Darwin Day Celebrations in Ohio Met with Resistance February 2, 2009

Darwin Day Celebrations in Ohio Met with Resistance

Looks like Columbus, Ohio has 903223 Darwin Day events going on throughout the area. I’m jealous.

The celebrations are not without some controversy, of course.

[Whitehall] Councilwoman Jacquelyn Thompson originally suggested declaring Feb. 12 Darwin Day in honor of the 200th birthday of the man who conceived the theory of evolution. However, she watered it down to “Science Month” and added Galileo’s name in a compromise two weeks ago.

That watered-down idea got shot down by the Christians:

Council members suggested leaving a celebration of science to the schools and complained that it would compete with other February designations, such as Black History Month. However, the unspoken issue revolved around who believed in evolution versus creationism.

… The Whitehall debate, meanwhile, has drawn interest from as far away as southern California, where evangelical author and TV host Ray Comfort is saying Whitehall needs to dedicate as much time to creationism as evolution.

“They’re trying to deitize Darwin,” he said. “This is the atheist Christmas.

“It’s a God-given right to be an atheist, but they need to lighten up and let us talk about creationism, too.”

Of course, the absurd idea that you can’t celebrate more than one thing per month is made more absurd by quoting Comfort.

The Creationists will have their work cut out for them, though — the celebrations are happening all over the place whether they like it or not. The Humanist Community of Central Ohio is even bringing in PZ Myers just after Darwin’s birthday. Creationists: Bring it on.

Incidentally, I’ll be in Columbus next week.

More info on that soon!

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  • Dutch

    Even though I am a christian, I can’t understand the hatred/fear of Darwin, unless you think the Bible is literal, in which case there is much about the Bible that doesn’t make sense.

    On another note, atheists believe in spontaneous generation(abiogenesis) which seems as silly as believing Noah was literally swallowed by a whale. Darwin is no threat to my faith – if anything, he enhaces my faith. Go celebrate, maybe I’ll join you.

  • mikespeir


  • Polly

    Does anyone else see the irony in the residents of a city named for the guy who, wittingly or not, instigated the mass extermnination of native Americans and their civilizations getting all huffy about remembering a man who came up with a fantastic theory to explain the diversity of life by visiting those same New World areas?

    I guess everyone picks their heroes based on their values.

  • Epistaxis


    Like a cross between “deify” and “deputize.”

  • Dutch – on what grounds is it silly to believe in abiogenesis? Have you studied the theories on how life may have begun at all or are you just claiming it’s silly because you can’t come up with an answer? Also, Noah, swallowed by a whale? Go read your bible!

  • EB

    “…conceived the theory of evolution.”

    Grr… Darwin did not come up with evolution. Evolution (via the fossil record) was already known in his day. Darwin’s great contribution was *explaining* the mechanism by which evolution occurs (namely, natural selection).

    The problem with the above misconception is that it gives the false impression that this whole controversy (read creationism vs. evolution) is due to Darwin. Science doesn’t work like that. If creationists are lead to believe that Darwin was the only player, they can accuse evolutionists of falling prey to the same pitfalls that many religions fall prey to, in this case hero worship, or idol worship or whatever.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think we should have a Darwin day. I just think people should be made more aware of precisely what his contribution was, and the state of knowledge at the time he worked.

  • EB

    “…Noah was literally swallowed by a whale…”

    Correction: it was Jonah, and I think it was a fish.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s a God-given right to be an atheist…

    Oh that’s a good one. Add that to the growing list of Raysurdities.

  • “It’s a God-given right to be an atheist…”


  • Dutch


    I stand corrected.

  • I love the stupidity, it makes me feel so much better about myself. Do these people have even the slightest clue what atheist means? Maybe we should start an awards ceremony each year for dumbest fundamentalist remark – the scary thing is the winner would probably be proud of it…

  • Dutch


    from wikipedia,
    “Spontaneous generation is an obsolete theory regarding the origin of life from inanimate matter…”
    “In the natural sciences, abiogenesis, or origin of life, is the study of how life on Earth began from inanimate matter”

    Abiogenesis sounds more modern, but is really the same belief. The time period is longer(5 billion years) but the same thinking applies. Life evolving from what was originally a small point of energy(no matter) without any external input(God) seems to me to be a leap of faith.

    So yes, I always chuckle at this belief of life from no life without Our Creator, but this is drifting off-topic(my fault for introducing it)

  • Dutch,

    You may want to read some of the comments from our “dialog” with Lee Strobel which you can find here.

