Darwin Day festivities mark 200th anniversary of evolution pioneers birth

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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LONDON - They threw him a party at the Natural History Museum, they trotted out a set of stamps in his honour, and a zoo offered free admission to anyone sporting a beard in recognition of his famous facial hair.
While more than 600 events took place worldwide Thursday to commemorate ''Darwin Day'' - the 200th anniversary of scientist Charles Darwin's birth - it was a particularly special occasion in his native land.
Darwin enjoys a special pride of place in Britain, where his face adorns the 10-pound note. In a message to Parliament, British Culture Secretary Andy Burnham called the scientist ''one of the most influential Britons of all time.''
The British are celebrating his birthday with commemorations, lectures - and a good dose of homegrown irreverence. Bristol's zoo offered free entry to anyone sporting a beard, whether real or fake, as homage to Darwin's big bushy white whiskers.
''We had beards of all different colours, shapes and sizes,'' zoo spokeswoman Lucy Parkinson said. ''It was a bit of fun, but also a nod to Darwin'' - whose cottony beard fills the 19th century photographs of the aging scientist.
Amid all the celebration, a note of skepticism: A poll compiled by ComRes suggests that as many as 43 per cent of all Britons believed in ''young Earth creation'' - or the idea that God created the world within the past 10,000 years. An even greater percentage thought ''Intelligent Design,'' or the idea that evolution is not alone enough to explain the origin of some living things, was or might be true.
The poll of 2,060 adults was carried out in October 2008. A margin of error was not given, but samples of that size typically have a margin of error of about two or three percentage points.
None of that took the wind out of Thursday's commemorations.
At Westminster Abbey, the final resting place for Britain's great and good, a solemn ceremony was held at Darwin's tomb, with Anglican prayers sung at the simple white headstone in the massive cathedral's nave.
In Christ's College at Cambridge, where the scientist studied, the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a bronze statue showing a young, intense-looking Darwin sitting on the arm of a bench.
His great-great-granddaughter, botanist Sarah Darwin, posed next to the statue for pictures.
Elsewhere, it was back to cakes and parties, including Darwin's west England birthplace of Shrewsbury.
London's Natural History Museum said it was offering visitors ''Darwin's birthday soup'' - a pea-based broth based on a recipe from Darwin wife's cookbook - along with a traditional birthday cake.
The museum was also showing film and holding special exhibits in its Marine Invertebrates Gallery. Those who missed the soup can still see the exhibit: the ''Darwin Show'' is billed as the largest exhibition ever devoted to the naturalist. It runs until April.
In tribute to Darwin's work in the Pacific, the Royal Mail unveiled six jigsaw-shaped stamps carrying pictures of wildlife from the Galapagos Islands - including the giant tortoise and the Floreana Mockingbird.
Since 1982, there have been 16 stamps celebrating Darwin. Britain's Press Association news agency said no other non-royal has had as many commemorative stamps released in his or her honour.
Celebrations in Britain were accompanied by events around the world, but for those who missed his birthday, never fear: Darwin's complete publications and 20,000 private papers are available online.

Organizations: Natural History Museum, Intelligent Design, Marine Invertebrates Gallery Royal Mail Press Association

Geographic location: Britain, LONDON, Bristol Westminster Abbey Christ Cambridge England Pacific Galapagos Islands

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