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Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 01:00 AM

Hello my name is Charles Darwin Hello my name is Charles Darwin (benet2006/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

For this week's podcast, Radiolab throws a birthday party for Charles Darwin!

Robert Krulwich invites three experts to toast the birthday boy. David Quammen tells us it takes a village to raise a theory of evolution; Deborah Heiligman shows why love delayed the Origin of Species more than two decades; and Adam Gopnik explains why most of the planet still has problems with Darwin's idea. It's going to be a paaa-tay!


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Comments [47]

Angela from Taos, NM

I just heard this episode for the first time today, and was especially moved by the story of Charles and Emma. There story seems to embody a theme that is common to many couples today, my own marriage included. I think the struggle happens when we result to absolutes in thinking; I believe in God very strongly and yet I see the beauty of the world of science and how we are all interconnected. Science to me is the HOW and religion is the WHY of our existence. Science and religion are inextricably related; they cannot exist without the other. I think when you realize that, there can be peace. I hope that Charles and Emma were able to find that peace.

May. 13 2012 02:52 PM

Dear Friends,

I having just listened to this podcast today have just one thing to add to the comments. I'm a christian. I listen to radiolab and have a pretty liberal view for a Christian on evolution. I have no problem with evolution, but I do have a problem with the hate that I've seen in the argument over evolution. I want to apologize for christians who claim evolutionists are idiots. I want to apologize for any offense that has been given.

But I also want to say that we desire truth. Religious people desire to find truth. I believe in God and Christ because I have come to the conclusion that it is truth. I truly believe that we're right. I respect the opinion that life has no meaning. I respect the idea that life ends soon, but I'm asking you to respect our opinion as well.

Thanks for the podcast. I really enjoyed learning more about Darwin.

Dec. 30 2011 08:54 PM

Ethan, the juxtaposition of female circumcision with a disbelief in evolution is a perfect example of what I stated in my original post. One causes harm, the other does not. One offend morality, the other does not. Society has not been improved by evolutionary theory. We are not less cruel or greedy and we are not more generous or patient. In fact evolutionary ideas have helped to inspire some of the modern age’s worst atrocities. I am not saying that it is an evil thing, but it is also not a force for good.
I am not arguing about evidence. I personally believe in evolution and find it fascinating, but I don’t care if anyone else does. Just because someone else’s standards of truth are different from mine does not mean they are not thinking. My Native American friends THINK that their traditional cultural beliefs are more important than archeological and DNA evidence that says their ancestors crossed over from Asia, just as my some of my Christian friends THINK that a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible is more important than fossil records that support evolution. You and I disagree with them, and that is fine, but it does not make us superior or give us the right to impose on them our hierarchy of truth.

Dec. 11 2011 02:41 PM
Ethan from Texas

Genevieve, evolution being labeled as truth is no more an issue of culture than the idea that 2+2=4. Evidence is evidence and truth has nothing to do with issues of culture. Evolution is true because despite the deluge of evidence for it, there is nothing popping up against it. All it would take is one piece of evidence to the contrary (like a dinosaur fossil in a pre-cambrian layer) to tip it on its head, but consistently, the evidence only supports evolution more and more. While there may be miss steps like with all of science, science is a self-correcting process that will discover these problems and weed them out in an ever greater search for truth.

This only becomes a cultural issue if part of your culture is denial of evidence, facts and truth. Culture is not in a vacuum and as much as we are all in favor of multi-culturalism, not all cultural issues are equally okay. Is it okay to cut off a girls clitoris simply because it's an issue of culture? Culture does not give a free pass for us to not think.

Oct. 21 2011 05:07 PM
Genevieve Krause from Missoula, MT

Why on a show where one of the main questions was why do 60% of Americans not accept evolution did they not ask a single one of those 180 million people, but instead allowed an atheist who writes about evolution to answer for them? Why is it so important to some people to make that 60% agree with them on evolution and to belittle a culture other than there own? I know Native Americans who reject the land bridge theory and insist that their people have always been here, as their culture teaches. Is their rejection of science also offensive, or is it their right to believe as they choose and as they were taught by their families? If a family has been Christian for 500 years is that not their culture to which they also have a right? Is not the word "fact" itself a cultural construct? Science relies on the pillar of mathematics which we learned in the “Numbers” podcast is an invention not shared by all peoples. A person believing or disbelieving in evolution is not a measure of their morality, it does not determine if they love and cherish their children, it does not make them more or less likely to help a stranger in need, it does not make them weak or stupid. To look down on others whose beliefs are different is ethnocentric and to try and force them to agree in imperialistic. A dialogue should always be open, a cross cultural sharing of ideas always welcomed, but you are not right just because your own culture tells you you are.

