Darwin Day Faces Uphill Battle in Congress

Bill read on 204th birthday of eminent naturalist emphasizes fact-based science education

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) presented House Resolution 41, a bill to proclaim February 12 “Darwin Day,” on the floor of the House of Representatives today. The declaration is meant to draw attention to the need for sane science policy in society and in Congress—the latter a place where reason and facts are increasingly endangered.

The bill, co-created by Holt and the American Humanist Association, a progressive secular group, “recogniz[es] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.” The text of the resolution confirms the monumental impact of Charles Darwin’s research into evolutionary biology, published as On The Origin of Species in 1859, which forms the foundation of modern life science, medicine and genetics.

The resolution also explicitly condemns two factors impeding scientific progress in American society. “The advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change,” and “the teaching of creationism in some public school compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education system,” the bill states.

While the legislation has seven co-sponsors in addition to Holt, all Democrats, it has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where it is expected to die a slow death.

That’s because the 22 Republican members of the 39-member committee are not traditionally known for their progressive beliefs in the origins and ways of our planet.

Last August, during the 112th Congress, then-member Todd Akin revealed his ignorance of basic reproductive biology when he claimed women can’t get pregnant as a result of “legitimate rape.” Only seven out of the 33 members had any background in a scientific discipline, and most were in healthcare, not environmental, space or life sciences. The Chairman, Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, was the eldest member of Congress at 89 years old and a former lawyer.

The committee makeup in the 113th Congress isn’t much different. The Chairman is another Texan and former lawyer, Rep. Lamar Smith, who has thus far focused on patent reform legislation in his Congressional service. Longtime member James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) blamed “solar flares” for global climate change in a 2009 interview. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) strenuously opposed cap and trade legislation to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. In a 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) claimed there has been a “lack of global warming for well over 10 years now.”

Perhaps the most notorious member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is Rep. Paul Broun, a former physician who is running for retiring Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat in next year’s election. Broun shocked mainstream America when a videotaped speech he delivered to a church group emerged on the Internet last September. “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell,” Broun said. “It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says…And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”

“Darwin Day” appears to have a snowball’s chance in the current Congress, but Brian Magee of the American Humanist Association said that the bill’s reading today was a step in the process of building a coalition of support. He anticipated that the bill will “fade away without action being taken” in committee, but “we have the chance to sign on more sponsors, which gives us more clout for when the bill is re-introduced next year.”

“There is no valid excuse for failing to recognize the person behind one of the top scientific discoveries of all time,” said Roy Speckhardt, the association’s executive director, in a statement.

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