Should Darwin Day Instead Be George Washington Carver Day?

While I am very critical of political correctness, it is important to remember that no group is 100% wrong about everything.  Case in point – complaints about Darwin Day.

A blog post by Zuleyka Zevallos for Latino Rebels that complains about the March for Science comes close to the problem:

My analysis of MfS’s early social media also shows that in the first two weeks of Black History Month, MfS tweeted only twice about this significant cultural event. In the same period, there were no Facebook posts in commemoration of Black history. By contrast, on February 6, MfS published 12 tweets about SuperbOWL (a celebration of owl facts on Superbowl Sunday), and 23 tweets on Darwin Day. Darwin is an important scientist; but if MfS can find the time to highlight his achievements, as well as elevate the study of owls, surely they can do more to focus on other scientists who are not White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men. Diversity does not have to be a zero-sum game: there is room to celebrate scientists from various backgrounds.

Yet that’s the sticking point: Darwin can be celebrated over and over without this being “political” not simply because of his tremendous contributions to science, but specifically because he is the unquestioned embodiment of “science.” Darwin’s story is recognized and remembered because he is the taken-for-granted norm: he is a White, cisgender, able-bodied heterosexual man of Christian background. Darwin’s intersecting identities (his race, gender, able-bodied status, sexuality and religion) are not seen as “identity politics,” even though these characteristics enabled his education and career success.

Yet notice that even Zevallos never really questions whether it should be Darwin who is celebrated as the embodiment of science.  Isn’t it odd that in the middle of Black History Month, people want to celebrate a “White, cisgender, able-bodied heterosexual man?”  Are there no Black scientists from history who could possibly fill this role?

Let me propose that to celebrate science, instead of having a Darwin Day, we should have a George Washington Carver Day.  Hear me out.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D-CT]has proposed Senate Resolution 59:

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) supports the designation of “Darwin Day”; and

(2) recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.

Rep. James Himes [D-CT-4] has proposed the same thing in House Resolution 44

Supports the designation of Darwin Day.

Recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.

So these American politicians would rather celebrate a white British scientist than a black American scientist during Black History Month?  Seriously?  Are they implying that Carver is not a worthy symbol of science?  It’s hard to deny that some form of racism underlies this choice.

Consider some facts about Carver’s life.  First, he was born into slavery.

Second, he was born into slavery.

Do you hear me? Carver was a man who was born into slavery and yet despite all the tremendous obstacles he faced even after slavery was abolished, he went on to become one of the nation’s most famous botanists, playing a pioneering role in crop rotation and recognizing the importance of nitrogen fixation.  Here’s an old World War II poster celebrating him as “One of America’s Great Scientists”:

As Americans, there are many good reasons for choosing Carver as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.

First, and foremost, his life is an inspiration not only to African-Americans, but too all Americans.  Despite the tremendous disadvantage of being born into slavery, he found the inner strength to persist and secure an education wherever he could.  When his application to several colleges was denied because of his race, he persisted as an amateur scientist, where (according to Wiki), he maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers and a geological collection.   He persisted even more, while supporting himself by manually plowed 17 acres and working various odd jobs until he was eventually accepted into Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames to  study botany.  He did so well that he went on to get a Master’s degree and his scientific work earned him a national reputation, whereby he was recruited to the Tuskegee Institute to head its Agriculture Department.

According to Wiki:

Carver taught there for 47 years, developing the department into a strong research center and working with two additional college presidents during his tenure. He taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency.

Second, Carver nicely embodies the attitude of using science to serve humanity.  It’s not merely that his research helped to literally feed thousands, but that he sought to educate the public about science.  He designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers, spoke at conferences, gave testimony before Congress, and developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama.

How can anyone think we Americans should be holding up Darwin as the symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge instead of Carver?  Especially during Black History Month?

Look, we can give a nod to Darwin and still use February 12, 2017 as “Carver Day.”  Since Carver was born into slavery, no one knows his birthday.  Meaning it could very well have been Feb 12th. The advantage of using this date as “Carver Day” would be that it would be in the middle of Black History Month and thus allow all people of all races to be inspired by his life.

So why choose the British Darwin over the American Carver?  Some might argue that Darwin’s work was more revolutionary. But then why Darwin and not Einstein?  The advantage of Einstein over Darwin would be a) an Einstein Day would not disrupt Black History Month and b) there is the immigrant aspect to celebrating Einstein.