  • Dutch

    I have more or less read them per your suggestion. Thank you.

    One thing is, there is NO historical evidence for Jesus, King David, Moses and many more. Lee Strobel appears “pure in heart” and I have no need to argue the above with him.

  • Dutch,

    I might understand where you’re coming from regarding abiogenesis. When I was still a theist, I also thought the idea seemed, well, strange and silly. Well after I had ceased being a believer, I still thought the idea was kinda’ loopy, and thought that there had to be something more to it.

    Some time back, though, I began to look into it more carefully, and when actually considered in the context of general chemistry, many of the current hypotheses and theories actually make a good deal of sense. Of course, there are some that don’t, but the basic idea is actually not silly at all when you look into beyond the surface level. If you’re interested, I know that there are a number of biologists who frequent this board that could direct you towards some good current books written for people such as myself and you – the laymen as it were.

    Actually, if anyone can make suggestions, I think that I would like ot look back into it again.

  • Kyle Peterson

    Hey, there’s a Facebook group that’s trying to get 200,000 to wish Darwin a Happy Birthday! Hope everyone joins and participates!

  • I know that pointing out the logical fallacies and inconsistencies of Ray Comfort is like picking the low hanging fruit but…:

    “They’re trying to deitize Darwin,” he said. “This is the atheist Christmas.

    Just like Martin Luther King, Jr. day “deitize[s]” MLK, Jr., right? And Veterans Day “deitize[s]” all those who lost their lives serving our country, right? And President’s Day “deitize[s]” Washington and Lincoln, right?

  • Dutch

    Thank you Anthroslug,

    I have looked into it quite a lot. Nothing definitive out there – lots of conjecture. It’s probably one reason the head of The Genome Project converted from atheism to Chritianity. Either Watson or Crick(I don’t remember which) an atheist had such difficulty with the DNA molecule’s existence he went with the theory of the earth being seeded by extraterrestrial means which merely moved the DNA problem elsewhere.

    I really have read enough about it.


  • Siamang

    Anthroslug: Try this article on for size:


    Dutch, both you and I believe in abiogenesis. It’s just that I believe it was the result of chemistry, and you believe it was the result of a magic trick.

    Now, abiogenesis happens every single day in all of our bodies. Nonliving matter that we eat becomes living matter of our bodies. It’s not a magic trick at all. Using this method, we humans can eat some food and have some sex and through the natural chemistry of our bodies we can turn that food into a new human being! AMAZING! But not requiring a magic trick.

    Kind of funny, now that you think about it, if God can make a universe that can order everything about itself, but cannot do that one little jump-starter thing to get life going? I mean, here we are in a world where organic chemistry bubbles along all on its own, all self-regulating perfectly, but God just couldn’t figure out a way to have the planet self-boot?

    Naw, it HAD to be a magic trick. It all boils down to the magic tricks for you guys, doesn’t it? Life just wouldn’t be worth it if you couldn’t trace your physical DNA lineage back to God shooting lightning out of His finger.

    I recommend you read that discover article above and see what’s going on at Harvard and other universities. They seem to have a line on making proto-cells. They already have mutating and evolving RNA strands that auto-assemble and make little baby copies of themselves! AWESOME! And without any magic tricks at all.

    There is no fundamental difference between the chemical reactions in nonliving matter vs the chemical reactions in living matter. We’ve known that for over a hundred years.

    But you seem to know much more about this than those Harvard eggheads, Dutch. What could they possibly know… they’re just the ones actually making self-assembling rna chains in a primordial soup… you’ve read a 2000+ year old book written by bronze-age goathearders. I’m sure you should call up those folks at harvard and tell them that they’re being silly, and they really don’t know what they’re doing.

  • Siamang, somehow I doubt Dutch has read the bible.

  • Siamang

    Dutch wrote:

    I have looked into it quite a lot. Nothing definitive out there – lots of conjecture. It’s probably one reason the head of The Genome Project converted from atheism to Chritianity.

    I think you’re talking about Francis Collins, who Wikipedia quotes as having converted to Christianity upon dealing with critically ill patients and reading C.S. Lewis. If you have a quote by him that states contrary to this, then please provide it. If not, please refrain from putting words into the mouths of others.

    But beyond that point, it matters not which christians have become atheists or vice versa after their contemplation of certain scientific facts. (And trust me, the numbers are on my side here, so I’m sparing you.) Facts are facts. Either the science that Carl Zimmer writes about in my linked article are true, or they’re not. The RNA chains in Szostak’s lab auto-replicate and evolve whether a Christian, a Jew a Muslim or an atheist stirs the tank.

