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Thursday 27 Nov 2014

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The BBC's Darwin Season: marking the life and work of Charles Darwin – Radio 3

Darwin season

BBC Radio 3's contribution to the BBC Darwin season includes two Sunday Features, a week of The Essay, a special edition of Words And Music and Night Waves.

The Origins Of The Origin – Sunday 8 February, 9.30pm (Sunday Feature)

Presenter Andrew Cunningham explores the intellectual context of Darwin's thinking.

Andrew will argue that, ever since its publication in 1859, Darwin's On The Origin Of Species has taken pride of place as the most persuasive statement of "evolution by natural selection".

But, as Darwin himself acknowledged, he was not the first person to attempt to explain the processes of evolution.

As well as a number of English-speaking Anglo-Saxon precursors, and contemporaries such as Robert Grant, Alfred Russel Wallace, Robert Chambers, and Richard Owen, a number of other 19th century theorists, particularly in France and Germany, were also working on evolutionary theories. Unlike their English counterparts, they were doing this without reference to God.

Darwin was certainly aware of European evolutionary thought. When he set sail on the Beagle in 1831, one of the books he took with him was Personal Narrative Of A Journey To The Equinoctial Regions Of The New Continent by German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

Later, he added An Historical Sketch Of The Progress Of Opinion On The Origin Of Species to the second and subsequent editions of On The Origin of Species which lists a number of French, Belgian and German botanists, zoologists and geologists.

What impact, if any, did European thought have on Darwin as he struggled to articulate his own particular theory of evolution? Or was this a case of simultaneous, parallel investigation? In the longer term, does the intellectual balance in Darwin's favour need redressing? Has (Anglo-Saxon) history short-changed mainland Europe's evolutionary pioneers?

Darwin's Conundrum – Sunday 15 February, 9.35pm (Sunday Feature)

Rev Angela Tilby explores Darwin's complex views on faith and religion.

"When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed and cried over this." So wrote Charles Darwin about a letter he received from his wife Emma on the subject of faith and religion. It was a subject that was to exercise Darwin most of his life and be a constant source of tension for his family. Yet Darwin was always very reluctant to be drawn in public about what he really thought about faith and religion.

Angela Tilby looks at Darwin's complex view of religion through a unique treasure trove – his letters. Incredibly Darwin corresponded with more than 2,000 people during his lifetime and it is only in these letters to family, friends, scientists and clergy that you get a real glimpse of the way he wrestled with his belief in God.

The programme explores his struggle with religion, in particular – "was it evidence to have an inner conviction that there must be a creator or that because it was so unlikely that this world could exist purely by chance prove that there must be a God?"

It also looks at the popular religious beliefs of the time and why Darwin found some of them difficult to accept and why he did not think his ideas of evolution challenged belief in God.

Even after death his views on religion divided his family. In his autobiography he wrote that he considered all spiritual beliefs no higher than hereditary aversions or liking, such as the fear of monkeys towards snakes. His widow, Emma, was appalled at this and requested her son, Francis, who was about to publish the autobiography, to take it out. When he refused they nearly went to court over it.

The Essay: Darwin's Children – Monday 9 to Friday 13 February, 11.00-11.15pm

Five essays from a wide range of different contemporary professions, from psychologists to economists, who explore the unexpected – and often still growing – impact that Darwin and evolutionary theory has had on their discipline.

Words And Music – Sunday 15 February, 10.20pm

A sequence of words and music inspired by the theme of Darwin.

Night Waves – Thursday 12 February, 9.15pm

Night Waves: Marx, Freud And Darwin

Three titans of 19th century thought. In 1950 there would have been no doubt which two were shaping the world to the greatest degree: Marx and Freud. Sixty years later the tables have turned – and Darwin is the one with real purchase on our age. Or is he? Night Waves hosts a special programme to relive a century of intellectual competition. Presented by Rana Mitter.

Please note: schedules are subject to change, please keep an eye on weekly TV/Radio listings details for further information

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