VIDEO: James Moore on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause”

“In his lecture at Oregon State University on October 29th, James Moore questioned the established view of Darwin as an objective scientist and showed how passionate opposition to slavery motivated his research and gave him courage to challenge the scientific and religious establishment of his day.”

ARTICLE: A Yahgan for the killing: murder, memory and Charles Darwin

A new Darwin article from the British Journal for the History of Science:

A Yahgan for the killing: murder, memory and Charles Darwin

Joseph L. Yannielli

Abstract In March 1742, British naval officer John Byron witnessed a murder on the western coast of South America. Both Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy seized upon Byron’s story a century later, and it continues to play an important role in Darwin scholarship today. This essay investigates the veracity of the murder, its appropriation by various authors, and its false association with the Yahgan people encountered during the second voyage of the Beagle (1831–1836). Darwin’s use of the story is examined in multiple contexts, focusing on his relationship with the history of European expansion and cross-cultural interaction and related assumptions about slavery and race. The continuing fascination with Byron’s story highlights the key role of historical memory in the development and interpretation of evolutionary theory.

New issue of the Reports of the National Center for Science Education

The NCSE has changed how they publish RNCSE. Content from the latest issue is up online, inlcluding a book review by me:

NCSE is pleased to announce the second issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The issue — volume 31, number 2 — includes Matt Cartmill’s “Turtles All the Way Down: The Atlas of Creation“; Alice Beck Kehoe’s “The Lost Civilizations of North America Found … Again!”; and, in his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore’s “Billy Sunday: 1862-1935,” discussing the creationism of the ballplayer-turned-evangelist.

Plus a flurry of Darwinalia: Michael D. Barton reviews John van Wyhe’s The Darwin Experience; Steven Conn reviews James Lander’s Lincoln and Darwin; Piers J. Hale reviews David N. Reznick’s The Origin Then and Now; Allen D. MacNeill reviews James T. Costa’s The Annotated Origin; Michael Ruse reviews Phillip Prodger’s Darwin’s Camera and Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer’s The Art of Evolution; and Keith Thomson reviews Julia Voss’s Darwin’s Pictures.

All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:2, which contains, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, news from the membership, a new column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they’ve been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, and more besides. (Not a member? Join today!)

Guest Post – Defending the Sensible: Charles Darwin and the Anti-Vivisection Controversy

This guest post by Eric Michael Johnson is part of his Primate Diaries in Exile blog tour. Johnson is a PhD student in the history of evolutionary biology at UBC (he received his masters degree in primate behavior). You can follow other stops on his tour through his RSS feed, The Primate Diaries on Facebook, or by following him on Twitter.

His critics accused him of claiming that “Might is Right,” but did the founder of modern biology campaign to defend the least among us?

A physiological demonstration with vivisection of a dog.
Oil painting by Emile-Edouard Mouchy, 1832. (Wellcome Library, London.)


According to the British Medical Journal it resembled a crucifixion. The dogs were strapped to boards, backs down, and with their legs cinched outwards. In the stifling August heat their heavy panting was made only more intense by a suffocating fear. The accused was described as wearing a white apron “that was afterwards covered with blood” as he approached one of the struggling animals. His mouth was tied shut but when the blade entered the thin, pink flesh of his inner thigh the animal’s cries of agony were too much to bear.

Experienced medical men in attendance, including some of the nineteenth century’s top surgeons, were outraged and demanded that the animal’s torture cease. Thomas Joliffe Tufnell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, denounced the demonstration as a “cruel proceeding” and stormed to the operating table to cut the animal loose. Other physiologists objected to the interruption with one insisting, “That dog is insensible; he is not suffering anything.” But Tufnell held firm, “The dog is struggling hard to get free. I am a sportsman as well as a surgeon, and I will never see a dog bullied.” However, a vote was taken among the assembled members of the British Medical Association and the demonstration was allowed to continue.

A tube was then forced into the conscious animal’s femoral artery, the white hair of his belly stained red as the arterial pressure caused blood to spurt from the incision. Into the tube the accused injected pure alcohol. The result, continued the Journal, “was an immediate struggle, which almost immediately subsided. The animal became dead drunk.”

“Now, you see he’s insensible,” a physician snidely remarked to Tufnell.
“Yes,” Tufnell replied, “and he’ll never be sensible again, for he will die.”

Spattered with gore from the comatose animal, the accused, Dr. Eugene Magnan of Paris, insisted he would be quite well by that evening. The dog soon died. Magnan then turned to the second animal, opening the same artery as before but injecting absinthe into the wound. According to witnesses:

The animal struggled much, cried as far as it was able, showed other symptoms of great suffering, and ultimately–not long after the injection–had a fit of epilepsy.

This had been the point of Magnan’s August 13, 1874 demonstration: the physiological effects of alcohol and absinthe on the animal nervous system. It had been made possible by four physicians based in Norwich, England, all of whom now stood trial for actions taken that did “unlawfully illtreat, abuse, and torture certain animals.” Dr. Eugene Magnan, also listed as a defendant, was not present in the courtroom since he had fled the country back to France. Because it could not be proven that the four English physicians had been actively involved in the demonstration the charges were ultimately dismissed, though the court ruled that the case against them was proper and required them to pay all legal costs. However, in the court of public opinion they were guilty as charged.