    I really have read enough about it.

    You haven’t read enough about it if you conclude the matter is closed, rather than a rapidly advancing field of scientific discovery, which it actually is.

    You’ve read very, very little about it, but you conclude much, if you conclude your own inquiry. Close that mind, good little Christian. No need to keep up with the latest in science.

    Especially since you have all the answers. Go ahead, go to Harvard and tell them they can stop looking for the answers. After all, YOU know all about it. You’ve “read enough”.

    As Charles Darwin said:

    it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Dutch, I really don’t understand your point of view. Why is “God did it” as satisfying answer for you for a scientific question that you don’t know the answer to? I see that it’s satisfying for a lot of Christians, but I really don’t understand why. I agree that the current state of abiogenesis research is largely conjecture, and doesn’t have anything definitive. But that’s always going to be true of a lot of scientific questions. To me, answering difficult scientific questions with “It’s because of God,” isn’t just a bad answer—it seems like a non-answer. You’re just pushing off the explanation to some untestable claim that some powerful entity decided to do something that we can’t possibly investigate, verify, falsify, or study. And it doesn’t actually explain anything; you might as well say “It’s because of Ugga-Bugga” for all the explanatory power it gives you. To me, that seems much more unsatisfying than saying “Yep, that’s a really hard question that we don’t know the answer to.” Can you explain, personally, why you find “God did it” to be a satisfying answer?

    I mean, consider the following conversation:

    Q. Why is the sky blue?
    A. God made it that way.
    Q. How is lightning formed?
    A. God makes it.
    Q. What causes sonoluminescence?
    A. God.
    Q. Why are the rotation curves of galaxies apparently inconsistent with Newton’s laws?
    A. God designed them that way.
    Q. How did life begin?
    A. God made it.

    You presumably find the answers to those first four questions unsatisfying (despite the fact that there are no definitive answers to #3 or #4). Why does the answer to the fifth one resonate for you? I’m actually not trying to argue; I’m genuinely curious, because it apparently does for you, and it doesn’t resonate for me at all.

  • Siamang

    I agree that the current state of abiogenesis research is largely conjecture, and doesn’t have anything definitive.

    I beg to differ. I think they’re doing quite a bit of very illuminating scientific experiments that are showing results. You don’t get self-replicating, evolving rna chains by “conjecture.”

    We currently have nowhere near a full explanation of how the process occurred on earth. And we’re not even down to the fine points of our knowledge… it’s still a wide-open field. But to say it’s conjecture is to throw out a great amount of what we do know, and what we have had great success with.

    It’s just that I’m afraid for someone like Dutch that you’ve given him further permission to remain ignorant of the actual working science that people are doing right now. He’ll walk away with ‘even the atheists admit that it’s all conjecture… they’re just playing guessing games.’

    We’re probably only a few years away from a lab-built protocell. We’ve already got self-replicating evolving rna chains. I think we’re very close to finding out that there are probably many possible ways that life can form, and then it’ll be up to detective work to see which one was the way it started on this planet. This is a very, very active area of research.

    What I would ask is “why stop looking?” Why would someone ever conclude “I’ve read enough” when there are discoveries all the time in this area. It’s like saying “I’ve read enough about rocketry, man will never walk on the moon” in 1962!

  • I have read that Discover article – interesting, especially this;

    “His students had added a kind of clay known as montmorillonite to their solution of fatty acids. Somehow the clay sped up the rate of vesicle formation 100-fold. “We spent years working on getting the growth and division stuff to work. That was a pain,” says Hanczyc. “But the clay worked the first time.”

    But Mr. Szostak is really using existing molecules, and not creating from scratch.

    “Most important of all, RNA would have to function as an enzyme (known as a replicase) that could replicate other RNA molecules. So Szostak began to tinker with RNA molecules from Tetrahymena and other organisms to see if he could make one.”

    I hope to keep this civil, and probably enough has been said about abiogenesis.

    Felicia, I know more about The Bible than most ministers.

  • Siamang

    But Mr. Szostak is really using existing molecules, and not creating from scratch.

