How Important is the Darwin Day House Resolution? February 11, 2011

How Important is the Darwin Day House Resolution?

I got a stack of emails yesterday referencing how wonderful it is that House Resolution 81 was introduced in Congress:

Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) just introduced H. Res. 81 to Congress, expressing support for designation of February 12, 2011, as Darwin Day.

This resolution is a culmination of collaboration between Representative Stark, 2008 Humanist of the Year, and the American Humanist Association.

The AHA didn’t hold back its enthusiasm:

… Executive Director Roy Speckhardt issued a statement calling Stark’s resolution “a thrilling step forward for the secular movement. Not only is this an opportunity to bring the scientific impact of Charles Darwin to the forefront, but this also signifies the potential for greater respect for scientific reasoning on Capitol Hill.”

The Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy said this was important, too:

This Resolution recognizes the importance of science and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection.

“It is important that we support this Resolution during a time when the education system allows an anti-science presence in the classroom,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president & CEO of the Center for Inquiry (CFI). “CFI stands with Rep. Stark and scientists and teachers throughout the country in recognition of this day and the importance of Darwin.”

I think we’re all happy that Congress is pushing a Resolution that honors Darwin.

But let’s not go overboard here. This is legislation that can be summarized by saying “science is good” and “Darwin was important.”

That hasn’t stopped conservative groups from commenting on it…:

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the conservative Family Research Council’s legislative action arm, said after reading Stark’s bill he “had to look at my calendar to see if it was April 1. … If he really thinks this is a priority, I guess it shows why he’s not in the majority anymore.

“I don’t think he gives a good reason of why someone like Charles Darwin needs to be celebrated and recognized by the federal government. It’s a waste, I think, of taxpayers’ time,” McClusky said, asking why Congress shouldn’t instead honor someone like Booker T. Washington or Thomas Edison “who actually invented things, not just threw out theories.”

*sigh*… that’s obviously a dumb thing to say. We’ll get back to McClusky in a second.

But he raises a point that I want to raise as well: Is this just a waste of time?

There’s no increase in science funding from this. School boards aren’t going to all-of-a-sudden unanimously support the teaching of evolution now. This won’t affect the lives of those who teach students how science works. Hell, most Americans won’t even know if and when this resolution gets passed. (Which it probably won’t in a Republican dominated House.)

Just take a look at a few of the other recent House Resolutions to get an idea of how seriously we need to take them:

  • H. Res. 80: Expressing support for the goals and ideals of National Marine Awareness Day.
  • H. Res. 75: Recognizing National Nurses Week on May 8 through May 14, 2011.
  • H. Res. 71: Honoring the life of Dr. D. James Kennedy.

That last one, by the way, honors the life of a Christian preacher and televangelist and who, among other accomplishments, “lived modestly and was never tainted by any moral or financial scandal.”

Glad to see Darwin is now in such esteemed company.

(I’m waiting for Tom McClusky to make a comment about how the Kennedy Resolution is a waste of time since he didn’t invent television…)

But you know what? I didn’t even hear about that Kennedy Resolution. It didn’t matter because it wasn’t a big deal.

These Resolutions all matter to people whose interests are served by them, but they don’t offer any substantial change.

Believe me, I’m thrilled that Congress might “officially” recognize Darwin’s contributions — and I know Resolutions like this one don’t happen everyday — but this just isn’t terribly meaningful to me.

When Congress puts aside funding to hire more highly-qualified science teachers or increases the budgets of NASA and the NSF, I’ll be much more excited. Until then, all the hype about this just seems overblown.

Should I be making a bigger deal about this?

Here’s the full text of the resolution for anyone interested:


Expressing support for designation of February 12, 2011, as Darwin Day and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.

Whereas Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection, together with the monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it, provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth;

Whereas the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics;

Whereas it has been the human curiosity and ingenuity exemplified by Darwin that has promoted new scientific discoveries that have helped humanity solve many problems and improve living conditions;

Whereas the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change;

Whereas the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States’ education systems;

Whereas Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s peoples; and

Whereas, February 12, 2011, is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809 and would be an appropriate date to designate as Darwin Day: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

(1) supports the designation of Darwin Day; and

(2) recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.

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  • Brian

    It’s nice, but not as nice as the recognition that outside logic and math, EVERYTHING we know is science.

  • Claudia

    Does it matter in the big scheme of things? No, it doesn’t. Like you said, it’s only the narrow interest groups who even find out about this. However, as a minority movement I do think it’s somewhat important to push for these things. It’s a small thing, but that’s just the scale we’re at as a small group (for now). A nontheist congressperson getting a symbolic resolution through despite grumbling from the (much larger) evangelical crowd is a proof of concept that nontheists can be visible and outspoken and the sky does not in fact fall. At the very least, it shows the closeted atheists in congress (and we know they’re out there) that it’s possible to be uncloseted and still accomplish things.

  • DR

    Problem is it will never pass due to the overwhelming number of knucledragging Republicans and “Blue Dog” “Democrats” in the House. Last year, it would likely have passed without any issue. This year, no chance. This is a legislative body populated by denialists and YECs.

  • Bob

    It may not be a telling blow in the struggle against ignorance, but it’s better than the passel of wink-and-a-nod (oh, sorry, ‘ceremonial deism’) resolutions thrown out there by yahoos like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proclaiming the importance of Christmas and Christianity. (Bozo the Congressman didn’t even show up for the vote on his own resolution.)

