Morality Explained: The New Science of Right and Wrong, with Dr Oliver Scott Curry | The Darwin Day Lecture 2021

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February 12th, 2021 19:00   --   20:30

In 1859, Charles Darwin turned humanity’s understanding of our place in the universe on its head. Humans have not existed since the dawn of the universe as we are today, but in fact are among the descendants of an unbroken chain of ancestors stretching back billions of years. The same is true for every living creature on Earth – our extended family tree.


In 1871’s Descent of Man, Darwin applied his theory to human nature, and to morality. He argued that ‘the so-called moral sense is originally derived from the social instincts’, and that ‘any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts…would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man’.

At the Darwin Day Lecture 2021, in an online lecture on Zoom, Dr Oliver Scott Curry will present the latest scientific explanation of morality

This new science of right and wrong answers such questions as: How do ‘selfish genes’ make selfless people? Are there ‘genes for’ morality? When does morality emerge in children? How many moral values are there? Are there any universal moral rules, found in all cultures? How and why do individuals and societies have different moral values? And what does science tell us about how we ought to behave?

The answers to these questions show that Darwin was on the right track. Morality is deeply rooted in human nature, part of our evolutionary heritage. A hopeful message in a year when we have relied on one another more than usual, to overcome the common challenge of covid.

About Dr Oliver Scott Curry

Oliver’s academic research investigates the nature, content and structure of human morality, and encompasses all of the questions above. To reach the answers, he employs a range of techniques from philosophy, experimental and social psychology, and comparative anthropology. His work argues that morality is best understood as a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life, and he will explore some of that work and the evidence for his ideas in the Darwin Day Lecture 2021.

In addition to his research, Oliver has taught courses on evolution and human behaviour, covering evolutionary theory, animal behaviour, evolutionary psychology, cross-cultural psychology, statistics and research methods.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry is Research Director for Kindlab, at He is also a Research Affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, and a Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, at the London School of Economics. He received his PhD from LSE in 2005.


About Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.

She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.

She combines her academic career with one as a science presenter on television. She has appeared as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time Team and in various projects on BBC2, including Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, Wild Swimming, Digging for Britain, Horizon, and Origins of Us.

About the Darwin Day Lecture series

The Darwin Day Lecture explores humanism and humanist thought as related to science and evolution, Charles Darwin, or his works. The Darwin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named and held to mark the annual global celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin, held every 12 February.

Note: Live captions in English will be available at this online event hosted on Zoom.

The Darwin Day Lecture 2021:
General ticket: £7.00