    Did you read the entire article? That was one experiment. In others he’s just allowing nucleotides to link together randomly and using chemical evolution to refine the result:

    Using that research as a guide, Szostak and his students began building a system to allow RNA molecules to evolve as well. Evolution produces new adaptations through cycles of mutation and natural selection. Szostak started an evolutionary cycle by randomly stringing together nucleotides to create trillions of RNA molecules. Then he and his students gave the molecules a very basic task to perform: latching onto another molecule. Typically, only a few of these first-generation RNAs could do the job—and needed a long time to fumble around until they could grab the molecule. Szostak’s team extracted the winners and made trillions of new copies, allowing some random mutations to creep in along the way. Then they set the new generation on the same task and picked out the ones that did the job fastest.

    In each experiment, Szostak and his students repeated the process dozens of times. In the end they were left with RNAs that were exquisitely well adapted to the job at hand.

    Were those molecules magical? Zapped by God in any way? Or are they naturally-occurring results of geologic processes? We’ve known for over 40 years that you can get these compounds by simple prebiotic chemistry. For example Joan Oró produced the nucleotide base adenine using hydrogen cyanide, ammonia and water. And that was back in 1961.

    I hope to keep this civil, and probably enough has been said about abiogenesis.

    Yes. Best to stop talking about it. You’ve made up your mind, and no actual knowledge need change it. I’m just pointing out to the other readers here that there is a vast array of cutting-edge science going on in this field at Harvard, the University of Arizona, CalTech, Scripps Research Institute and the University of Florida, and other laboratories worldwide.

    Now is not the time to throw in the towel and say ‘oh, they’ll never ever ever figure out where dna came from. Because THAT was a MIRACLE!’

  • from wikipedia,
    “Spontaneous generation is an obsolete theory regarding the origin of life from inanimate matter…”
    “In the natural sciences, abiogenesis, or origin of life, is the study of how life on Earth began from inanimate matter”

    Abiogenesis sounds more modern, but is really the same belief.

    Erm, dutch, look at that little word, “regarding”, in the Wikipedia articles you cited. The article is saying that Spontaneous Generation is a discarded scientific theory about abiogenesis. It is not defining the two in the same way. Abiogenesis is a blanket term, and in fact encompasses “God did it”. However, abiogenesis does not require belief in something definitely alive existing in one nanosecond, but not existing in the nanosecond before that.

    Beyond that, my understanding of abiogenesis is limited to the knowledge that spontaneous, self-replicating molecular reactions (of the form X + nY -> X + X’ + n-1Y, highly simplified of course) are scientifically proven to exist, and my work in genetic algorithms that has me satisfied that replication, variation and selection together can produce high amounts of order. I will therefore leave the details to the more biologically minded folks here.

  • Dutch, in my (Christian) high school biology class, my final exam contained an essay question that went like this (my paraphrase, but that “a BIG if” is in there):

    If (a BIG if) scientists are able to perform a reproducible experiment that converts inanimate matter into a living organism, should you take the results as a reason to believe in evolution? Explain your answer.

    The only answers my teacher gave credit to were ones that said no, and explained it by pointing out that intervention was, in the case of the hypothetical experiment, required to produce life. Further credit was given if you pointed out that this experiment was actually evidence for a creator.

    Dutch, I hope you can see how this type of reasoning, while it may appear to be sound at first glance, is totally ingenuous. It is the same type of reasoning you are applying to modern abiogenesis research (“He had to start with existing RNA, therefore his findings are invalid, because that RNA either popped into existence by itself or was put there intentionally.”).

    For the record, I answered the question how he wanted me to answer it, but I’m pretty sure that if I had said “no, because this is an issue of abiogenesis, not evolution, which are two distinct areas of scientific research”, I would not have received credit at all.

  • Siamang

    Exactly Derek.

    No explanation for abiogenesis = God did it.

    “We have self-replicating rna!” = God must have made that rna!

    “No, this is regular old rna!” = Aha! So you admit it takes an intelligent being to make the rna!

    “Nope, we got it from the mud around volcanic vents” = God made those volcanic vents.

    “No, it’s just dirt!” = God made the dirt.

    There is no possible finding of science that they don’t already have an answer for. Just as Derek’s example was where his Christian teacher was getting the kids primed with the next excuse when science makes yet another historic discovery.

    They’ve got excuses ready-made all the way to “get your own dirt.”

    All the while they deny, deny, deny that anyone anywhere is discovering anything.

  • Siamang

    This might be a good video for Dutch:


  • Autumnal Harvest

    I beg to differ. I think they’re doing quite a bit of very illuminating scientific experiments that are showing results. You don’t get self-replicating, evolving rna chains by “conjecture.”

