Over 100 Events Planned for Darwin Day 2011

by Erin Williamson

The American Humanist Association is gearing up for Darwin Day 2011, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s seminal discoveries on evolution and natural selection, as well as of the scientific progress and continued advancement of humanity. Darwin Day is celebrated on Darwin’s birthday, February 12, and has grown every year in number of events and participants. This is the 202nd anniversary of Darwin’s birthday.

The International Darwin Day Foundation, a project of the AHA and founded by Dr. Robert Stephens, and includes advisory board members such as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. Each year we reach out to local AHA affiliate groups, museums, universities, and charities asking them to participate and help grow Darwin Day celebrations.

This year, the AHA has over 100 events registered at www.darwinday.org. If you are interested in participating, visit website and find the “Events” tab, where you can search for events by zip code. Nearly all events are free and open to the public, and range from banquets and lectures to art projects and community service.

We are proud that International Darwin Day lives up to its moniker. In 2011, events can be found around the world in Austria, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, and of course the Galapagos Islands. Additionally, celebrations are being held around the U.S. in over 20 states and the District of Columbia.

The American Humanist Association is a sponsor of one such event, “Darwin Week,” held by the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI). This student group is hosting a series of lectures and panel discussions on topics germane to Darwin’s legacy in today’s world, such as sexuality, religion, science, and critical thinking.

I asked Trevor Boeckmann, president of UNIFI, about the event:

AHA: Why does UNIFI see Darwin as such an important figure, and why is he worth celebrating?

Boeckmann: UNIFI was founded as an organization dedicated to advancing science and reason at the University of Northern Iowa. To us, Darwin’s theory of evolution represents the throwing aside of prevailing societal thought, prevailing religious doctrine, and even personal beliefs in the pursuit of truth. Darwin utilized the scientific method and went where the evidence took him–dogma be damned. That’s what UNIFI wants to do.

Our first year, Darwin Week was all about evolution and showing why it was true and why it mattered. The event has now become so much more. Charles Darwin represents intellectual pursuits and growth. The event is geared towards sparking intellectual curiosity in students and following the evidence to wherever it leads. That’s why Darwin is such an important figure to us. He dared to challenge conventional wisdom and our event and group are dedicated to doing the same.

AHA: How do you hope this event influences participants and attendees?

Boeckmann: First and foremost, I hope attendees learn something. We’ve brought together seventeen speakers to speak on four different themes, each one an expert in their field. The amount of knowledge and expertise these presenters bring to the table is astonishing. I hope these talks make attendees start asking questions. In the past, we’ve had some controversial topics such as evolutionary psychology that have brought the ire of biology professors during the Q&A. I think that’s awesome. Darwin Week should be a springboard into a discussion of what we believe and why we believe it.

AHA: Are most of your attendees mostly students? Are they active in UNIFI or just interested in Darwin?

Boeckmann: Most attendees are students, but we get quite a few community members and faculty as well. UNIFI members obviously come out in droves, but we’re usually in the minority. Last year, we filled over 750 seats during our four days of events. We couldn’t do that on our own. It’s a mix of students intrigued by the topics, encouraged by their professors, and those generally interested in what we’re doing. It’s worth nothing that interest in this isn’t just reserved for non-religious students. This year the event will be co-hosted by the Student Nature Society, Psychology Club, Pre-Law Club, and the Young Americans for Liberty. Having a week dedicated to science and reason has a broad appeal.

AHA: How do you see this event growing in the future?

Boeckmann: I’ve been amazed at the growth we’ve see in just three years. This year will be the longest Darwin Week and will also have the most speakers of any we’ve hosted. I hope this trend continues. The university recognized the event as the “Education Event of the Year” last year and I hope they continue to have a close relationship with us for it. In the future, I want Darwin Week to be more than just a UNIFI event at UNI. I want it to become a university-wide event. I want it to be the event students count down towards every year. I know I already do.

Erin Williamson is the development and communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.