May. 16 2011 03:32 PM

I loved hearing a whole podcast dedicated to Darwin! I enjoyed learning it in class, but now when my teacher sites "Quammen", I'll be excited and thinking about this episode!

Apr. 02 2011 09:53 PM
Rachel Reichart from Pittsburgh, PA

Hi guys,
Thank you for doing Radiolab. I've been listening to the episodes and podcasts every time I'm at work, from the beginning of them, to catch up. I'm commenting on this podcast because lately it seems that the subject of evolution is everywhere, and I was getting weary with it. I was not raised to believe in evolution, but I do now, for sure. I never did much research on it, I just started believing in it versus creation, that simple. I loved this episode because it touched on something I didn't know I needed: a romanticized side of evolution, which is very difficult to find, and possibly a big reason that so many do find it hard to believe in or accept. Creation and going to heaven after death is much easier for the human brain to "like", I believe. I am fine with the fact that we are "super beasts", and I was touched by the sentence, "human life isn't meaningless because it ends". I am teaching my 4 year old daughter non-creationism things, and I also loved the line about telling your children that they are "unique but not specially priveleged". That is exactly what I am aiming for in my children's moral guideline! Thank you for tying together some very important things for me into one podcast. Evolution can be a beautiful and romantic thing, based on the fact that it is still very amazing that it happened and happens even now, and that Darwin struggled with it in his own ways, albeit believing so much in it and giving his theories to us all. Thank you!

Mar. 03 2011 11:20 AM

I am sorry for people like Ryan who think their grandpa getting sick or their cat dying is because they did something worng. I also think that it is sad to think that when you are going to die, it is becasue you did something wrong. Know that it doesnt work that way. You dont die because of karma or because you did something wrong. I dont understand why people cant believe that plants, animals and the world is still evolving while there can also be something bigger like a God, or higher power or whatever you choose to believe. Why cant parts of both be true?

Mar. 01 2010 01:22 AM
Susan Schirmer

What is the purpose of life? I say to live (and listen to Radio Lab, with sounds - thank you!) I think for many of the 60% creationists it’s uncomfortable to think that life might be left to its own devices and could possibly slip into utter chaos. Sometimes the universe is so big a concept that it takes your breath away to try to take it all in. Also we tend to orient towards purposeful life while most animals are still working on basic survival. Perhaps it’s comforting and less scary for them to believe in a supreme author to our universe, earthly roles, responsibilities and endeavors. I am fascinated to think about where we are evolving to. For those of you wondering about LOVE – see the work of Helen Fisher – great stuff & yes animals do love.

Jan. 12 2010 06:14 PM
Thomas Paine

I'm with LizB on the artful use of sound... pure masterpiece! Being creative and interesting in the communication of ideas (and yes.. *gasp*...even scientific ideas) is such a delightful oddity, I thrill every time I encounter it. It makes interesting topics not only interesting, but vivid, rich and fun!

Great piece, as always. This one inspired me to pick Heiligman's book for my book club...and a assignment to listen to this podcast.
I'm tempted to assign listening to the "In Silence" podcast for even more fodder for a fascinating discussion on belief, being a group with members varying from different levels of thoughtful belief, to agnostics, once religious now agnostic/atheist/naturalists, and born 'n raised atheists...for all a label's worth...amazing individuals with life stories that swirl with and weave through these ideas. The themes here (in the book and your podcasts) should hit many personally meaningful chords for our group.
Thanks for the discussion.

Jul. 04 2009 02:26 AM

I've always been very surprised why less than 50% of the American population believes in evolution, although "theory" is no longer a word used with evolution, since evolution is a fact. Then I ask to myself why people believe in a group of guys who wrote a series of papers to form a book titled Bible. With evolution you come to understand how living forms adapt to different environments, why we all share certain amounts of DNA, why so many things prove the Bible is wrong. So many evidences that go beyond the evolution process and some people still refuses to see what's real, what's real in their own daily lives.

My words might seem the words taken from a science vs. religion discussion, but no. Religious people can go on with their beliefs, despite all contradictions with real facts.

