I have collated here the main documentaries which the BBC has thus far shown (as at 10 April 2009) to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life - David Attenborough:
Passionate Darwinian David Attenborough, who sees evolution as the cornerstone of all the series he has ever made, shares his personal view on Darwin's controversial idea.
Journeying through the last two hundred years, he tracks the changes in our understanding of the natural world, and asks three key questions: How and why did Darwin come up with his theory? Why do most people think he was right? And why is it more important now than ever before?
Darwin's Dangerous Idea - Andrew Marr:
1 - Body and Soul
In the first episode of the three-part series, Andrew Marr explores how Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has taken on a life of its own far beyond the world of science.
He argues that Darwin's theory has transformed our understanding of what it means to be human. Over the last 150 years, Darwin's ideas have challenged the need for a creator, undermined religious authority, and provided new ways of looking at the origins of human morality.
Marr's journey begins following Darwin's footsteps in Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America where Darwin first encountered an 'uncivilised' native tribe. This began to raise questions in his mind about the origins of the human race. The answers to these questions would emerge over the next 30 years, culminating in the publication of On The Origin of Species in 1859.
Marr then traces the development of Darwin's idea in the years since then and finds a range of influences that Darwin could never have imagined: from the existential philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche to the battlefields of the First World War; from the Freudian psychoanalyst's couch to the Vatican; and from the genetic logic of kindness to an Islamic creationist's claim that Darwin is to blame for modern terrorism. Darwin's dangerous idea is as influential and challenging today as it was 150 years ago.
2 - Born Equal?
Andrew Marr discovers something surprising about his own evolutionary history as this epic series continues with an exploration of Darwin's impact on politics and society.
Under the banner of Survival of the Fittest, Darwin's theory of natural selection has been used to justify imperial expansion and the oppression of indigenous peoples; to inform the science of eugenics - the selective breeding of humans which was implemented in the United States in the early 20th century; and to provide a veneer of scientific respectability to Nazi plans to create an Aryan master race. It was also used quite explicitly to explain the twisted logic of the final solution.
But Andrew Marr also finds a kind of redemption for Darwin's theory of evolution. After the Second World War, it was a founding idea behind the democratic, anti-racist values of the United Nations. More recently, it has also been used to help eliminate a fatal genetic disease from the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Marr goes on to consider the difficult social and political choices presented by predictive DNA testing - the final frontier of Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
3 - Life and Death
In the final episode of this ground-breaking series about Charles Darwin's legacy, Andrew Marr discovers how Darwin's ideas are helping us to save ourselves and all life on earth from extinction. Marr argues that Charles Darwin is the father of ecology. The modern environmental movement was built upon his insight that all life on earth is linked by a delicate web of connections. He also discovers that Darwin's dangerous idea is inspiring scientists to create a 'flotilla of Darwinian Noah's Arks' to help save life on earth from disaster.
Exploring the impact of industrialisation, intensive farming and our growing hunger for meat, Marr tells the story of our slow awakening to the full implications of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and our own destructive powers as a species. After showing how Darwin developed his ideas by digging up fossils, exploring coral reefs and studying the habits of the humble earthworm, Marr explains how Darwin's dangerous idea was launched into the space age. He discovers the mysterious movements of the 'mouse society', snorkels over a coral reef and visits a 'boiling cauldron of evolution' - the tropical rainforest - which is now threatened by the shadow of mass extinction.
Over the last 150 years, the combination of Darwin's ideas with politics has often had disastrous social consequences. In this programme, Andrew Marr argues that our failure to combine politics with Darwin's insights into the delicate connections between all life on earth could be accelerating the countdown to our own extinction.
Darwin's Struggle - The Evolution of the Origin of Species:
Documentary telling the little-known story of how Darwin came to write his great masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, a book which explains the wonderful variety of the natural world as emerging out of death and the struggle of life.
In the twenty years he took to develop a brilliant idea into a revolutionary book, Darwin went through a personal struggle every bit as turbulent as that of the natural world he observed. Fortunately, he left us an extraordinary record of his brilliant insights, observations of nature, and touching expressions of love and affection for those around him. He also wrote frank accounts of family tragedies, physical illnesses and moments of self-doubt, as he laboured towards publication of the book that would change the way we see the world.
The story is told with the benefit of Darwin's secret notes and correspondence, enhanced by natural history filming, powerful imagery from the time and contributions from leading contemporary biographers and scientists.
Did Darwin Kill God?
There are some who believe that Darwin's theory of evolution has weakened religion, fuelled in part by Richard Dawkins' publishing phenomenon The God Delusion. Conor Cunningham argues that nothing could be further from the truth.
Cunningham is a firm believer in the theory of evolution, but he is also a Christian. He believes that the clash between Darwin and God has been hijacked by extremists - fundamentalist believers who reject evolution on one side, and fundamentalist atheists on the other. Cunningham attempts to overturn what he believes are widely held but mistaken assumptions in the debate between religion and evolution.
He travels to the Middle East where he shows that from the very outset, Christianity warned against literal readings of the biblical story of creation. In Britain, he reveals that, at the time, Darwin's theory of evolution was welcomed by the Anglican and Catholic Churches. Instead, he argues that the conflict between Darwin and God was manufactured by American creationists in the 20th century for reasons that had very little to do with science and religion and a great deal to do with politics and morality.
Finally, he comes face to face with some of the most eminent evolutionary biologists, geneticists and philosophers of our time to examine whether the very latest advances in evolutionary theory do in fact kill God.
What Darwin Didn't Know:
For those of you who enjoyed Richard Dawkins' wonderful documentary series following the life of Charles Darwin we now have an offering from the BBC which is just as enjoyable.
This documentary, which is presented by the lucid Professor Armand Leroi, tells the story of evolutionary theory since Darwin postulated it in 1859 in 'On the Origin of Species'.
The theory of evolution by natural selection is now scientific orthodoxy, but when it was unveiled it caused a storm of controversy, from fellow scientists as well as religious people. They criticised it for being short on evidence and long on assertion and Darwin, being the honest scientist that he was, agreed with them. He knew that his theory was riddled with 'difficulties', but he entrusted future generations to complete his work and prove the essential truth of his vision, which is what scientists have been doing for the past 150 years.
Evolutionary biologist Professor Armand Marie Leroi charts the scientific endeavour that brought about the triumphant renaissance of Darwin's theory. He argues that, with the new science of evolutionary developmental biology (evo devo), it may be possible to take that theory to a new level - to do more than explain what has evolved in the past, and start to predict what might evolve in the future.