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Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolutionby Adrian Desmond
"Desmond and Moore have, with great thoroughness, displayed the variety of ideological and scientific positions on slavery during the first half of the 19th century." Robert J. Richards, American Scientist (read the entire American Scientist review)
Synopses & Reviews
Mining untapped sources, the authors of an acclaimed biography of Darwin offer an astonishing new portrait of the scientific icon. In Darwin's Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore restore the missing moral core of Darwin's evolutionary universe, providing a completely new account of how he came to his shattering theories about human origins.
Desmond and Moore's biography of Darwin was described by Stephen Jay Gould as unquestionably the finest...ever written about him. In their new book, timed to coincide with the worldwide Darwin bicentenary celebrations, Desmond and Moore provide a major reexamination of Darwin's life and work.Drawing on a wealth of fresh manuscripts, unpublished letters, notebooks, diaries, and ships' logs, they argue that the driving force behind Darwin's theory of evolution was not simply his love of truth or personal ambition — it was his fierce hatred of slavery. Darwin's abolitionism had deep roots in his mother's family, and it was reinforced by his voyage on the Beagle as well as by events in America — from the Civil War to the arrival of scientific racism at Harvard. Compulsively readable and utterly persuasive, Darwin's Sacred Cause will revolutionize our view of the great scientist.
"Who better than Desmond and Moore, Darwin's acclaimed biographers, to bring a fresh perspective to Darwin's central beliefs? 'No one,' they say, 'has appreciated the source of that moral fire that fuelled his strange, out-of-character obsession with human origins.' This masterful book produces a perspective on Darwin as not only scientist but moralist. Darwin's deep abolitionist roots, say the authors, led him to ask the questions he did. Homing in on Darwin's moral and intellectual formation, and drawing on notebook jottings and marginalia, Desmond and Moore argue persuasively that the centerpiece of Darwin's work was demonstrating the 'common descent' of all human races, using science rather than activism to subvert the multiple origins view promoted by slavery's advocates. His humanitarian approach to science, the authors say, makes him more of a moral agent than his critics would concede, while the moral drive behind his science goes against today's ideal of disinterested scientific objectivity. Desmond and Moore build a new context in which to view Darwin that is utterly convincing and certain to influence scholars for generations to come. In time for Darwin's bicentennial, this is the rare book that mines old ground and finds new treasure." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln have been spotted together a lot recently — in a book by the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, in a George Will column, even on the cover of Newsweek — because they happen to have been born on the same day 200 years ago: Feb. 12, 1809. After noting that coincidence, however, commentators often miss the most direct connection between the bicentennial birthday boys: Each,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) in his own way, fought vigorously against slavery. Contrary to myth, Lincoln was late to adopt the cause of emancipation. His goal at the outset of the Civil War was to save the Union, not to free the slaves. Darwin, though born into a family of dedicated British abolitionists, was similarly slow to rise in opposition to the worldwide trade. He did not become passionate about it until he saw slavery up close in South America during his expedition aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. But his contribution to the cause, though more philosophical and less immediate than Lincoln's, was no less profound. In "Darwin's Sacred Cause," Adrian Desmond and James Moore contend that abhorrence of slavery inspired and shaped Darwin's theory of evolution. To grasp his grand project, we have first to understand one of the great scientific battles of the mid-19th century. "Polygenists," such as the American physician Samuel George Morton, held that the human races were each a distinct species, and each the result of a separate act of creation. They considered Anglo-Saxon whites superior in every way to the "debased" and "savage" darker races, which were relegated to a supposed natural position of servitude. Darwin, a man of his time, also believed in the superiority of whites. But he was convinced that all humans were one species, and that those not born to English manners could be improved through education. With growing horror, he observed slavery in Brazil and the genocide of indigenous peoples in Argentina, and decried both in his "Voyage of the Beagle": "It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty," he wrote in the 1845 edition of his popular travelogue. Fourteen years later, when he published "On the Origin of Species," Darwin described the evolution of plants and animals but not of humans. This famous omission has been variously ascribed to an abundance of caution, concern for his wife Emma's religious sensibilities or even a preference for bugs and finches over his own species. But Desmond and Moore make the case that human evolution was at the forefront of Darwin's thinking. By proving that all animal species descend from common ancestors, Darwin hoped to undercut the biological rationale for slavery without the need to draw distracting fire by addressing human origins directly, especially before he had amassed all the data he would need to prove decisively that humans also evolved. "Human evolution wasn't his last piece in the evolution jigsaw; it was