May. 12 2009 03:53 AM
Colin Purrington

"HAD NOT discovered natural selection," rather!

May. 03 2009 11:07 AM
Colin Purrington

In reference to the Gallup poll, I think the 6/10 fraction of evolution deniers is partly due to how the question is worded. I think a lot of the responders are simply voting that they WISH evolution was false, or that they WISH Darwin had "discovered" natural selection. If the question was worded differently, the responders wouldn't see their response as some important decision between science and supernatural. Great podcast, folks. Really great.

May. 03 2009 11:03 AM
Caleb W. Cliff

It seems maybe people are still commenting, so I'll give it a shot, too. Very wonderful podcast, as they all are. This article has a nice way of viewing Darwin's evolutionary theory in a more positive light.

Here's to us evolving into art! : )

Apr. 22 2009 09:06 PM

Laura Beth brought up interesting points (several comments up). She proved unequivocally that this podcast is a waste of everyone's time because it is not necessary for us to know anything about this subject. "Discuss how to manifest a new way of measuring success and wealth in terms other than monetary," she suggests as an alternative. I know, maybe we could measure success in total number of inane complaints from self-important tools on the internet. That way we could really say we're winning! Consider it "manifested."

Apr. 17 2009 02:56 PM
Chris W

I also want to weigh in against the statement that reading Darwin makes you feel worse.

Radiolab did present another view, but Krulwich explained the anti-evolution cringe so eloquently.

This show talks frankly about the moral implications of science. Good. But creationism needs no more boosters.

Apr. 01 2009 11:55 PM

Did u know Darwin plagarized the Origin of Species from a lower class assistant who originated the theory...

Mar. 29 2009 01:15 AM
Kevin Powe

Hey guys - great podcast... and hearing Zoe Keating's Sun Will Set towards the end created a beautiful moment.

But not crediting the music? That's weaksauce - you guys are better than that, and artists like Zoe deserve better than that. Also, I note I'm not the first to mention it, either.

A great followup link on the topic:

Mar. 22 2009 06:50 AM
Laura Beth

Enginnering species is criminal, regardless of how we got here.
It WAY crosses the ethical and moral boundaries.
The only purpose it serves is an already diabolic profit motive for so called scientists who have the public fooled, HAD, that their diseases are genetic rather than the consequence of DNA mutations from tens of THOUSANDS of chemical mutogens poured into everything..What a scheme.
How would the public even KNOW about the peversities being done in labs if the so called free press, including NPR, has no fair and unbiased discussions. I've heard Venter on Diane Rehm but NEVER any rebuttal from another point of view. NEVER. With Merck, Medtronic and Cargill benefitting from biotech scienc, one wonders just how free the press really is.
Thanks for this comment venue but the public is too busy worring about the manipulation of the economy.

Mar. 21 2009 06:25 PM
Laura Beth

Please explain why the need to know how we got here? What is the intent?What's the goal of the endless debates between intelligent designers, creationists, and evolutionists.
From my research and life's experience, what the heck does it matter?
What intelligent designer would design the system to fail as it seems to be. Humans, the so called top of the food chain, waiting in lines for kidney transplants, prostate cancer treatments, artificial hearts, etc...Not too intelligent from my view.
Creationists? Ya mean all the Christians who sink their teeth into Easter Hams, the body parts of pigs who are also part of Creation, just like every other species humans butcher, hook, trap, skin, experiment on, and torture in every way, shape and fashion?
Creationists, those Bible thumpers from the "heartland," who are assisting in turning the planet into a feedlot, a waste lagoon, a cess pool of animal manure and methane that contributes 18% of ALL Co2 emissions KILLING Creation!
Evolution! Anyone think the human species is evolving???? To what? Some robotoid consuming locust programmed to produce, produce, produce...and then, when we are all used up,we are sent to our deaths like the cows, pigs and hens that have been reduced to units of production???
The point is MOOT. The earth is a gift, a miracle, and LIFE is precious, ALL LIFE.
The arguements seem to be more about ego and control than about doing anything to change the mess OUR species is making of this incredible sphere we shared with so many other species now disappearing at our hands.
A waste of airtime. Discuss how to manifest a new way of measuring success and wealth in terms other than monetary. Now that would be the creation of evolutionary intelligent design.

