February 12, 2009

Darwin’s 200th Birthday Celebrated Around The World

Fans everywhere are celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the man whose controversial book "On The Origin of Species" captured the mind of some of the world's most important thinkers.

David Attenborough, whose television programs on the natural world have been watched by millions, said Darwin turned natural history into a science.

According to Reuters, Darwin's naturalist influence is being celebrated at his old university in Cambridge, at his home in Kent -- now preserved for the nation -- and in the Pacific islands off Ecuador where his studies began.

Thousands of people have flocked to the biggest exhibition of his work at London's Natural History Museum, where patrons could catch a glimpse at the mockingbirds from the Galapagos Islands that gave Darwin the first clues to his famous evolutionary theory.

Darwin realized the birds varied slightly from island to island, suggesting that species with a common ancestry evolve over time.

Alex Gaffikin, who helped stage the exhibition, called it the most important theory in modern biology and the background to all our scientists' work.

Experts say the struggle to find a mate for Lonesome George, the giant Pinta Island tortoise and last known survivor of his sub-species, is a modern illustration of Darwin's theory.

George's keepers discovered he had mated with a female from a different sub-species in July, raising hopes of saving his own sub-species. However, 80 percent of the eggs seem to be infertile.

Those who inhabit the once-idyllic islands off the coast of the South American country of Ecuador were celebrating in spite of a long-running debate over ecology vs tourism.

Leopoldo Bucheli, the mayor of Santa Cruz Island municipality, said a February 12 festivity was planned.

Ecuador has been urged to protect the islands from booming tourism and immigration, and the United Nations seeks to put them on the list of "in danger" heritage sites.

The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is looking into further tourism and immigration controls for the area.

Charles Darwin was reportedly very aware of how controversial his revolutionary ideas would be and dreaded the reaction of the Church, other scientists and the public.

He likened revealing his theory to "confessing a murder".

But church leaders said they now recognized Darwin as one of Britain's greatest scientists whose ideas co-exist well with religion.

The Bishop of Swindon, Dr. Lee Rayfield, a trained biologist who speaks on science for the Church of England, said Darwin would be disappointed, perhaps even appalled, at the way he has been recruited as an icon of atheism.

The American Humanist Association is holding a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss Darwin's role in shaping religion and science.

"Darwin's influence pervades contemporary culture more than any other figure in science," said Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, the world's oldest scientific academy.

Attenborough is set to host a dinner at Cambridge that will promote more environmental protection in the Galapagos. Britain's Prince Philip will then unveil a statue of the young Darwin at his old college.


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