A very merry unbirthday

“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents and only one for birthday presents, you know.”

A quotation is always a useful heading to an article, and one from ‘Alice’ always lends an air of paradox and profundity.

Christchurch Skeptics, and some fellow-travellers, met recently to celebrate TWO birthdays; Charles Darwin (12 February 1809) and the New Zealand Skeptics (NZCSICOP) (6 February 1986). As a gesture from youth to age our function was held closer to the twelfth than the sixth; on the evening of Saturday, 11 February (an UNbirthday?) at the Cotswold Hotel.

In addition to the usual aids to eating, the tables were lent a skeptical air with cards carrying Darwinian/Skeptical quotes selected by chair-entity Vicki Hyde and some pseudoscientific baubles made by myself. Large jugs of gin (homeopathic, 30C), irreducibly complex bacterial flagella for lashing evolutionists, magnifying glasses for seeking answers in Genesis, pyramids for sharpening razor blades and brains, and magnets to be carried in male trouser pockets (cheaper than viagra). The door between the Kitchen and the dining Tables became the K/T boundary, with dinosaurs on one side and chickens on the other. The toast “Charles Darwin” was proposed by our chair-entity, and the meal then began with (what else?) primordial soup. The dinner then proceeded on its usual course with much conviviality.

Despite the late hour, the after-dinner address by Denis Dutton held the gathering’s attention to the end. ‘Darwinian Aesthetics: what Evolution tells us about the Nature of Art’ described how some eminent and ardent evolutionists resisted the application of Darwin’s ideas to human behaviour and social structures, yet such an extension of evolutionary principles explains much about us. Four hundred generations of urban living have not obliterated eighty thousand generations as hunter gatherers, so people in all present day cultures find most pleasing the type of landscape in which our distant ancestors developed. Dr Dutton gave a number of other examples relating our ideas of beauty and ugliness to ancestral behaviours of selective advantage. Blame for the poor peacock’s caudal load lies firmly with the peahen; one example among many of sexual selection.

After a brief question and answer session, our chair-entity thanked the speaker and declared the Darwinday Dinner ended.

The success of the evening was due to the hard work of our Get-things-done Secretary. Thank you, Claire!