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Author: James Moore
  • Video
  • 5 minutes

Darwin's Sacred Cause

Updated Tuesday, 27th January 2009
Jim Moore questions the established view of Darwin as an objective scientist, showing how passionate opposition to slavery motivated his research and gave him courage to challenge the scientific and religious establishment of his day.

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Darwin's memorial in Westminster Abbet



The big Darwin biography by Adrian Desmond and myself asked the question, “how could a respectable gentleman, independently wealthy, respectable wife, large happy family, turn traitor to the scientific establishment of his day and to the religious establishment by embracing evolution, or transmutation as it was called?” it's practically a crime, certainly an intellectual crime, the thought crime. He had to keep it private, he hid it, and finally, twenty years later, he was forced to publish his famous book on the origin of species.

Our new book, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, is a sort of prequel, to use the Hollywood term. It goes behind the biography, which asked “how?”, to the “why?” question. Why did Darwin touch the untouchable? Why did he practically commit professional suicide, had people known what he was doing. And we discovered that he was being driven to embrace what we call brotherhood science, that all of life, not just people and animals, but plants, every living thing is united in a single tree from a single, common, ancient ancestor.

He was driven to brotherhood science because he was passionately opposed to slavery. And when he had to unite the races - remember black people were considered animals at this time by many slave owners - in uniting black men and white men and women as a single species, one family, it was just another step to uniting all other so-called foreign creatures not of our family in a single family with a single common ancestry.

So now we think we've found out why Darwin did what he did, flew so close to the wind, touched the untouchable and ended up, of course, being buried in Westminster Abbey.

What we’re pointing to, in Darwin’s Sacred Cause is a moral motivation for Darwin’s science. You know, science is not supposed to start with a moral premise, some kind of belief that isn't itself scientific. Scientists believe that you consider the facts, you make up your theories, the theories are validated and then someone else draws out the moral implications. It's the other way around. And that can be quite disturbing because scientists will say it opens the door to all kinds of explicit motivations: political, ethical, bases which science ought not to be built upon. So it's controversial for that reason.

It's also controversial because the notion of Darwin as a pure, objective scientist is embedded in our culture. Darwin is on a pedestal for many people. And I suppose most people think it's a good thing that Darwin should be opposed to the kind of racism that made the different races into separate species of animals. But they don’t like to think of him as doing it for any other reason than the love of truth.

Darwin did love the truth. But what came before, in his family, in his upbringing, in his whole culture, before he ever stopped to think about “whether I want to make a contribution to scientific truth”, was “We hate slavery, we Darwins despise slavery.” And, while his family attended rallies and signed petitions and did those sorts of things, Darwin sought a scientific basis for undermining it in his theory of evolution.


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