Dawkins on Darwin

In further celebration of Darwin Day (yes, this may go on all week), I want to share the first of a series of videos by Richard Dawkins titled The Genius of Charles Darwin. As Dawkins states at the very start,

I want to show you how Darwin opened our eyes to the extraordinary reality of our world.


Happy Darwin Day!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin!

Happy Darwin Day, everyone!

A global celebration of science and reason.

Today more than ever, when anti-science has become a veritable movement in America (think anti-evolution, global warming denial, anti-vaccination), it is important that we commemorate the lives of the people, like Charles Darwin, who changed the course of our history through the use of reason and my expanding our scientific understanding of the world around us.

In our own celebration of Darwin Day, and of science and reason, my daughter and I are taking a trip to our local science museum. If you’re interested in commemorating this man’s birthday, you can go to the International Darwin Day Foundation and see if there are any activities in your area, and I’ve included this video to help us all celebrate. It’s a TED talk by Dennis Dutton where he discusses a Darwinian theory of beauty. Not only is it a fascinating topic, but its animated by Andrew Park, of RSA Animate.

Enjoy! And Happy Darwin Day!

Miss Piggy on FOX News

A few weeks back, Eric Bolling on FOX News ridiculously accused the new Muppet movie of containing a secret liberal agenda meant to “brainwash” our kids. Thankfully, the Muppets addressed this at a recent press conference in London…

Happy Friday everyone!

Happy Birthday Mozart!

I was reminded earlier by George at Euzicasa that today is Mozart’s birthday, and I think I’m not alone when I say that he is among my favorite classical composers, and that I wish him a very happy birthday.

To this day, I remember my first experience of a Mozart opera. I was 12 years old and traveling with my grandparents in Europe. We were in Salzburg and they took me to see a performance of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), performed in the famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre. They had introduced me to opera the previous year with Madame Butterfly, and I had loved it, but this was an entirely different experience. The voices were amazing, the production was beautiful, and the marionettes, well, I forgot that I was watching puppets after about the first ten minutes. It made me fall in love with opera and with Mozart, and that love has not diminished one bit over the years.

My daughter and I waiting for "Mozart Under the Moon" to start.

Now I’m trying to instill that same love in my daughter, and although she’s still a bit young for opera, she’s certainly not too young to enjoy the music of such a marvelous composer. Just last year I took her to her first concert, “Mozart under the Moon,” and we both loved it. It was the night of the “supermoon” and it was an outdoor concert featuring “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and several other pieces (a gorgeous moon and brilliant music, how can you go wrong?). Its been nearly one year and she still asks to return, and whenever she hears classical music at home or on the radio, she calls it “concert music.” Needless to say, as soon as she’s old enough, we’re hopping a plane to Salzburg to watch the marionettes bring Mozart to life.

I was able to find this series of clips from the Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s performance of The Magic Flute. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out there that showed an entire scene with decent quality, but at least this gives you a small taste of how magical the experience of watching it was. That Queen of the Night scene was downright breathtaking.


Thirty Authors Discuss God

I’m too sick, and my head too fuzzy with medication, so instead of attempting to construct coherent sentences, I’m going to let thirty others, who are known for their eloquence, speak about a subject that comes up in this blog every now and again… religion, and its counterpart, skepticism.

Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham, a British neurosurgeon, created a series of videos regarding the debate between belief and atheism. The first two videos feature academics and theologians discussing both belief and disbelief, with the aim illustrating his central argument that “the more scientifically literate, intellectually honest and objectively skeptical a person is, the more likely the are to disbelieve in anything supernatural, including god.”

In the third video of the series,  which I came across on this site, Dr. Pararajasingham compiled video of thirty renown authors discussing atheism. My favorite has to be Ian McEwan (starting at 9:28), although Douglas Adams and Christopher Hitchens are pretty outstanding, too.

Here are the authors included in the video, in order of appearance.

1. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction Writer
2. Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Laureate in Literature
3. Professor Isaac Asimov, Author and Biochemist
4. Arthur Miller, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright
5. Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature
6. Gore Vidal, Award-Winning Novelist and Political Activist
7. Douglas Adams, Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer
8. Professor Germaine Greer, Writer and Feminist
9. Iain Banks, Best-Selling Fiction Writer
10. José Saramago, Nobel Laureate in Literature
11. Sir Terry Pratchett, NYT Best-Selling Novelist
12. Ken Follett, NYT Best-Selling Author
13. Ian McEwan, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
14. Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009)
15. Professor Martin Amis, Award-Winning Novelist
16. Michel Houellebecq, Goncourt Prize-Winning French Novelist
17. Philip Roth, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
18. Margaret Atwood, Booker Prize-Winning Author and Poet
19. Sir Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
20. Norman MacCaig, Renowned Scottish Poet
21. Phillip Pullman, Best-Selling British Author
22. Dr Matt Ridley, Award-Winning Science Writer
23. Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature
24. Howard Brenton, Award-Winning English Playwright
25. Tariq Ali, Award-Winning Writer and Filmmaker
26. Theodore Dalrymple, English Writer and Psychiatrist
27. Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
28. Redmond O’Hanlon FRSL, British Writer and Scholar
29. Diana Athill, Award-Winning Author and Literary Editor
30. Christopher Hitchens, Best-Selling Author, Award-Winning Columnist

(And sorry for the awkward grammar, I blame the pills for the cough).

The Wisdom of Bertrand Russell

One of the benefits of being sick with this miserable cold has been that I’ve only had the energy to read and not do much else. Last night, after deciding to go to bed at an unusually early hour, I looked at my shelves and decided that Bertrand Russell would make for good company on the plague ship (as I have now re-named my bedroom), and provide a nice counter-point to the darkness of the German Romantics that I’ve been reading too much of lately.

I first read Russell in high school; it was his essay, “How I Write.” I remember liking it, but the stronger memory is of my literature teacher getting into trouble for assigning that reading. It was a Catholic school, after all, and Russell was not known for being kind to religion. That incident only served to pique my interest all the more, and by the time I started college, I had read a substantial amount of his work, including last night’s read, Why I Am Not a Christian. 

By the time I first read him, I must have been in my junior year of high school, and I had certainly already started to question my faith. As I previously wrote, that process of questioning started in the early eighties after watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. A question that always plagued me during those early years of questioning, however, dealt with morality. As someone raised Roman Catholic, morality was something relatively external; there were a set of rules you lived by, and if you transgressed, you were a sinner. If you had no religion, how would you know what was good? I found my answer in Russell, before I was even able to crack the spine of the book, in the preface.

The world that I should wish to see would be one freed from the virulence of group hostilities and capable of realizing that happiness for all is to be derived rather from cooperation than from strife. I should wish to see a world in which education aimed at mental freedom rather than at imprisoning the minds of the young in a rigid armor of dogma calculated to protect them through life against the shafts of impartial evidence. The world needs open hearts and open minds, and it is not through rigid systems, whether old or new, that these can be derived.

Needless to say, a thorough reading of the book and its many essays (especially “What I Believe”) drove the point home that morality, true morality, did not have to come from a preset set of rules, but that it was and should be something internal. According to Russell, morality sprang from a confluence of love and knowledge, or as he states, “love guided by knowledge.”

So this morning, as my daughter watched her cartoons and I ran around the house singing the Spiderman theme song (thanks Marc), I remembered a BBC interview with Russell that I watched a while back. There was a part of it where he was asked what he would say to future generations, what hopes he would have for us and our children. I was lucky enough to find the exact clip, and here it is. Everyone must watch this.

The full interview can be found here, and is definitely worth the watch. He is a beautiful mind and a beautiful man. “Love is wise, hatred is foolish.” Indeed.