Animal experimentation, or vivisection as it was known in the nineteenth century, had already been practiced for centuries (William Harvey’s famous dissections of deer in the 1620s had revealed the heart’s role in the circulatory system) but with the rise of scientific medicine more animal subjects were being “put to the blade” in the name of science. The physician George Hoggan described his own experience taking part in some of these dissections with dogs:

Hundreds of times I have seen when an animal writhed in pain, and thereby deranged the tissues, during a deliberate dissection; instead of being soothed, it would receive a slap and an angry order to be quiet and behave itself. . . Even when roughly grasped and thrown on the torture-trough, a low, complaining whine at such treatment would be all the protest made, and they would continue to lick the hand which bound them till their mouths were fixed in the gag.

Charles Darwin was well aware that these kinds of experiments took place, even using a similar example in his 1871 book The Descent of Man:

[E]veryone has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.

As one of the most celebrated biologists in England Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and was passionate about protecting animals from cruelty. As a local magistrate he regularly came across cases of cruelty to farm animals and, according to his biographer Janet Browne, “was inexorable in imposing fines and punishment.” In 1853 he waged a “private vendetta” against a Mr. Ainslie for cruelty to his carthorses, threatening to “have him up before a magistrate & his ploughman also.” According to his son, Francis Darwin, the man who many saw as advocating “might is right” was as disgusted by animal cruelty as he was by the human cruelty he experienced in slave holding societies:

The remembrance of screams, or other sounds heard in Brazil, when he was powerless to interfere with what he believed to be the torture of a slave, haunted him for years, especially at night. In smaller matters, where he could interfere, he did so vigorously. He returned one day from his walk pale and faint from having seen a horse ill-used, and from the agitation of violently remonstrating with the man. On another occasion he saw a horse-breaker teaching his son to ride, the little boy was frightened and the man was rough; my father stopped, and jumping out of the carriage reproved the man in no measured terms.

This sympathy extended to animals used in experimentation, as Darwin wrote to the Oxford zoologist Ray Lankester in 1871:

You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not sleep to-night.

However, Darwin did not take his own advice and, after the media uproar following Magnan’s demonstration and the ensuing court case, the notoriously reclusive naturalist spearheaded a campaign to regulate how vivisection was conducted in England.

Charles Darwin at his estate in Down, 1875. (H.P. Robinson/Bettmann/Corbis)


The year 1875 was a milestone for British animal rights activism. Building off the popular outrage over Magnan, the author, feminist, and animal rights campaigner Frances Power Cobbe formed the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (and, later, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which continues to this day). With the assistance of sympathetic members of Parliament, Cobbe drafted a bill that would require regular inspections of physiological labs engaged in vivisection. Darwin heard of this activity through his daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, who was passionate about animal rights and had sent her father Cobbe’s petition to sign. Her letter had Darwin contemplating the issue “for some hours” and he delivered a considered and thoughtful response:

I conclude, if (as is likely) some experiments have been tried too often, or anesthetics have not been used when they could have been, the cure must be in the improvement of humanitarian feelings. Under this point of view I have rejoiced at the present agitation.

However, despite his conflicts over vivisection, Darwin’s opinion of the bill was that it would do little to protect animals and, at the same time, would result in a chilling effect on science:

[I]f such laws are passed, the result will assuredly be that physiology, which has been until within the last few years at a standstill in England, will languish or quite cease. . . I cannot at present see my way to sign any petition, without hearing what physiologists thought would be its effect, and then judging for myself.

Four months later Darwin, who rarely took any active role in politics, was in the midst of a political campaign to introduce his own bill to Parliament. As he wrote to his close friend Joseph Hooker, then-President of the Royal Society, “I worked all the time in London on the vivisection question . . . The object is to protect animals, and at the same time not to injure Physiology,” and he had already enlisted the support of “some half-dozen eminent scientific men.”

While the interest in protecting the scientific enterprise was an important aspect of what became known as the Playfair bill (after Dr. Lyon Playfair, the liberal member of Parliament who introduced the legislation) Darwin’s personal background advocating against animal cruelty and the fact that his son-in-law Robert Litchfield (Henrietta’s husband) was the one who helped Darwin write the bill suggests that animal rights was just as much a part of Darwin’s concern. In fact, the Playfair bill went beyond Cobbe’s in the protection of animals by including the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) guidelines that required anesthetic in all experiments, including for teaching purposes. As historian David Allen Feller wrote last year in his account of the 1875 antivivisection controversy:

Under the BAAS guidelines, not only was anesthesia required in experiments whenever possible, but an entire class of experiments, those conducted for mere demonstration purposes without any new scientific discovery in mind, were outlawed. This was not so under the [Cobbe] bill, which did not distinguish between classroom and purely scientific experiments. Inclusion of this provision of the BAAS guidelines was clearly intended by Darwin from the outset of his work on the bill. Darwin wrote to Burdon Sanderson and Huxley that he thought the BAAS guidelines would be the best compromise, and Darwin specifically noted the inclusion of a ban on the use of live animals for the purpose of demonstrative teaching.

