At least two major American institutions — the Pew Forum and National Geographic — have marked the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth with extensive reports on Darwin, evolution and the spiritual reflections surrounding Darwin’s discoveries.
The Pew Forum focuses largely on Americans’ understanding of faith and science. National Geographic offers three dazzling documentaries on evolution in several specific families of creatures. (Scroll down on this page to learn more.) And, there’s also a fourth documentary debuting on Darwin’s February 12th birthday — a visually impressive retracing of Darwin’s worldwide travels. (Again, scroll down to learn more.)
First, other helpful resources …
SPECIALLY FOR YOUNG READERS: Publishers Weekly weighs in with a helpful list of recommended books for young folks.
ALSO, FANS OF C.S. LEWIS point out in their newsletter that an Oxford University Press book coming in July will explore how Lewis’ science fiction trilogy was a substantial meditation on streams of post-Darwin thinking. It’s called “C.S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy.” It’s by Sanford Schwartz and already is listed for pre-order.
FACEBOOK: We’re moving from the sublime to the more light hearted — because there’s even a Facebook group, called “Can we find 200,000 by Feb 12 to wish Darwin a happy 200th birthday?” The group’s logo is the bearded Mr. Darwin with balloons hooked to his head. The effort illustrates that this isn’t just a milestone for scholars, although some scholars are involved in the Facebook effort.
TWO MORE INTRIGUING NEW BOOKS: You’ll have to wait a bit for a copy of Iain McCalman’s “Darwin’s Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution,” from Norton. If you’ve seen other work by McCalman, then you know that he’s a respected historian of the 18th and 19th centuries and a lively writer as well, especially interested in unusual ideas as they emerge. His new 400-page book will look at the voyages not only of Darwin but also Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Wallace.
You can go ahead right now and pick up, “The Young Charles Darwin,” by Keith Thomson. Published by Yale and written by Thomson, a venerable Oxford-based scholar and author in the field, this new book explores the vigorous younger life of Darwin. If you’re drawn to the National Geographic documentary, “Darwin’s Secret Diaries” (scroll down), then this is a great book to choose — because Thomson writes about this same youthful period in the scientist’s life when Darwin thought nothing of scaling mountain ridges in South America seeking new evidence of the Earth’s ever-changing story.
THE CLERGY LETTER PROJECT: Here’s an innovative grass-roots approach to encouraging a truce between faith and science — especially developed for those who still feel anxious about the boundaries between the two realms. It’s called the Clergy Letter Project and it’s coordinated by Michael Zimmerman, dean of the main college at Indiana-based Butler University.
You can read more about hundreds of clergy who already have attached their names to the project.
Pew Forum resources …
We highly recommend the Pew Forum’s extensive array of online reports about “The Conflict Between Religion and Evolution.”
This is a big collection of materials and data about American attitudes toward science, evolution and faith. To give you a feeling for what’s on the Pew site, here’s a brief sample of its overview …
Almost 150 years after Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,
Americans are still fighting over evolution. If anything, the
controversy has recently grown in both size and intensity. …
Throughout much of the 20th century, opponents of evolution — many
of them theologically conservative Protestants — either tried to
eliminate the teaching of Darwin’s theory from public school science
curricula or urged science instructors also to teach a version of the
creation story found in the biblical book of Genesis. …
Recent public opinion polls indicate that challenges to Darwinian
evolution have substantial support among the American people. According
to an August 2006 survey
by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and
the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 63 percent of
Americans believe that humans and other animals have either always
existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the
guidance of a supreme being. Only 26 percent say that life evolved
solely through processes such as natural selection. A similar Pew
Research Center poll, released in August 2005, found that 64 percent of Americans support teaching creationism alongside evolution in the classroom.
This view is not shared by the nation’s scientists, most of whom
contend that evolution is a well-established scientific theory that
convincingly explains the origins and development of life on earth. …
These scientists and others dismiss creation science as religion, not
science, and describe intelligent design as little more than
creationism dressed up in scientific jargon.
So if evolution is as established as the theory of gravity, why are
people still arguing about it a century and a half after it was first
INTRIGUED? Then, please, visit the Pew Forum’s extensive online landing page. You’ll find a huge amount of material branching off this main landing pages, including links to recent news stories at the bottom of the Pew page.
National Geographic resources …
Regular readers and viewers of National Geographic know that there’s no doubt where this major institution stands on the question: Evolution is a fact of science and there isn’t much point in rehearsing the old Bible vs. Darwin arguments. National Geographic has taken this firm position for quite a while and regularly writes about Darwin and evolution in those terms.
That may not be your belief. But, whatever your point of view on this issue, I still can recommend the four National Geographic documentaries. They’re fascinating, even if you disagree with them.
I have previewed all four — and, if you’re a fan of vivid stories about scientific research and the natural world, you’ll wind up gobbling up every minute of the three “Morphed” programs. My favorite is the documentary on how a small, prehistoric land-based predator wound up morphing over millions of years into the form of a whale. Also fascinating is the documentary on evolution in bears.
I wound up watching all three of the “Morphed” shows and you probably will, too. I’ve included small clips from two of those shows below.
BUT, the most impressive documentary of the four is “Darwin’s Secret Notebooks.” National Geographic has set up its own multi-media landing page about the show that you can explore at length. I’ve also included a video clip of the program, below.
In a single hour, the show traces Darwin’s five-year journey around the world in the HMS Beagle. We stop at many of the key points in his discoveries. The overarching story of “Notebooks” tells how a young man with ordinary assumptions about the planet managed to envision far grander ideas about its evolution over millions of years.
HERE YOU CAN WATCH A PREVIEW OF
“DARWIN’S SECRET NOTEBOOKS”
Depending on your computer system, the video may play automatically or you may nee to roll your cursor over the video screen. If you see no screen below, click here and view the 3-minute film on the National Geographic site.
BELOW YOU CAN WATCH A CLIP OF
“MORPHED: BEFORE THEY WERE BEARS”
If you see no screen below, click here and view the 3-minute film on the National Geographic site.
BELOW YOU CAN WATCH A PREVIEW OF
“MORPHED: WHEN WHALES HAD LEGS”
If you see no screen below, click here and view the 4-minute film at the National Geographic site.