Most Britons unaware of Darwin anniversaries, poll finds

The results of a new poll out today by faith-based think tank Theos have revealed that eight in 10 people in Britain are unaware that 2009 marks two major Charles Darwin anniversaries.

Across the country, special events and celebrations are being planned for next year to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth on 12 February and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species on 24 November.

Yet the results of the ComRes poll out today reveal that only 21 per cent of the population are aware of the two anniversaries.

The publication of the results coincides with the unveiling of a programme of major events and publications by Theos and the Faraday Institute on Science and Religion “to ‘rescue’ Darwin from the crossfire of a philosophical battle in which he had little personal interest”.

The programme includes a high profile debate on 12 May in Westminster Abbey – the resting place of the naturalist – to be chaired by the BBC’s John Humphrys. Panellists including Lord Robert Winston, Professor Steve Jones, Dr Denis Alexander, and Professor Nancy Rothwell will exchange their thoughts on the compatibility of belief in God and Darwinian evolution.

The debate is timed to coincide with the publication of two new research projects in February - a ComRes poll on the extent and nature of evolutionary and non-evolutionary opinion in the UK and its relationship to atheistic and religious beliefs, and an independent research project by ESRO into creationism and intelligent design.

Theos will draw on the two pieces of research for a major new report on the compatibility of Christianity and Darwinian evolution. The new year will also see Theos Director of Studies Nick Spencer publish his book ‘Darwin and God’ with SPCK.

Theos director Paul Woolley said, "Towards the end of his life Charles Darwin wrote, 'It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.' Unfortunately, too many people today disagree with him.

"Our project aims to 'rescue' his original position and ensure that next year Darwin is recognised as a supremely gifted scientist rather than a theologian or anti-theologian."