Darwin is widely known for never taking part in any public discussions or debates on his theory of natural selection (leaving that to trusted friends such as Thomas Henry Huxley). His poor health and hatred of travel kept him at his estate in the countryside throughout most of his life. And yet, on the question of vivisection, Darwin not only traveled to London to help draft the Playfair bill, he returned when asked to testify by the Royal Commission when investigating the use of vivisection. During the questioning Darwin again insisted that experimentation on animals was important for the development of medical science. However, on the question of experiments carried out without anesthetic or ones inflicting pain unnecessarily, Darwin stated unequivocally that, “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.”

Those words became the basis upon which the Royal Commission recommended that vivisection be regulated. After quoting Darwin’s view in their report to the Queen, they went on to state:

This principle is accepted generally by the very highly educated men whose lives are devoted either to scientific investigation and education, or to the mitigation or the removal of the sufferings of their fellow creatures.

The following year The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 was passed by Parliament and signed into law.

Charles Darwin’s advocacy for animal rights has more than mere historical interest. Today it is commonplace for scientists, particularly those who work with animal models in their research, to oppose animal rights legislation as being fundamentally anti-science. However, as Darwin himself has demonstrated, it is possible (even necessary) for the pro-science position to be concerned with animal welfare. Being pro-science does not mean being pro-cruelty. There are currently some very good laws in place throughout England, Europe, and the United States that protect animals from unnecessary suffering in the pursuit of medical knowledge. However, the differences between countries continue to raise concerns about how much suffering should be permitted in animal research. This year saw the use of chimpanzees in medical experimentation banned throughout the European Union. At the same time, there are nearly 1,000 chimps used by federal researchers in the United States for vaccine, hepatitis C, and HIV research. Year after year legislation to ban the practice fails to gain support in Congress.

Ironically enough, many of the worst abusers of animals in the nineteenth century came from continental Europe, a region that is now the leader in animal rights legislation. If there is any justice in Eugene Magnan escaping prosecution for his actions 135 years ago, it may be that public outrage over his “demonstration” sparked a movement that, today, would provide him with no safe haven. There is little doubt that animal experimentation has resulted in some necessary medical breakthroughs. But, as in the nineteenth century controversy, Darwin’s own struggles with this research is something we would do well to remember.


“Prosecution At Norwich. Experiments On Animals,” The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 728 (Dec. 12, 1874), pp. 751-754.

Browne, J. (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

Feller, D. (2009). Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40 (4), 265-271 DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.004

ARTICLE: Darwin’s progress and the problem of slavery

From the October 2010 issue of Progress in Human Geography:

Darwin’s progress and the problem of slavery

James Moore

Abstract Legendary as a ‘genius’ out of time, Charles Darwin is said to have revolutionized our understanding of life on earth by explaining nature-history as the purposeless product of directionless variation naturally selected through a chancy struggle for existence. Yet, whatever may be deduced from his theory of natural selection as understood today, Darwin himself was not bound by any such conclusions. His vision of nature-history, for all its haphazardness, was directional, meliorative and hopeful. In the 1830s he went out of his way to develop privately a subversive theory of human evolution, and he pursued the subject with tenacity for three decades before publishing The descent of man in 1871. Underpinning his research was a belief in racial brotherhood rooted in the greatest moral movement of the age, for the abolition of slavery. Darwin extended the abolitionists’ common-descent image to the rest of life, making not just the races, but all races, kin. Human slavery, however, did not evolve into or out of existence. To Darwin it was a ‘sin’ to ‘expiate’ by moral action, and the Origin of species was written with a view towards undermining slavery’s creationist ideologues, most notably the Harvard professor Louis Agassiz. Intractable slavery collided with Darwin’s post-Christian progressivism in the US Civil War, clouding his hopes for humanity, but the Northern victory in 1865 enabled him to carry ‘the grand idea of God hating sin and loving righteousness’ into The descent of man, where the driving of formerly enslaved races out of existence is naturalized as a byproduct of historical progress in which ‘virtue will be triumphant’ at last.

Glenn Beck on Darwin

Beck: “I am not a history teacher.” No shit, Sherlock.

On his program today, Beck espoused the anti-evolutionist claim that Darwin is somehow responsible for racism; he seems to imply that Darwin can be traced to the practice of slavery in America. Slavery, however, was an institution that predated Darwin’s birth and one which he was revolted by (during the Beagle voyage and, as some historians have argued, led to his developing a theory of evolution with common descent). He surprises his viewers with the historical connection between abolitionist Wedgwood with his famous image “Am I Not a Man and a Brother? and his grandson Charles Darwin. Darwin was…. wait for it… “the father of modern-day racism.” Yes, a famous abolitionist had a famous racist for a grandson. But, Darwin was himself a passionate abolitionist, and any claims of racism must be taken in context of the time he lived.

In the beginning of this segment (at this link), Beck urged his viewers to go out and read and get the information for themselves. Why, then, Beck, do you depend on misleading anti-evolutionist propaganda about Darwin and don’t go out and read about it for yourself? Here’s two suggestions: Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s Sacred Cause.

Victorian Studies journal reviews Darwin books

The spring 2010 issue of the journal Victorian Studies has a bunch of reviews of Darwin and evolution books.

Jennifer Tucker reviews together several books looking at Darwin and art: Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts (Yale Center for British Art) edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro, Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia edited by Jeanette Hoorn, The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture (Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture) edited by Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer, and Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution by Phillip Prodger.

