Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Creation film with Paul Bettany

Beneath Darwin's earth-shaking discoveries lies the private struggle of the man – his loss of faith after his eldest daughter's death; the implications of his theories of existence; and his wife's deep religious sentiment, an opposition that threatens to tear the loving family apart. In one 'Creation' , Paul Bettany plays Darwin and Jennifer Connelly plays the scientist's wife Emma.

Review by Tim Jones.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Oldest known hominin skeleton, Ardipithecus ramidus, reveals the upright origins of humankind

October 4, 2009
Briefing: The ‘missing link’
The discovery of the remains of an early hominid in northern Ethiopia has forced scientists to reassess how we have evolved over 7m years
Helen Brooks

Scientists reveal skeleton 4m years old

Scientists last week unveiled a skeleton that is the closest discovery so far to the “missing link”, the presumed common ancestor shared by humans and apes. The female remains, nicknamed Ardi by researchers, were found in north-eastern Ethiopia and are believed to be 4.4m years old. A special edition of Science magazine, with 11 papers by 47 authors from 10 countries, was dedicated to the find. Ardi — short for Ardipithecus ramidus — is more than 1m years older than Lucy, the previous oldest full skeleton, which was discovered in 1974. Tim White, director of the Human Evolution Research Centre at California University, said: “This is not the common ancestor, but it's the closest we have ever been able to come.”

Remains pieced together over 15 years

Ardi was found in Ethiopia in 1994; scientists spent the next 15 years piecing together and analysing the remains. The researchers took almost three years to sift through the volcanic ash where the fossil lay, and used the layers of soil above and below the remains to date Ardi. Erosion by desertification had caused her to come to the surface. The skeleton was found in 125 fragments, which included a skull, teeth, pelvis, hands and feet — her skull alone was broken into more than 60 pieces. One scientist said that when he saw a picture of Ardi’s pelvis in the ground it “looked like an Irish stew”. The image of the skeleton was the result of extensive digital reconstruction.

Brain, feet and teeth show nature of animal

Ardi had both human and ape-like attributes. She had big, arch-less feet adapted to clinging onto branches while climbing trees, but she would also have walked upright on two feet, albeit with a stoop and not for great distances. The size of her skull gave hints of the kind of brain she would have had. Although larger than a chimpanzee’s, it was considerably smaller than Lucy’s, suggesting that human intellect developed at a later stage. Teeth from a male skeleton were found at the same site but, unlike in apes, the canine teeth were the same size as Ardi’s. Scientists believe this shows male hominids were less aggressive than apes — which use sharp canines to fight — and were co-operative with females, which mated preferentially with smaller-fanged males.


More from ScienceMag

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dinosaurs had 'earliest feathers' - 10M older than Archaeopteryx

By Jonathan Amos 
Science reporter, BBC News

An artist's impression of how these creatures  may have looked
An artist's impression of how these creatures may have looked

Exceptionally well preserved dinosaur fossils uncovered in north-eastern China display the earliest known feathers.
The creatures are all more than 150 million years old.
The new finds are indisputably older than Archaeopteryx, the "oldest bird" recognised by science.
Professor Xu Xing and colleagues tell the journal Nature that this represents the final proof that dinosaurs were ancestral to birds.
The theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs has always been troubled by the absence of feathers more ancient than those on the famous Archaeopteryx.
 All over the skeleton, you see feathers 
Xu Xing
This has given critics room to question the idea.
But the new fossils, which come from two separate locations, are in most cases about 10 million years older than the primitiveArchaeopteryx discovered in the late 19th Century.
One of the new dinosaur specimens, named Anchiornis huxleyi, is spectacular in its preservation.
It has extensive plumage covering its arms and tail, and also its feet - a "four-winged" arrangement, says Professor Xu from the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing.
'Immensely exciting'
"The first specimen we discovered earlier this year was incomplete," he told BBC News.
"Based on that specimen, we named it Anchiornis; and we thought it was a close relative of birds. But then we got a second specimen, which was very complete - beautifully preserved.
Artist's representation of Archaeopteryx
The privative Archaeopteryx marks the transition between birds and dinos
"All over the skeleton, you see feathers.
"Based on this second specimen, we realised that this was a much more important species, and definitely one of the most important species for our understanding of the origin of birds and of their flight."
Professor Xu believes the four-winged shape may have been a very important stage in the evolutionary transition from dinosaurs to birds.
Details of the latest discoveries have been presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, being held this year at the University of Bristol, UK.
The renowned Bristol palaeontologist Michael Benton said the announcement was immensely exciting.
"Drawing the tree of life, it's fairly obvious that feathers arose before Archaeopteryx appears in the fossil record," he told BBC News.
"Now these fantastic new discoveries by Professor Xu Xing prove that once and for all.
"These new discoveries are maybe 10 million years older than Archaeopteryx."

