Here’s a book that most creationists hope you never read and which strikes terror in the hearts of Discovery Institute fellows: Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution.
It’s another grand book on Darwin from the team of Adrian Desmond and James Moore, based on their deep diving into the archives of writings from and about Darwin in his own time. Their earlier book, Darwin, is a bit of a modern classic in biography, and a must-read for anyone seriously studying Darwin and evolution.
This book promises to eviscerate a favorite chunk of calumny claimed by creationists, that Darwin’s theory is flawed because Darwin himself was a racist. Scientists painstakingly note that the racist views of a scientist don’t affect the theory (think of William Shockley and the transistor), but creationists still use the false claim as fodder for sermon’s and internet rants. Or, in the case of the Discovery Institute, the false claims is used as a justification to appoint a fellow in the propaganda department, Richard Weikart.
Desmond and Moore confront the claims head on, it appears. How will creationists change their story to accommodate these facts? Or, will creationists resort to denial?
One theme that may be supported in the book is the realization that pursuit of a noble cause frequenly ennobles those who pursue it. Certainly it is easy to make a case that Darwin’s hatred of slavery and advocacy for its abolition colored his views of what he saw, though perhaps not so much as what he saw colored his views of slavery and abolition. Desmond and Moore have a chapter that discusses Charles Lyell’s trips to America, and Lyell’s different views on slavery having traveled the American south. Lyell did not travel as an abolitionist, and his views suffer as a result. Lyell was a product of his times in the portrait Desmond and Moore paint. Darwin demonstrated the power of science, and the power of personal use of science, in using the facts to overcome racism; Darwin used his experience and study to rise above the times. That may be the difference between the men, why we celebrate Darwin today, and remember Lyell as a good scientist, but usually a footnote to Darwin.
- Conturnix comments at Blog Around the Clock
- The first chapter of the book, at The New York Times
- Review of the book in The New York Times
- Review of the book in The Christian Science Monitor
- Review of the book in The Guardian
- Science News review
- Extensive review in Nature (some kind of subscription required; much available without subscription)
- Special resources on Darwin at Nature