Gowan Dawson reviews Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture) by Cannon Schmitt .

Catherine Day and James G. Lennox review Darwin’s Luck: Chance and Fortune in the Life and Work of Charles Darwin by Patrick H. Armstrong, The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson, and Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.

W. F. Bynum reviews The Cambridge Companion to the ‘Origin of Species’ (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy) edited by Michael Ruse and Robert J. Richards.

ARTICLE: Darwin and Lincoln: Their Legacy of Human Dignity

In Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter 2010, pp. 3-13):

Darwin and Lincoln: Their Legacy of Human Dignity

Felton Earls

Abstract The legacy of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln is to champion the dignity inherent in every human being. The moment of the bicentennial of their births provides an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on ways they have shaped our understanding and commitment to human rights. The naturalist and the constitutional lawyer, so different in circumstance and discipline, were morally allied in the mission to eradicate slavery. The profound lessons to be extracted from the lives of these two icons bind us to the agonizing reality that nearly 150 years after Gettysburg and the publication of the Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, there remains much work to do toward advancing the security, respect, and equality of our species. This article describes how Darwin and Lincoln’s inspiring legacies guided the author’s personal choices as a scientist and activist. The essay concludes with a set of questions and challenges that confront us, foremost among which is the need to balance actions in response to the violation of negative rights by actions in the pursuit of positive rights.

Also in the same issue, a review of Darwin’s Sacred Cause by Jane Maienschein.

Creation Science Conference in Bozeman

In April, Grace Bible Church in Bozeman, Montana will be hosting the free-to-attend Creation Conference 2010: Fact Over Fiction – Countering Myths in Biology, organized by the Montana Origins Research Effort (MORE). MORE is:

a group of individuals, both scientists and laymen, that have come together to learn about scientific support for six-day literal creation and the global flood of Noah’s day.  This group will conduct field trips to local and regional areas of geologic interest and will conduct one or more research projects to investigate issues of flood geology.  MORE will also sponsor, plan and conduct creation science seminars open to the public that will disseminate current findings from the creation science community to the glory and magnification of God and His holy scriptures.

One of the founders of MORE, meteorologist Michael Oard, should be well-known to readers of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, as he has many times expressed his views – not only on evolution but global warming – as letters to the editors. Here are some examples. From Nov. 19. 2004:

I am writing in response to the AP article about “embarrassment” in Georgia over the evolution dispute. The dispute is over textbooks and stickers calling evolution “a theory, not a fact.” The article is similar to many other diatribes and should really be an embarrassment to the AP writer.

First, evolution was never defined. Some scientists define evolution as “change with time.” Others think of evolution as proved by the variety of dogs, the finches on the Galapagos Islands, bacterial resistance, etc. These are examples of what is called “microevolution.” We observe these changes, and they are properly part of science. They are easily explained as adaptations within kinds. The real debate is whether we can extrapolate these findings and conclude one kind over time became another kind (molecules to man evolution or “macroevolution”). This is not observed today nor, because of the universal gaps in the fossil record, can it be inferred from the fossil record. So, macroevolution cannot be claimed as indisputable fact, only a supposition, because true science is based on observations. Historical science is based upon past records and beliefs about our origins. Because of this, creation or intelligent design is equally if not more valid.

Second, notice that the writer did not give any scientific evidence for evolution. He appealed to authority, ridicule and questionable anecdotal statements. Maybe the reason this issue is still around today is because the same arguments were used in the 1800s. Staunch evolutionist Steven Jay Gould contends in his book “Times Arrow, Times Cycle” that the geological assumption of uniformitarianism won the day over catastrophism, not by force of logic but through propaganda. Uniformitarianism later paved the way for the theory of evolution.

The AP writer apparently is not well informed about the origins debate, which should be an embarrassment, but of course how can he, since evidence against evolution is constantly being suppressed. A true scholar looks into both sides of a dispute as does a good journalist. The book “Evolution: A Theory in Crises” by evolutionist and religious agnostic Dr. Michael Denton is a good place to start. Another is the Web site:

From Feb. 14, 2005 (in response to this letter by MSU paleontology student Bobby Boessenecker, who has written many letters defending evolution education):

The letter to the editor in the Feb. 8 Chronicle by Montana State University student Bobby Boessenecker highlights the reason why we need an alternative to the dogmatic teaching of evolution on the subject of origins. The student displays many common misunderstandings and logical fallacies, beginning with the definition of science.

Science is about observable features and processes occurring today. Professor David Kitts says in the journal Evolution (1974, volume 28, p. 466): “Evolution, at least in the sense that Darwin speaks of it, cannot be detected within the lifetime of a single observer.” If macroevolution cannot be observed, it is not science. Hypotheses about the past are history.

We do observe tremendous variety today within different types of animals, but this is not evolution. It is just the shuffling of existing genetic information. We do not observe information being added, causing one kind to “evolve” into another kind, i.e., cats into dogs.

Real science in the fossil record consists of the fossils, only. “Descent with modification” is aninterpretation of these observations based on multiple assumptions about the past.