Feathered dinosaur (Xing Xu)
Some of the fossils are exceptionally well preserved

Thursday, September 3, 2009

British Council - Darwin Now

These activities are designed for teachers and facilitators to help students to look at the world around them and to see how Darwin's legacy lives on today. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Darwin Song Project

Darwin Song Project


source: http://richarddawkins.net/article,4235,n,n

Darwin Song Project (website)

by Robin Denselow - guardian.co.uk

Thanks to Aurelian for the link.

This is an intriguing, impressive album that results from a brave and unlikely collaboration. Back in March, eight singer-songwriters from the UK and the US came together to compose new songs that had a "resonance and relevance" to Charles Darwin, who was born in Shrewsbury 200 years ago. They had just a week to write and rehearse for a concert in Shrewsbury, where this album was recorded. There are 17 new songs here, covering Darwin's life and the confusion and anger that his theory of evolution first caused - and continues to cause - for anyone from his loyal but worried wife to present-day creationists.
Continue reading

Listen to samples and buy below. UK release 31-Aug, US release 08-Sep

Link to Amazon UK

Link to Amazon US

Lots of other YouTube video's out there at this url or by searching You Tube for "The Darwin Project"

HASSNERS.org comments

Creative Commons License
This work by crabsallover is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Human and Chimpanzee genomes are very similar - Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins shows just how similar the Human and Chimpanzee genomes really are, with the help of a great visual from the University of Nebraska Museum.

See more RDF TV 

Friday, June 26, 2009

'Oldest musical instrument' found

Scientists in Germany have published details of flutes dating back to the time that modern humans began colonising Europe, 35,000 years ago.

The researchers also suggest that not only was music widespread much earlier than previously thought, but so was humanity's creative spirit.
"The modern humans that came into our area already had a whole range of symbolic artifacts, figurative art, depictions of mythological creatures, many kinds of personal ornaments and also a well-developed musical tradition," Professor Conard explained.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that music was part of day-to-day life," he said.
"Music was used in many kinds of social contexts: possibly religious, possibly recreational - much like we use music today in many kinds of settings."

The researchers also suggest that not only was music widespread much earlier than previously thought, but so was humanity's creative spirit.
"The modern humans that came into our area already had a whole range of symbolic artifacts, figurative art, depictions of mythological creatures, many kinds of personal ornaments and also a well-developed musical tradition," Professor Conard explained.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dawkins on Darwin, March 2009

BBC/OU Annual Lecture 2009: Dawkins on Darwin (with Q&A)
Professor Richard Dawkins delivered this year's Open University lecture at the Natural History Museum on Tuesday 17th March 2009. Dawkins presented to an invited audience and investigated if Darwin was the most revolutionary scientist ever, and examined the evolutionary theories of his contemporaries. Dawkins suggests that there are four "bridges to evolutionary understanding" and illustrates this with four claimants to the evolution of natural selection: Edward Blyth, Patrick Matthew, Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. The fifth bridge of evolutionary understanding is identified as modern genetics which he terms digital Darwinism.

Darwin: the movie: the trailer

Darwin: the movie: the trailer

Mun-Keat Looi (noreply@blogger.com)Jun 16, 2009 10:14:00 GMT

Last week the Telegraph unveiled the trailer for the upcoming film Creation, about Darwin's struggle with his scientific findings and religious background. According to the Telegraph, "It explores the relationship between Darwin and his daughter Annie whose early death deeply affected him and his views on religion."

Based on the book Annie’s Box: Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, the film stars Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin and his real-life wife Jennifer Connolly as Emma Darwin. It is scheduled for a September release in cinemas

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Darwin Correspondance Project


Darwin, like all men of science at the time, wrote a lot of letters, formulating numerous ideas through correspondence with his scientific peers. The good news for Darwin fans is that all those letters are being made available on the web through an ambitious project.

