God-Loving Christian Nuclear Physicist Introduces Pro-Darwin Legislation to US House

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/us/seeing-darwin-through-christians-eyes.html?_r=0

I’ve chosen to examine this article published in the New York Times in February 2013 because it is a unique example of the progressive scientific community advancing on the matter of evolution in public policy rather than retreating. Oftentimes, this class studies those who accept the theory of evolution as true and their actions to defend the culture surrounding this idea. US Representative Rush Holt (D. NJ) took steps in early 2013 to introduce a resolution to the US House of Representatives that would federally recognize Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12, as Darwin Day. Holt, a nuclear physicist and leader within the Quaker community, wants to formally recognize the scientific communities’ contributions, “the jobs it creates, [and] the lives it saves”.

This article, written by Mark Oppenheimer, juxtaposes Holt’s views and scientific and religious credibility with the reputation and policies of Paul Broun, an evangelical Christian who represents Georgia in the US House. Broun has been quoted as saying that “evolution and embryology and the Big Bang theory, all that is lies, straight from the pit of hell” to “keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior”. A Baptist and a member of the Gideons, Broun has clearly allowed his personal religious beliefs to influence his political ideology and thus his support or lack thereof for Holt’s Darwin Day.

Oppenheimer explores the backlash surrounding Darwin and the theory of evolution among secular and religious communities within the US and makes a point to distinguish between the cultural significance of Darwin and the scientific facts on evolution. The resolution, HRES 41, was introduced to the House in 2013 and subsequently referred to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology but unfortunately never made it out of committee. An identitical resolution was resubmitted in January 2014 and suffered the same fate.

If this resolution were to pass in the US House and the Senate, how do you think the American people would react? How do you think the evangelical community would react? How would the communities you are from respond? Do you think this is a good idea or do you believe this resolution violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution?

https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-resolution/467

https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-resolution/41

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33 Responses to God-Loving Christian Nuclear Physicist Introduces Pro-Darwin Legislation to US House

  1. moneytrees3001 says:

    Before we discuss, can I clarify what kind of holiday Holt is proposing Darwin Day be? A federal holiday, like Christmas, or an unofficial celebration like Valentine’s day? I’m assuming it’s a federal holiday for now because it probably wouldn’t have caused as much controversy if it wasn’t.
    Any step towards church/state separation is good in America, with an electorate so religious that there is not a single member of Congress who is openly atheist. However, I think an official federal honoring of Darwin is especially valuable because it defines Darwinian evolution as a secular, scientific discovery, and not the belief system it is often confused with. Religious newscasters and spokespeople often try to brand atheism as a ideological movement that holds an unfair amount of sway for a minority of the population. This occurs whenever citizens try to remove “under God” from the pledge, or protest government funded Christmas celebrations. However, atheism is not trying to impose any system of beliefs; rather, it is a blank slate, an absence of belief. Therefore Darwin Day does not violate the Establishment Clause, and simply acknowledges the secular contributions of a great thinker.
    However, creating Darwin Day seems a bit like opening Pandora’s Box to me, because although Darwin has played a crucial role in the development of evolutionary biology, there are many historical figures who have equal or greater significance (Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Sam Smith come to mind). I found a cool article about federal holiday controversy (http://wapo.st/Zo73pw), which points out that federal holidays are a big deal because they cost taxpayers about $2 million per day, which is why the list is so exclusive and hard to change.

    • thinkbrush says:

      That’s a great question about the status of this holiday, moneytrees3001. I posted the link above with the actual text of the bill, here it is again (https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-resolution/41). It looks like just a federal recognition that doesn’t rise to the level of a federal holiday such as the ones US banks recognize like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Veterans Day etc but simply puts it on the books as federally recognized. Citing the Washington Post story you linked to, it sounds like elevating it to that status could be potentially controversial on an entirely new level. Thanks for bringing that story to the discussion. How does this affect your view (not you specifically, moneytrees3001, but feel free to respond. I just mean the class)

      • I agree with your point about the equality of other historical figures. In a quick google search Lincoln’s Birthday is already celebrated on February 12th, giving them the same birthday! Creating a day devoted to two people could create even more controversy.

