Today, the 12th of February is Charles Darwin’s birthday. Were he alive he would be two hundred and twelve years old today.
Me, I always consider this day one to celebrate. I mark it out most years here on this blog.
And it turns out I’m not alone in this wish to celebrate all things Charles Darwin.
Wikipedia notes how his birthday has been observed as something special since his death in 1882. But in 1909 on the centenary of his birth a number of events marked the day out, including a gathering of over four hundred scientists and others at Cambridge where papers were read, and another event was held at the American Museum of Natural History, including the unveiling of a bronze bust of the master.
Throughout the twentieth century there were various events celebrating the man and his influence on biological science.
In 1980 Salem State College began a Darwin Festival, and in 1993 the Humanist Community of Palo Alto began to celebrate Darwin Day, and the same name was used for events in 1997 at the University of Tennessee. Not long after Darwin Day was celebrated at the University of Georgia. By 2001 Darwin Day had become widely observed.
Of course holiday is a contraction of holy day and it is hard to miss at least a hit of spiritual enthusiasm in the celebration of Darwin Day. Or, at least it gives me an excuse to ruminate on Darwin’s spiritual side.
Both sides of his family, the Darwins and the Wedgwoods were mostly Unitarian. Which makes me happy. And there were Anglicans in the mix, as well. Of course there were other strains of influence. One of these probably most important. And that’s his grandfather Erasmus Darwin. Erasumus was a notorious freethinker. As, it appears, was his father.
Darwin was baptized Anglican, but throughout his childhood he was taken to Unitarian services by his mother. And there was enough discomfort with orthodoxy that he first went to the University of Edinburg, a popular alternative to Oxbridge for nonconformists.
However while he went there to study medicine, young Darwin had trouble finding his passion, and medicine didn’t hold him. Then when he showed some interest in theology his father, a practical man if also a freethinker, purchased a living for an Anglican priest at auction. And young Charles was packed off to Cambridge to prepare for ordination. But, again he proved fickle in his interests and pursuit of the priesthood was set aside…
However, by the time he took his degree he had found his passion. It was in the natural sciences. He would remain a nominal Anglican for the rest of his life. Although, as it has been observed, one may be a life-long Anglican without it affecting either one’s politics, or one’s religion.
For Darwin the great interest became the natural world and how it worked. Along the way spiritually Darwin moved from theism to deism, and it would seem he finally settled on agnosticism, the term coined by his associate and friend Thomas Huxley.
Ah, the great way of not-knowing!
As far as I’m concerned this is a spirituality that certainly deserves a holy day. And Charles Darwin was and remains a man worthy of celebrating. So, sure, put them together.
And, so, to all, my fondest wishes for a blessed Darwin’s Day!
And hopes for many more to come…