Darwin Correspondence Project, run by the Cambridge University Library and part-funded by the Wellcome Trustaims to annotate and transcribe Darwin’s letters, making them freely available online. Its scope and aims are examined by Penny Bailey in a feature article for the Wellcome Trust website.

The Project features letters during his writing of 'On the Origin of Species', as well as correspondence from his time on the HMS Beagle. As well as Darwin's own writings, the Project team have also taken the time to locate, scan and annotate letters written to Darwin by other scientists and academics.

As Professor Jim Second, who leads the project from the Cambridge University Library, says, "Darwin depended on a much wider network of correspondence - including professional scientists, schoolteachers, colonial settlers, plant and animal breeders, missionaries and even clerics - to formulate his ideas. Science is a dialogue, and the letters show it in action."

The letters give insight into the history of evolutionary theory, and indeed science, at the time, as well as demonstrating just how good Darwin was at cajoling interest and support from others.

So far, the Project has located around 15,000 letters exchanged by Darwin and his correspondents. Visitors to the 
Project websitecan currently read the full texts of over 5000 letters and find information on the remainder using a searchable calendar and database. There are also extensive supporting materials for teachers and researchers, notably on ecological science and the relations between science and religious belief.

Image: Letter from Charles Darwin to Dr.George E.Shuttleworth, Medical Superintendent, Royal Albert Ayslum, Lancaster concerning the children of first cousins. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Darwin Day - Chris Street talks to North Yorkshire Humanists

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North Yorkshire Humanist Group Darwin Bicentenary Talk ( Public )
Date and Time: 2009-02-09 19:30:00

Event Website: http://www.nyhg.org.uk/

Chris Street, a Biochemist and a committee member of BHA Science Group and Dorset Humanists, will be presenting a talk on "Darwin, Science & Humanism". Chris will talk about the role of science in the life of a humanist. In February 2009, we mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his great, seminal work, On the Origin of Species. Just as Copernicus had upset the view that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, so Darwin upset the view that humans were privileged beings, specially created by divine will and totally distinct from the rest of life. Chris will explain how it is no exaggeration to say that Darwin's discoveries have provided a basis for modern Humanism.

Priory Street Centre
15 Priory Street
York/North Yorkshire YO1 6ET UNITED KINGDOM

Sponsor: North Yorkshire Humanist Group

Contact: Tim Stephenson
Email: timstephenson40@gmail.com

Friday, May 22, 2009

Darwin 2009 Anniversary Festival in Cambridge

Download Cambridge Festival brochure (pdf)

Mun-Keat Looi (noreply@blogger.com)May 19, 2009 11:01:00 GMT

If you’re around, or fancy a visit to, Cambridge in July, the University of Cambridge will be running an entire festival dedicated to Darwin and evolution.

The Darwin 2009 Anniversary Festival
Sunday 5 – Friday 10 July 2009

Celebrating the Darwin bicentenary, the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species and the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge, the festival is a mix of "science, society, literature, history, philosophy, theology, art and music arising from the writings, life and times of Charles Darwin presented through talks, discussions, performances, workshops, exhibitions and tours".

There are some wonderful events and stellar guests. Highlights include:
  • Tuesday July 7th 2009 19:30 Sir Terry Pratchett and Professor Jack Cohen discuss their recent book The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch
  • Wednesday July 8th 2009 19:30 Dame AS Byatt, Gillian Beer, Ian McEwan and David Amigoni discuss Darwin in Fiction
  • Friday July 10th 2009 20:00 Recital: Life Laughs Onward - Darwin Poetry and Music with Susan Gritton (soprano), Ian Burnside (piano) and Ruth Padel (poet).
For further details, prices and booking instructions, please visit the website.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Primate fossil in virtual reality

Video (2mins) by David Attenborough

The beautifully preserved remains of a 47-million-year-old lemur-like creature have been unveiled in the US.
The preservation is so good, it is possible to see the outline of its fur and even traces of its last meal.
The fossil, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a "missing link" between today's higher primates - monkeys, apes and humans - and more distant relatives.
But some independent experts, awaiting an opportunity to see the new fossil, are sceptical of the claim.
Here, in a David Attenborough-narrated BBC programme, Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link, the fossil is revealed in virtual reality.
Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link is on Tuesday 26 May on BBC One at 2100 GMT


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman

Steven Rose enjoys a tale of the anxious strategising behind a great idea

Charles Darwin's bicentenary has generated such an armada of books, conferences and TV programmes that it may be hard to find anything new to say. Nonetheless, Iain McCalman, an Australian cultural historian, has made a brave try.

