The Evolution of Charles Darwin

In a four part series which begins airing today, CBC Radio’s Ideas explores the development, reception, and legacy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a volume celebrating the 150th anniversary of its publication this year. Produced by York University Department of Film professor Seth Feldman, this series, “The Evolution of Charles Darwin,” explores the import of Darwin’s idea of natural selection from its initial proposal to modern times. The series includes interviews with a number of prominent Darwin scholars, including Darwin biographers Janet Browne and James Moore, as well as historian of Victorian science Bernard Lightman. Also interviewed are current evolutionary scientists, including Niles Eldridge of the American Museum of Natural History, as well as Rosemary Grant and Peter Grant, professors emeritus at Princeton University.

The description of the program asserts that,

Darwin showed us how and why all life is change; that nothing stays the same; that over time all living things adapt and evolve, or perish; and that above all, this is a Natural Process, not the result of Divine Intervention. Darwin’s theory – of evolution through Natural Selection – completely changed the way we see the world.

It is this altered world view, one that Darwin helped to bring about, that the series explores over its four episode run. Descriptions of the episodes that comprise the series, as well as their air dates, follow below.

Episode 1, November 11, 2009: The Prepared Mind: From Darwin’s Early Years To His Voyage Of Discovery On The H.M.S. Beagle.

Charles Darwin was born into a world just beginning to shake itself loose from biblical creationism. The French Enlightenment produced the first modern evolutionary theories – followed shortly thereafter by Darwin’s own grandfather. At Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, Darwin was mentored by the most progressive natural philosophers of his day, one of whom got him a berth on the H.M.S. Beagle for one of history’s great voyages of discovery.

Episode 2, November 18, 2009: The Transmutationist: Darwin Thinks His Way From The Beagle To The Book.

The young man who stepped off the Beagle not only believed in evolution – or transmutation as it was then known – but also knew better than anyone how it worked. Yet Darwin, family man, country squire, rising star in British science, kept his thoughts secret for more than twenty years. All that time, the evidence piled up until finally the pressure was so great that he had to publish.

Episode 3, November 25, 2009: Primates vs Primates: What On The Origin Of Species Said, And What Was Said About It.

For a book that turned Western Culture upside down, On the Origin of Species was elegantly written and fascinating to read. Darwin made his case logically, patiently and with a keen awareness of his readers concerns and beliefs. Even so, thoughtful scientists, scandalized clergymen and fellow naturalists argued against his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection and never forgave him for removing moral direction from their picture of life.

Episode 4, December 2, 2009: The Enduring Legacy Of Charles Darwin: Why Science And Society Today Are Still Wrestling With Darwin’s Big Idea.

The great synthesis between Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection (as the mechanism for evolution) and genetics (as the mechanism for natural selection) is the bedrock of contemporary Evolutionary Biology. But Darwin’s idea – though modified, expanded upon and continuously attacked – has also influenced the way we think about everything from human society to thought itself.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.