Mar. 21 2009 06:12 PM

I'm with Soledad. The content of Radiolab is amazing, but sometimes the effects and silly voices make it almost painfully irritating.

Mar. 15 2009 01:41 PM
Adrian Russell-Falla

I take issue with "most of the planet still has problems with Darwin’s idea" which is a misrepresentation of the 40% statistic.

Among developed nations, that is *only* true of the population of the United States, with its disproportionately credulous tendencies.

Here, religion has continued to exert its anachronistic stranglehold on popular understanding.

This is not "fascinating" or "incredible" to me; it's bloody horrific.

In all other modern countries, Darwin's Theory of Evolution is overwhelmingly understood to be settled scientific fact; it is Theory in exactly the same sense that we have accepted and applied Newton's Theory of Gravity, then Einstein's elaboration of Relativity.

The world has -- as sophisticated US "elites" have -- long since moved on from debate and doubt about evolution into applications.

From Watson & Crick's first isolation of DNA in just 40 years through the Human Genome Project, and Craig Venter's literal trawling for gene sequences en masse through the world's oceans, we are rushing headlong into the era of engineering new species and re-engineering others -- inevitably including ourselves.

That 60% of Americans are blind to the advance of the life sciences is one of our country's key weaknesses, and an index of how poorly our educational system is operating.

Mar. 15 2009 02:48 AM

Namely this one:

We're your podcast posse! You're supposed to let us know about this kind of stuff!

Mar. 09 2009 06:08 PM

We donate money for this podcast! Please keep us in the know!

Also, congratulations on your shout-out at the end of the Bad Bank episode of TAL. :-)

Mar. 09 2009 11:45 AM


Also, congrats on the shout-out at the end of the TAL "Bad Bank" show! They admitted to shamelessly ripping off your cohosting style!

Mar. 09 2009 11:41 AM

Yeah, I agree with Liz B! Don't be such an antiprotool. ;-) j/k

Hey Radiolab crew, why no heads up about your spot on Morning Edition?

Mar. 09 2009 11:15 AM
Liz B

Soledad said: It was a very interesting podcast. And that made me think that Radio Lab doesn’t need all those special sound effects to be a great show…

Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa

That's like saying Van Gogh didn't need to use all those colors, because he was a great sketcher.

The sound design on radiolab is the greatest thing that has ever happened ever. I actually find it sort of painful to dip back into my normal podcast lineup which is so dry and bland compared to radiolab. Also if you listen there's still a great design happening in the episode especially when Darwin plops things into his bathtub. The reason you probably didn't notice it is because it is subtle and well done. Compared to say TAL which slams it's music cues (and they are only music cues not a sound design) into you like a mac truck. (That being said I love TAL)

Also I second Aaron's request for an episode about love. Although I don't think humans are unique there, I think they figured out oxytocin by studying mice so that means mice at least experience that chemicals effect on the brain.

Mar. 08 2009 11:35 PM
Soledad Robledo

It was a very interesting podcast. And that made me think that Radio Lab doesn't need all those special sound effects to be a great show...
Isn't it incredible that the most powerful country in the world doesn't believe in Darwin?

Mar. 06 2009 05:09 PM

Hey, that's not fair inviting all of NYC to come see you for a book signing. Come to Denver!

Mar. 06 2009 02:14 PM

I stand somewhat corrected, though the term was actually coined by Thomas Huxley in 1860. Huxley wasn’t a whole hearted supporter of Darwin’s theory, but accepted most of it. However the term was co-opted by Charles Hodges, who was a Theology teacher and very much anti-Darwin. He published a book entitled “What is Darwinism?” in 1874. His conclusions were that Darwinism was atheism. The term is heavily used by the evolution deniers in an attempt to marginalize evolutionary science. I still cringe and think the term and think it should be struck from use in the science community. The term “Darwinism” is such a loaded term that seems to be more inflammatory rather than explanatory.

Mar. 05 2009 02:20 PM
betty jo

Thanks to all who helped identify Zoe Keating.
I came straight here, hoping to find out!

Mar. 04 2009 11:39 PM
Chris Green


You'll find that the term "Darwinism" was *not* invented by creationists at all (though it is sometimes used by them to diminish natural selection by making it seem like "one man's opinion" rather than a scientific theory massively supported by empirical evidence). Indeed, the term was first used by the co-discoverer of the theory, Alfred Russel Wallace, and was the title of his 1889 book, _DARWINISM: AN EXPOSITION OF THE THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION WITH SOME OF ITS APPLICATIONS_.

