Science

Honoring Darwin

Earlier today I started a blog about Darwin being my gateway drug into skepticism. I fell asleep while writing it, and I tend to believe that if I bore myself to sleep while talking about me, I can only lose friends if I bring it up amidst company. So I decided to talk about how I spent my Darwin Day instead.

This morning while my husband was getting dressed for work, I was telling our son that today was Darwin Day and that we would celebrate today with monkeys.

My husband interrupted, “Is today really Darwin Day?”

I told him it was. Then he asked, “And that’s how you celebrate? With monkeys?”

He obviously thought it was a bit silly that people around the world were “celebrating with monkeys”. (Personally, I can’t think of any celebration that couldn’t be improved with a monkey or two.) But I set the record straight and let him know that, no that’s not how everyone celebrates Darwin Day, that’s how we would be celebrating it while he was at work.

So today I spent the day doing monkey things with my son. We played with his toy gorilla, read books about monkeys, looked at pictures of monkeys, sang songs about monkeys and I did imitations of monkeys. Of course, his response was usually to bounce up and down for a few seconds, spit up, then to turn his attention to the dogs.

I tried telling him that he’s going to need to understand a few things about evolution if he’s ever going to get into a genetics graduate program, but it turns out explaining grad school to a 6 month old is like explaining mustard to a frog. So I went back to making monkey sounds while he showed off his mad raspberry-blowing skillz. And we danced around while I made up more monkey songs.

He was exhausted from all of our monkey-buisness, so at 7:00 I read him his monkey book again and put him to bed early.

Once he fell asleep, I was pretty happy that I made the decision to start a Darwin Day tradition, as silly as it is to do with such a young kid. And I’m hoping that in the years to come, he will be as excited to learn about science as I am to teach him about it.

So here’s my questions to you guys – Did you celebrate Darwin Day with your kids? If so, what did you do? Do you celebrate every year? Do you have any science-y traditions? What do you do to keep science fun for your kids?

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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21 Comments

  1. I haven't got any offspring, but I've been inflicting my kids (read: friends and family) with Darwin-related goofiness all day. countless ape and evolution-related IMs and YouTube vids likely got on a few nerves, but I can't imagine that I could be remotely as annoying the Valentine's nonsense I've been forced to put up with for a month now.

    Also, Lupercalia starts in an hour here, so let me be the first to say – Merry Lupercalia to you, your family, and all the SkepChicks and SkepChick readers.

  2. I also didn't do much celebrating – but the question of how to keep science fun for kids is a good one. My daughter is only two, but I make it a point to take her regularly to libraries, science museums, zoos, etc. It's never too early to start :)

  3. you know, I agree with the general idea of making note of Darwin Day, but don't you think that by turning the day into some kind of pseudo-holiday like Christmas (or, maybe… Thanksgiving) you're playing into the oppositions rhetoric that "Darwinism" is just another cult or religion or something?

    I mean – Darwin is great, sure. But so is Einstein, Galileo, Feynman, Hawkings, Watson, etc – why don't you celebrate any of "their days"? By singling out Darwin and no other important scientists and making such a big deal out of him or "his day", you're playing into the false notion that evolution vs. creationism debate is the single issue that separates "us from them." Creationists hearing of Darwin Day can't be blamed for thinking that Skeptic is just another word for Darwinist, instead of more appropriately for scientist and critical, rational and logical thinker.

  4. I celebrated with an away message on gmail chat, and a long e-mail to my mom explaining the basics of evolution and why "intelligent design" is just deception. A couple weeks ago she had expressed interest in Ben Stein's dumbass movie about ID, which I reacted somewhat strongly to (can you blame me?). So I figured it'd be a good idea to lay out some objective information to foster discussion, rather than just ranting angrily. Catch more flies with honey, or whatever.

    Anyway, I think objective facts are more of what we need, more than name-calling or anger or resentment. Inform people of the link between ID and creationism (especially the Dover case, where a Christian judge came to the same conclusion). Explain why evolution is not just "random chance". Explain why "irreducible complexity" is just an argument from incredulity, and that true understanding of evolution is really hard. Explain why evolution is not "just a theory". Explain that in the 150 years since "Origin" was published, no single observation has been made which refutes the basic law of natural selection. Explain that no scientist actually claims that "we evolved from monkeys", but that we're cousins, evolved from a common ancestor. Explain that evolutionary theory is an enormous and growing body of observational knowledge, the passion and life's work of millions of people, while ID is merely a single criticism of that theory, one which has been thoroughly examined, refuted, and discarded.