What we do observe, however, is that the fossil record is composed of large gaps between higher groups of organisms. Observations of genetics, mutations and natural selection mean that evolution, if it occurred in the past, must have been exceedingly slow. Logically, we should find millions of transitional forms. There are precious few claims of transitional forms. This observational evidence from the fossils record is contrary to evolution.

A truly objective education is to teach both sides of the origins debate. As it stands right now, only one interpretation of data is allowed and the other is censored. There is plenty of evidence against evolution. It is necessary and scientific to examine all of the data and not be satisfied with a superficial examination.

From Dec. 29, 2005:

After reading the many letters to the editor on the creation-evolution issue in the Chronicle, I believe more and more that the controversy needs to be taught in the public schools. One of the main reasons is because of the abysmal ignorance on the subject. The evolutionists do not seem to know or even understand the intelligent design or creationist position. They bring up many straw men and false arguments.

The evolutionists think that by taking some classes on evolution or reading some of the many books on evolution will be enough to show the “bankruptcy” of the anti-evolution position. This would work only with those who know little about the issue.

I have found the opposite is the case.

I have been extensively studying the issue for more than 30 years. I became interested after graduate school when I had time to delve into the subject at more than a superficial level. While spouting “evolution is a fact” on college campuses, the evolutionary hypothesis is really bankrupt.

Ninety percent of the reading I do is from evolutionary sources. I have even read Richard Dawkins’ “Blind Watchmaker,” which I found logically flawed. Many of the evolutionists are simply expressing their faith and what they have been taught.

The charge of creationists being intellectually lazy is laughable. Tell that to the thousands of creationist scientists of several generations ago, like Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, etc.

For those who cannot see any evidence for intelligent design, try meditating on the workings of the cell and think about how chance could have produced the first cell in the “soupy sea.” The cell is only the first step. We are composed of billions of cells that all work together. Even long-time agnostic philosopher Anthony Flew has admitted there is a creator because of the complexity of the cell.

Now that we know the general position on matters of MORE and what we’d likely find at the creationism conference – various talks on dinosaurs, Noah’s Ark, DNA, mutations, flood geology, wonders of the cell, the origin of life, and ape-men and even one titled “Darwinian Evolution: Religion of Death” mixed in with prayer sessions and story and song times – I want to highlight something on the conference’s website.

Creation Conference 2010, Bozeman, MT

Creation Conference 2010, Bozeman, MT

Do you notice anything interesting? Here’s a close-up:

Yeah, what Darwin said!

Yeah, what Darwin said!

It’s a quote from Charles Darwin. Nothing to worry about here. Wait, hasn’t that quote been taken out of context before by, um, the intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute, to promote their anti-Darwin Day campaign, Academic Freedom Day. See here:

Fresh on the heels of Darwin Year, Discovery Institute announces the launch of the 2nd Annual Academic Freedom Day in honor of Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12, 2010. Yes, it’s that time of year again, and Discovery Institute is gearing up for the celebration by supporting what Darwin supported: academic freedom. Academic Freedom Day couldn’t come at a better time, as academic freedom is threatened around the country. We have seen Darwinists launch cyber attacks on a pro-ID conference website in Colorado and engage in an illegal coverup in the censorship of a pro-ID film in California. It’s time like these when Darwin’s own words should instruct everyone on how to have an open and honest debate over evolution and intelligent design. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” This quote is the cornerstone of the Institute’s Academic Freedom Day efforts. [emphasis mine]

Fair enough, except that the Discovery Institute is not being fair to Darwin, at all. And neither is the Montana Origins Research Effort.

Academic Freedom Day

Academic Freedom Day

John Pieret and John Lynch both note how the DI uses this quote elsewhere. Here is the quote as the DI and MORE use it:

A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

It does indeed come from the introduction of the first edition (1859) of On the Origin of Species, and here it is in context:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

Darwin is stating that in the book you are now reading – Origin – he cannot properly offer all the facts he has in support of evolution. He originally planned to publish a much longer book titled Natural Selection (which was later published in 1975) but was hurried into publication when he found out Alfred Russel Wallace had come up with the same theory of natural selection. Darwin is not, as the DI claims, saying that all sides are equal concerning debate over evolution. Once again, creationists resort to the tactic of quotemining Darwin or his supporters to their benefit (see here and here).

Back to the creationism conference in Bozeman. The talk titled “Darwinian Evolution: Religion of Death” will likely address the claim that acceptance of evolution, and hence Darwin himself, supports eugenics, the Nazis, slavery, abortion, and so on. On one hand they appeal to Darwin for the issue of academic freedom (“Darwin, Darwin, he’s our man, if no one can show them Darwinists, no one can!”), yet on the other denigrate the man for the ills of society past and present. Let’s remember kids, there was no slavery or genocide before 1859.

A Bunch of Reviews of ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause’

In the weekly newsletter Scientists’ Bookshelf Monthly is a round-up of a bunch of reviews of Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Robert J. Richards reviews the book for American Scientist, while

W. F. Bynum reviews Darwin’s Sacred Cause for Nature. Christopher Benfey discusses the book in the New York Times, and Thomas Hayden assesses it in the Washington Post. Matt Ridley evaluates it for the Spectator; Gregory M. Lamb critiques it in the Christian Science Monitor. Richard Carter reviews the book for the Beagle Project Blog, and it is reviewed by Charles Petztold on Petzold Book Blog. Darwin’s Sacred Cause and Darwin’s Island (by Steve Jones) are reviewed in the Guardian by Gillian Beer.

