Richard Dawkins to headline unique Bristol event, Sat. 24th August 2013

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Science and the Arts come together to celebrate the life and achievements of Alfred Russel Wallace on the centenary of his death.

On the 24th of August you are invited to historic Bristol to meet musicians, artists, authors and scientists gathering to honour Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the process of evolution by natural selection.  Much of the money raised will go to the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund, to help commission a bronze statue of Wallace for London’s Natural History Museum. The statue will be unveiled by Sir David Attenborough on the 7th of November 2013, the exact centenary of Wallace’s death.


Well known as an admirer of Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins is also keen to see Wallace recognised for his contributions to evolutionary science.  “Alfred Wallace's discovery of natural selection was as great an achievement as Darwin's, because he had no way of knowing that Darwin had already thought of it. He should be celebrated for that, but also for his major contributions to biogeography ("Wallace's Line"), and also for his personal modesty. His deference to Darwin was partly responsible for his lack of public recognition, and I am delighted to participate in this event, which is designed to do him honour, long overdue.”

Professor Dawkins will share the stage with marine ecologist Dr Jon Copley, author and professor emeritus professor of Homerton College, Cambridge Dr Peter Raby, and human evolutionary biologist Dr Mark Thomas.    Also joining them will be CEO of the British Humanist Association Andrew Copson, musician Jonny Berliner, and Wallace enthusiasts Theatr na nÓg fresh from their appearance at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Tickets for this one-off event are available but selling fast; please visit http://www.entangled-bank.co.uk/dawkins-in-bristol.html to buy yours now.

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This event forms part of The Ancestor’s Trail, which celebrates our place in the natural world and will continue all weekend in Somerset.  For further details please see http://ancestorstrail.net/.

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Richard Dawkins in Bristol to honour Wallace

 

You’re coming to Bristol in August for the ‘Wallace in Bristol’ event which is, in turn, part of The Ancestor’s Trail. What will you be doing at this event and what else will be happening on the day? I’ll be one of a number of speakers honouring Wallace, the “other Darwin”. The event is in aid of a good cause, raising a statue of Wallace to join Darwin’s in the Natural History Museum. My talk is called ‘Give the under surface to Mr Wallace, but yield the upper surface to Mr Darwin.’ Enigmatic, yes, intentionally so with a meaning both literal and metaphoric. All will become clear, and I shall leave plenty of time to answer questions at the end.

‘Wallace in Bristol’ is in honour of Alfred Russel Wallace: how important was his work to the study of evolution? Natural selection is a remarkably simple yet powerful idea, and it is astonishing that it had to wait till the mid nineteenth century before anyone thought of it. And then two English naturalists thought of it at almost the same time. Charles Darwin is well known. Alfred Wallace is often forgotten, but he really did have the same idea as Darwin, at almost the same time, and he expressed it in almost exactly the same terms. Indeed, in some ways Wallace’s way of putting it was even clearer – dare I say even more Darwinian (and, by the way, Wallace coined the word “Darwinism”) than Darwin’s own.

The Ancestors’ Trail is inspired by your book ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ in which you relate the history of evolution using reverse chronology. Why did you choose to adopt that particular strategy? Forward chronology has a pernicious weakness. It can suggest, if we are not very careful, that evolution is “aiming” at some distant future target. It becomes even more pernicious if that distant target is considered to be humanity. Since we are human, it is entirely pardonable to be especially interested in our own ancestry. I wanted to pander to this, but at the same time the last thing I wanted was to suggest that evolution was aiming towards us, or that we are “evolution’s last word” etc. When you put it like that, a solution leaps to mind. Tell the story of evolution backwards. Begin with humans and work backwards to the origin of life. We could begin with anything, hornet, hippopotamus or hummingbird and work backwards. The end point would be the same in all cases: the origin of life. That is the beauty of working backwards, and that very fact tells us something important about evolution.