  5. Hey… should we be celebrating with monkeys, or apes? And I wanted to point out that playing with gorilla toys with your kid is great, but make sure you're pointing out that a gorilla is an ape and *not* a monkey!!

    We didn't celebrate, but I think it's probably worthy of an annual museum trip in the future.

  6. Unless you're writing a biology text, or otherwise need to distinguish, an ape is a monkey: m-w – ape – 1 a: monkey; especially : one of the larger tailless or short-tailed Old World forms

    I forgot all about Darwin day.

  7. You think so, Bjornar? I took a lot of anthropology in college, including an evolution class, and had it drilled into my head that because apes and hominids branched off from monkeys so early that apes and monkeys are not the same, etc. etc. I think they're in different orders, right? (I'm silently going "kindgom, phylum, class, order, family, genus species… in my head)

    What's really chilling is that I was just looking for one of those 'evolutionary tree' diagrams online and all of my top hits were from Christian sites, most notably the fantastic "Answers in Genisis."

    I think it behooves us to know the difference between the apes and the old world monkeys. But I wouldn't dream of high-hatting the monkey, mind you.

  8. flygrrl said:

    Hey… should we be celebrating with monkeys, or apes? And I wanted to point out that playing with gorilla toys with your kid is great, but make sure you’re pointing out that a gorilla is an ape and *not* a monkey!!

    I almost accused you of high-hatting the monkey until I scrolled down!

    I think making such distinctions are important, but it's just as important to choose age-appropriate activities. Telling a 6 month old that a monkey is a monkey but a gorilla is not is probably going to be confusing. For now, they can all be monkeys. In a few years, we'll discuss the difference.

    As for the debate on what exactly is a "monkey", I think you and Bjornar are both right. Colloquially, they're the same. If I'm having coffee with my mom and an orangutan runs through Starbucks, it's perfectly acceptable to yell, "Holy crap! A monkey!"

    However, technically, an orangutan is not a monkey.

    Colloquially, monkey=primate in the same way theory=hypothesis and line=segment. Every day we we refer to "line segments" as "lines", but it's not incorrect. It's all about context.

  9. Jeez, Elyse, I'm glad I wasn't drinking a Starbucks while reading that, or else I would have spit it out all over my computer, lol. I would pay money to see an orangutan running through Starbucks.

    I suffer from specificity syndrome due to my scientist husband. He's probably warping our child as we speak (at two and a half, she already says "it gets dark out because the Earth spins AWAY from the sun!"

    So, I can assure you that by two years of age they can tell the difference between an ape and a monkey. :) A funny aside; we did sign language with our daughter, and at ~9 months of age we took her to the zoo for the first time, where she proceeded to frantically sign for "pig" when she saw the flamingos (all I can figure is they were pink?). So, it's nice that their categorizations of things get more sophisticated as time goes on.

  10. carr2d2

    so what you’re saying is that yesterday was really…

    MONKEY TUESDAY!!

    Man, do I miss Monkey Tuesday!

    I used to rearrange my work schedule just so I could listen to that show.

    Once I called in and talked to Penn about being a vegetarian… and somehow we ended up having a 6 minute on-air conversation about my "secret" tattoo.

    I have to tell you, there are few things cooler than having Penn Jillette discuss your nether regions on the radio.

  11. agentlion wrote:

    I mean – Darwin is great, sure. But so is Einstein, Galileo, Feynman, Hawkings, Watson, etc – why don’t you celebrate any of “their days”? By singling out Darwin and no other important scientists and making such a big deal out of him or “his day”, you’re playing into the false notion that evolution vs. creationism debate is the single issue that separates “us from them.” Creationists hearing of Darwin Day can’t be blamed for thinking that Skeptic is just another word for Darwinist, instead of more appropriately for scientist and critical, rational and logical thinker.

    Well, there's Newton-mass in December, and there's probably a few other scientists we can juxtapose against religious celebrations and holidays.

    It's not really about revering one scientist and forgetting another, it's more a subtle way of mocking religious holidays. You knoo, like pastafarianism.

  12. elyse-

    i had the misfortune of discovering penn's show about 3 weeks before it ended. i then proceeded to listen to all of the shows from the beginning to the end via podcast over the past year. (and yes, i remember the call about the tattoo.)

    i really miss hearing an hour (or six) of penn's happy nuttiness every day on my ipod (i suppose i could go through them again).

    he is doing little mini-rants on crackle. it's only a little snippet at a time, but he updates it pretty frequently. i want a new penn radio show.

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