Commentaries On Darwin

Understanding Social Darwinism

Understanding Social Darwinism

Cartoon of two people sitting in chairs reading. The man says "What is social darwinism?" the woman say "Survival of the richest"

Understood correctly, social Darwinism refers as much to cooperation and community as it does to individuals looking out only for their immediate self-interest.

Our hominid ancestors learned to cooperate in order to hunt and raise families successfully. It’s true of other primates too, especially apes. Chimpanzees coordinate hunting and child rearing, share food, and demonstrate emotional sensitivities to other members of their troops. They work together to solve problems too, as this Youtube video shows:

We always strive to increase our chances for individual survival, so self-interest never leaves the equation. But the term “social Darwinism” or “Darwinian” behavior conjures up images of purely uncharitable egoism. This is a harmful misunderstanding of Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory that is often used to discredit the scientific truth of social relations in the human and animal world.

Knowing Patagonia

Knowing Patagonia

On his trip around the world in the 1830s as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin was particularly impressed by what he saw in the southernmost region of South America, the area known as Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. I traveled much of the same territory by boat recently and have put together a photo essay and brief narrative about the beauty and significance of the area for understanding the evolution of life on earth.

Blue Skies over the ocean at Cape Horn in Patagonia
The spectacular beauty of Cape Horn as we pass through Drake Passage which separates South America from Antarctica. Click on the image of Cape Horn to go on the photo tour and learn more about the scientific importance of this special part of the world:


Nightwish lead guitarist

The last line of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species goes like this:

“From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution revolutionized natural science. Only the most ignorant or hopelessly compromised individual today doesn’t understand or won’t admit that evolution by natural selection drives all of organic life.

Evolution doesn’t have to be “believed.” It’s a fact.

Scientists inform their students and attempt to help the general public understand how evolution works. Sadly, the United States’ population still ranks at the very bottom of advanced countries in their basic knowledge of evolution. But now some musicians are doing their part to popularize the truth about how we and every other species of plant and animal got here. Bjork’s album Biophilia was a major breakthrough. Baba Brinkman raps about evolutionary theory. Glass Animals thank Darwin for inspiration.

But the most amazing contribution to popularizing the truth of evolution is being made by the Finnish symphonic metal band, Nightwish. Just off the “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” world tour that went on for more than a year, the sheer brilliance of this band comes through in their studio album (by the same name, Endless Forms Most Beautiful). They have released a DVD that features their epic Wembley Arena show, where the great evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins makes a live guest appearance. His voice and wisdom are featured on the album too. The DVD/CD package is called “Vehicle of Spirit”.

Please click on this link to see the official lyric video of Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Go full screen and turn the volume UP!

Celebrate Evolution!

Celebrate Evolution!

Charles Darwin, father of EvolutionIn 2009 we celebrated two extraordinary and intimately connected anniversaries. Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. Fifty years later the great naturalist published what many consider to be the most profound book ever written, The Origin of Species. Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of The Origin both take place in the same year. Two excellent reasons to celebrate!

Richard DawkinsThanks largely to the brilliant scholarship and global outreach of biologist Richard Dawkins, the world is finally beginning to more fully comprehend and appreciate the work of Charles Darwin. Beginning with The Selfish Gene in 1976, Dawkins’ own research and writing have advanced evolutionary theory tremendously. But Dawkins has performed another vital service. During the past few years Richard Dawkins has been lecturing all over the world about evolution and why science and reason necessarily conflict with religious belief. His recent series on Channel 4 in the UK, “The Genius of Charles Darwin,” continues an impressive string of public presentations that have clearly demonstrated how evolution—especially the processes of natural and sexual selection—explains how biological and social systems function and why religion ultimately undermines the human potential.

You can keep up with Richard Dawkins at By searching Richard Dawkins on YouTube you can find many great Dawkins postings, including all three hours of “The Genius of Charles Darwin.” This TV series is perfectly pitched for the non specialist and presented in a very engaging, entertaining way. Highly recommended.

space station with earth backgroundThe academic field of communication has unfortunately ignored evolution completely. This omission looms despite the fact that beginning with sexual signaling and early language continuing all the way to active participation by people in the vast electronic and digital networks that pervade modern life, communication processes determine the way humans develop. Nothing is more important than communication for understanding where our species has been and where we’re headed.

Exotic flowersThe dual evolutionary structure Charles Darwin identified—mutation and selection—becomes a trinity: mutation, selection, and communication.

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