    • pianokid123 says:

      I agree atheists do not have “an agenda,” because that is precisely the definition of what atheism is: belief in nothing. Atheists are actually discriminated against quite heavily in the United States, with many states having unconstitutional laws barring them from holding public office. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists
      Christian fundamentalists use rhetorical strategies in the media all the time to scapegoat atheists because they are upset they can’t discriminate against gay people and women anymore, blaming atheists for the “moral crisis” our country is apparently going through.

  2. gatorade15 says:

    Great article, thinkbrush! I think that it would be very interesting to see Darwin Day come to fruition as a holiday. Evolution proponents would most likely celebrate, leaving creationist proponents in an outrage. Equating creationism with religion, you could say that creationism in fact has many holidays. I think that it is perfectly fair to give Darwin, and more importantly the theory of evolution, one day of the year. This will help raise awareness and discussion of this scientific theory, which is a great thing on many levels. By bringing Darwin and evolution into the spotlight, there will be more concentrated [debates for lack of a better word], which would lead to new ideas and opinions being added to the ongoing evolution-creationism debate. This type of discussion would be extremely beneficial to our overall understanding of each theory, giving us more insight on each one.

    Ultimately, devoting a day to Darwin doesn’t do any harm (well, unless there is in fact a measly cost to tax payers for federal holidays as moneytrees3001 states). We gave Columbus a day for stepping foot in our country hundreds of years after other explorers already had. Apparently Columbus wasn’t the nicest guy either( http://theoatmeal.com/comics/columbus_day). Darwin is just one of many scientists who added to and helped develop the framework for the modern day theory of evolution, a theory that has brought insight and inspired awe on to millions of people. What do you guys think? Is it really so harmful to give Darwin a holiday? Are there other people who deserve holidays instead, as moneytrees3001 also stated?

  3. greyelephant1 says:

    Interesting article thinkbrush. I like the comments and other links that have been posted. Personally, while I don’t think that creating a Darwin day would do necessarily any harm (besides of course costing us 200 million dollars that day), I don’t think a Darwin day is necessary. While I do like the gesture Mr. Holt is suggesting, I do not quite see what the big effect will be. While, as the article does point out, there are many Christians that believe in natural selection, I think this article would only create controversy. Especially if this holiday charges taxpayers or changes the lifestyle of people. Maybe if this holiday became like Valentines Day, where everyone is aware but schools aren’t cancelled. But, overall, I don’t quite think a law recognizing Darwin will be anything to pass in the near future, especially with everything else Congress is working on.

    • Greyelephant1- I agree with your statement. I also do not believe it would be necessary to establish a national holiday on behalf of Darwin. You could argues, such as moneytrees3001 did, that by establishing this national holiday, it would “define Darwinian evolution as a secular, scientific discovery, and not the belief system it is often confused with” but the contrary may also occur. Creationists, who would do anything they can to get attention as a mean of advancing their beliefs and theories, would greatly oppose this and create a connection back to religion, even if this does not have anything to do with it. Sure have Darwin day in school, just like we have Pie day, but there is no need to proclaim this as a national holiday.

    • thinkbrush says:

      Greyelephant1, thank you for mentioning up Holt’s faith in your comment. I think the fact that he is a leader within the Quaker faith is the most important part of this article as it separates him from atheistic academic advocates who are normally regarded as the models for Darwin promotion. Does anyone in the class thinks this would hurt or help Holt’s efforts to federally recognize Darwin Day?

  4. collegeblogger19 says:

    I enjoyed this article, thinkbrush! The idea of a Darwin holiday is very interesting. Creationists would no doubt be upset, and would probably protest the holiday, whereas evolutionists would support the holiday. However, I think most people would be indifferent to it. For instance, my high school biology teacher once brought up the proposal of the Darwin Day holiday, and most of my class decided it wouldn’t really matter either way. Christians who support creationism, though, would most likely refute the holiday, similarly to the way they refute evolution. Court cases would probably arise, similar to those dealing with evolution in schools.

    I also agree with moneytrees statement that other people in American history might deserve a holiday more than Darwin. There are many discoveries that have impacted society in monumental ways, and designating a holiday just to Darwin seems somewhat controversial. It seems almost as if it is simply another way to upset creationists–as if it is a war between evolutionists and creationists, and creating this holiday would be a “win” for evolutionists. Though Darwin Day might bring evolution to the forefront of the media and help stimulate discussion of evolution, I don’t know if having a holiday designated to Darwin is really that important to have. It wouldn’t harm anything/anyone, nor would it be detrimental to have for our society–it just might not be necessary for our nation.

