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Darwin Day Lectures

2022 – People and pathogens: the evolution of infections

Conway Hall, London

Epidemiologist Professor Dame Anne Johnson drew on her extensive background in working on the HIV/AIDS and Covid-19 pandemics to present an exploration of the dynamic interplay between people, pathogens, and their environments, and the measures at our disposal to protect against infection. The lecture was chaired by Professor Alice Roberts.

2021 – Morality Explained: The New Science of Right and Wrong


Anthropologist Dr Oliver Scott Curry explored the latest scientific evidence that hint at answers to questions which have long plagued philosophers. The new science of right and wrong that suggests that Darwin was on the right track when he said that humanity’s ‘so-called moral sense is originally derived from the social instincts’, and that morality is deeply rooted in human nature, and part of our evolutionary heritage. The lecture, which was held online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, was chaired by Professor Alice Roberts.

2020 – Evolution or extinction?

Troxy, London

Naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham CBE posed the question ‘Are we past the point of no return?’ as he explored the increasingly fraught relationship between humanity and the fragile ecosystem we call home: planet Earth. The lecture was chaired by Professor Alice Roberts.

2019 – Taking courage from Darwin

Troxy, London

Evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins gives the Darwin Day Lecture for the first time as he passes on the role of permanent chair to Professor Alice Roberts. His lecture connected lessons from the life of Charles Darwin to our modern need to reassert the values of rational thinking and a ‘scientific frame of mind’. Alice Roberts presented him with the inaugural Darwin Day Medal.

2018 – The evolution of human morality

Logan Hall, Institute of Education

Evolutionary psychologist Dr Diana S. Fleischman presented a study of the origins of human morality, the biases and pitfalls emerging from that unique evolutionary path, and the case for a utilitarian ethics that can improve and better our understanding of what it means to be good. The lecture was chaired by Professor Jim Al-Khalili.

2017 – Cosmic natural selection

The Light at Euston and the Camden Centre

Over two nights, theoretical physicist Professor Lawrence Krauss presented a tour de force lecture explaining the forces that shaped our universe ‘from nothing’, at the same time, a history of humankind’s gradual journey towards better understanding the world we live in. Krauss was chaired by Professor Richard Dawkins.

2017 – Back to the dark ages? Evolution and antibiotic resistance

Leeds Beckett University

Molecular microbiologist Professor Maggie Smith explored the rapid rise of antibiotic resistance as bacteria evolve resistance in real-time to the life-saving drugs that make so many aspects of modern life possible, and the strategies humanity must take to avoid disaster.

2016 – Evolution and atheism: best friends forever?

Logan Hall, Institute of Education

Using data from around the world, evolutionary biologist Dr Jerry Coyne explored how scientific literary and understanding of evolution appeared to be inimical to religious belief, as well as correlated with higher degrees of social justice, social security, and affordable health care. The lecture was chaired by Professors Alice Roberts and Steve Jones.

2016 – How Darwinian is cultural evolution?

Newcastle University

Evolutionary anthropologist Dr Thom Scott-Phillips explored the concept of the meme and challenged the widespread analogy made between the evolution of species and cultural transmission, adaptation, and evolution over time.

2015 – What Would Darwin Say to Today’s Creationists?

Logan Hall, Institute of Education

Anthropologist Dr. Eugenie Scott explored the modern creationist movement and the science both in Darwin’s time and since which overwhelmingly supports the theory of evolution. Chaired by Professor Richard Dawkins.

2014 February 12 – How to Make a Human

Logan Hall, Institute of Education

Anatomist and paleopathologist Professor Alice Roberts explored the early development of the human form., chaired by Professor Richard Dawkins “It’s the closest we ever come, as humans, to a transformation as profound as that from a caterpillar into a butterfly. In the first two months of our existence, each of us changed from a single egg to a flat disc, to a hollow tube, to a little creature with stumpy arms and legs, to something that looked recognisably human. And in the course of that embryological development, there were echoes of earlier stages of evolution, harking back to very ancient ancestors – ancestors we share with insects, fish, amphibians and reptiles.”

You can read more about the lecture on Storify here.

2013 February 12 – The emergence of drug resistance: Molecular evolution and new medicines for cancer and tuberculosis

Congress Centre, London

Presented by Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Professor Emeritus and Director of Research, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge.

