Evolution: Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Today we have a very special treat that you just can't miss: a great PBS documentary tracing the life and intellectual development Charles Darwin underwent while formulating his theory of evolution, or descent with slight modification, through the process of natural selection, in the early 1800's, leading to the 1859 publication of the classic book On the Origin of Species (this edition includes most of Darwin's seminal works, as well as an introduction by E.O. Wilson; it's one everyone ought to have).

Much of the documentary is based on moving dramatizations of Darwin's life and the conceptual attempts to unify the various and seemingly disparate observations of flora and fauna he had made (while traveling around the world in The Beagle, and culminating with his famous visit to the Galapagos Islands) into a single theory, based on only a handful of general naturalistic principles, which would ultimately unify all the biological sciences and create the greatest scientific revolution in history (yes, greater than Galileo's and Einstein's, as far as I'm concerned).

The documentary touches on many different subjects, ranging from findings of marine fossils on top of South American mountains (some of which are higher than any mountains we have here in the US), to the gradual steps by which eyes can evolve, the famous Galapagos finches, gigantic South American rodents, a great three-dimensional animation of the evolutionary tree of life representing all organic beings' common ancestry, Darwin's daughter's death, his relationship with his Brother Erasmus, the influence of his grandfather (also Erasmus), the evolution of the HIV virus, Huxley's famous debate defending Darwin's theory while mocking the Lord Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Willberforce, preferring to be have descended from an ape than an arrogant and intellectually stubborn and petulant man, and finally to the close relationship between human and chimpanzee DNA.

Among those interviewed are philosopher Daniel Dennett, biologist Ken Miller, and late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

I love how the documentary shows how rather than sit contented assuming to 'know' the reason why species are so well suited to their environment (God), Darwin actually rolls up his sleeves and does the dirty work required to reach a good, naturalistic, falsifiable, scientific answer that explains the mechanism by which all of these phenomena take place... that should be a lesson to all of us.
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