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Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution

 
 
 
 
Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution
Author: Adrian Desmond - James Moore
ISBN 13: 9780547055268
ISBN 10: 547055269
Edition: First Edition
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 2009-01-28
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 448
List Price: $30.00
 
 

An astonishing new portrait of a scientific icon

In this remarkable book, 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.

There has always been a mystery surrounding Darwin: How did this quiet, respectable gentleman, a pillar of his parish, come to embrace one of the most radical ideas in the history of human thought? It's difficult to overstate just what Darwin was risking in publishing his theory of evolution. So it must have been something very powerful-a moral fire, as Desmond and Moore put it-that propelled him. And that moral fire, they argue, was a passionate hatred of slavery.

To make their case, they draw on a wealth of fresh manuscripts, unpublished family correspondence, notebooks, diaries, and even ships' logs. They show how Darwin's abolitionism had deep roots in his mother's family and was reinforced by his voyage on the Beagle as well as by events in America-from the rise of scientific racism at Harvard through the dark days of the Civil War.

Leading apologists for slavery in Darwin's time argued that blacks and whites had originated as separate species, with whites created superior. Darwin abhorred such "arrogance." He believed that, far from being separate species, the races belonged to the same human family. Slavery was therefore a "sin," and abolishing it became Darwin's "sacred cause." His theory of evolution gave all the races-blacks and whites, animals and plants-an ancient common ancestor and freed them from creationist shackles. Evolution meant emancipation.

In this rich and illuminating work, Desmond and Moore recover Darwin's lost humanitarianism. They argue that only by acknowledging Darwin's Christian abolitionist heritage can we fully understand the development of his groundbreaking ideas. Compulsively readable and utterly persuasive, Darwin's Sacred Cause will revolutionize our view of the great naturalist.

The New York Times - Christopher Benfey

Darwin's power, according to Desmond and Moore, lay in his marshaling an argument for the unitary origin and hence "brotherhood" of all human beings, and this, they argue, is precisely what Darwin achieved in The Origin of Species and later in The Descent of Man. The case they make is rich and intricate, involving Darwin's encounter with race-based phrenology at Edinburgh and a religiously based opposition to slavery at Cambridge.