“Over the past fifty years our knowledge of the evolution of proteins in living cells has has been mapped in terms of molecular architecture and amino acid sequence. We have begun to learn that many accepted mutations are selectively neutral but others appear to be selectively advantageous to the organism by optimising stability, activity and interactions at the molecular and cellular levels. More recently second generation methods of gene sequencing are allowing us to follow the evolution and emergence of resistance as tumours escape the restraints of tissue function and as pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV evade the immune response of the host. To understand this is essential to the design of new medicines. I will discuss work in my laboratory funded by the Wellcome Trust on cancer and by the Gates Foundation on tuberculosis. The reality of evolution will take me to the Cambridge Science Park, to Astex the company I co-founded to work on cancer medicines, and to collaborations with India and Southern Africa on tuberculosis where many lives are impacted by HIV and TB.”

You can view the lecture here.

2012 February 8 – Creation: synthetic biology and the origin of life

Congress Centre, London

With the Theory of Evolution being robustly verified over the last 152 years, we have reached a point where it is extremely unlikely to be replaced wholesale. A major outstanding question concerns the origin of the first species, some 4 billion years ago. We are inching towards not only a picture of how genesis occurred, primarily by experiments that try to replicate it. Similarly, the fusion of evolutionary theory with an understanding of genetics has gifted us an unprecedented ability to manipulate and create novel lifeforms. This technology places us at the cusp of an industrial revolution, where the nuts and bolts are cells and DNA. This Darwin Day Lecture concerns the prequel, and the sequel to evolution.

The 2012 Darwin Day lecture focusses on the new science of synthetic biology and is presented by renowned author, broadcaster, scientist, and geek Adam Rutherford, and chaired by biologist Steve Jones.

You can view the lecture here.

2011 February 9 – Mutants, And What To Do About Them

Conway Hall, London

Humans are afflicted by a continual storm of mutations.  Individually rare, these mutations are collectively responsible for thousands of genetic disorders.  Now that the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped to less than the price of a new car, we can start to defend ourselves against them. In this lecture, Armand Marie Leroi outlines how.

Our 2011 lecturer Professor Armand Leroi is Professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology at Imperial College London, author of Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body for which he was awarded the Guardian First Book Award in 2004. He presented the documentaries Human MutantsAlien Worlds, and What Makes Us Human.

You can listen to the lecture here.

2010 February 11 – Darwin and Human Evolution

Conway Hall, London

When On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 the only recognised human fossils were from Europe, and this was still the case when Darwin completed The Descent of Man in 1871. Nevertheless, he argued by inference that humans had probably originated in Africa. However, it was not until 50 years later that Africa started to produce a fossil record which showed that Darwin’s educated guess was correct. Professor Chris Stringer on the ‘out of Africa’ theory. Chaired by Richard Dawkins.

2009 February 11 – Can British Science Rise to the New Challenges of the Twenty-First Century?

Conway Hall, London

200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, 150 years after the publication of On the Origion of Species, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, Professor Sir David King, considers the state of British science today. Chaired by Richard Dawkins.

2008 February 12 – Darwin: A Philosophical Naturalist?

Darwin Lecture Theatre, UCL

Dr Tim Lewens asks about the philosophical underpinnings of Charles Darwin’s thought and assesses the evidence about Darwin’s own beliefs. Chaired by Richard Dawkins.

2006 February 13 – Darwin’s meme

Darwin Lecture Theatre, UCL

Dr Susan Blackmore on “Darwin’s meme: or the origin of culture by means of natural selection”. Chaired by Richard Dawkins.

2005 February 11 – Darwin, a ‘Devil’s Chaplain’?

Dr James Moore.  Chaired by Richard Dawkins.

Report and edited transcript of the lecture by James Moore.

2004 February 12 – The Peppered Moth Controversy

A lecture by Dr Michael Majerus. Chaired by Richard Dawkins.

2003 February 12 – Is Creationism Scientific?

Conway Hall, London.

Stephen Law and Robin Dunbar offer philosophical and scientific perspectives respectively on the question “Is Creationism Scientific?”. Chaired by Andrew Brown.

Report and notes for the lecture by Stephen Law.

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