Darwinian evolution by natural selection rests on three indisputable axioms: like breeds like, with minor variations; all organisms can produce more offspring than can survive to adulthood; the best adapted variants are the most likely to survive to reproduce in turn. Therefore, species change with time - that is, evolve.

There is nothing in these principles that Darwin could not have deduced from his observations of the English countryside, from his work with pigeon breeders, and from rereading Reverend Malthus, all of which he pursued assiduously. Furthermore, evolution was not a new idea; it had been a matter of common discussion among European biologists since the late 18th century.

Yet Darwin's evolutionary epiphany came during his five-year voyage as a naturalist on the Beagle, the small vessel chartered in 1831 to chart the waters and coastline of South America, New Zealand and Australia. Such expeditions had been a routine part of British Admiralty policy since the 17th century, and it had become common practice to include on board someone with expertise in the emerging sciences of geology and biology to identify novel species and collect specimens. Naturalists making these arduous trips would be, as Darwin was, exposed for the first time to an abundance of living forms alien to European eyes.

As a young man of means, Darwin travelled as a companion to the ship's captain. The more usual practice was to employ a suitable person directly, as happened on the slightly later voyages of two rather less wealthy young men. The self-made zoologist Thomas Huxley was later to become "Darwin's bulldog", a ferocious advocate of natural selection; the botanist Joseph Hooker was a scion of the Hookers who were for decades to direct the botanical gardens at Kew. The fourth member of Darwin's armada was Alfred Russel Wallace, who for many years eked out a living as a collector and seller of tropical specimens.

It was Wallace's independent formulation of the axioms of natural selection, sent by him to Darwin in 1858, that precipitated Darwin's long-ruminated publication of On the Origin of Species, as an abstract of the much longer book he had postponed writing for two decades.

The stories of all four men have been well told previously, so there is little new material here. What McCalman does is to link them together by way of their voyages. He provides an antipodean perspective on the time spent in Australia by Hooker, and especially by Huxley. As his subtitle suggests, McCalman is using the concept of an armada in a second sense: the alliance of three old sea salts, later to be joined by Wallace.

The "battle" was to make natural selection not just a theory, but a universally accepted mechanism for evolutionary change. When Darwin received Wallace's letter, seemingly establishing primacy in developing the theory, he summoned Hooker and Huxley to his country retreat, where the three anxiously strategised. Propriety demanded they acknowledge that Wallace had anticipated Darwin, whose heterodox ideas had been buried for decades in his notebooks. The solution was to publish short notes from Darwin and Wallace simultaneously and let Darwin work at full pelt on the "abstract" that was published as Origin a year later. Wallace seems to have taken it all in good part, but he remained an outsider, a Christian socialist who was never to accept that human intelligence could have evolved by entirely natural causes.

Rather like Wallace, McCalman knows he is an outsider to mainstream Darwin studies, but he tells his story well. It reads as a combination of Boy's Own travellers' tales stretching from the Amazon to Antarctica, and a scientific adventure as racy as any historical novel.

• Steven Rose's The 21st Century Brain is published by Vintage.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Evolution: the comedy puppet show

Evolution: the comedy puppet show

Anyone with an interest in evolution, puppets and edgy comedy should get down to the Soho Theatre in London in June, where Nina Conti will be explaining evolutionary theory with the help of her foul-mouthed monkey side-kick.

Not too sure about the scientific content, but it certainly sounds like a different addition on the Darwin celebrations this year.

Here's the blurb from the Soho Theatre website:
On the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, Nina Conti and 'the missing link', her foul-mouthed talking monkey, attempt to explain evolutionary theory. But with schizophrenia at close range, and with Monkey determined to sabotage her scientific credentials, she ends up unveiling far more than the Mysteries of Evolution... Thankfully, in the interest of entertainment, they've included songs, jokes and superfluous nudity. Winner of the Prestigious Barry Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2008.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down

For if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a united front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost.
–Stephen Jay Gould

If you’re a regular at this website, you’ve heard me complain about scientific organizations that sell evolution by insisting that it’s perfectly consistent with religion. Evolution, they say, threatens many peoples’ religious views — not just the literalism of Genesis, but also the morality that supposedly emanates from scripture. Professional societies like the National Academy of Sciences — the most elite organization of American scientists — have concluded that to make evolution palatable to Americans, you must show that it is not only consistent with religion, but also no threat to it. (And so much the better if, as theologians like John Haught assert, evolution actually deepens our faith.) Given that many members of such organizations are atheists, their stance of accommodationism appears to be a pragmatic one.

