Growing up in the universe – Waking up in the universe (1991)

Richard Dawkins

In the first of his CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Richard Dawkins explores the origins of life. Beginning with a look at our ancestry, he shows how the probability of our existence is very small.

Watch time: 59:36
Richard Dawkins speaking in the Ri theatre
Credit: Royal Institution

Lecture 1 - Waking up in the universe

Life grows up in the universe by gradual degrees of evolution. Billions of years ago, there existed a vast population of bacteria. But it was only an elite group of these bacteria that evolved to become humans. In truth, we are lucky to be alive.

In the first of his CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Richard Dawkins explores the origins of life. Beginning with a look at our ancestry, he shows how the probability of our existence is very small. Becoming an ancestor is much more difficult than simple reproduction, and Richard reveals how our ancestors did what it took to survive and pass on their genes.

But although some of our life must be devoted to perpetuating it, surely there must be more to it? Richard explores the role of art and culture in society, and examines how the capabilities of the human body have enabled us to accomplish complex tasks.   

When it comes to our understanding of the meaning of life, science is important. As Richard explains, science can help us uncover both when we arrived on this planet, and why we are here. Some people turn to the supernatural for the answer to such questions. Richard looks at the limitations of beliefs in the supernatural and uses a cannonball to prove why instead we should have faith in science and its predictions.

About the 1991 CHRISTMAS LECTURES

The world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins presents the CHRISTMAS LECTURES on "our own growing knowledge of how life grows up in the universe."

Just as children grow up to be adults, so too does life gradually evolve on a planet over thousands of generations, to move from “nonliving simplicity” to become “living complexity”.

Combining beautiful writing with a range of illuminating demonstrations, the series featured a variety of wildlife, a virtual reality Lecture Theatre, and special guests – including the late Douglas Adams reading an excerpt from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Topic

Chemistry

18 and 19 August holiday workshops cancelled

Due to planned transport strikes, all holiday workshops on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 August are cancelled.