Press Release

Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121
Andrew Ng (415) 379-5123


The California Academy of Sciences leads a city-wide celebration for the father of evolution on the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of "On the Origin of Species"

SAN FRANCISCO (December 3, 2008) — Despite the fact that 150 years have passed since Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution by natural selection, most American adults still do not understand one of the basic tenets of modern science. In a 2007 Gallup poll, 66 percent of adults indicated their belief that humans were created in their present form within the last 10,000 years. To tackle this gap in scientific literacy, the California Academy of Sciences is leading a San Francisco city-wide celebration of evolution this spring, beginning with a kick-off party on February 12, 2009—the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth.

Throughout the spring, the Academy and other San Francisco cultural institutions, including the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, will host a series of evolution-themed programs and events designed to boost public understanding about evolutionary theory and its applications in modern science. The city-wide celebration, called "EVOLVE 2009," will include over 30 separate events and is expected to be the largest celebration of the Darwin anniversaries in the country.

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the world's preeminent natural history museums and is an international leader in scientific research about the natural world, including the distribution and evolution of life on Earth. During the "EVOLVE 2009" festivities, the Academy's scientists will share their perspective on Darwin—along with their most recent research about evolution—through lectures, programs, and a special audio tour.


"EVOLVE 2009" Events at the California Academy of Sciences
In addition to the scheduled programs below, visitors to the Academy will have the opportunity to take a special cell-phone-based audio tour beginning February 12 that highlights examples of evolution in action. Featuring more than a dozen stops throughout the museum, the tour will include classic evidence of evolution as well as new discoveries.


    "EVOLVE 2009" Kick-Off Party
    Thursday, February 12
    6:00 – 10:00 pm

    Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth by exploring the Academy's Islands of Evolution exhibit while sipping cocktails and grooving to the beat of an Om Records DJ. Academy scientists will be on hand to show off research specimens that illustrate evolutionary concepts, and biologists will offer party-goers the chance to touch a snake or learn more about the Academy's African penguins. At 7:00 pm, Keith Thomson of the University of Oxford will present an informal talk, "Who was Charles Darwin?"
    Tickets are $8 for Academy members, $10 for the public.


    Applications and Influence of Evolution: A Wide Spectrum
    Lecture by Dr. David Mindell, Dean of Science and Research, California Academy of Sciences
    Tuesday, February 10
    12:15 and 6:30 pm

    Dr. Mindell will discuss the broad applications of evolutionary science, from public health to forensics to conservation, based in part on his recent book, The Evolving World. Learn how evolution has grown from an unpopular curiosity to a set of concepts that are useful to society.
    Free for Academy members, $10 for non-member adults, $8 for non-member seniors. To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000.


    The Young Charles Darwin: Where Did He Get His Ideas?
    Lecture by Keith Thomson, Professor Emeritus of Natural History, University of Oxford
    Thursday, February 12
    12:15 pm

    How and when did Darwin actually form his revolutionary ideas? How did a quiet 27-year-old, who had been isolated for five years on a voyage around the world, develop the most provocative idea of the past 200 years? The concept of natural selection did not suddenly come to him one day in the bath (the way Archimedes supposedly discovered the phenomenon of specific gravity). In this lecture, find out how Darwin created his theory during a period of intellectual and social turmoil.
    Free for Academy members, $10 for non-member adults, $8 for non-member seniors. To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000.


    Patagonia and the Pampas: Darwin in Southern South America
    Lecture by Dr. Gary Williams, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, California Academy of Sciences
    Tuesday, February 17
    12:15 pm

    More than half of Charles Darwin's book, The Voyage of the Beagle, refers to southern South America. From 1832 to 1835, Darwin traveled extensively in the Pampas and Patagonia. Williams will present a natural history of the region based on his own excursions over two decades, which follow Darwin's historic travels.
    Free with Academy admission. To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000.


