Review: The Genius of Charles Darwin
By TIMOTHY H GOLDSMITH - NCSE
Added: Thu, 22 Apr 2010 23:00:00 UTC
In recent years Richard Dawkins — formerly Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University — has achieved a measure of notoriety for his outspoken atheism; indeed, he possesses a collection of tasteless e-mail to show for it. However, The Genius of Charles Darwin — a three-episode program (139 minutes) he narrated for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom — is principally concerned with scientific evidence and critical thinking in teaching about evolution and the difficulties posed by fundamentalist Christians. This is an excellent program, both for Dawkins's clear presentation of evolutionary principles and the informative display of vacuous arguments by evolution's critics.
Episode 1: Life, Darwin & Everything is a synopsis of Darwin's accomplishments, starting with English religious and philosophical views of nature at the start of the nineteenth century. This episode is constructed around Dawkins's several hours of interaction with a small group of teenage British school children whose religious family backgrounds have made them refractory to understanding the reality of evolution. This episode provides a basic primer in biological evolution and an invitation to children to think for themselves. Not surprisingly, Dawkins conveys the message that belief in the supernatural is neither necessary nor relevant to understanding and appreciating the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
Episode 2: The Fifth Ape. People are fascinated by other primates, yet uncomfortable with the idea we have a shared heritage. As Queen Victoria put it, apes are "painfully and disagreeably human." Dawkins takes the viewer to East Africa and the profusion of fossils relating to human origins. There we also meet Bishop Boniface Adoyo, the chair of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, who is convinced that he is not related to the fossils and wants to bar their public display in an evolutionary context. The bishop conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution, which Dawkins attempts to rectify.