[URBANTH-L]REV: Collett-White on Darwin's Sacred Cause

Angela Jancius jancius3022 at comcast.net
Sun Jan 25 21:55:04 EST 2009

Hatred Of Slavery Drove Darwin Ideas
By Mike Collett-White
Jan 23, 2009

LONDON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A new book on Charles Darwin
says a passionate hatred of slavery was fundamental to
his theory of evolution, which challenged the assumption
held by many at the time that blacks and whites were
separate species.

"Darwin's Sacred Cause" is among the first of dozens of
works about the 19th century scientist to appear in
2009, the bicentenary of his birth and 150th anniversary
of the publication of his groundbreaking "On the Origin
of Species".

Its authors, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, also expect
it to be one of the most controversial, because it
explores what they call Darwin's humanitarianism and
challenges the notion that his conclusions were the
result of pure scientific pursuit. "There's got to be
reasons why he came to common descent images of
evolution when there was no precedent for that in the
zoological science of his day," Desmond told Reuters.
"It comes out of anti-slavery.

"No one doubts that the Galapagos Islands, mockingbirds,
the giant ground sloths and the giant tortoises were
absolutely fundamental to his views and what he was
interested in.

"But you have to look at some sort of marshalling
principle. Every ship carried more than one naturalist
generally in those days -- why did none of them come to
this kind of common descent view and yet most of them
had seen exactly the same evidence?"

Moore said the book did not seek to reduce the argument
to "I'm against slavery therefore I'm an evolutionist",

"This is not a reductionist argument. We are making the
case that it was necessary for Darwin to believe in
'brotherhood science' in order to see common descent. We
can't figure out where else he got it from."

Desmond and Moore return to the naturalist 18 years
after "Darwin", their acclaimed biography of the man who
concluded all species evolved from common ancestors.

As he himself was aware, his theories were

They knocked humans from their perch by suggesting they
shared ancestors with monkeys and slugs, undermined the
latest scientific research claiming whites were a
superior species to blacks and challenged creationist


Desmond and Moore argue that their view is important,
because it shows Darwin was driven by human desires and
needs, and throws new light on works that are still
attacked today for being morally subversive.

The authors sifted through thousands of letters and
other archive material from the Darwin family
correspondence and Cambridge University Library and
related Darwin to the key racial literature of his day.

The National Archives also contained the logbooks of HMS
Beagle, the ship aboard which Darwin travelled the world
and gathered evidence that provided the basis of his

Darwin's Sacred Cause traces the naturalist's
abolitionism to his grandfathers' opposition to slavery
and to his friends and upbringing in Edinburgh and
Cambridge at the height of the anti-slavery movement.

Crucially, he also had first-hand experience of slavery
on the Beagle. During his five-year voyage Darwin saw
evidence of thumbscrews, beatings, the result of armed
clashes with white "masters" and heard of slavemasters
threatening to sell the children of their slaves.

"Darwin came home from the Beagle voyage and in months
he plumped for the common descent view of evolution,"
said Desmond.

Moore said that while many scientists see politics and
morals as "polluting" factors in research, Darwin is an
example of someone who successfully combined the two.

"We know Darwin 'got it right'. At one and the same
time, Darwin could see something as a moral position and
as scientifically relevant."

Darwin's Sacred Cause is published by Penguin imprint
Allen Lane and hits the shelves in Britain on Jan. 29.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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