    • Interesting idea that the creation of this holiday wouldn’t make much of a difference, like many other forgotten unofficial holidays. I wonder how nationally celebrated/recognized a day for such an evolutionary icon could become in comparison to these smaller holidays.

    • moneytrees3001 says:

      I think I disagree with some of the comments on this blog suggesting that this day is of little importance or meaning. After reading the article I linked to in my original post, I realized holidays are weirdly significant in America, whether that should or shouldn’t be the case. The debate over Columbus day has sparked a huge fight between Italian activists and Native American activists, who both attach huge significance to Columbus. While Darwin may not have the same emotional connection, this precedent suggests I his holiday would be similarly controversial to different interest groups.

  5. pigfish1116 says:

    I agree with gatorade15 when they say that creating a Darwin Day would probably be harmless, except for all the uprising that conservatives and fundamentalists would create, but I also see it as unnecessary because there are so many people who have contributed to science as a whole and to put focus on one person would generate a need to focus on all scientists who have discovered something about the world. I find it interesting that Christmas is a federally recognized holiday probably because religious and non-religious people all celebrate it although it is a celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus. I would love for their to be a Day of Science where people take the time out to study science and visit museums and go to workshops, especially adults, that teach the fundamentals. I say especially adults because although the youth should be encouraged to learn, it is adults who have an important influence on what children learn. \
    My parents are very religious but if a Darwin Day were to be created, the most active they would be to oppose it would be to criticize it and pray that people have the “sense” not to celebrate it.

    • thinkbrush says:

      This is a very interesting idea to celebrate a Day of Science and I like how you ricocheted it off of Holt’s, pigfish1116. I think it would be a very interesting move culturally for the US to celebrate science and not celebrity either in the athletic or entertainment industry. I wonder how everyone else in the class feels about this.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      Pigfish, I like your idea of having a general Science Day rather than a specific Darwin Day. I think that would be more beneficial to the science world–and probably more accepting to religious people as it doesn’t directly deal with evolution. Awareness of science in general would help the theory of evolution in a more indirect way. I think you had a great point!

    • graduallychanging says:

      Pigfish1116, your idea of a “science day” seems much more effective than a day that solely acknowledges a single individual, albeit one that provided a significant contribution to science. I checked online to see if there were any holidays that already celebrated science as a whole. I found that India has a “National Science Day.” The holiday is particularly interesting because it was instituted to honor the scientist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, but it celebrates science itself. India’s National Science Day reflects most of the aspects of the “science day” that you proposed.
      Do you think that a holiday of this nature would be more difficult to institute in the United States, if so, why?

      Article detailing “National Science Day”
      http://blogs.plos.org/everyone/2013/02/28/celebrating-indias-national-science-day/

  6. gwuw2014 says:

    The Establishment Clause states that Congress can make no law either establishing or prohibiting religion. Because a “Darwin Day” does neither of these, I don’t think such a decree could be found in violation of the Establishment Clause. Despite popular beliefs, science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive. As a recent Time Magazine article states, “Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one attempt to usurp the role of the other.” (http://time.com/77676/why-science-does-not-disprove-god/) Just because Congress is promoting scientific discovery does not mean that they are prohibiting belief or practice of religion, therefore any claim that a Darwin Day would violate the Establishment Clause does not hold.

    • greyelephant1 says:

      gwuw2014 thank you for brining up the Establishment Clause! I was re-reading the questions and I saw this one hasn’t been addressed yet. I agree with you that having a Darwin Day would violate the Establishment Clause due to its formal definition, but I think that a Darwin Day passing is less about the Establishment Clause and more about the practicality. While the holiday may be Constitutionally ok (It may not be, but as far as I know it is), I think that enough people would oppose it to ever get passed.

