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About the Television Series
Evolution will premiere on PBS September 24-27, 2001 (check local listings). Here are brief descriptions of each of the episodes.

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Program 1: Darwin's Dangerous Idea (2 hour Premiere)
For 21 years, Charles Darwin kept his theory of evolution secret from all but a few friends. He confided to one: "It is like confessing to a murder." His torment resonates in society today — in the challenge his incredibly powerful idea poses to our understanding of our world and ourselves. We interweave the drama in key moments of Darwin's life with documentary sequences of current research, linking past to present and introducing major concepts of evolutionary theory. We also explore why Darwin's "dangerous idea" matters perhaps even more today than it did in his own time, and how it conveys the power of science to explain the past and predict the future of life on earth.

 

Program 2: Great Transformations (1 hour)
What caused the incredible diversity of life on earth, and how have complex life forms, including humans, evolved? Is there direction to evolution? And is human intelligence inevitable? We focus on evolution's "great transformations" — among them the development of a standard four-limbed body plan, the journey from water to land, the return of marine mammals to the sea, and the emergence of humans. Driven by a combination of opportunism and a genetic "toolkit," these astounding leaps forward define the arc of evolution. And they suggest that every living creature on earth today, and every species that has ever existed, is a variation on a grand genetic theme — a member of one, and only one, tree of life.

 

Program 3: Extinction! (1 hour)
Some 99.9 percent of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct. While cataclysmic events on earth have pruned the tree of life, extinction also opens the door to diversity, carving out room for new species to emerge and thrive. This film explores the causes of the five mass extinctions that have occurred over the life of the planet - and takes us to the sources of extinctions happening today. In doing so, it confronts a frightening notion: Are we humans causing the next mass extinction — the sixth in the history of life on earth? If so, what does evolutionary theory predict for the world we will leave to our descendants?

 

Program 4: The Evolutionary Arms Race (1 hour)
"Survival of the fittest." — Raw competition? Or, a level of cooperation indispensable to life? Evolution tells us that both are important. We explore our own spiraling arms race with microorganisms, the only entities that can pose a threat to our existence. We follow the struggles of medical detectives uncovering the roots of epidemics and trace the alarming spread of resistance among pathogens that cause disease, like the new virulent tuberculosis — nicknamed "Ebola with wings." Interactions between species are among the most powerful evolutionary forces on earth, and understanding them may be key to our own survival.

 

Program 5: Why Sex? (1 hour)
In evolutionary terms, sex is more important than life itself — without progeny, we are evolutionary losers. Sex fuels evolutionary change, by adding variation to the gene pool and eliminating unsatisfactory traits. We look at the endless variety of sexual expression and the powerful hold sex exerts over all living things. And we explore how the need to pass on our genes has shaped our own bodies, minds, and lives. Some scientists believe that art, literature, music — in fact all of human culture — may be the ultimate result of our sexual drives.

 

Program 6: The Mind's Big Bang (1 hour)
Anatomically modern humans existed more than 100,000 years ago, but with no art, crude technology, and primitive social interaction. Then 50,000 years ago, something happened — a creative, technological, and social explosion, and humans came to dominate the planet. This was a pivot point in our development, the time when the human mind truly emerged. What made this moment so different? We examine forces that may have contributed to the breakthrough, enabling us to prevail over our relatives, the Neanderthals, who co-existed with us for tens of thousands of years. And we explore where this power of mind may lead us, as the culture we create overtakes our own biological development.

 

Program 7: What About God? (1 hour)
Of all the species on earth, we alone attempt to explain who we are and how we came to be, through the prisms of both science and religion. How has the tension between the two played out? Today, the theory of evolution still is dogged by controversy. This program explores the creationist movement and its arguments by drawing on real human stories of people struggling to find a balance between faith and reason. Through the perceptions of theistic scientists and credible religionists, we underscore the point that science and religion are compatible, although they play very different roles in assigning order to the universe and a purpose to life.

 

The entire seven-part, eight-hour Evolution television series as well as single videos and a special curriculum kit for educators will be available from WGBH Boston Video. To place an order, for more information, or to request a free catalogue, please call WGBH Boston Video at 1-800-949-8670.

 

© 2001 WGBH Educational Foundation and Clear Blue Sky Productions, Inc. A co-production of the WGBH/NOVA Science Unit and Clear Blue Sky Productions.


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