Hundreds of groups across the globe will celebrate February 12th as "Darwin Day" in honour of the discoveries and life of the man who famously described biological evolution via natural selection.
"Darwin Day promotes understanding of evolution and the scientific method," said Matt Cherry, executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. "This celebration expresses gratitude for the enormous benefit that scientific knowledge has contributed to the advancement of humanity."
The Darwin Day Celebration is a project of the Albany, N.Y.-based Institute for Humanist Studies, an international educational nonprofit that promotes reason and humanity.
Next year will mark both the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the 1859 publication of Darwin's "The Origin of Species", which presented the scientific theory that populations evolve over generations through natural selection.
The theory of evolution was controversial in Darwin's time and remains controversial in the United States today.
Recent Gallup polls show that 43 percent of Americans reject the theory of evolution and instead believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." And at least four 2008 presidential candidates have said they do not believe the theory of evolution.
"There is a continuous threat to evolutionary biology and to science in general that has been posed by fundamentalists who reject entirely a Darwinian worldview because they feel it threatens their religious beliefs," said Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., a professor of evolutionary biology at the State University of New York-Stony Brook.
Pigliucci uses Darwin Day to teach the public about how science works "so people aren't just hearing about science from their local preacher." His online course "Evolution, Creationism and the Nature of Science" is available for free through the Institute for Humanist Studies.
The Darwin Day Celebration started with one event in 1995. Last year there were more than 850 Darwin Day events world-wide. Darwin Day festivities can include debates, lectures, essay contests, film festivals, museum exhibits, art shows and even an "Evolution Banquet" with "Primordial Soup" followed by a "Darwin Fish Fry."
This year, hundreds of church congregations will celebrate Darwin Day by hosting an "Evolution Weekend" to explore the compatibility of science and religion.