Mick Whittle

For PHIL 220, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Semester two, 2010

Kia ora. Fingers crossed, the technical issues have been resolved with the video resources on offer here. At present, there are two types of video material: Longer documentaries, by the likes of Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough, which open in a separate page (right click and 'Show all' to enlarge), and shorter YouTube-style pieces, which link directly to the hosting site. Enjoy! -- Mick Whittle


Links to video documentaries

David Attenborough has been the voice (and face) of natural history documentaries for decades. Here's yet another addition to his long list of wonderfully filmed explorations of the natural world, detailing Darwin's Tree of Life. It's archived from television, so just ignore the few seconds of Survivor that it begins with. Wish we had a larger-screen version. Tree of life

"This series is about perhaps the most powerful idea ever to occur to a human mind. The idea is evolution by natural selection." So begins Dawkins's Genius of Charles Darwin. Love him or loathe him, this three-part series has been described as "Dawkins at his hectoring best." Guaranteed to entertain, you get to see him take school kids on a trip to the seaside and even visit a prostitute. Oh, yes, and argue with hapless Creationists. (Again, there's some irrelevant material recorded at the beginning of these documentaries, so fast forward to the correct place.) Genius 1 Genius 2 Genius 3

Once Darwin had arrived at the revolutionary idea of natural selection, he rushed out ... to study barnacles! This BBC documentary looks at Darwin's attempt to deal with the implications of his dangerous idea - Darwin's Struggle with the Origin. Fittingly, those interviewed include the author of (the rivettingly titled) Darwin and the Barnacle. Oysters, anyone? Darwin's Struggle

When you read Darwin's Origin of Species it is difficult to believe that it's 150 years old. Darwin seemed to have considered so much, and to have such a comprehensive view of nature, that you almost suspect he knew it all. This documentary updates the great man's Victorian perspective with What Darwin Didn't Know. The programme demonstrates, for example, how modern genetics complements his theory of natural selection. Didn't Know

Links to YouTube and related web material

Scroll through this selection of short offerings on YouTube-type sites. As YouTube also automatically links to similar material, this should allow you to access more of the extensive (if sometimes dubious) offerings of the internet.

Until Darwin (and Wallace) discovered the mechanism by which evolution could occur - i.e. natural selection - the strongest argument against evolutionary theories was the so-called "argument from design". Just as an intricate device like a watch must have a designer, so too (it was argued) must the incredibly complex products of nature. God, of course, was this ultimate designer. Darwin tackled this issue in On the Origin of Species (1859), but arguments from design continually appear in anti-Darwinian debate. Here are two examples, centred on the bombardier beetle: the argument from Intelligent Design link here and a response from a young Richard Dawkins link here. (BTW: This is an example of the PRATT phenomena - "Points Refuted A Thousand Times": i.e. that the same arguments are raised over and over, despite being addressed by Darwinists as far back as the Origin.)

Here's another brief taster of Creationist arguments from design. This nicely illustrates why it is intuitively easy to believe that complex animal behaviour or structure MUST have been divinely created or designed; that is, as long as one ignores Darwin's very simple point that minor modification, over immense periods of time, can readily account for the diversity and complexity of life as it now exists. Link here

If Mrs Tiggle Winkle, the hedgehog heroine of the Beatrix Potter children's stories, was ever threatened - say, by a hungry fox - she'd likely roll up in a spiney ball. Unfortunately for the modern hedgehog, ball-rolling isn't such a good defence when it comes to surviving encounters with automobiles. Some hedgehogs, however, run away when threatened - and it seems that natural selection is now favouring this behaviour; hedgehogs that "drop and roll" get squished, while those that "leg it" survive, and pass on that behaviour to their off-spring. Ain't natural selection wonderful? Getting footage of hedgehogs versus cars is difficult, but here's an example of analogous behaviour involving lizards. Link here

Humour is often a great way of cutting through waffle and complications to the heart of an argument, such as that surrounding the teaching of evolution in schools. Here's British comedian Robin Ince's take on the matter (complete with a live backing soundtrack). Yes, Ince is mocking non-scientific arguments; but the serious point is the problem that religion faces in attempting to accommodate science. Link here