Here I argue that the accommodationist position of the National Academy of Sciences, and especially that of the National Center for Science Education, is a self-defeating tactic, compromising the very science they aspire to defend. By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one. By ignoring the significant dissent in the scientific community about whether religion and science can be reconciled, they imply a unanimity that does not exist. Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.

The National Academy website also includes three statements by religious scientists, Kenneth Miller, Father George Coyne of the Vatican, and Francis Collins, averring no conflict between the Gouldian magisteria.

There are no statements by anyone who sees faith and science as in conflict. This is not because those people don’t exist: after all, there are plenty of scientists and philosophers, including myself, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, P. Z. Myers, Dan Dennett, A. C. Grayling, and Peter Atkins, who feel strongly that science and religion are incompatible ways of viewing the world. Several of these people have written books to that effect. Apparently the NAS prefers to ignore this dissent.

When a professional organization makes such strong statements about the compatibility of science and faith, and ignores or gives but a polite nod to the opposing view, that organization is endorsing a philosophy. This goes beyond saying that evolution is true. The NAS is saying that most religious people and scientists have no problem with evolution and faith. Given that 40% of Americans reject evolution outright (almost entirely on religious grounds), while 92% of NAS scientists reject the idea a personal god, the National Academy is clearly pushing its agenda in defiance of evidence.

In the rest of this post I’d like to explore the ways that, I think, the NCSE has made accommodationism not only its philosophy, but its official philosophy. This, along with their endorsement and affiliation with supernaturalist scientists, philosophers, and theologians, inevitably corrupts their mission.

Let me first affirm that I enormously admire the work of the NCSE and of its director, Eugenie Scott and its president, Kevin Padian. They have worked tirelessly to keep evolution in the schools and creationism out, most visibly in the Dover trial. But they’re also active at school-board hearings and other venues throughout the country, as well as providing extensive resources for the rest of us in the battle for Darwin. They are the good guys.

So why am I using this space to criticize the organization? I suppose it’s because I feel that in its battle against creationism, the NCSE should represent all evolutionary biologists. But they are not representing a lot of us when they nuzzle up to theologians and vigorously push the harmony of science and religion. In effect, they’re pretending that the many people who disagree with their philosophical message don’t exist. Yet they can afford to ignore us because, in the end, where else can we atheists go for support against creationists?

The pro-religion stance of the NCSE is offensive and unnecessary — a form of misguided pragmatism. First, it dilutes their mission of spreading Darwinism, by giving credibility to the views of scientists and theologians who are de facto creationists, whether they admit it or not. Second, it departs from their avowed mission to be philosophically neutral. Third, it disingenuously pretends that evolution poses absolutely no threat to faith, or conflicts with faith in any way.

None of this would be a problem if the NCSE would just stick to its avowed mission and “neutral” stance toward religion.

The “recommended books” page of the NCSE’s religion section gives the same one-sided view. The section on “Theology, Evolution, and Creation” lists 36 books. Every one of them appears to offer an accommodationist viewpoint. Another 38 books appear (on the same page) in a “related themes in science and religion” section on the same page. In both section we find all the familiar names: Francis Collins, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, Michael Ruse, Simon Conway Morris, John Polkinghorne, Joan Roughgarden, and so on — accommodationists all. There are no books by Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, A.C. Grayling, and all those who have criticized the science-faith concordat.

As is usual in accommodationist literature, when the neo-atheist evolutionists are mentioned, they are done so dismissively, and held partially responsible for arousing anti-evolution sentiment:

When scientists such as William Provine and Richard Dawkins present philosophical materialism as the inevitable outgrowth of science or evolution (Dawkins 1987; Provine 1989) they reinforce the view encouraged by Morris and other antievolutionists that “one cannot be an evolutionist and a Christian.”


the Catholic church itself has gone back and forth on the veracity of evolution. Pope John Paul II, for example, declared that God inserted a soul somewhere in the lineage between Australopithecus and Homo. (Scott mentions this view, albeit only in passing, in an essay “Creationists and the Pope’s Statement.” But Dr. Scott’s long discussion of the position of the Catholic Church is celebratory, completely ignoring how the views of many Catholic contravene everything we know about human evolution.

