There is a long lineup of scientists who have made groundbreaking discoveries and useful contributions to science, but not many have made the cut to be a special, annual holiday. Back in 1993, Dr. Robert Stephens saw it fit to give that honor to Charles Darwin, the naturalist and geologist whose theories in the origins of modern life have impacted the way humans understand their existence and connection with the rest of the world.
An admirer of Charles Darwin, Dr. Robert Stephens is a cell and molecular biologist who is ardent about inspiring compassion through science. And it all traces back to Charles Darwin. In an interview with the International Darwin Day Foundation, Dr. Stephens described Darwin as “a gentile and companionate man with extraordinary skills of observation and reason,” and, along with Darwin’s wife, “exemplified the ethical and moral values as described in “Humanism and its Aspirations.”
And so, in November 1993, Dr. Stephens pitched the idea of Darwin Day in front of the Humanist Community at Stanford University. Needless to say, the members present at the meeting were receptive to the idea—and soon started oiling the wheels to make the event a success. The preparations included everything from obtaining funds from supportive organizations to getting in touch with influential speakers for the first event, which was then held on April 22, 1995.
Eventually, Dr. Stephens worked with key persons abroad—educators, thought leaders, and scientists—to bring Darwin Day to an international audience. All efforts proved to be fruitful, as Darwin Day now gets celebrated worldwide every February 12—the birthday of Darwin himself.
More than an appreciation of Darwin’s contributions to modern biology, Darwin Day ought to emphasize Darwin’s impact on philosophy. According to Dr. Stephens, Darwin’s life and work lend much to the “fundamental values of Humanism.” Indeed, Darwin’s theories removed the idea of a higher purpose and, in effect, offered a much more sensible approach to human ethics and morals.
As for what humanists, freethinkers, and atheists can do? Dr. Stephen urges everyone to utilize the natural selection and modern scientific methods to reframe mindsets—the same way Dr. Stephen employed science to be the pragmatic humanist he is today. “I was a farm boy, but wouldn’t have been interested in Darwin if it wasn’t for my education.”
Charles Darwin has, indeed, catalyzed developments in science, health, and philosophy, and continuously inspires us to be more aware of our place in the world. On Darwin Day, it is our turn to carry on his legacy and inspire others to think critically, seek answers methodically, and act ethically in relation to our communities.