Darwin/Lincoln Display at MSU

For the Darwin & Lincoln Bicentennials, George Keremedjiev of the American Computer Museum in Bozeman created an exhibit in Wilson Hall at Montana State University (in the same display case as the “From Bacon to Bits” exhibit). Titled “Evolution of the Future,” the exhibit offers objects relating to both Darwin and Lincoln, the Great Emancipators: “this exhibit seeks to honor the two men who most succeeded in liberating humanity from the shackles of scientific ignorance and human bondage, Charles Darwin & Abraham Lincoln.” Some photos:

Evolution of the Future

Evolution of the Future

Evolution of the Future

Evolution of the Future

See more photos here.

Imperial College Lecture with authors of ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause’

Tim Jones)

Discussing Darwin's Abolitionism (photo: Tim Jones)

Over at Zoonomian, a science communication blog, Tim Jones discusses a program with Adrian Desmond and James Moore discussing their book Darwin’s Sacred Cause with Olivia Judson of The New York Times. He links to the audio/video of the program as well. Thanks Tim!

Radio show on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause”

As part of BBC’s Darwin season, you can listen to Adrian Desmond and James Moore discussing their new book, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, on Radio 4’s Leading Edge. Go here, then click on “Listen to the latest edition” above the photo of the show’s host. This aired on January 22nd…

February 2009 Magazines cover Darwin

Be looking forward to the February issues of Natural History, National Geographic, and Smithsonian.

Natural History contains an article (“Seeing Corals with the Eye of Reason,” not online) by Richard Milner about a rediscovered painting that celebrates Darwin’s view of life. Also, Natural History has their own blog that I didn’t know about, but there’s no RSS for it, factotem: findings and musings from Natural History’s fact checker.

Nat Geo, February 2009

Nat Geo, February 2009

National Geographic will have articles by David Quammen, “Darwin’s First Clues,” and Matt Ridley, “Modern Darwins.”  Also, a video with Quammen and a Darwin quiz.

Smithsonian, Febuary 2009

Smithsonian, Febuary 2009

Smithsonian‘s cover story is on Darwin and Lincoln, with three articles: “Lincoln’s Contested Legacy,” “What Darwin Didn’t Know,” and “Twin Peaks” (on their connection).

“Darwin: shaped by slavery” by Adrian Desmond

In the Times Online (Jan. 22, 2009):

Darwin: shaped by slavery

The evolutionary ideas explored in On the Origin of Species may have been fostered by its author’s abolitionist beliefs

Adrian Desmond

Enormous strides have been made recently in understanding Charles Darwin. The latest evidence suggests that Darwin’s anti-slavery beliefs helped to shape his theory of evolution. He became an evolutionist in 1837, after the Beagle voyage, but did not publish On the Origin of Species until 1859. The unique theory that he devised after stepping ashore rested on the “common descent” of all animals and plants – an approach that spawned the “tree of life” image that was Darwin’s distinctive way of looking at nature.

Historians have wondered why he adopted such a genealogical perspective with its joined bloodlines. The answer, it now seems, is to be sought in his anti-slavery heritage. Darwin’s grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the 250-year-old chinaware company that collapsed only weeks ago. Wedgwood’s cameo, depicting a kneeling slave begging “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” is a highly recognisable icon. It suggests the very “brotherhood” image of race relations that may have influenced Darwin’s thinking on “common descent”. If black and white people can look so different yet share the same umpteenth grandparent, perhaps all animals could be similarly related.

To assess the Darwin family’s commitment to anti-slavery, Professor James Moore, from the Open University, has burrowed into the Wedgwood archives. He discovered an abolitionist obsession. Darwin’s aunt, Sarah Wedgwood, gave more to the anti-slavery movement than any other woman in Britain. Darwin’s mother and wife were Wedgwoods and anti-slavery was what Darwin called a “sacred cause”. He was taught to see the oppressed black as a “brother”. This explains why, when he went to Edinburgh University at 16, he could apprentice himself to a freed Guyanese slave to learn the art of bird preservation without thinking it infra dig. That former slave became an “intimate” friend.

Nowhere was Darwin more outraged by slavery than in South America. During the Beagle voyage he saw the aftermath of slave revolts and the instruments of torture, and heard of a planter who threatened to sell the children of recalcitrant slaves. “It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble,” he wrote. Slave trading was ubiquitous here. State documents show that, on her previous journey, even Beagle’s supply ship was a former slaver – and after being sold it returned to slave-smuggling while Darwin was in South America.

White masters considered slaves subhuman. They were assumed to be another species. It is no coincidence that Darwin, fresh off the Beagle, took an opposite tack. In his first evolution notes he railed against this view and extended the Darwin-Wedgwood motto, making the black person a “Man and a Brother”. He joined the races by giving them a common ancestor, uniting all “animals, our fellow brethren in pain, disease death & suffering … our slaves in the most laborious work” by means of trillions of “common descents”. Each animal and plant had a pedigree that ultimately united it with every other one.

The “common descent” image is so common now that we have lost sight of its racial roots. Those who execrate Darwin may be staggered to learn that humanitarianism lay behind his profoundest achievement.

