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Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution Hardcover – January 28, 2009
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Praise for Darwin’s Sacred Cause
"Arresting . . . confront[s] the touchy subject of Darwin and race head on . . . Adrian Desmond and James Moore published a highly regarded biography of Darwin in 1991 . . . 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. Even Darwin's courtship of Emma, whom he winningly called 'the most interesting specimen in the whole series of vertebrate animals,' is cleverly interwoven with his developing thoughts on 'sexual selection' . . ." - New York Times Book Review
"'Darwin’s Sacred Cause' shows that there is still new material to be gleaned from the life of a man much picked over, and who turned the world upside down." - Economist
"This book dispels the legend, long attached to retrospective accounts of Darwin’s research, that the great scientist’s interest in evolution was spurred by Galapagos finches. It was people all along . . . [Desmond and Moore] shed welcome light on lesser-known features of Darwin’s work, while also providing an exceptionally crisp account of mid-nineteenth-century debates over the origins of racial differences." - Edward J. Larson, Bookforum
"An illuminating new book." - Smithsonian
"In this controversial reinterpretation of Charles Darwin’s life and work, the authors of a highly regarded 1991 biography argue that the driving force behind Darwin’s theory of evolution was his fierce abolitionism, which had deep family roots and was reinforced by his voyage on the Beagle and by events in America." - Scientific American
"'Darwin’s Sacred Cause' is a compelling narrative, well researched and convincingly presented, offering a new understanding of who Darwin was and the passions that motivated his thought. Particularly eye opening is the surprising connection between Darwin’s theory and the Christian abolition movement as they together fought a scientific community that rejected the Christian belief that all mankind was descended from a single pair. The story of that unlikely alliance is fascinating to follow, full of colorful characters both noble and vile, revealing how science and religion were debased by the evil of racism." - BookPage
"Who better than Desmond and Moore, Darwin's acclaimed biographers, to bring a fresh perspective to Darwin's central beliefs? . . . This masterful book produces a perspective on Darwin as not only scientist but moralist . . . 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, boxed review
"Rush[es] forward with the urgency of the abolitionist spirit. Magnificent. Booklist, starred review
"[A] stimulating, in-depth picture of 19th-century scientific thinking and racial attitudes." Kirkus Reviews
"Well researched, likely to be controversial . . . this book provides [an] enlightening glimpse into a life of seemingly infinite complexity." Library Journal
"Desmond and Moore’s fascinating new look at Darwin forces us to revise and expand the way we look at this revolutionary figure, and to see him wrestling with moral as well as scientific questions. And it is a reminder of just how much the issue of slavery loomed over everything in the nineteenth century, including even fields that were apparently far distant." Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains
"This exciting book is sure to create a stir. Already widely admired for their pathbreaking biography of Charles Darwin, Desmond and Moore here give an entirely new interpretation of Darwin’s views on humankind, bringing together scholarship and sparkling narrative pace to explore theories of ape ancestry and racial origins in the Victorian period. Darwin’s part in making the modern world will never be the same again!" Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, and author of Charles Darwin: Voyaging
Top Customer Reviews
The `Sacred Cause' to which Darwin was dedicated was the abolition of slavery. Desmond and Moore assert that Darwin was born into a family and milieu passionately committed to abolition, originally on the profoundly religious grounds of the unity of all humankind as descendents of Adam and Eve. The great abolitionist families of 18th and 19th Century England are worth reading about in their own right -- Josiah Wedgwood and his descendents, the Wilberforces, the Clarksons, Harriet Martineau, etc. They are insightfully treated in the fine study "Bury the Chains" by Adam Hochschild. Darwin's allegiance to this humanitarian cause was unshakable and surely lent emotional urgency to his efforts to `prove' that all human were of the same species and the same descent, and therefore entitled to equal human rights.
For the enlightenment of any flat-earthers and creationists who might stumble over this book in the darkness of their caves, let me explain that "evolution" was not an idea first expounded by Charles Darwin.Read more ›
Charles Darwin was very strongly opposed to slavery, and he argued, quite rightly, that all human beings are of one species with a common ancestry. He was very critical of the mistaken theory that the different "races" of humans came into existence separately as separate species.
What Desmond and Moore claim is that Darwin's theory of common HUMAN origins inspired the development of his view that ALL LIFE is related by common descent through evolution. The "sacred cause" of opposition to slavery inspired Darwin's science.
But in his autobiography, which was initially written for private, family consumption, Darwin nowhere says anything about his anti-slavery views influencing his evolutionary theories. In fact Darwin explicity says that it was the distribution of fossil and living species which he encountered on the Beagle voyage that first got him seriously thinking about evolution. (Though I suppose that Desmond and Moore would say there was an underlying, unstated influence.)
There is also the fact that even if Darwin's anti-slavery views influenced his theory of the common origins of all life, it certainly was not a factor in inspiring him to come up with his theory of natural selection as the mechanism for evolution. It was natural selection that was Darwin's most important idea, and both he and, later, Wallace were inspired to come up with the theory by reading Malthus on population.Read more ›
Not an easy read by any means, nor for the first timer looking for an introductory book on Darwin.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Quality book that arrived in a timely way and in an as-advertised condition. Thanks.Published 12 months ago by thomas e.
Novel insight that makes perfect sense but underappreciated about this father of evolutionary understandingPublished 14 months ago by Scott W. Mader
...but he also used his brief experiences with slavery (such as his family's abolitionism, his acquaintance with a black taxidermist, and slaves that he saw on his voyage) as at... Read morePublished on June 1, 2014 by StanEvolve
The authors are driven by the question "What drove Darwin to deny the cherished tenets of his privileged Christian society? Read morePublished on January 30, 2010 by Paul Griffiths
For years one of the great hammers anti-evolutionists have used is smearing the name of Charles Darwin as a bigoted, racist scoundrel whose life is as morally bankrupt as his... Read morePublished on October 15, 2009 by TreadheadA25
Charles Darwin is among the most notorious scientists of the last 3 centuries. He has been revered by many and reviled by others, but not much is really known about who he really... Read morePublished on September 19, 2009 by L. D. Vazquez Figueroa
We are given a tale of conflicting trends: the development of `scientific' racism, and on the other hand the anti-slavery movement in England; this serves as foreground for... Read morePublished on July 19, 2009 by H. Schneider
For the first half of this book, I was rather bored and considered aborting my read numerous times. It wasn't until the halfway point that I realized what the authors were doing,... Read morePublished on June 3, 2009 by ghtx
Darwin's Sacred Cause does an admirable job of explaining why Darwin was so determined to continue his family's tradition of opposition to slavery and thus reveals an aspect of his... Read morePublished on March 29, 2009 by Christopher C. Tew