Darwin Made Audible

Audio downloads for PHIL 220, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Semester two, 2010

Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) presents Simon Conway Morris, Chris Stringer, and Danielle Schreve discussing the origins and fate of the Neanderthals. What happened to these, our lost cousins? Were they victims of the murderous aggressiveness of modern Homo Sapiens? Were they done in by global cooling? How distinct were Neanderthals from us? The programme is 42 minutes long: neanderthals.mp3

This Scientific American podcast presents Chris Stringer and Scientific American editor Kate Wong on the legacy of Lucy in relation to the Neanderthals. Stringer is especially interesting on the prehistory of Britain. Wong talks about the more recently discovered ardipithecus, a hominid much older than Lucy. This discussion is 35 minutes long: lucy_and_neanderthals.mp3

Richard Leakey is the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, illustrious discoverers of some of the earliest homind fossils as well as the very earliest tools at Olduvai Gorge in Kenya. In this entertaining talk, he discusses both his parents and the role of chance in deriving any knowledge whatsoever from the fossil record. Any of us would have to be damned lucky to ever end up fossilized! The talk is 53 minutes long: leakey.mp3

Richard Dawkins has produced four half-hour BBC programmes on the human genome. We urge you to listen to these episodes asap, as it will not last forever on the BBC website. Information on the whole series is HERE.

Bernard Wood is a professor of human origins at the George Washington University. This 38-minute talk on human evolution is very much worth hearing. Listen HERE.

Many Anning was a most interesting figure in the intellectual world of Charles Darwin. She was a champion fossil hunter and much respected by Darwin. Her story, told here by Thomas Goodhue, is also about religion and its relation to evolution, class and the difficulty a person born into the wrong social statum faced in Victorian England, and, not least, how hard it was to work as a woman in science in Darwin's age. Quite a fascinating tale, clocking in at 28 minutes. Listen to it HERE.

Not to be missed is John Teehan's discussion of religion as an evolved phonomenon. This 23-minute talk is an excellent introduction to how evolutionary psychology can be applied to a universal human practice. Teehan also has some interesting comments on how religion and evolution can be reconciled. Listen to it HERE.

Dr. Alexis Harley of La Trobe University studies Darwin's works from a literary point of view and is interested in what they might tell us about Darwin as a personality. She shares her insights in a 14-minute discussion with an interviewer who, dare I say it, seems to know nothing at all about anything. Dr. Harley, quite rightly in my opinion, find Darwin "lovable." Listen to her HERE.

On questions of religion, writer Christopher Hitchens takes no prisoners. This talk is not about evolution, but does present an implacable argument against religion as it has come down to us in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Pretty explosive stuff. It's 36 minutes long and you can hear it HERE.

Glenn McBride, of the University of Queensland, is an ethologist, one who studies animal behavior. He was in charge of the Chicken Hill Project, research aimed at trying to reduce male/male conflict among chickens kept in capitvity. This short, stunning talk on Darwin (13 minutes) was broadcast by the ABC in 2009: glen_mcbride.mp3

Peter and Rosemary Grant of Princeton University have spent much of their careers enduring the glaring sun of the Galápagos Islands in the study of Darwin's finches. In this talk at Arizona State University, they discuss the evidence for species change among the finches and the important question of what creates barriers between interbreeding, once species have diverged. The programme is 60 minutes long: grants_on_finches.mp3

"You will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." This was Darwin's father's assessment of his son, a young man fairly addicted to hunting with his dogs. Charlie, however, came under the influence of a second cousin, William Darwin Fox. From Fox, he became interested in beetle collecting. A charming story, told by Prof. Tony Larcomb of the University of Sydney. The talk is 14 minutes long: darwin_and_fox.mp3

Daniel Dennett, besides entitling one of his remarkable books Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and graciously giving this course its name, has for years been one of the most provocative and insightful Darwin commentators in the world. I wish we had the PowerPoint images for this talk, but it's fun -- and not impossible -- to figure out what he is discussing on the screen. His talk, given at Arizona State University, is just over an hour long: dennett_on_darwin.mp3

E.O. Wilson of Harvard University is one of the greatest Darwin scholars anywhere. He is not an historian of science, but a specialist in ants. He has over a long career, however, applied his capacious mind to every aspect of Darwinian evolution. In this talk, given at Arizona State University, he mentions that he had never before read Darwin's four great evolutionary tracts as a series -- The Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals -- until he produced a couple of years ago a unified edition of them. His presentation is angled on the unity of Darwin's world view as demonstrated by the continuity and coherence of these books. The talk is 53 minutes long: eo_wilson.mp3