But my main beef is this: the NCSE touts, shelters, or gives its imprimatur to intellectuals and scientists who are either “supernaturalists” (the word that A. C. Grayling uses for those who see supernatural incursions into the universe) or who have what Dan Dennett calls “belief in belief”—the idea that while religion may be based on false beliefs, those beliefs are themselves good for society. (Among the former are Kenneth Miller and John Haught, the latter Michael Ruse and Francisco Ayala). Both of these attitudes draw the NCSE away from its primary mission of promoting evolutionary biology, and push it into the hinterlands of philosophy and theology.

The directors of the NCSE are smart people. They know perfectly well — as did Darwin himself — that evolutionary biology is and always has been a serious threat to faith. But try to find one acknowledgment of this incompatibility on their website. No, all you’ll find there is sweetness and light. Indeed, far from being a threat to faith, evolution seems to reinforce it! Is it disingenuous to be a personal atheist, as some NCSE officials are, and yet tell others that their faith is compatible with science? I don’t know. But the NCSE’s pragmatism has taken it far outside its mandate. Their guiding strategy seems to be keep Darwin in the schools by all means necessary.

Am I grousing because, as an atheist and a non-accommodationist, my views are simply ignored by the NAS and NCSE? Not at all. I don’t want these organizations to espouse or include my viewpoint. I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution. If natural selection and evolution are as powerful as we all believe, then we should devote our time to making sure that they are more widely and accurately understood, and that their teaching is defended. Those should be the sole missions of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education. Leave theology to the theologians.

How to star in a film celebrating the genius of Charles Darwin

source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2009/apr/15/darwin-aloud-video-competition-origin-species via http://richarddawkins.net/article,3772,n,n
Take a video camera and a copy of On the Origin of Species to a famous landmark or scene of spectacular natural beauty, clear your throat and start reading out loud ...
grand canyon
The Grand Canyon – what better backdrop for the aeons of geological and evolutionary history encapsulated in On the Origin of Species?
Just when you thought the feeding frenzy of Charles Darwin anniversary celebrations was calming down, someone throws another tasty morsel into the water. But unlike the multitude of TV and radio documentaries, books and exhibitions honouring the bearded one (many of them excellent), this item is all about popular participation.
A project called Darwin Aloud is calling on people around the world to send in videos of themselves reading in their native tongue from the final chapter of On the Origin of Species. The twist is that the backdrop should be a famous landmark, spectacular scenery or a site of scientific importance.
The required passage starts about three quarters of the way through the chapter and ends with Darwin's inspirational concluding sentence, which this year has become perhaps one of the best known in all literature:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
The project is run by those nice humanists at the Center for Inquiry in the US, a not-for-profit think tank that publishes the Skeptical Inquirer. They will splice together film from as many different readers as possible, aiming for a rich variety of people, locations and languages in the final cut, which will be posted online.
Details about where, what and how to read, together with advice about film and sound quality, can be found on the Darwin Aloud website. The deadline for submissions is 1 June.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Half of Britons sceptical about evolution

source: http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/Half_of_Britons_sceptical_about_evolution_.aspx?ArticleID=2836&PageID=14&RefPageID=5

