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Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (DVD Review)

29 Oct, 2009 By: John Latchem

Street 11/3/09
BBC Video
$14.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars David Attenborough.

As much as this BBC special celebrates the work of Charles Darwin, it also serves as a deeply personal reflection by renowned naturalist David Attenborough, who narrates.

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life commemorates not only the 200th birthday of Darwin, but also the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of the Species, the famous book that spelled out his theory of natural selection as a process of biological evolution.

The title stems from a crude sketch Darwin made to demonstrate how some species could be related to others, with branches forming new species as primitive animals evolved. Though Darwin added the disclaimer, “I Think,” to the top of the page, now we can use DNA testing to firmly establish the relationships Darwin once considered.

The excellent hour-long documentary demonstrates clearly and effectively the scientific principles formulated by Darwin, how he came to them and how they resonate today. The program includes footage from earlier Attenborough specials and other photos to showcase how Attenborough’s career has been influenced by an expanded understanding of Darwin’s discoveries.

To hear Attenborough describe it, natural selection seems like such a simple matter of logic it is amazing it took so long for someone to finally figure it out. Attenborough also touches on the religious implications of Darwin’s studies, implying that creationist dogma prevented even men of science from admitting to the veracity of Darwin’s observations.

The DVD also includes the bonus documentary Darwin’s Struggle: The Evolution of The Origin of Species. The hour-long program is more about how Darwin came to write the book, but is not as good as Tree of Life.

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