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, is published by Allen Lane on January 29, £25

See also a review of this book at The Friends of Charles Darwin.

Interview with Adrian Desmond and James Moore about "Darwin’s Sacred Cause"

From the publisher’s page for the book (hat-tip to Peter though):

What was the initial spark that inspired you to write a book arguing such a revolutionary thesis?

We asked the big question in our 1991 Darwin biography: “Why did such a rich and impeccably upright gent go out of his way to develop such a subversive and inflammatory image of human evolution? He had everything to lose!” But we only partially answered it, showing how Darwin covered his tracks and kept ominously quiet for thirty years on the subject, before publishing The Descent of Man in 1871. The question kept niggling: `Why did he do it – and why did he wait so long?’ We knew that contemporary radicals, Christian and otherwise, had opposed slavery, and then it dawned on us that the Darwin family’s anti-slavery brotherhood beliefs could have driven the ‘common descent’ approach of Darwin’s particular brand of evolution. About ten years ago our thesis began to jell. Jim was particularly interested in The Descent of Man, which no one seemed to have read. Why was two-thirds of a book supposedly about human evolution devoted to beetles, butterflies, birds and furry mammals? Darwin’s answer was: to prove his theory of `sexual selection’. But why was sexual selection so important to Darwin? Jim’s answer: because it was his prize explanation of racial common descent – why black people and white people looked different but were still members of the same family, not separately created species, as pro-slavery demagogues were arguing. Meanwhile Adrian realized how Darwin’s work on fancy pigeons and hybrids, leading up to sexual selection, also served to undermine pro-slavery science. What’s more, Darwin had originally intended all of this to go into his great work on evolution, which was finally published as The Origin of Species – a book that everyone knows `omits man’. No Eureka moment for us, then, but a lot of loose ends came together to tie a gloriously satisfying knot.

2009 is the Darwin Bicentenary, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species. Why has it taken so long to discover the moral motivation behind Darwin’s theories of sexual selection and human origins?

The Descent of Man hasn’t been read, much less read carefully. Over and over, scholars have called it `two books’ crushed together (and it is unwieldy, over 900 pages). That’s one reason. Another is this: only in the last generation have Darwin’s private notebooks, letters and marginal jottings become fully available. Without these, it was difficult to trace the development of his views on human origins. Above all, though, there has been great reluctance to see Darwin as more than a heroic `genius’ uncovering pure gems of `truth’ beyond the vision of ordinary mortals. To most of his admirers, Darwin was a `great scientist’ getting on with a great scientist’s proper job, not a Victorian gentleman with a moral passion making all life kin by solving that contemporary `mystery of mysteries’, how living species originate. But historians today see Darwin quite differently: they emphasize the social and historical context that made it possible for Darwin or anyone to craft a theory from available cultural resources. One such resource in Darwin’s world was anti-slavery, the greatest moral movement of his age. Our thesis is that the anti-slavery values instilled in him from youth became the moral premise of his work on evolution. Many scientists and philosophers think that explaining genius and its insights as we do saps the power of science and, given the challenge of creationism, is an act of treachery. The reluctance to dig beneath the surface of Darwin’s books into the social and cultural resources of his times is as dogged as ever.

And why is Darwin’s moral motivation important?

This is perhaps the most radical and upsetting idea: that there was a moral impetus behind Darwin’s work on human evolution – a brotherhood belief, rooted in anti-slavery, that led to a ‘common descent’ image for human ancestry, an image that Darwin extended to the rest of life, making not just the races, but all creatures brothers and sisters. In his family `tree of life’, all share a common ancestor. It’s vital to realize that Darwin’s science wasn’t the `neutral’, dispassionate practise of textbook caricature; it was driven by human desires and needs and foibles. Even our most vaunted theories – such as human evolution by a common descent with apes and all other creatures – may be fostered by humanitarian concerns. This throws all Darwin’s work – so vilified for being morally subversive – into an entirely different light.

How long did it take for the book to come to fruition?

Our gestation goes all the way back to Darwin in 1991, and to our separate but parallel interests in anti-slavery beliefs (in Adrian’s case) among radical anatomists, and (in Jim’s case) among the evangelical ethnologists that helped Darwin make his case for sexual selection. But we didn’t really get going on the project until ten years later, when we started writing the introduction to (and editing) the Penguin Classics edition of The Descent of Man. This was published in 2004, and by then we knew that we had only scratched the surface of a very deep subject. As the 2009 Darwin bicentenary approached, our work took on a life of its own, and after starting Darwin’s Sacred Cause about two years ago, we clinched the ‘common descent’ angle and pieced together how Darwin’s research for the book that became The Origin of Species effectively combated the rising `scientific racism’ in America and Britain.

What sort of research did the book involve?

Loads. That’s number one. Everything we’ve done separately and together for decades got poured into Darwin’s Sacred Cause. But our new research was prodigious. Jim spent weeks one scorching summer in the English Potteries, ploughing through faded, cross-written, semi-decipherable Darwin family correspondence, literally thousands of letters and other archival materials. Most of his other digging was local, in the vast Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library, but a trawl of the National Archives at Kew netted the logbooks of HMS Beagle and other ships, which shed fresh light on Darwin’s face-to-face encounter with slavery in South America. Adrian meanwhile ransacked the esoteric breeders’ literature that Darwin read, on cattle, pigeons, poultry and the like; and he tackled the racist propaganda that riled Darwin, and much else besides. Darwin’s Sacred Cause may be one of the first historical studies to exploit the rich nineteenth-century sources recently made available on-line: for instance, newspapers from the British Library and the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers yielded wonderfully fresh contextual material for our thesis.