the first," Desmond and Moore write. "From the very outset Darwin concerned himself with the unity of humankind. This notion of 'brotherhood' grounded his evolutionary enterprise." In lesser hands, this recasting of Darwin's life as an extended anti-slavery campaign could seem like a stretch, perhaps to justify a book for the Darwin-Lincoln double anniversary. But Desmond and Moore, professional historians of science who are widely regarded as Darwin's finest biographers, barely mention Lincoln (though they do show Darwin reading the news of America's Civil War with great interest). More to the point, the authors follow Darwin's example by deciding that the best way to prove a controversial point is "to pile on crippling quantities of detail." Drawing on his manuscripts, notebooks, letters and even marginal jottings in books, they construct a theory of both broad scope and meticulous documentation, leaving critics with few holes to probe. A small example: Polygenists maintained that mixed-race children would be sterile, much like mules. Darwin queried his contacts around the world to collect first-hand reports to disprove the point. Desmond and Moore also found that he marked up a copy of "Intermarriage," an 1838 book on miscegenation, and made a fragmentary note to himself "on advantages of crossed races of Man." What emerges from hundreds of such finds, as from Darwin's own theory, is a suddenly clarifying new view of a familiar picture. Darwin's intellectual "starting point," according to this book, was not the exotic wildlife he observed on the Galapagos Islands. It was "his hatred of the slavers' desire" to make "the black man ... subhuman, a beast to be chained." By observing Darwin's life and work anew, Desmond and Moore give us "the reverse of the fundamentalists' parody" of him as anti-God, inhuman and immoral. They describe a humanitarian who was "more sympathetic than creationists find acceptable, more morally committed than scientists would allow." And therein lies a paradox. Two centuries after his birth and 150 years after the publication of "On the Origin of Species," Darwin's memory is kept alive as much by his status as a lightning rod in the culture wars as by his scientific legacy. He ranks among the most famous scientists of all time, but how much do most of us really know about his work and the research it has inspired? For those who want to understand the evidence for evolution, Jerry A. Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True" is a fine place to start. As his unsubtle title suggests, Coyne's purpose is to banish the arguments of creationists and their intelligent design fellow travelers. Much as Darwin did, he draws upon geology and the fossil record; biogeography, or the distribution of plants and animals; and the similarities and differences among living species. But gaps that once frustrated Darwin, such as so-called "missing links" in the fossil record, can now be filled. Coyne cites the 2004 discovery of Tiktaalik, a 375 million-year-old shallow-water creature caught in mid-transition from fish to amphibian, with delicate aquatic bones thickening into an air-breather's sturdier frame. "There is no reason why a celestial designer, fashioning organisms from scratch like an architect designs buildings, should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones," Coyne writes. "But natural selection can act only by changing what already exists." Coyne also has the advantage of 150 years of scientific progress in genetics and molecular biology, much of which would have amazed Darwin. He misses the opportunity to explore the latest insights from genome science, which is allowing scientists to observe the process of evolution at the level of individual DNA changes. But he builds a strong case for the fact of evolution, and for Darwin's theory of how it works. (That species change over time isn't theoretical; how and why the changes occur is the subject of "evolutionary theory.") Coyne addresses many of the common creationist arguments head-on, outlining how complex systems such as eyes and biochemical pathways can evolve by natural selection. To his credit, however, the author acknowledges his strategy's fatal flaw: The refusal to accept evolution has precious little to do with reason, logic or evidence. Like the introductory college courses it too-closely resembles, "Why Evolution Is True" is packed with facts and clear explanations but is unlikely to change many minds. If Darwin's intent was to prove the biological connectedness of all humanity, then he succeeded brilliantly; he demolished the scientific justification for slavery prevalent in his time. Yet, ironically, more than a few bigots and crackpots have tried to use his ideas to justify further racism, starting soon after the publication of "On the Origin of Species" with the vogue for "social" Darwinism. Darwin detested those attempts, which were so at odds with what Desmond and Moore call his "sacred cause." Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin has been vilified by some, sanctified by others and, perhaps, misunderstood by most. Rich in detail, remarkably readable and engaging, Desmond and Moore's reassessment may do no more than other books to convince evolution's deniers of the grandeur of Darwin's view of life. But by revealing the motive behind his work, "Sacred Cause" is the finest birthday tribute to Charles Darwin in many years. Thomas Hayden is co-author of "Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World." Reviewed by Thomas Hayden, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Reading the sixth edition of Thomas Robert Malthusand#8217;s Essay on the Principle of Population famously led Charles Darwin to arrive at his theory of natural selection, for many have studied what Darwin took from Malthus and the influence of political economy on the theory of natural selection. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwinand#8217;s evolutionary thought has neglected a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that not only predated the 1859 publication of the Origin of Species but which persisted throughout the Victorian period at least until the First World War. Political Descent reveals that there were two evolutionary and political traditions that developed in tandem in England: the one Malthusian, the other decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing much to the transmutationist ideas of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck. The split mirrored the rift in English radicalism that followed in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act. These two traditions developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation.and#160;
