Over the years I’ve watched a number of documentaries about evolution, natural selection, and other related topics, many of which I greatly enjoyed and learned quite a bit from. In today’s article, I thought I’d assemble some of the films I found to be the most captivating and engaging, so that others may also bear witness to the science and beauty of evolution.
The Great Human Odyssey
My comment: This documentary, which is a part of the science series NOVA, is high on the list of the most memorable documentaries about evolution I’ve watched. As you’ve likely gathered from seeing the title of the video, the primary focus is on humans. The episode takes you back in time, to when our ancestors roamed the African plains several million years ago. Eventually, you get to take part in our species’ migration out of Africa and into the far corners of the world.
Darwin’s Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species
My comment: This is a documentary I came across and watched very recently. Prior to watching it, I already knew quite a lot about Darwin’s life and the origin and evolution of his most famous book – On the Origin of Species; however, I enjoyed the film nonetheless and left the screening a couple of new tidbits richer. Among other things, I didn’t know that Darwin used to place a number of stones on the ground of ‘the thinking path’ adjacent to his house, which he used to keep track of the number of ‘laps’ he made when he was out walking. Every time he passed the stones, he kicked one to the side of the road, continuing his exercise until all the stones were gone. Note that this documentary is about the life and work of just one man – Darwin. I’d argue that he’s a very fascinating person; however, if you’re new to evolutionary science and feel somewhat indifferent about Darwin the man, then you may be better off starting with some of the other documentaries on the list.
The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey
My comment: I watched this documentary a few years back. What I remember really enjoying about it is that it brings one into the homes and lives of various traditional people. Furthermore, I remember taking a liking to Spencer Wells – the geneticist who takes one through the film. I found him to be a smart and knowledgeable presenter fully capable of engaging his audience. In some ways, this documentary resembles The Great Human Odyssey. It has some unique properties though. Among other things, when compared with The Great Human Odyssey, this documentary is more concerned with the genetic evolution of man.
What Darwin Never Knew
My comment: Modern science has confirmed that Charles Robert Darwin got the fundamentals of evolution right. That being said, Darwin obviously didn’t have access to the same information or biotechnology that we have at our disposal today. He had no way of knowing about recent advances in molecular science for example. In this intriguing documentary, you get to learn about some of these new advances.
DNA Mysteries: The Search For Adam
My comment: In this documentary, you’ll get to accompany Spencer Wells – the same man who’s at the wheel in The Journey of Man – on a search to find Y-chromosomal Adam. He’ll bring you to many interesting places, including East Africa, where the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers live.
Evolution: Great Transformations
My comment: This is the second part in a 7-part series on evolution provided by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). In this episode, you get to learn about how the great diversity of life we see around us came to be. An overview of the series can be found here. I’ve included links to all of the episodes below, in case you’re interested in exploring this show further. Although it may be ideal to start with episode 1, it’s not completely necessary, as each episode is distinct in its own way.
- Part 1: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
- Part 3: Extinction!
- Part 4: The Evolutionary Arms Race
- Part 5: Why Sex?
- Part 6: The Mind’s Big Bang
- Part 7: What About God?
The Genius of Charles Darwin
My comment: In this documentary series, Richard Dawkins – one of the most renowned and outspoken scientists of our time – explores the life, work, and legacy of Charles Darwin, as well as the religious opposition his ideas have faced. You can find links to parts 2 and 3 below: