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Why Darwin Matters

Bicentennial celebration honors enduring theories of evolution

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In the slide show above, Thomas Glick, a College of Arts and Sciencesprofessor of history and cochair of the Greater Boston DarwinBicentennial committee, discusses Charles Darwin and his theory ofevolution and its enduring relevance.

Before Charles Darwin published his seminal 1859 book On the Origin of Species, he’d spent more than a decade testing his theories to make sure they’d stand up. The fact that biologists and historians agree that his theories have withstood the test of time is certainly reason for celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday.

And what better way to celebrate the 19th-century British naturalist’s big 2-0-0 than with a cake-eating contest?

Survival of the fittest was the theme at BU’s birthday bash on February 11, as participants devoured cake provided by students in the Metropolitan College Gastronomy Program. The party, which kicked off a year’s worth of Darwin-related events on campus and beyond, also featured improv entertainment by Liquid Fun and music by the Missing Links.

Behind the celebration is the Greater Boston Darwin Bicentennial, a committee sponsored by the BU provost’s office working in conjunction with other area universities to encourage and coordinate Darwin-related events. These include musical and theatrical performances at the College of Fine Arts and colloquia at the Schools of Medicine and Law. A full event calendar is available on the committee’s Web site.

Committee member Rebecca Kinraide, a lecturer in the CAS Writing Program, says the bicentennial is an ideal opportunity to acknowledge and respect the ways in which we are all beneficiaries of Darwin’s work.

“It is rare that one person or event is so relevant to so many different disciplines and departments and even more rare that the coordination is exerted to take advantage of such a fortuitous event,” Kinraide says. “Everything from the genetically modified foods in the grocery store to the latest attempt to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis depends on our understanding of the laws of variation, inheritance, and natural selection.”

Kinraide says the events on offer are so wide-ranging that a student could conceivably devote the next year to studying Darwin.

“Theoretically,” she says, “a student could take only Darwin-related classes in 2009, attend Darwin-related theatrical performances, participate in a Darwin art competition, eat cake on Darwin’s birthday, and attend a Darwin lecture or colloquium nearly every week.”

Click here for a full calendar of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

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