Historians of science have long noted the influence of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwinand#8217;s evolutionary thought neglects a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that not only predated the 1859 publication of the Origin of Species but also persisted throughout the Victorian period until World War I. Political Descent reveals that two evolutionary and political traditions developed in England in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act: one Malthusian, the other decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing much to the ideas of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck. and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;
These two traditions, Hale shows, developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation. Participants disagreed not only about evolutionary processes but also on broader questions regarding the kind of creature our evolution had made us and in what kind of society we ought therefore to live. Significantly, and in spite of Darwinand#8217;s acknowledgement that natural selection was and#147;the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms,and#8221; both sides of the debate claimed to be the more correctly and#147;Darwinian.and#8221; By exploring the full spectrum of scientific and political issues at stake, Political Descent offers a novel approach to the relationship between evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
The ideas and terminology of Darwinism are so pervasive these days that it seems impossible to avoid them, let alone imagine a world without them. But in this remarkable rethinking of scientific history, Peter J. Bowler does just that. He asks:and#160;What if Charles Darwin had not returned from the voyage of the Beagle and thus did not write On the Origin of Species? Would someone else, such as Alfred Russel Wallace, have published the selection theory and initiated a similar transformation? Or would the absence of Darwinandrsquo;s book have led to a different sequence of events, in which biology developed along a track that did not precipitate a great debate about the impact of evolutionism? Would there have been anything equivalent to social Darwinism, and if so would the alternatives have been less pernicious and misappropriated?
In Darwin Deleted, Bowler argues that no one else, not even Wallace, was in a position to duplicate Darwinandrsquo;s complete theory of evolution by natural selection.and#160;Evolutionary biology would almost certainly have emerged, but through alternative theories, which were frequently promoted by scientists, religious thinkers, and moralists who feared the implications of natural selection. Because non-Darwinian elements of evolutionism flourished for a time in the real world, it is possible to plausibly imagine how they might have developed, particularly if the theory of natural selection had not emerged until decades after the acceptance of the basic idea of evolution. Bowlerandrsquo;s unique approach enables him to clearly explain the non-Darwinian traditionandmdash;and in doing so, he reveals how the reception of Darwinism was historically contingent. By taking Darwin out of the equation, Bowler is able to fully elucidate the ideas of other scientists, such as Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley, whose work has often been misunderstood because of their distinctive responses to Darwin.
Darwin Deleted boldly offers a new vision of scientific history. It is one where the sequence of discovery and development would have been very different and would have led to an alternative understanding of the relationship between evolution, heredity, and the environmentandmdash;and, most significantly, a less contentious relationship between science and religion. Far from mere speculation, this fascinating and compelling book forces us to reexamine the preconceptions that underlie many of the current controversies about the impact of evolutionism. It shows how contingent circumstances surrounding the publication of On the Origin of Species polarized attitudes in ways that still shape the conversation today.and#160;
About the Author
Adrian Desmond has written seven other books on evolution and Victorian science, including an acclaimed biography, Huxley. An Honorary Research Fellow in the biology department at University College London, he is editing (with Angela Darwin) The T. H. Huxley Family Correspondence.
James Moores books include The Post-Darwinian Controversies and The Darwin Legend. He has taught at Harvard, Notre Dame, and McMaster University, and is professor of the History of Science at the Open University. He is currently researching the life of Alfred Russel Wallace.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1 History, Science, and Counterfactuals
2 Darwinand#8217;s Originality
3 Supernaturalism Runs Out of Steam
4 The Emergence of Evolutionism
5 A World with a Purpose
6 Whence Natural Selection?
7 Evolution and Religion: A Conflict Avoided?
8 Social Evolutionism
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