If Darwin were alive today, he would be a keen user of email and new technologies to pursue his work and to help other scholars, especially young people, in theirs. As co-worker and mentor, he was warm, supportive, and generous. He was also an exemplary as a family man. Here are two short, but telling accounts of some of his personal letters, produced by the Open University in Britain. The researchers interviewed are working with the Darwin Correspondence Project, which is attempting to organise and publish a complete compendium of Darwin's thousands of letters. Each part is just seven minutes long: First, darwin_as_collaborator.mp3, and then darwin_as_family_man.mp3

In this Scientific American podcast, Richard Milner discusses Darwin as ghostbuster. It's a fascinating sidelight on Darwin's personality and career. Darwin, it turns out, conducted a "very serious and secret war" against the spiritualists of his day, according to Milner. Listen to the story here: darwin_as_ghostbuster.mp3 The ghostbuster portion is the first 13 minutes; the whole episode is 26 minutes. Don't miss skeptic Michael Shermer in the second half on religion and science.

One of the most controversial advances in Darwinian thinking in recent years has involved the idea that human evolution did not stop 10,000 years ago (the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene), but has continued to modify human subgroups across the globe since then. A careful explanation of the evidence for this position is given in The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Evolution, by anthropologists Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. There has been widespread opposition to this idea, though many people find it is a perfectly plausible hypothesis. If Cochran and Harpending are right, then there will likely be genetic differences between so-called races beyond skin colour or hair curliness: for example, in lactose tolerance between, say, west Africans and northern Europeans. This interview with Cochran by Colin Marshall of The Marketplace of Ideas is fascinating, not least in the way that it shows how the academic community can throw up walls to exclude ideas it does not want to hear about. The discussion is 56 minutes long: cochran.mp3

Quite a wonderful talk by Sarah Hrdy (pronounced "Hardy"), given at Arizona State University. Her title is "Darwin and the Ascent of Man: Why Humans Are Such Hypersocial Apes?" She argues that human sociality is a product of the way the relationship between children and their mothers and other (usually female) caregivers evolved. A very convincing argument. The lecture is 56 minutes long: hrdy.mp3

The year 1859 saw the rise to fame of two men who were both born fifty years earlier on exactly the same day, February 12, 1809. Abraham Lincoln received the Republican nomination for President in 1859 and Charles Darwin published his magnum opus the same year. But it turns out that rather a lot was going on in 1859. In fact, 1859 was a period of massive growth and cross-fertilisation in science and technology. Australian historian Peter McGuiness explains why in this marvelous exercise in painting a larger historical backdrop for Darwin. The talk is 14 minutes long: year_1859.mp3

Stephen C. Stearns teaches Yale University's general course, open to all undergraduates, in evolution. The main video site for this course is HERE. I will in due course edit out a few of the most interesting audio passages and include them here. First, however, an unedited lecture on Stearns's scientist's view of philosophers of science. I support very much what he says here. He admires the ability of philosophers to tease out the logical consistencies and inconsistencies of scientific work, as well as meditate on the nature of scientific knowledge. (Okay, he's not quite there with technicalities like the analytic/synthetic distinction, but he is modest in admitting that he is not trying to be a philosopher.) What he does rightly insist on is that philosophers for their part often have never done science and have little idea of how day-to-day scientific research is carried out. Too right! Philosophers serve up lovely theories (Stearns comes close to mocking Kuhn's "romanticism" in this regard) that really don't describe very well how scientists think or act. (Pace Kuhn, scientists historically have managed to talk to each other and grasp each other's conflicting ideas during periods when one Kuhnian paradigm replaces another.) Stearns is excellent on Darwin, whom he describes as a revolutionary scientist who desperately wanted not to be, and Stephen Jay Gould, who desperately wanted to be revolutionary but who, plainly, wasn't. Bravo! His lecture on science and the philosophers is 45 minutes long. Find it here: HERE. More to come in this section....

"Evolution and Wonder" is the title of this episode of an American Public Media series on Darwin. It shows that Darwin was not arguing for a form of atheism in his work, but was opposed only to a simplified religious view of the world -- in all "its beauty, its brutality, and its unfolding creation," as the presenter puts it. Not everyone will be convinced by this. The programme is 51 minutes long. Listen to it HERE.

Alan Saunders hosts the regular Philosopher's Zone programme, coming out of Sydney on ABC Radio National. In this episode, he discusses the teleological argument for the existence of god with philosopher Elliott Sober. Demanding radio, but worth the attention required. Listen to the 24-minute programme HERE.

Nina Jablonski is Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University and a specialist on one of the most interesting and debated issues in paleobiology: the evolution of skin colour. Light skin and dark skin, she explains, have evolved more than once in human prehistory. Well all of us have a multi-coloured ancestry! Listen to this 52-minute talk at Arizona State University HERE.