Saturday, May 30, 2009

Darwin Day - Chris Street talks to North Yorkshire Humanists

Darwin Day Event Listing
Other Search Options:
Search map directory
Browse all current events
View event archives

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

Event Website:

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

Friday, May 22, 2009

Darwin 2009 Anniversary Festival in Cambridge

Download Cambridge Festival brochure (pdf)

Mun-Keat Looi ( 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.