What do you think is the most surprising element of this book?

Our revelation that much of Darwin’s research over many years was about race. There was no ultimate difference for Darwin between a `race’ and a `species’, so his work on `the origin of species’ was also about the origin of races, including the human races – `man’ was never an exception for him. And while most of Darwin’s research was implicitly about human origins, the extent of his explicit interest in combating racist science is a real surprise. The fact that his most intense phase of work on racial questions came as the United States hurtled towards civil war, a war that the humanitarian Darwin dreaded, adds poignancy to the moral dimension of his research.

What sort of reaction are you anticipating from the scientific community? The history community? The evangelical community?

Many scientists will welcome a `moral’ Darwin’ to confound his religious critics; others will resent our polluting Darwin’s pure science with `extra-scientific’ factors and will declare his anti-slavery beliefs irrelevant. Historians may be more positive, if only because Darwin’s Sacred Cause locates Darwin for the first time on the well-trodden historical fields of transatlantic slavery, slave emancipation and the American Civil War. And those who study the history of `scientific racism’ will have a new Darwin to reckon with. Evangelicals may feel distinctly queasy, not least because William Wilberforce, the Clapham `Saints’ and others they revere as religious ancestors once supped happily with the freethinking Darwins and saw them as allies in the anti-slavery crusade. Darwin’s words, `More humble & I believe true to consider [man] created from animals’, will pose a challenge to every creationist.

What lessons does this book contain for the relationship between religion and science?

That `the relationship between religion and science’ never existed; that religion in science was the norm in Darwin’s day, and he never escaped its aura; that biological theorizing about human nature inevitably poses moral questions, and in so far as these questions have religious answers, to that extent `religion and science’ are inseparable.

When readers close Darwin’s Sacred Cause after finishing it, what do you hope they will be thinking?

`Gee, I didn’t know that about Darwin.’ `I never dreamt he cared.’ `Maybe evolution has something going for it after all.’ `Next time at the zoo, maybe I’ll drop in on the relatives.’

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Book Launch

February 9, 2009 at Great Hall, Sherfield Building, South Kensington Campus. From Imperial College London:

As part of celebrations of Darwin’s bicentenary, Imperial College London and Pengiun books are co-hosting the book launch of Darwin’s Sacred Cause: race, emancipation and the quest for human origins.

Join evolutionary biologist and journalist Olivia Judson in conversation with Adrian Desmond and James Moore, co-authors of a groundbreaking re-evaluation of Darwin’s science and ideas, for an evening of lively debate, discussion and discovery, as part of Imperial College London’s Darwin200 celebrations.

The event is co-hosted by Imperial College London and Penguin books. Signed copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Entry is by ticket only. Email your name and full contact address details to

New insights from fresh and untapped sources have driven Darwin scholars Desmond and Moore to re-think the basis of Darwin’s theories. Their new book, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, gives a new explanation of how Darwin reached his views on human origins. Published for the worldwide Darwin celebrations of 2009 – the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species – this book restores the moral core of Darwin’s work by recovering its lost historical context.

Through massive detective work among unpublished Darwin letters, unplumbed family correspondence and newly discovered Darwin reading lists, as well as diaries, ships’ logs, and dozens of official documents and rare contemporary works on race relations and humans origins, the authors back up their compelling claim: Darwin began his career committed to the unity of the human family; his science flowed from the greatest moral movement of his age.

Adrian Desmond, co-author with James Moore of the seminal Darwin, has published five other books on evolution, including Huxley, a life of Darwin’s ‘bulldog’. He studied at Harvard and University College London, and has higher degrees in vertebrate palaeontology and history of science, with a PhD for his work on Victorian evolution. He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Biology Department at University College London.

James Moore has many publications on Darwin and his age, including The Post-Darwinian Controversies and The Darwin Legend . He holds degrees in science, divinity and history, and a PhD from Manchester University for his work on Victorian evolution and religion. Having taught at Cambridge, Harvard, Notre Dame and McMaster Universities, he is now Professor of the History of Science in the Open University.

Before Darwin There Was No Slavery

If Darwin caused slavery, then we should know…. Well, this book apparently will tell us just that… if I take the title as intended. I haven’t read this book, nor seen a review, but I don’t think I need anyone telling me that it’s just more creationist baloney… I already know.

Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots by [no surprise] Ken Ham and Charles Ware.
Product Description from Join Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham and president of Crossroads Bible College Dr. Charles Ware as they examine the racist historical roots of evolutionary thought and what the Bible has to say about this disturbing issue. This fascinating book gives a thorough history of the effect of evolution on the history of the United States, including slavery and the civil rights movement, and goes beyond to show the global harvest of death and tragedy which stems from Darwin’s controversial theories. You will also learn what the Christian’s view of racism should be and what the Bible has to say about it in a compassionate and uniquely compelling perspective.