Only half of the UK population consistently choose evolution over creationism or Intelligent Design, according to a major report published today by Theos.
The report, entitled Rescuing Darwin, published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12), draws on extensive new research conducted by the polling agency, ComRes (see tables below).
It reveals that only 25% of British adults think that evolution is "definitely true", with another quarter thinking it is "probably true".
The remaining 50% are either strongly opposed or simply confused about the issue. Around 10% of people consistently choose (Young Earth) Creationism (the belief that God created the world some time in the last 10,000 years) over evolution, and about 12% consistently prefer Intelligent Design or “ID” (the idea that evolution alone is not enough to explain the complex structures of some living things). The remainder of the population, over 25%, are unsure and often mix evolution, ID and creationism together.
Nick Spencer, the director of studies at Theos and co-author of the report, said:
"The problem is that evolution has become mixed up with all sorts of ideas – like the belief that there is no God, or no purpose or no absolute morality in life – which people find very difficult to accept.
"The tragedy is that this was never Darwin’s position. Three years before he died he wrote 'it seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.'
"And in one of the last letters he ever wrote, to the philosopher William Graham, he said, 'my inward conviction [is] that the Universe is not the result of chance.'
"Sadly, however, Darwin's own beliefs have been ignored or misused by some of his modern disciples. Today too many people associate Darwin and his theory with a bleak and brutal vision of life, which is why so many people are sceptical about evolution.
The report comes only weeks after Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, praised Darwin as "one of the greatest human beings of all time", and said it was not true that Darwin’s theories about how life on earth evolved had created a permanent divide between science and religion.
The results in Rescuing Darwin incorporate the preliminary findings from a larger research report, which was conducted by ComRes, and will be published by Theos in early March. This report, entitled Faith in Darwin, will analyse in greater detail who are 'evolutionists', 'creationists' and 'IDers' in the UK today and what exactly they believe in.
Paul Woolley, the director of Theos, said:
"Darwin was a truly great natural scientist – not a theologian or a philosopher. Both his theory and the tragic loss of his favourite daughter played a role in his own loss of Christian faith. But, by his own admission, even in his wildest fluctuations he was never an atheist.
"Unfortunately, he is being used by certain atheists today to promote their cause. The result is that, given the false choice of evolution or God, people are rejecting evolution.
"Darwin has become caught up in the crossfire between creationists on one side and certain public atheists on the other. It’s a battle in which everybody suffers."
The 'Rescuing Darwin' project includes the launch on February 12 of a new book on Darwin's religious beliefs, Darwin and God, at Westminster Abbey, where Darwin is buried, and also a debate about evolution and religion at Westminster Abbey, which will be chaired by Edward Stourton, the presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The participants will include Dr Denis Alexander, Lord Robert Winston, Prof Steve Jones and Prof Nancy Rothwell.
To read the report in full, click here.
To see the research tables, click here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne

source: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3410,Richard-Dawkins-interviews-Father-George-Coyne,Richard-Dawkins-RichardDawkinsnet

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This is the full uncut interview with Father George Coyne which was omitted from Richard Dawkins' television program "The Genius of Charles Darwin" for Channel 4 in the UK.

We will be releasing many more uncut interviews from "The Genius of Charles Darwin" on DVD soon through http://RichardDawkins.net/Store


Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po0ZMfkSNxc
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjjDDhE8R5k
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyyySnUqCug
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eEmnhmAwPM
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl1xmkVOyRw
Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwDTBW8oxug
Part 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qPHIS3n7Lw

Friday, March 27, 2009

Creationism in the classroom

source: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3680,n,n

Evolution is a scientific fact – except, perhaps, in Texas, where the school board is trying to cast doubt on it

Imagine that your state legislature has decided to revamp the way that health and medicine are taught in public schools. To do this, they must tackle the "germ theory of disease", the idea that infectious disease is caused by microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. The legislature, noting that this idea has many vocal opponents, declares that it is "only a theory". Many people, for instance, think that Aids has nothing to do with viruses, but is the byproduct of a dissipated life. Christian Scientists believe that disease results from sin and ignorance, spiritual healers implicate disturbed auras and shamans cite demonic possession.

In light of this "controversy", the legislature sets up a school board that includes not only doctors, but also shamans, faith healers and, for good measure a few "psychic surgeons" who pretend to extract veal cutlets from patients' intact bodies. Taking account of these diverse views, the board recommends that from now on all teaching of modern medicine must be accompanied by a discussion of its weaknesses, including the "evidence" that Aids results from drug use and malnutrition, as well as from impure thoughts and evil spirits. And our failure to understand the complexities of chronic fatigue syndrome might be seen as reflecting its causation by an inscrutable and supernatural designer.

You would rightly be furious if all this happened. After all, the "germ theory" of disease is more than just a theory – it's a fact. Like all scientific theories, it might be wrong, but in this case that chance is roughly zero. That is because the germ theory works. Antibiotic and antiviral drugs really do cure diseases, while spiritual healing does not. Only an idiot, you'd say, would try to tamper with medical education in this way.

But this is precisely what is happening in Texas with respect to another well-established theory of biology: evolution.