  7. Personally I think this sounds absolutely pointless. I support evolution and praise Darwin as much as the next guy but I do not see any benefit to making a holiday. As far as I know, there is no Newton day or Einstein day. The government shoud not feel the need to appear as “secular” as moneytrees mentions because it simply should be. The government should not waste its time playing politics to prove that it is something it has to be to the american people. There are bigger issues to deal with. Also like moneytree says it would be expensive and the government needs all the money it can get right now for more important issues. Personally it is frustrating to see that government officials are as divided as they are because of issues like these. I understand that it is important for the american people to feel fairly represented but there comes a point where politics gets in the way of governing and becomes detrimental to the country.
    I appreciate the post thinkbrush and I think it is an interesting article. It is important to notice these things and I am glad you pointed it out

    • pigfish1116 says:

      ahahhaah vikingsfootball33, the bluntness is humorous! Do you think a Darwin Day would affect people at all? Or would it just be one of those small holidays that only a few recognize like National Sock Day (if that’s a thing)?

    • butterjones says:

      I completely agree, vikingsfootball. I think it’s ridiculous that this is even a discussion– I completely support the work of Darwin and think that the theory of evolution shouldn’t be a matter of dispute in this day and age, but I think that a holiday for Darwin is just silly. Remember the article a couple weeks back that talked about how Darwin does not define the theory of evolution? He started the ball rolling, but by no means is responsible for the entire theory. So, if we were to create a holiday for evolution, it shouldn’t necessarily have his name on it. More importantly, I doubt anyone would care very much if it were made a holiday… practically every day of the year has some sort of minor holiday attached to it, but that doesn’t really affect any of our lives. I’m a bit annoyed that this kind of debate even warrants an article, as, like you said, there are so many more pressing issues that warrant discussion. Why should we (or they) waste our time discussing this?

  8. glowcloud says:

    A few weeks ago I posted about why we need to separate Darwin from the theory of evolution, and for all of those aforementioned reasons, I believe that Darwin Day would not be a good idea. Here is my post https://darwininamerica.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/divorcing-darwin/ where in the comments section, a lot of you agreed on the fact that scientific achievement should not necessarily be linked to the person who discovered it. Darwin Day would be detrimental to the theory of evolution because it would allow people to attack Darwin as a person and therefore the theory of evolution by giving them an easy target. Instead, I think a national holiday celebrating scientific achievement as a whole would be much more productive and positive. After all, there are many more scientists who have made fundamental discoveries that shape our world who currently receive no recognition (people like Newton and Pasteur for example). A holiday just celebrating Darwin would be a slap in the face to those scientists as well as current scientists making advancements in other fields that don’t necessarily include evolution.

    • pigfish1116 says:

      You think we should separate Darwin completely from the theory of evolution?

      • glowcloud says:

        No, but we should stop inflating Darwin’s importance. The man and the theory are two separate entities and so much progress has been made in the theory of evolution since Darwin’s time. The post says we should give credit where credit is due and that not only includes Darwin but the numerous scientists who have advanced evolution in his wake.

      • graduallychanging says:

        Pigfish 1116, as we have discussed in class, making all discussion of evolution revolve around Darwin feeds into the idea of “Darwinism.” There have been numerous court cases that succeeded in portraying the theory of evolution as the only scientifically accepted explanation for the origin of life. Darwinism makes evolution seem as if it were a belief system, retracting from the ideal (at least for scientists) image of evolution, one in which evolution is scientific fact.
        Source for court cases: The documents we have read for our UW course.

  9. Thinkbrush, I can’t help but remark on how this article encapsulates literally everything that our UW is about, from the two sides of the debate, to the Scopes Trial.
    Oppenheimer does a great job of covering all aspects of Darwin’s influence on the world today. He talks about the German’s using Darwinian ideology, to the the killing of a young boy because of the murderers “lost respect for human life”. I feel like there are ways in which the ideology can be misinterpreted but this does not take away from the scientific credibility of the theory. We could possibly even draw an analogy between this and Islam, where certain extremist clerics brainwash teenagers into jihad by twisting certain religious principals and hence providing a disservice to the religion as a whole. I think that’s similar to the German’s use of Darwinian ideology.
    Coming to Rush D. Holt, props to him for advocating Darwinism, especially when his colleague, Paul Broun, is a conservative who’s trying to appeal to the Christian conservatives.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/us/seeing-darwin-through-christians-eyes.html?_r=1&
    However, further research (as shown in the link) shows Holt won’t be running for the next elections. Also, the seat that Holt usually runs for is a safe seat for the Democrats, so his antics weren’t poised to jeopardise the party’s chances in the first place.

