Darwin and Creation
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
This is the trailer for Creation, a biopic about Charles Darwin that recently made a splash at the Toronto International Film Festival. I noted the movie earlier in September partially because of the debate surrounding it. The film was having trouble finding a U.S. distributor, and its producer Jeremy Thomas stated it was "too controversial for religious America."
The film starts after the death of Darwin’s 10-year-old daughter, Annie, and focuses on the period where he wrote his seminal book on the theory of evolution, On the Origin of Species. According to the film’s synopsis, “Darwin is torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place.”
This made me think of Krista’s conversation with Darwin biographer James Moore for our program "Evolution and Wonder." At one point in the interview, Moore says about Darwin:
Always, I believe, until his dying day, at least half of him believed in God. He’d said he deserved to be called an agnostic. But he did make the point later in life that, “When I wrote The Origin of Species, my faith in God was as strong as that of a bishop.”
I’m interested to see how Creation's account of Darwin's life compares to Moore's: does it reflect the same understanding of Darwin and his struggle, or is it a slightly different story?
And, it looks like I won’t have to cross the border to find out. A few weeks ago the film was picked up by Newmarket Films for U.S. distribution. Interestingly enough, Newmarket was also the distributor for The Passion of the Christ — perhaps they’re well-equipped to handle a potentially controversial film.
Mapping Evolution in Wikipedia
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Broadcasting this week’s show on Charles Darwin reminded me of this history flow diagram of the changing face of the Wikipedia explanation of evolution over time. Nearly four years have passed since I read about it in Discover magazine.
What would the graph look like nowadays? I’ll hazard a wild guess that it’s as colorful as ever, with myriad black columns (indicating the entry being deleted by vandals). Boy I’d love to see a follow-up chart for this trajectory.
(History Flow diagram courtesy of Frank Van Ham, Fernanda Viegas, and Martin Wattenberg of the Visual Communication Lab, IBM Research)
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
While updating the Web site for this week’s program about Charles Darwin, I remembered the above image, which I had come across on Flickr a while ago. It’s intended to show the evolutionary development of world religions; it seems that the author, an evolutionary biology professor, was unable to find a similar graphic anywhere and decided to draft his own.
If you click through to the Flickr page, you’ll see that the various symbols in the diagram are labeled to indicate which religion they refer to. You’ll also see an interesting discussion in the comments section — ranging from the placement of the relatively young Bahá’í faith, to whether Yoga should be included as a religion, to what the point of this diagram might be in the first place. As one commenter notes: “the world of ideas, ideologies and religions is a bit more complex than a genealogical tree.”
So what is the point of attempting to represent the complexity of world religions such a simplified way? The author writes:
I was thinking the above exercise might be a great way for young kids to learn about the diversity of religions, and how new religions are created all the time.
Looking at the image now, it seems even more interesting when placed next to Darwin’s sketch of the “tree of life" (seen at right). Some consider Darwin’s theory of evolution, represented in his illustration, to be an assault on religion. But as we learn in this week’s program, it’s not quite that simple — at least it wasn’t for Darwin. And here’s an example of the same model being used to map out world religions, perhaps with the hope of increasing religious tolerance.
What do you think, are religion and evolution mutually exclusive? Is approaching religion from an evolutionary perspective helpful?
Outhumaning the Humans
by Rob McGinley Myers, associate producer
In our show this weekend, "Being Autistic, Being Human," Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder point out that not all people with autism have savant-like abilities. I think we’re drawn to those stories of extraordinary talents, in part, because they suggest the nearly limitless possibilities of the human mind. As Paul Collins writes in his book Not Even Wrong:
"Autists are described by others — and by themselves — as aliens among humans. But there’s an irony to this, for precisely the opposite is true. They are us, and to understand them is to begin to understand what it means to be human. Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing. … But autism … is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an overexpression of the very traits that make our species unique. Other animals are social, but only humans are capable of abstract logic. The autistic outhuman the humans, and we can scarcely recognize the result."
This video is a clip from a German documentary series about savants called Beautiful Minds: A Voyage into the Brain. The subject of the clip is a man with autism named Stephen Wiltshire, who can draw an entire cityscape from memory after a single helicopter ride.
As I watch him draw, I can’t help but wonder at the origin of our uniquely human desire and ability to depict the world through art. Somehow, that ability emerged and was woven into our genetic code thousands of years ago, passed down from the cave painters to subsequent generations until the present, when even my own 4-year-old daughter can produce drawings that vaguely resemble things in the real world. But here we can see it rushing out of this man’s hand with such breadth and precision as to seem almost impossible. I’m not sure what it means, but it makes me feel proud of my species.