Like the "germ theory" of disease, the "theory" of evolution is also a fact, as firmly established as the proposition that bacteria cause tuberculosis, or viruses cause Aids. And the fact of evolution is supported by mountains of evidence from many areas of biology. Every one of the thousands of sequences of DNA that have been studied support the theory of evolution.

What's more, evolution explains many puzzling observations about biology, like the existence of transitional fossils, vestigial organs and nonfunctional genes, that are incomprehensible under any creationist view. No serious biologist doubts the major tenets of the modern theory of evolution, which are these: life began around 3.5 billion years ago, all living species have common ancestors, descent involves evolution (genetic change over time), lineages divide, forming new species that lead to the branching tree of life, this change took immense spans of time, and that, in the vast majority of cases the diversification and change was due to natural selection and other well-understood evolutionary processes.

So what do creationism and its new incarnation of "intelligent design" explain? Nothing.

Despite all this, the Texas school board will vote this week on a bill that requires educators and textbooks to play up the "problems" with evolution, emphasising both its "strengths and weaknesses". The weaknesses supposedly involve "the insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." This is nonsense, of course. There is a mountain of evidence for common ancestry – ancestry that clearly explains the "sequential nature of groups in the fossil record".

The bill also requires schools to teach "the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of cells." More nonsense, straight out of the playbook of intelligent design. Of course we don't understand everything about the evolution of cells – if evolution had all the answers it would be a dead field – but there is plenty of evidence that natural selection was involved in cell evolution, and not a shred of evidence that it wasn't.

The mention of "sudden appearance" of species leaves no doubt about the bill's motivation, which is to promote Biblically-based creationism in public schools. Tellingly, the Texas bill is not aimed at discussing the "strengths and weaknesses" of chemistry, physics or astronomy. It singles out evolution for one reason alone: it is the only branch of science that some Christians perceive as endangering their theology.

It's no surprise, then, that seven of the 15 members of the Texas state board of education have a socially conservative agenda, several of them explicitly endorsing creationism. And the head of the school board, one Don McElroy, is a creationist dentist whose pedagogical experience is limited to teaching Sunday school. McElroy also holds the Biblically-based view that the world is only 6,000-10,000 years old. How can it be that someone with such preposterous views is given any say in the education of our children?

What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. That state is a sizeable consumer of public school textbooks, and it's likely that if it waters down its science standards, textbook publishers all over the country will follow suit. This makes every American school hostage to the caprices of a few benighted Texas legislators.

What's next? Since there are many who deny the Holocaust, can we expect legislation requiring history classes to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of the idea that Nazis persecuted Jews? Should we teach our children astrology in their psychology classes as an alternative theory of human behaviour? And, given the number of shamans in the world, shouldn't their views be represented in medical schools?

Our children will face enormous challenges when they grow up: global warming, depletion of fossil fuels, overpopulation, epidemic disease. There is no better way to prepare their generation than to teach them how to distinguish fact from mythology, and to encourage them to have good reasons for what they believe.

How sad that in the 21st century the Texas legislature proposes the exact opposite, indoctrinating our children with false ideas based squarely on religious dogma. Can't we just let our kids learn real science?

Jerry Coyne's latest book is Why Evolution is True (Viking), which summarises the many lines of evidence for evolution.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lords celebrate Darwin

Lord John Birt, member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and former BBC Director-General, spoke in a debate yesterday in the House of Lords, celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Darwin.

Lord Birt described Charles Darwin as having ‘ushered in the era of rationalism’, yet he also expressed some dismay about the continuing reliance by some on religion and superstition.

He said, ‘If Darwin would have approved of our growing respect for nature, he would surely have been disappointed by the slow march of rationalism—here I strike a slightly dissonant note from other speakers. Fewer people now may believe in the supernatural and life after death, but some still take solace in cults or homeopathy. Some defy science and embrace creationism and intelligent design. Many still cling to the comforts of the old religions, which sought to explain existence before science did. Darwin might well be surprised that Britain still has a state religion, hardwired into our constitution.’

Lord Birt continued, ‘The challenge for humanists and for other children of Darwin is to create a world based on respect both for nature and for each other, a world where science and evidence displace prejudice and bigotry, a world based on ethical values which aim to maximise the sum total of human happiness here on earth. The most celebratory and life-enhancing funeral that I have ever attended was conducted by humanists, but the movement is not yet woven into our social tapestry.’