    Leaping Lizards! Charles Darwin Explores the Galápagos
    Lecture by Dr. Terry Gosliner, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, California Academy of Sciences
    Tuesday, February 24
    12:15 pm

    During this talk, Gosliner will provide an accurate portrayal of how Darwin's visit to the Galápagos shaped his ideas on evolution by means of natural selection. Popular mythology has distorted Darwin's immediate impressions of the Galápagos and their role in shaping his ideas about evolution. The Galápagos were an important influence, but not in the way depicted in most biology textbooks and popular culture.
    Free with Academy admission. To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000.


    Charles Darwin and the Heyday of Natural History
    Lecture by John Dillon, History of Science Lecturer, University Extensions at Berkeley, SF State, and Stanford University
    Tuesday, March 3
    12:15 pm

    Never has the status of science and scientists been held in higher esteem and never has the public taken a greater personal interest in natural history than in the mid-19th century when Charles Darwin was developing his revolutionary insights. During this heyday, no middle-class home was without its display of sea shells, butterflies, or stuffed birds—the home aquarium became fashionable, nature guides were bestsellers, and the first dinosaur theme park was built. Most of today's great public science museums, including the California Academy of Sciences, were founded amid this enchantment with natural history. Dillon will examine the irony of how Darwin's work was nurtured by this heyday, yet hastened its demise.
    Free with Academy admission.  To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000.


    Collecting Evolution: The Untold Story of Darwin's Vindication by the 1905-06 Galapagos Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences
    Lecture by Dr. Matthew James, Professor of Paleontology, Sonoma State University
    Tuesday, March 10
    12:15 pm

    The 89-foot schooner Academy set sail in June 1905 and collected some 75,000 biological specimens from the Galapagos over 17 months. James will examine the historical background of the expedition, the lives of the scientists on board, why Darwin went to the Galapagos in 1835 on board the HMS Beagle, and the lasting significance of the 1905-06 expedition today with regards to species conservation and DNA studies.
    Free with Academy admission.  To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000.


    Darwin, Dover and Intelligent Design
    Lecture by Dr. Kevin Padian, Professor and Curator, UC Berkeley
    Tuesday, March 24
    12:15 and 6:30 pm

    During this lecture, Padian will discuss his appearance as an expert witness in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case, in which the court ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in public school science classes.
    Free for Academy members, $10 for non-member adults, $8 for non-member seniors. To reserve a seat, call 415-379-8000

Evolution Statement from the California Academy of Sciences
Evolution is a central concept in modern science, including biology, geology, and astronomy. The California Academy of Sciences, with its broad mission to explore, explain, and protect the natural world, recognizes that evolution is fundamental to understanding biological diversity and is a critical organizing principle for both scientific research and science museums.

In biology, the basic facts of evolution, including the extinction and emergence of new species over time, were understood and accepted by the end of the nineteenth century. Charles Darwin identified natural selection as a primary mechanism driving evolution (that some organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce, thus their genetic traits will be inherited by future generations while other traits will be lost). Through selection, some life-forms thrive, reproduce, and adapt as conditions change, whereas others disappear. The detailed processes that create variation and drive natural selection became evident during the twentieth century with the discoveries of DNA and molecular inheritance. Twentieth century geologists also learned to use radioactivity to determine the age of the Earth (4.5 billion years), and astronomers discovered the expansion of the universe, measuring its age as approximately 14 billion years. Change is an inherent property of stars, planets, and life.

Scientists in many fields use evolutionary concepts daily in their research. In pharmacology and agriculture, these concepts are central to efforts to overcome the evolution of harmful organisms that have become resistant to antibiotics or pesticides. Evolution as the organizing principle for science museums has transformed the eighteenth-century collections of "curiosities" into modern museums of natural history. The California Academy of Sciences recognizes the importance of understanding evolution for both scientists and the public, and we emphasize that evolution belongs in school curricula and textbooks as one of the fundamental concepts of modern science.