11 August 2008

The genius of Charles Darwin part 2

Tonight Channel 4, 8pm BST. For those you who live in Abroad, it will once again be liveblogged here. Here's the series overview:
In the second programme Prof. Dawkins explains that Darwin's Theory of Evolution presented a disturbing truth: that humans are animals – the fifth ape. This forces us to question whether our morals and manners are just a veneer. He confronts an issue that even Darwin skirted around – the evolution of human beings – and asks 'what does it mean to be evolved'? And in world where religions attack Darwinism for excusing selfish or even barbaric behaviour, Dawkins is forced to enter Darwinism's heart of darkness.

Although natural selection is the driving force of our evolution Dawkins clarifies that this does not mean that society should be run on Darwinian lines. "As a scientist I'm thrilled by natural selection, but as a human being I abhor it as a principle for organising society."

And humans are not immune to the nightmarish Darwinian process. Dawkins travels to the slums of Nairobi where hundreds die of AIDs each year. Here he meets prostitutes who seem to have acquired a genetic immunity to the HIV virus. This resistance, it seems, can be inherited and so, over time, will become more prevalent, shaping the community here. "This," Dawkins tells us, "is the unstoppable force of natural selection".

Dawkins travels between Kenya (the birthplace of not only Dawkins, but the human race), America and the UK to explore what evolution really means for humans and human society.

Starting out in Africa, he speaks to palaeontologist Richard Leakey who assures him that "we are closer to chimpanzees than a horse is to an ass". But Dawkins finds that many religions are nevertheless censoriously opposed to Darwin's Theory of Evolution. He cannot convince evangelical Bishop Bonifes Adoyo that man evolved from ape, and posits that many (fearfully) reject Darwinism as a goal-less, soul-less theory. If nature – often ruthlessly competitive – is the model for human society then surely we inhabit a 'dog eat dog' world.

Exploring this line of thought, Dawkins investigates the world of the entrepreneurial businessman and social Darwinism, examining whether there are parallels to be drawn between economic and biological systems. He also explores the way in which Darwinism has been abused by those who have associated it with the eugenics movement or those who manipulate it to justify racism and right wing politics. Finally, in examining both the 'caring' behaviours of human beings and animals, he examines how the moral code of human beings, and their displays of sensitivity and altruism, can be reconciled with the idea of the survival of the fittest.

2 comments:

Karen James said...

"He confronts an issue that even Darwin skirted around – the evolution of human beings"

Uh, hello Dawks (or perhaps Channel 4 blurb writers), ever heard of The Descent of Man?

Peter Mc said...

Blurb writers at fault - in the programme Dawks said the issue Darwin skirted around in the Origin. 'Light will be shed' etc.