On the “kids book on evolution that bashes religion”

In December of last year some folks cried out (1/2/3) against a new kids book that promotes anti-vaccination, and rightly so! But so far I have only come across one person who is crying out over a kids book about Charles Darwin. Why no others? Surely a book about the life of Darwin would be dangerous in the hands of children.

Book Cover - Charles Darwin - British Naturalist

The book in question is Darwin: British Naturalist by Diane Cook (which is the same as Charles Darwin), and the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin does not like that it is being sold in a public – and taypaxer-funded (oh, no!) – museum. First, visitors of the museum are not required to purchase the book, so what’s the problem? Second, why are they fussing? They quote a passage from the book:

How did all the many different species of plants and animals in this world come into being? The simple explanation that God had created everything did not satisfy him. It could not explain everything he had observed.

And their response:

Now I have no problem with people writing about the historical controversy between Darwin’s theory and religion, but why is this partisan message in a kids book being sold at a taxpayer-funded publicly-operated science museum?

I see no problem with the passage from the book not because I accept the theory of evolution and am (obviously) a Darwin aficianado, but because it’s true. It is historically accurate. Darwin did indeed think that special creation could not explain the origin and distribution of species on Earth. His travels in the 1830s gave him firsthand experience in observing many plants and animals of the world. The claim that this passage is “partisan” is unfair.

The DI post then goes on to charge the author of Darwin: British Naturalist of “concoct[ing] a story about how the church and religious ideologues supposedly persecuted Darwin”:

Darwin was criticized by many scientists and denounced by the religious community who claimed his theory was blasphemous. … Articles and cartoons satirizing Darwin appeared regularly in newspapers and magazines. The most common images were of Darwin’s head on an ape’s body or Darwin crawling among worms or other simple creatures. Darwin did nothing about this deliberate misrepresentation of his theory. He only smiled sadly. He had no wish to waste time defending or explaining his ideas. Instead, he went on living his quiet peaceful life, taking daily walks through the woods and continuing his scientific research and writing. Nevertheless, in his heart he hoped that one day people would understand that his purpose had not been to overturn God and destroy their beliefs, but just to prove one thing — that life was always changing.

Was Darwin criticized by scientists? Yes. Was his theory considered by some in the religious community as blasphemous? Yes. Did cartoonists use Darwin and turn him into all manner of monkeys and apes? Yes. Did Darwin respond publicly to these cartoons? Not to my knowledge. Did he live a quiet life, take daily walks, and continue working on science? Yes. Did Darwin travel the world, collect data, correspond with folks from all over the world, conduct experiments, and write many books and articles to “overturn God and destroy their beliefs”? No.

And yes, while the image from the book they share in the post may be silly, this “concocted story” is by all means fair to Darwin historically. But, since it paints a positive light on Darwin the man, the Discovery Institute of course thinks it is rubbish. What Darwin did or wrote is only a good thing for the Discovery Institute when it lends to their purposes, no matter how misleading.

I just looked up the book in the catalog of the Multnomah County Library, and there is a copy of Darwin: British Naturalist at my local branch. Looks like I will have to stop by and check it out.

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2 thoughts on “On the “kids book on evolution that bashes religion”

  1. Hey, thanks for an interesting post; it seems there will always be those who wish to muddy the historical waters, especially about Darwin. I’m no Darwin scholar myself (actually a historian of technology with an interest in historical and current science/religion interactions), but I recently published an article on my own blog about some c19th Jewish responses to Darwin which I thought I’d bring to your attention in case you’re interested: http://michaelakay.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/darwin-and-the-rabbis/

    Thanks again!

    Michael.

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