  10. Thank you thinkbrush for a great post and interesting article! I would agree with many of the other commenters that the creation of a holiday that acknowledges the importance of Darwin and his research could create controversy within our nation. With one of the largest religious populations in the world, the majority of United States citizens would oppose devoting an entire day to Darwin. Currently, the most celebrate and nationally recognized holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are religiously derived, although they have been “Americanized” (with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny) they still carry a sense of national religious unity, ignoring the religious minorities and atheists. Darwin Day could create many oppositions due to people who believe holidays should be reserved for serious reasons, not that Darwin’s birthday isn’t important. As moneytrees3001 and many other commenters have already stated, this would obviously open the definition of holiday up to many other important historical figures. Overall, while I believe it’s a good idea for more scientific awareness, I question its ability to avoid controversy from those religious groups that would not recognize it as a true holiday.

    • gatorade15 says:

      You make a valid point slowdownyourmind, and I agree that creating this holiday my create some controversy throughout the US. However, do we really want to worry about whether a [quite honestly benign] holiday will anger religious groups in choosing to create that holiday? Should religious groups really hold more weight than, say, an entire scientific community?

    • arcanium82 says:

      slowdownyourmind,

      I like how you brought up Christmas and Easter as already established national holidays. I was thinking the very same thing as you. I also find it interesting that somehow Darwin Day would need to pass the sniff test of no violating the Establishment Clause and yet both of those holidays are specifically based on religious principle.

      I got to thinking about it and now I wonder how Christmas and Easter don’t violate the Establishment Clause themselves? Second prong of the Lemon test states: The statute must not advance or inhibit religious practice (also known as the Effect Prong). Clearly, both Christmas and Easter would fail that test.

      Perhaps they remain holidays because no one has bothered to challenge them in court. Most people, both religious and not, just feel glad to have a holiday. Why would anyone challenge Christmas as a holiday since it’s a day off for everyone, non-Christians included? Although, I am surprised that there isn’t somebody out there who has not tried to take it to court.

  11. macnplease says:

    What a fascinating dichotomy between these House representatives. I’m inclined to respect Rush Holt for his efforts, especially in spite of his religious background. This shows open mindedness where usually there is only ignorance and stubbornness. To be clear, he deserves admiration for his efforts to advance the reputation of Darwin and his theories by celebrating him, but does not deserve any special admiration for adhering to the law by not fighting against the law, like Paul Broun. It will never cease to amaze me that people like Broun get get away with publicly defacing science and secularism. It is one thing to have a set of beliefs that contradict the secular norm, but it is entirely different to profess one’s opposing beliefs as fact against the norm.

  12. macnplease says:

    Also, to answer the proposed questions, there would be a great rekindling of the controversy between Creationism and Darwinism among the American people, as we live in a polarized, divided society. It would surely ignite renewed disdain for one another. In the end, though, the controversy would hopefully simmer down and the Darwin Day policy would stick.

  13. cfc0567owls says:

    Thank you for the article, thinkbrush. I feel like we do have a tendency to focus more on the people opposed to evolution in this class than supporters. It is very good to see a Christian congressman fully appreciate the work of Darwin. I personally feel that there are far too few politicians, especially on the republican side, with a background in science. Congressman Holt, though I don’t think “Darwin Day” is completely necessary, is at least doing something to try to bring his party into the 21st century. The republican party, as shown by Congressman Brown, is behind the times in science. Many people, myself included, feel that the republicans attempts to pander to the far right fundamentalists have made the modern day republican party a too far right joke that is ostracizing a large amount of voters. When the republican party stops trying too hard to get the votes of the evangelicals, many Americans will finally take them seriously. Congressman Holt is finally trying to bring his party into the modern world. Its about time!

  14. serrobert says:

    I agree with Vikings Football, this seems like an entirely pointless thing to do. Congress is supposed to be running the nation, they have huge problems to tackle and someone tries to pass something that recognizes someone’s birthday as a holiday. I think if we needed to have some day like that honoring modern science, it would be far better to have Tesla Day, or National Penicillin Day, or Ford Model T Day.

  15. sunny2018 says:

    While I feel like this is a nice nod to Darwin, I don’t really see the point in creating a national holiday in his name. He should be recognized for his contribution to evolutionary theory, but if it costs the nation exorbitant amounts of money, I think it doesn’t serve a real purpose.

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