Darwin and Evolution

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ESPN Premiered Jan 01, 2009 Unknown

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  • Science and Fiction

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    S 1 : Ep 6 - 3/19/09

    Many people accept none of this. They believe human beings were created by God. In the 19th Century, when ideas of evolution began and fossils were discovered, it was impossible to exaggerate the revolutionary character of the notion that we were descended from animals rather than created by God. The history of attempts to trace human lineage is the history of attempts by humans to understand and explain themselves. Many of the mistaken ideas which have dogged science can be traced back to perhaps unconscious desires to emphasize how special humans are--whereas, as this series shows, humans have evolved in ordinary ways, albeit with an extraordinary outcome. The program looks at the controversy over the relationship between modern humans and the Neandertals, making the point that perhaps many people find the idea of being related to Neandertals uncomfortable. It goes on to look at the Piltdown fraud: a "fossil" skull deliberately manufactured to look as though humans' highly-developed brains have a longer lineage than is in fact the case. And it explores the desire some people have felt to place human origins in Asia rather than Africa. Most of the really important discoveries about human origins and characteristics have emerged only in the last 20 years. The science is much more secure than in the past. Information no longer hinges on interpretation of individual fossil bones. So what do the scientists at the cutting edge of human evolution think about our future? The program, and the series, end with certainity about who humans are and where we come from--but uncertainty about our future.moreless
  • The Monkey Trial

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    S 1 : Ep 5 - 3/19/09

    It's the spring of 1925, and the Tennessee legislature passes a law prohibiting educators from teaching anything other than Creationism in schools. The fledgling American Civil Liberties Union runs ads in local newspapers, hoping to find someone willing to challenge the law. Its advertisements draw the curiousity of a Dayton, Tennessee businessman, who is more interested in the economic boom that a high-profile trial could bring to local merchants rather than the fight for justice. ACLU representatives settle on 25-year-old John Thomas Scopes as their legal guinea pig. Scopes is a math and gym teacher at Rhea Country High School who occasionally fills in as a substitute biology teacher. Not a staunch defender of Darwinism, he only briefly teaches it because it is part of the text he uses for class. Scopes is arrested for violating Tennessee law and the trial is set for July. The ACLU thinks the affair will be a small procedural matter but soon discovers that the trial will become a platform about the role of God in society and education. The great orator, three-time presidential candidate and self-proclaimed Bible expert William Jennings Bryan volunteers to argue the prosecution's case. To Scopes' defense comes Clarence Darrow, the nation's most celebrated lawyer and an avowed agnostic. What was once a simple case evolves into a trial of the century. An intense heatwave bears down on Dayton, Tennessee in the summer of 1925. Making matters worse is the carnival atmosphere surrounding the trial. Reporters from around the world descend on this tiny town in the buckle of the Bible belt to watch these two great figures argue the case. Chicago radio station WGN broadcasts the trial live, the first time that has ever been done. Newsreel footage is rushed to SRO crowds at movie theaters.moreless
  • All In the Mind

    Full Episode

    S 1 : Ep 4 - 3/19/09

    This episode continues the search for answers. Why did humans acquire the use of language? Other species can communicate with one another--but no other species has language, with its shades of meaning and its ability to put over large amounts of information and ideas very rapidly to many other individuals. What gave the early human-like species, living and surviving on the open African savannah, the need to evolve complex speech? Survival means success means expansion. Early humans spread beyond Africa in successive waves from about 1 million years ago. Not all of them survived--the Neaderthals populated Europe from about 150,000 years ago, descendents of a much earlier move out of Africa; but by 60,000 years ago, they had become extinct. What happened to them? The modern humans who replaced the Neandertals had language, a complicated social life, sophisticated tools and weapons--and they made things with no obvious practical use. Why did they spend time on sculpture, cave paintings and decorative tools, rather than the apparently more urgent demands of survival? Extinction is a normal, everyday part of evolution. There have been many previous human-like species--and all but one have vanished. In spite of modern humans' apparent achievement and domination of the environment, what does the future hold for us?moreless
  • Giant Strides

    Full Episode

    S 1 : Ep 3 - 3/19/09

    What problems was evolution solving when upright walking, the use of tools and the control of fire came about? The program also makes a dramatic point: all humans alive today can, in all probability, trace their ancestry back to a single woman, living in Africa around 200,000 years ago. That woman was herself descended from earlier human-like creatures; her lineage could be traced right back to the common ape ancestor 7 million years ago. Evolution created not a single line leading to today's humans--not a tree, something more like a bush, with different species arising, thriving in their own right and finally going extinct. All the differences in today's human population have come about in very recent times. Climate, the environment, local conditions have created apparent racial differences--but those differences are, in truth, only skin deep. These modern humans have inherited features given to them by evolution since the time of the common ape ancestor, and the program explores why upright walking became necessary as Africa's forests retreated; why the use of tolls gave early human ancestors a key edge in the search for food; why the control of fire opened up new possibilities--and new power.moreless
  • The Human Puzzle

    Full Episode

    S 1 : Ep 2 - 3/19/09

    For 150 million years, dinosaurs were the world's dominant animals. Compared to them, modern humans have existed for the blink of an eye, maybe 100,000 years in roughly our current form. The program captures the huge time-scale of life on earth and the evolutionary processes that have taken place; continental shifts, massive climactic changes, dramatic events (were the dinosaurs wiped out by meteorite collisions?), and then the process by which modern humans slowly emerged, taking them to the point where they believe themselves to be the very pinnacle of development. We appear to be in complete control of our surroundings. But the difference between us and the modern representatives of our ape-like ancestors is tiny. The biochemical make-up of our bodies is almost identical to that of the chimpanzee. So what are the actual differences? What makes us human and them not? The programme identifies key features: an ancestor, shared with today's chimpanzees, who live about 7 million years ago; walking upright, which began about 4.5 million years ago; the use of tools; and, much more recently, the development of the brain associated with language, communication and art. And all these developments took place in one continent: modern humans, without any doubt, can trace their ancestry back to Africa.moreless
  • Charles Darwin: Evolution's Voice

    Full Episode

    S 1 : Ep 1 - 3/19/09

    Few men in history have done more to change mankind's view of the world than English naturalist Charles Darwin, and few have battled more obstacles to fulfill their destinies. As a young man he overcame seasickness, South American despots, and lethal seas to complete a five year voyage of discovery aboard the naval vessel H.M.S. Beagle. For forty years he fought a debilitating illness that left him semi-invalid. And for his entire adult life he grappled with his greatest fear: that revealing his theory of evolution would leave him and his beloved family as despised outcasts.moreless
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