Mar. 04 2009 11:12 PM
Abhijeet Lakhia

You did not mention Erasmus Darwin (12 December 1731–18 April 1802) at all in your podcast on his grandson, Charles Darwin.
My awestruck opinion of Charles Darwin was slightly deflated on learning about the poems of Erasmus Darwin; “The loves of plants” and especially “The temple of nature” which pretty much lays out the basic theory of evolution. (socially safer to do it in a poem rather than a scientific theory)….BUT you should have given the granddaddy some credit during grandsunny Charles birthday party….no big deal of course, when are you doing a show on my proposed subject of synchronicity (more Jung than Police)

Mar. 04 2009 03:56 PM

I really like the idea that Eva's religious beliefs could be trumped by maybe an even deeper religious belief of her love for Charles. You did a great job at bringing that out... You've actually talked a lot about how love figures into science.

I would LOVE to hear a full episode about the evolution/neuroscience behind LOVE! (I know you had a live event that kind of addressed this, but not fully:)

It's kind of a tricky subject and humans are a little bit weird in that we fall in love. Maybe you could look to other animals that display similar "love" behavior like prairie voles and titi monkeys.

Mar. 01 2009 01:54 PM

actually it's Zoe Keating's Sun Will Set

Feb. 27 2009 02:00 AM
John Mahoney

"Excelsior idea"?? That's new. Maybe you meant "eureka moment"? Either that or too many Marvel comics, or NY motto.

Feb. 26 2009 11:13 AM

Ryan: Sorry, friend. What I meant above was that RK said that the uncaring universe "kinda makes you feel worse" but his "everyone" was about pondering the meaning of this here life, to be fair.

Feb. 26 2009 12:51 AM

Ryan: I find it comforting too. The End is more restful and life more full. "It makes you feel kinda worse," and theat "everyone" asks what is the meaning of human life. Do you not ask that?

Jason: I'm gonna say it's Frozen Angels (fitting for the end of that section, I suppose) from the Natoma album. What say ye, Radiolab?

Jad: I would totally say I'm Robert Krulwich too.

Feb. 26 2009 12:42 AM

<3 Darwin. <3

One small complaint: I find solace in Darwin's vision of a cruel, uncaring universe. In the knowledge that I am but a statistic on a survivability variable in a Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. That an excess of births and limited number of resources implies an inherent death rate. That comforts me in a way no religion can. I like knowing that no celestial being really thought my grandpa deserve Parkinson's, that there was no malice behind my first cat getting eaten by a coyote, and that when I die, it's not because I did something to offend some egomaniacal invisible man.

While for sure, most people that they're talking about in that particular segment (ie those that don't accept evolution) don't find that comforting. But he said no one does. And I do.

Feb. 25 2009 10:11 PM

I've gathered that the song towards the end of the podcast is by Zoe Keating, but what's it called? I really want to hear the whole thing, and I'm prepared to fork over the better part of a dollar to make that happen.

Feb. 25 2009 07:18 PM

@ Zac: Awe! you beat me to it :) Give Zoe Keating a little plug... just a little one :)

Feb. 25 2009 07:00 PM

In all the marvelous hoopla over Mr. Darwin's birthday, nobody's mentioned that a CA band called Artichoke does the only biographical song about Darwin that I know of:

@tracy: Galileoism! Sweet. All those geocentrists hate us and our heathen Galileoism!

Feb. 25 2009 03:53 PM

Good show, though I always cringe when I hear people use the term "Darwinism". This was a phrase coined by creationists who wanted to classify evolution as a belief system. To many science minded people "Darwinism" is a term of derision.

You never hear about Galileoism, Newtonism, Pasteurism or Einsteinism.

Feb. 24 2009 01:00 PM

great podcast guys! i'm running late to work because i couldn't stop listening!

Feb. 24 2009 12:23 PM
Zac Bentz

Oh noes! You didn't just use Zoe Keating's music without a credit, did you? I mean, I know she's been on the show a few times before, but have we learned nothing from the All Things Considered thingy?

Feb. 24 2009 12:18 PM

Yeep. Thanks unnamed listener! The glitch is now fixed.

Feb. 24 2009 11:34 AM

Oops, major editing glitch at 19:20...

Feb. 24 2009 04:58 AM

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