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  1. I’m going to the Bristol event and the Ancestors trail.
    I’ll be taking the 8am train from London Paddington to Bristol
    The coach will be taking me to the theatre in Bristol, and then after the show, will be taken to Halsway Manor where the walk is based
    If any of you have read The Ancestors Tale, this walk brings it to life.
    As Richard said last year, anyone can have a film named after a book, but Richard has a walk named after his book
    Life is a journey, not a destination, and this is a great journey with fascinating people

  2. I googled The Ancestor’s Trail 2013 to see the route, and was surprised to see that there was one on June 23 in the west end of Toronto. We don’t see many things like this around here, and I missed it, just as I won’t make the UK Event, again.
    I see it was marked in the RDFRS Calendar behind the Events button – but I didn’t see that …. 8-( …. Mac.

    http://www.ancestorstrail.ca/

  3. @OP – I’ll be one of a number of speakers honouring Wallace, the “other Darwin”. The event is in aid of a good cause, raising a statue of Wallace to join Darwin’s in the Natural History Museum.

    It was 2008 when Darwin’s statue was moved to its present prominent position in the central hall.

    http://blog.hmsbeagleproject.org/2008/05/darwins-statue-safely-moved.html
    [The] move of Darwin’s statue from the café of the Natural History Museum in London to its more dignified original location at the top of the grand staircase. Well, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve been into the central hall and seen for myself that the scaffolding is down and Darwin looks just splendid up there

    It will be good to see the two presented together as statues of equals.

    There has already been a move to bring Wallace centre stage:-

    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/wallace100/blog/2013/01/08/portrait-of-wallace-to-be-unveiled-at-the-nhm?fromGateway=true
    On the evening of 24 January 2013, comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey unveiled this striking portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace at the top of our grand Central Hall staircase, near to the Charles Darwin statue.

  4. In reply to #7 by Alan4discussion:

    It will be good to see the two presented together as statues of equals.

    There’s a lot of disinformation about the Wallace statue appearing on the web. So here is a potted history.

    Founded more than a year ago by Dr George Beccaloni, curator of orthopteroid insects at London’s Natural History Museum, it was George’s AR Wallace Memorial Fund which first came up with the idea of commissioning a major bronze statue of Wallace.

    After some allegedly tortuous negotiations, the donation of the statue to the NHM was agreed, followed by further argument about where it would actually go: it appears that departmental politics at the NHM are every bit as labyrinthine as the building itself!

    We’re absolutely delighted that the statue will now stand outside the new Darwin II centre, near to the wildlife garden, adjacent to the museum’s second entrance. Sir David has agreed to unveil the piece, and to deliver a talk about Wallace and the Birds of Paradise, on 7 November 2013, the exact centenary of Wallace’s death.

    This is an ideal place for the statue, as it will depict the naturalist in an active pose, dressed for the jungle, and about to snare yet another butterfly with his net. Further details are secret! It will be a beautiful work of art, destined to remain in place for centuries.

    Wallace will not stand inside the museum or be ‘next to Darwin’.

    There remains but one trivial detail to be agreed: how to pay for all this extravagance! A major bronze, commissioned from acclaimed sculptor Anthony Smith costs many tens of thousands of pounds, even after the substantial discount offered by Anthony in recognition of his personal support for the project.

    The original fund did not raise enough money by the time the sculptor required instruction; that is when and why the charity Entangled Bank became involved. We have underwritten the cost in advance, and are now planning a major event in London on 16 November 2013 to recover that cost. This is in addition to our association with, and underwriting of, the Ancestor’s Trail event above.

    The Nov 16 London event features Richard Dawkins, comedian and Wallace expert Bill Bailey, psychologist Richard Wiseman, and palaeontologist Richard Fortey, with Material World’s Quentin Cooper as host.

    It’s an all-day event with individual presentations, followed by a final group discussion.

    To be held at London’s ExCel conference centre – a venue capable of seating up to 7,000 people – a science speaking event like this has never been attempted before. Ticket sales will commence soon; full details are here.

    You may download an A5 flyer for the event here.

    If you are unable to attend, donations directly to the statue fund may be made here. Anyone donating more than ten pounds Sterling or the currency equivalent automatically gets their name inside a time capsule, sealed inside the statue!

    Major donors will be offered some very special recognition and rewards. Please e-mail for details: admin@entangled-bank.co.uk

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