What’s more, the day of celebration is not about picking and choosing what scientific discovery to celebrate.  It should be about celebrating the process of science.  Carver accomplishes this is a truly inspiring manner.  He had every just reason to be angry, vengeful, and bitter about the circumstances of his life.  But he instead chose the high road, blending his love of science with a life of service to others.  Carver was born with chains on his wrists and grew into a man who held out his hands to offer food and knowledge to all his fellow humans.

As I see it, there can be only two reasons to prefer Darwin be celebrated over Carver. And the two reasons are not exclusive of each other.

  1. Racism. There may people in the scientific community and science enthusiasts who are troubled by seeing Science celebrated with a black face during Black History Month. Why else would white American politicians prefer the white British scientist over a black American scientist?
  2. Anti-religious bigotry. According to Wikipedia:

George Washington Carver believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life. He testified on many occasions that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science…. Carver viewed faith in Jesus Christ as a means of destroying both barriers of racial disharmony and social stratification. He was as concerned with his students’ character development as he was with their intellectual development.

I would imagine that would greatly distress those trying to use Darwin Day to send a stealth anti-religious message.

It would seem to me that it should be resolved, that both the House and the Senate,

(1) supports the designation of “Carver Day” for Feb 12th; and

(2) recognizes George Washington Carver as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.

And if the politicians insist it should instead be Darwin Day, they need to explain why.

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12 Responses to Should Darwin Day Instead Be George Washington Carver Day?

  1. TFBW says:

    I would imagine that would greatly distress those trying to use Darwin Day to send a stealth anti-religious message.

    Yes — and don’t forget Jerry Coyne. He’ll be livid too. *

    I agree that Carver is an excellent and inspirational choice for the USA. He not only embodies the tremendous utility of science (much more so than Darwin), but also the American “land of opportunity” ideal. He would be a good candidate even if it weren’t for the tie-in with Black History Month. In fact, if being a native-born American is a worthwhile quality to celebrate (and why not?), then he’s a prime candidate. Put him in a list with Oppenheimer, Pauling, Feynman, and Lawrence, to name a few obvious alternatives, and he still stands on his own merits, despite some fine competition. None other faced such an uphill battle to achieve what he did, though.

    Against Darwin, I would also add that “racial superiority and inferiority” were somewhat integral premises in his Descent of Man, and that’s not a thing to be celebrated, especially in Black History Month. I mean, you can whitewash a lot of what he said for public consumption, but the text of Descent is readily available, and people can read it for themselves and take its racist content at face value. I’d knock Oppenheimer off the list above for similar reasons: if you’re going to celebrate science and its achievements, then association with a weapon of mass destruction isn’t my idea of good candidate material. Pick someone who not only offers raw scientific achievement, but is a good role model. Carver shines on that front, by all accounts.

    But yeah … I think the kind of people promoting “Darwin Day” also promote the Warfare Thesis. Darwin is a poster-boy for that, whereas Carver is antithetical to it. If they can’t have Darwin, they’ll take Galileo. Expect ideology to prevail.

    * Attempted humour.

  2. Regual Llegna says:

    A well-known role model and aspiration. We need to pass into the mainstream more info like this.

  3. Isaac says:

    Why not, for that matter, Norman Borlaug? An American who used science and his own tireless lifelong effort to save an estimated 1 BILLION lives worldwide and prevent a global hunger crisis? Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and…oh, wait. He was a devout Christian. And from Kansas. Can’t have that.

    I suspect that these “Darwin Day” advocates don’t even know who Borlaug was.

  4. Nolan says:

    The only possible reasons are racism and anti-religious bigotry? My goodness. Just out of curiosity, are you still an intelligent design proponent? Or perhaps you’ve moved on; maybe chalk it up to youthful indiscretions.

  5. TFBW says:

    Condescending sneers are passé, Nolan — Dawkins is out of fashion. Here’s a suggestion: offer a third alternative. That way, you might actually look like you had a brain and used it. If your sneers have any basis in fact at all, it shouldn’t be too hard.

  6. Nolan says:

    TFBW, your comment shows an outstanding lack of self-reflection, even to the degree that a Poe could be suspected. That’s the thing — it’s very hard to take these kinds of sites and their denizens seriously. I mean, very few people would go down the rabbit hole of believing that Darwin Day supporters are racists and/or anti-religious bigots. Bizarre. It is, however, the kind of thing one sees from a certain faction of intelligent design supporters. Are you an ID proponent as well? My bet is on yes.

