Whether you’re a seasoned scientist who doesn’t mind getting your hands dirty or the thought of math and dissection makes you blanch, on Darwin Day on February 12 we celebrate Charles Darwin’s work and science in general. Take the extra time to learn about his experiments, findings, and accomplishments, and reflect on how they still affect us today. The discovery of evolutionary creation has led scientists across multiple fields to make life-altering and life-saving discoveries about our species and how we originated. There’s a lot to be grateful about for Darwin and his research!
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History of Darwin Day
Charles Darwin, the man who would come to be known as the father of natural selection, was born on February 12, 1809, the fifth of six children in a wealthy English family. His father was a doctor, and his grandfathers were naturalists who laid the groundwork for the discoveries that Charles would go on to make. In 1825, Charles, who had been helping his father to care for the poor and sick in Shropshire, left for medical school. He found it dull and his studies lacked effort. It wasn’t long until his father sent him to Christ’s College in Cambridge to become an Anglican parson.
Though he was on a religious course of study, Darwin found himself drawn to natural sciences. A friend at the time got him interested in beetle collecting and he became acquainted with other parson naturalists who spurred his interest even more. He positioned himself to join his professor on a trip to the tropics to study natural history.
After his return, Darwin received an offer to serve as a naturalist on an expedition that headed down the coast of South America. The ship was the HMS Beagle, of which the captain was Robert FitzRoy. Darwin set out on his voyage in 1931 and spent five years aboard this ship. Across South America, Darwin was exposed to a wealth of new geology, anthropology, zoology, and botany. He carefully collected samples of fossils, rocks, plants, and bugs to bring back to England. Darwin and FitzRoy both kept journals of the trip, which are impactful documents, today.
Darwin’s theories of evolution were already percolating as the HMS Beagle returned to England. It was especially the finches in the Galapagos Islands that illustrated his theories. He madly rewrote his journals from the trip to gain a better understanding, read the work of Malthus, and conducted experiments with plants to test his theories. During this time of overworking, he got married but also developed a chronic illness.
Finally, Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” a book that described the case for natural selection, in 1859. While the book was unexpectedly popular, there was pushback from the church, which taught divine creation as the source of life. He continued to work and publish on evolution and selection for the next 22 years of his life. He would eventually die of heart disease in 1882, which likely originated from the chronic Chagas’ disease he suffered from.
Darwin Day timeline
On what would later become Darwin Day, future naturalist Charles Darwin is born to a wealthy family of high society doctors.
After serving as an apprentice doctor with his father, young Charles Darwin heads off to Edinburgh Medical School.
When medical school doesn’t work out, Darwin is sent to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to become an Anglican parson.
Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle as a naturalist, travels with the crew for five years, constantly documenting natural life and zoology throughout.
Darwin’s groundbreaking 500+ page book, which lays his theory of human evolution, is released and gains unexpected clamor and popularity.
Darwin Day FAQs
Where is Darwin Day celebrated?
Globally, but particularly in the U.K.
Are there other holidays on February 12?
Yes! February 12 is also Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday and National Plum Pudding Day.
Are there other National holidays honoring science?
Yes! November 8 is National STEM Day, October 9 is National Nanotechnology Day, and February 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
How to Observe Darwin Day
Check out “On The Origin of Species”
Darwin’s landmark and groundbreaking book on evolution is absolutely worth a read on Darwin Day! In around 500 pages, Darwin’s book introduces the concept of evolution, upon which much of the study of biology finds its basis today.
Read up on Darwin
If you’re like many of us, Darwin hasn’t even crossed your mind since your fourth-grade science class. Sure, the Galapagos Islands seem cool, but if that’s all you’ve retained about the famous scientist, today is a great day to brush up on his life!
Post #DarwinDay on social media
While the concepts and teachings of Darwin have been met with some controversy from the general public, they are accepted facts in science and not everyone even knows about them! Post #DarwinDay on social media to spread awareness about his findings, and help promote science in your social circle.
5 Fun Facts About Darwin
He suffered from chronic illness
Thought to be a symptom of overwork after discovering his true calling for natural history, Darwin’s chronic illness plagued him with exhaustion, nausea, headaches, and heart palpitations — it’s thought that Darwin had Chagas’ disease.
Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln
February 12, 1809, must have been an auspicious day to welcome two important men into the world — while Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin, however, Darwin was born in a luxurious mansion.
He got married based on a pro/con list
In deciding whether to marry his cousin, Emma, Darwin crafted a pro/con list — he ended up going for the proposal, and the pair were married a year later.
“Survival of the Fittest” isn’t from Darwin
Surprise! One of the most famous phrases associated with Darwin wasn’t coined by him at all; rather, the phrase was created by Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher — Spencer used the phrase to connect his own economic theories to Darwin’s work.
Darwin snacked on exotic animals
Not just for educational purposes, we guess — Darwin was known to enjoy ostrich, puma, and armadillo on his voyage around the world.
Why Darwin Day is Important
It celebrates science
Beyond simply celebrating and remembering Darwin, Darwin Day compels us to reflect on the notable contributions of many scientists, particularly biologists. While Darwin may have laid the basis of many biological studies with his theory of evolution, so much has been built upon this by many other talented scientists.
It’s a chance to brush up on biology
As we said, some of us haven’t touched anything related to Darwin since school. Darwin Day offers a great chance to refresh our natural history and maybe even get excited about zoology and botany again!
It’s important history
It’s a fact: Darwin made history. Revisiting his achievements reminds us of the context that they arose in — a world where there was very little scientific knowledge to go around. Darwin Day offers a window back in time to view the science and medicine of the 1800s.
Darwin Day dates