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Honoring Darwin Day

On Feb. 12 we'll commemorate the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. It must also be a day when we push back against the politicization and undermining of science by ideologues and zealots.
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Co-authored by U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) and American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt.

On Feb. 12 we'll commemorate the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, a celebration around the world known as Darwin Day, to appreciate the advancement of human knowledge and the achievements of science and reason. It must also be a day when we push back against the politicization and undermining of science by ideologues and zealots.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Charles Darwin, who changed the course of human history by bringing science and reason to the fore. His theory of evolution by natural selection not only provided a compelling explanation for the diversity of life on earth, it became the foundation of modern biology, genetics, and medicine. His scientific curiosity and discovery led to breakthroughs that have helped humanity solve innumerable problems and improve our quality of life.

Modern science is a direct result of the foundation that Darwin set for us. Humanity would be far less healthy, wealthy, and wise about the natural world without his contributions. This alone is enough to celebrate Darwin Day and the successes of modern science, but other factors also motivate the acknowledgment of this important day.

Unfortunately, too many politicians are gripped by an anti-science fervor. One only need have listened to recent presidential debates to hear firm denials of the overwhelming evidence of climate change -- or even assertions that vaccines somehow cause mental disabilities in children. This fervor isn't just rhetoric: many in Congress reject teaching science-based health and sexual education in public schools. Politicians around the country remain opposed to teaching evolution in public schools or want religious texts brought into science classrooms.

This opposition to scientific knowledge and inquiry, and the religious traditions that often feed such opposition, merits a strong rebuke. Our country and our world face serious problems that will only be solved through the application of reason and the scientific method. Science must be elevated, not treated with disdain.

By furthering scientific knowledge, we encourage human beings to practice critical thinking and inspire them to wonder about the world they live in. Great things can emerge from such curiosity, such as a paradigm shift in the scientific understanding of the natural world, or a conversation between parent and child about where we all come from and what we can do to make the world a better place. By encouraging people to think critically and scientifically we help to promote an environment of learning that advances human development and fosters a sense of interest and respect for the natural world.

Last year, one of us introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to designate Feb. 12 as Darwin Day in recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of the achievements and importance of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge. This resolution signified that Members of Congress are dedicated to promoting science and reason for the greater good. We hope that additional Members will join the call to make Feb. 12 Darwin Day.

On this Darwin Day, we encourage people to celebrate science and human reason and redouble their efforts to improve the world through education, reasoned discourse, and scientific inquiry.

Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) represents California's 13th district and is the only self-described non-theist in Congress. In 2011 he introduced the Darwin Day Resolution.

Roy Speckhardt is the executive director of the American Humanist Association, which manages, the official website promoting hundreds of Darwin Day celebrations around the world.

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