    They are doing illuminating scientific experiments that are showing results. Nevertheless, our current knowledge of how life started on Earth currently consists of conjecture. (And I don’t consider “conjecture” to be the derogatory word that you seem to.) The research you describe is awesome, and a useful first step for eventually understanding abiogenesis, but it’s just that: a first step. To understand how life formed on Earth, we want to understand how self-replicating molecules form on their own, without any outside help. We want to know what plausible evolutionary chains can take them into some sort of proto-cell. This is a far cry from that. To say that because these are smart people doing important work, and that therefore we’re close to understanding abiogenesis, is like saying that because Newton was a smart guy and did important work, he must have been close to undersanding galaxy formation.

    It’s just that I’m afraid for someone like Dutch that you’ve given him further permission to remain ignorant of the actual working science that people are doing right now.

    If admitting that there are questions to which science currently doesn’t have good answers to gives him “permission” to remain ignorant, and believe that only a god can explain things, then he’s always going to have that permission. Show him a verified model of abiogenesis, and he’ll instead ask what happened before the Big Bang. Show him groundbreaking new work that that Big Bang comes from a tachyoBoogaBoo field, and he’ll ask where the tachyoBoogaBoo field came from. There will always be scientific questions to which our best answers consist mostly of conjecture. Good, well-educated, conjecture, but conjecture nonetheless.

    The more interesting question is why he finds “God did it” to be a useful or satisfying answer to scientific questions that we don’t know the answer to. I’m a little disappointed that he’s decided not to answer that, because I’ve never heard any answer (good or bad) to that question.

  • Siamang

    Phrased that way, Autumnal, i don’t disagree with you. By the same token, I’ve gotten in the habit of not using words like “conjecture” when talking about science to creationists. I guarantee you that’ll be the only word they hear, and then it becomes a barrier to learning rather than a bridge.

    It becomes an excuse to withdraw from the topic, because why even trouble one’s beautiful mind with these issues if they’re just a bunch of conjecture anyway?

    I’d rather give people the nuts and bolts of actual working discoveries being made (auto-assembling, mutating, evolving rna! They don’t teach THAT in sunday school!).

    That’s a key to future understanding, even within the creationist who’s grappling with the issues. Them actually knowing that rna can auto-assemble from nucleotides IS something. It gets them from a point A to a point B in their understanding that an arm-wave and a “well, it’s mostly conjecture….” doesn’t.

  • The way I see it, if there is even one plausible scientific theory for abiogenesis, that’s all we need. We don’t need to know exactly how it happened, we just need to figure out one way in which it might happen, and we’ve already made the “goddidit” hypothesis obsolete and useless. So talking about how our ideas on how life began are “conjecture” – and necessarily always will be so, since we can’t go back in time and check if we’re right – is beside the point.

  • Siamang

    We can still know things without going back in time. For example, I can say with certainty that dinosaurs ruled the large land animal food chain ~70MYA. And I can do that without a time machine to check if I’m right.

  • Science is a self-correcting system to find better and better explanations for the observable universe.

    Absolute proof is only for mathematicians in a self-consistent logic universe. And even Gödel showed that there are some problems there.

    Invoking “God did it” as an explanation is only for children who never grow up. Peter Pan, Tinkerbelle, magic dust, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, etc.

  • crtcooper

    Call me whatever you want but either way you want to look at the so called beginning of the universe we all believe in miracles at the beginning.
    1. Big bang-takes something as smaller than the size of the head of a pen and exploding and creating mass larger than it’s self earth etc. (everytime you blow an M & M up in the lab it will make smaller pieces not bigger even if it has energy within it. Miracle 1
    2. Throw some zeros on the end of how long we think the earth has been here and life formed itself. I don’t care what method you want to claim caused this (THIS IS A MIRACLE)
    3. The life that just so happened to generate not miraculously not even by luck just happened also sprung up from a living cell to a germ to a plant to an animal to a human in time of course hence why when we find anything out we just throw more zeros at the earths age. Miracle 3 You ever seen a scientist take so much as an ant and it poop out a roach or anything of a different kind? Amazing how we got from a cell to a human without this being a miracle. Please feel free to respond and if you don’t like me and all else fails…thow Zeros at it.
    I can see why an atheist wouldn’t believe in God now, worship the almighty zero it’s what did it all.
    And don’t tell me to go and study evolution, spontaneous generation, or anything of the sort because any way you slice it science dis-proves the possibility anything like this can be done without a superior being.

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