  • TheG

    Ummm… what is wrong with honoring nurses? I mean, we’re no Marines. Wait…

  • TychaBrahe

    I think Tom McClusky is desperately in need of either some history lessons or some grammar lessons. Booker T. Washington was an educator, orator, organizer, and author. He didn’t invent anything.

  • Erp

    I think he is thinking of George Washington Carver.

  • Denis Robert

    @TychaBrahe: This is the same people that think the 2nd amendment covers Rocket Launchers, that the 14th amendment doesn’t exist or that it’s superceded by the 10th or that the Establishment Clause only means that the government can’t choose which type of Christianity is the official religion of the U.S.

    yeah…. I think they are in need of some serious educatin’

  • Tamburra

    We don’t have any Galileo Day of Awareness and that worked out fine in the end. Knowledge spreads.

  • umkomasia

    I think it is important to do even if there is no immediate practical outcome. It does have symbolic significance at this point, at the very least, and shows there is some momentum coming from our side. Notice that the NCSE reports on crazy creationist bills that will not pass. We still pay attention to them because we know these efforts show resolve on the part of the anti-science forces. We need to show our resolve too.

  • Josh

    I think its a nice nod to the scientific community, but I think the motive is more important. Is this resolution (hopefully) passing to honor a great mind or in the hopes that nobody notices the lack of actual support for science?

    Maybe I’m paranoid but I do beleive that all those resolutions exist for a reason.

  • Michelle

    I think this is more important than it appears on the surface. If it wasn’t they would ignore it. This article from January in the Washington post says a great deal about why this is important, but the last two paragraphs I’ll copy like the Post writer did because The National Science Teachers Association says it really well.
    “The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K–12 science education frameworks and curricula. Furthermore, if evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy they need. This position is consistent with that of the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and many other scientific and educational organizations.

    “NSTA also recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public’s misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy. In addition, teachers are being pressured to introduce creationism, “creation science,” and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution.”

  • Danielle

    It would be nice if this was official, but if not, oh well. I’m still gonna celebrate it.

  • Adam

    I’d rather celebrate Darwin day than Easter. But we should rather have a Day of Science or something, rather than celebrate the life of just one man. So many others have brought to our attention other facts of the universe. Galileo, as someone said. Newton. Kepler. Einstein.

    At the very least, we should celebrate an American. I’m not being xenophobic, but national holiday celebrations should be about something our nation can be proud of. Edison, Einstein, Sagan, etc.

    The whole world should recognize Darwin Day 🙂

  • The purpose of this resolution is to promote science and science education. While, I wish it would pass because that would mean that the Congress values science, I am pretty sure in won’t. But who cares? Pass or fail, it was generate news and that will promote science and science education.

    I’m tired of being on the defensive and fighting against religious resolutions recognizing religion. This is our way of taking the fight to them. Good for Congressman Stark and for SCA! Call your congressman today!

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Cutting funding to the EPA seems a bigger problem but perhaps it’s as a result of lack of recognition of Darwin’s importance.

    @Denis Robert
    I think the 2nd amendment does cover rocket launchers, but that’s another conversation.

  • Will

    It would be nice to see this pass. Then again, if you have ever bought a calendar, then you know that every month there are TONS of XYZ Days every year that pass without most Americans’ recognition – Darwin Day would probably suffer the same fate.

    (also: WTF? If I remember right, as a kid I would get Columbus Day off from school. We got a day off in memory of a greedy pro-slavery Catholic murderer but we can’t get one in honor of someone who tried to advance mankind’s understanding of his place in the universe? ouch.)

  • bernerbits

    why Congress shouldn’t instead honor someone like Booker T. Washington or Thomas Edison “who actually invented things, not just threw out theories.”

    …Edison ripped off most of his inventions.

  • TheRiotAct

    I think what’s important about this is that in the public eye, it will be a government recognized achievement of science. In Obama’s state of the union he championed science and math, but we need to herald the last 150 years of achievements first. It’s a marketing campaign. Let’s make science popular. This is one good angle. For the atheist agenda (let’s make no mistake about it), this would be a huge step forward. The science community needs to stop being so passive!!!

  • EDISON?! Puh-leeeeze. Anybody (besides Darwing) needs a day of recognition, it’s Tesla.

  • Steve

    So True. Nicola Tesla was really a visionary. He had some crazy ideas (like wireless power transmission and extracting energy from the ionosphere), but in many areas he was far ahead of his peers.

    Edison promoted direct current (with sometimes questionable means), which was pretty silly in retrospect. Tesla correctly predicted that the future belonged to alternating current and invented tons of important devices in that field. Also important groundwork for the invention of radio by Marconi.

  • Peter Mahoney

    People can celebrate whatever days/events they want, but they shouldn’t waste the time of our governmental leaders, even just giving a nod to each event.

    I would love if the government got out of the business of ‘proclaiming’ such things… and especially that goes for the National Day of Prayer.

  • Aside from giving us an excuse to play geeky drinking games and have natural selection raffles (hehe), a nationally-supported annual holiday would offer schools across the country another excuse to celebrate science, and perhaps it really would prompt more discussion about evolution. And I believe that by passing this legislature we would be reaffirming that YES, we believe that scientific principles have a place in our country.

    If this resolution DOESN’T pass, I hope it’s huge news. In the big picture it is such a tiny thing; Why the hell should it NOT pass except for religious backlash? How depressing and defeatist if this gets buried and the national attitude is along the lines of “Well, you knew that wasn’t going anywhere.”

  • Dan W

    This is only partially on topic, but I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians, like this idiot Tom McClusky, love to spread the insulting meme about April Fool’s Day being an atheist holiday.

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