  7. TFBW says:

    I’m a YEC, if you feel that it validates your prejudices, but you still haven’t substantiated your case: instead, you continue to sneer and condescend. I have no need to psychoanalyse in more detail than that, and you have offered nothing of substance to refute.

  8. Kevin says:

    Many if not most of the first celebrations of “Darwin Day” were by humanist and atheist groups. No anti-religion overtone? Sure.

  9. Nolan says:

    The point is that a serious case isn’t being made here in the first place. Take this for example:

    So these American politicians would rather celebrate a white British scientist than a black American scientist during Black History Month? Seriously? Are they implying that Carver is not a worthy symbol of science? It’s hard to deny that some form of racism underlies this choice.

    Honestly, to me this is verging on Poe. It’s the kind of Glenn-Beck-ism that Jon Stewart ridiculed. If I were teaching Critical Thinking 101, I would ask students to examine that paragraph, spot the fallacies, and explain why the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

  10. Michael says:

    I mean, very few people would go down the rabbit hole of believing that Darwin Day supporters are racists and/or anti-religious bigots.

    I don’t believe “Darwin Day supporters are racists and/or anti-religious bigots.” Individuals can have all kinds of personal reasons to personally celebrate Darwin Day. You are ignoring the context of my argument. I am not talking about individuals have their own personal or group celebrations. I am talking about:

    A) Congress officially designating a certain day to
    B) to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge
    C) and choosing Darwin, of all possible scientists, as the symbol of B.

    Given A and B, explain C. That is, in the context of A and B, why Darwin instead of Carver?

  11. Michael says:

    Honestly, to me this is verging on Poe. It’s the kind of Glenn-Beck-ism that Jon Stewart ridiculed. If I were teaching Critical Thinking 101, I would ask students to examine that paragraph, spot the fallacies, and explain why the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

    Whatever.

    But let’s make sure those students understand what Black History Month is all about. According to Wiki:

    Black History Month was first proposed by Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, in February 1970.

    Six years later Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

    Having a George Washington Carver day as a symbol to celebrate science perfectly fits the goals of Black History Month. Carver clearly qualifies as a great American scientist AND someone who represents the “accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Two birds. One stone.

    Then have your students explain why politicians want to interrupt the flow of Black History Month by turning our national attention to a white scientist who was not even an American? Why Darwin and not Carver?

    Remember, my conclusion was merely “It’s hard to deny that some form of racism underlies this choice.”

    To refute that, one would need to argue “Wrong. It’s easy to show that racism has nothing to do with Americans nationally recognizing a white British scientist instead of a black American scientist during Black History Month. It’s because _____________ (fill in the blank).”

  12. TFBW says:

    @Nolan:

    If I were teaching Critical Thinking 101, I would ask students to examine that paragraph, spot the fallacies, and explain why the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

    If you were teaching Critical Thinking 101, then the first thing you’d need to point out is that the paragraph does not contain a formal argument, and does not have any of the features you mention. As such, it’s probably a good thing that you’re not teaching Critical Thinking 101. But hey, I actually agree with you to some extent. I can take up Michael’s challenge above, no problem. Watch, learn, and see if you can do better, because you’re going to disdain my explanation, sure as night follows day.

    It’s easy to show that racism has nothing to do with Americans nationally recognizing a white British scientist instead of a black American scientist during Black History Month. Darwin was born on 12th February. The fact that his birthday falls in a month which has since been designated “Black History Month” is pure coincidence. But if you’re going to choose an icon for an American national day of science, then why Darwin, a British scientist, and not Carver, or even Einstein — a household name and eventual American citizen? Darwin overshadows Einstein in only one way, but it’s a highly significant one. In the words of Richard Dawkins, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. He gave us the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, which is a cudgel to wield against religion in a way that Einstein’s theories of Relativity can never match.

    This isn’t about racial bigotry: the confluence of Black History Month and Darwin’s Victorian-era white superiority is merely an unfortunate coincidence. This is about planting the flag against religion — more particularly against Christianity, and more particularly still against Christian fundamentalism. Science and Religion are at war — ask Jerry Coyne if you doubt me — and Darwin is the preeminent hero on the side of Science in that war.

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