darth Robo

    Ah yes, Michael L, but everyone knows that they’re not “real” Christians…


  16. Jack Mitcham

    The Science Channel had a few shows on tonight about Darwin.

  17. I wish Obama had done something a bit more today than just mention Darwin. He deserves a speech of his own. Lincoln did a lot of this country, but I think that in the end Darwin had more impact on everyone.

  18. Those who still do not know about Darwin they are definitely those fallen angels for whom humnity is inbebted as ever !

  19. I think my earlier attempted comment got spamfiltered…

    Phil is just jealous ’cause we biologists *HAVE* a Grand Unified Theory!
    There is a “Blog for Darwin” blog swarm at http://citizenship.typepad.com/blogfordarwin/
    Click on my name to see my contribution, “Genius and Simplicity”.

  20. Erp

    His son, George Darwin, was an astronomer.

  21. Phil, astronomy has a lot in common with evolution! Specifically, they both have to fit the history of the universe into 6000 years.

  22. Wayne

    Last Friday, a local Discovery Institute clone group held a “Darwin Un-celebration” on the campus of the Methodist university where I teach. They screened the truly awful film “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” (think Expelled on steroids). Many of us on campus were revolted that we would even rent space to these people, and I along with a couple of other science faculty wrote a letter of protest to our president which was signed by most of the science faculty and a few others who approached us (including a religion professor). We managed to get a promise that in future there would at least be disclaimers if the group were allowed on campus again, but I hope they refuse them next time.

    So, the next time someone asks why moderate Christians aren’t taking these people on, you can tell them that we are putting our careers on the line to defend science against these attacks. Happy Darwin Day.

  23. I wrote about Darwin. My post was mostly about astronomy and how the Intelligent Design crowd do not understand the scope of math and science. I think it is easier to get people to accept that, by looking at the stars, than by looking inward, or at fossils.

  24. Nigel Depledge

    Rogue Medic said:

    I wrote about Darwin. My post was mostly about astronomy and how the Intelligent Design crowd do not understand the scope of math and science. I think it is easier to get people to accept that, by looking at the stars, than by looking inward, or at fossils.

    While you may be right about showing up the lack of understanding within the ID crowd, I think there are other ways of combatting IDists. One is to try to help people understand what evolutionary theory is. At its core, it is actually pretty simple.

  25. @Nigel

    Simple and elegant. But the IDiots sidestep the issue by saying “no one disputes that minor changes occur within species by natural selection, but it is ludicrous to think that it could lead to an entirely new form. Dogs will never become cats!”. And then they blame Darwin for all the ills in the world, despite the fact that what Darwin said was exactly what they say no one disputes.
    Go figure.
    My response: “What you are saying is that rain and wind can move individual grains of sand, but it is impossible for erosion to occur.”

  26. Nigel Depledge

    @ Bipedal Tetrapod

    LOL. Nice response.

    The real humdinger, of course, was common descent. As far as I am concerned, common descent has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

    Now, it is true that there was no single species to represent the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) due to prolific horizontal gene transfer (HGT) that has occurred since. But we can still think of LUCA as a population of several or several hundred species – the interrelatedness of life is true nonetheless.

    There is, consequently, no one true “tree of life”, which is what the New Scientist cover story was about a couple of weeks ago, but Darwin never really proposed a single tree of life. His diagrams were to do with species divergence, not with tracing the descent of all species back to LUCA.

  27. JoeZo

    @Naked Bunny
    Nope, not even close. If the universe is 6000 years old then evolution is only 1.5 years old. This assumes a time contraction factor of 2,283,333 (13.7 billion / 6000).

    Per wikipedia, Big bang at between 13.61 and 13.85 billion years.
    Life on earth at 3,000 million years ago, possibly as far as 3,800 million years ago.

  28. Sman

    JoeZo wrote:


    Life on earth at 3,000 million years ago, possibly as far as 3,800 million years ago.

    There was a paper published last year on some banded greenstones from Canada that might push the date back to 4300ma. Though, some question the methodology used in obtaining the age.

  29. Non-Elite

    Creationists posted a video on YouTube in honor of Darwin’s Birthday:

    Where Darwin Went Wrong:


  30. John Phillips, FCD

    JoeZo, but one of arguments they use is that light travelled at different, i.e. much, much higher speeds back then, and slowed down to its present speed, hence the reason we appear to see a ~13.5GY universe. And of course, we mustn’t forget, that babble literalists posit a universe that god just poofed into existence with man, animals, plants etc, appearing in place over the next six days. No need of all that fancy pantsy science stuff to understand it, that’s just Satan trying to confuse the faithful. Or is it god testing their faith? Unfortunately, I can never get the different wings of the various cults to agree on which it is :)

  31. JoeZo

    Did I ‘lose’ 3 orders of magnitude? Should be:

    Nope, still not close. If the universe is 6000 years old then the earth is 2000 years old and evolution is only about 1500 years old. This assumes a time contraction factor of 2,283,333 (13.7 billion / 6000).

  32. JoeZo

    @John Phillips, FCD
    I tried to anticipate that point with my time contraction factor of 2,283,333.

    But, what fraction of the speed of light does that correspond to? (I’d do the math myself, but after losing 3 orders of magnitude, I’m giving up my calcuator for the day.)

  33. John Phillips, FCD

    @JoeZo, who knows, I am not the one to ask, after all, I am not the one in charge of making stuff up for the irrationalsliteralists :)

  34. Cheyenne

    How do Creationists respond when you bring up examples of different species breeding together? Ligers (Lions/Tigers), Zonkeys (Zebra/Donkey), Prizzlies (Polar Bear/Grizzly), etc. etc.

    I know many of them are sterile. But not all are. That would seem to be a way that would introduce a genetic change into a group of animals very quickly.


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