Darwin Day: Christmas for Atheists?

While most organized celebrations help knit cultures together, according to the organizers of Darwin Day, those traditional holidays “have often been, and continue to be, the source of serious conflicts.” The ACLU could not agree more.

And so a new celebration has arrived, one complete with its own symbols, carols, and talismans, and one its organizers hope will “unite a global community.” What is this celebration of science and humanity? Why, Darwin Day, of course.

Since the last decade, February 12, the anniversary of Darwin’s birthday has become the holiday for secular humanists and is informally celebrated around the world.

In Belfast last year, the local Humanist group stated that, as humanists, they prefer to celebrate Darwin Day instead of Christmas. If you’re wondering what a secular humanist does to commemorate such an occasion, it turns out that these particular humanists stand on street corners and hand out leaflets about evolution in an attempt to reach passers-by.

In Vancouver, BC a Philosophy of Religion professor organized a Darwin Day celebration for his students where they decked the halls with humanist style. Participants decorated an evolution tree, exchanged Darwin cards and even sang evolution carols.

If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it was designed that way. This celebration, like so many others, was styled as a “light-hearted satire” of Christmas. Had the celebration taken place in Turkey, it might look something more like the Feast of Sacrifice. Regardless of the cultural context, the message of Darwin Day is plain to its celebrant: Darwinism will deliver humanity from religion.

Darwin Day carols based on traditional Christmas hymns reveal an appalling lack of poetry, but more than that, they show how “[t]he implications [of Darwin’s theory] are profound to both scientists and philosophers.” With lyrics like, “Natural selection / No maker required,” sung to Away in a Manger, it’s rather obvious why these students think Darwin’s scientific discovery should affect philosophy and religion.

Saint Darwin is more than a shining example of scientific inquiry; he has become to secular humanists what Muhammad is to Islam, Buddha is to Buddhists, and Jesus Christ is to Christians, a reason for their faith. Notable Darwinist, and member of the official Darwin Day Celebration Advisory Board, Richard Dawkins often credits Darwin for making it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Now he and others like him are evangelizing agnostics and believers alike, which explains the proselytizing of the humanists in Belfast as much as the ill-written hymns to Darwin in Victoria.

In America, the response to Darwin Day varies from film screenings at museums to “scientific gospel” concerts around California colleges and universities, where Dr. Stephen Baird and his band, the Opossums of Truth, sing odes to natural selection using a genre of music better known in our culture for talking about Jesus than the “spread of the gospel according to Darwin.”

Thankfully, there are other, less serious takes on Darwin Day in America. At Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Darwin’s deification takes a more playful turn. There they support their Darwin Day events by selling “the original” Charles Darwin Bobblehead. What better way to assure the success of your experiments (and thought processes) than to have Charles Darwin overseeing everything? While the bobblehead is somewhere on the level of a “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt, the desire for Darwinism to serve as the filter for a scientist’s thoughts tells the true message of this “holiday.” Besides honoring Darwin as a saint, the purpose of Darwin Day is to establish Darwinian evolution as the framework for all acceptable scientific thought.

Anika Smith is a policy analyst at Discovery Institute and the editor of the Institute’s Evolution News & Views blog.