If the authors are wrong about this motivation, was Darwin a racist after all? I think such a charge is hard to justify without stooping to anachronistic and triumphalist standards of judgment. Whatever else he was, Darwin was a product of his time. By our twenty-first century standards, almost all people of European descent in the nineteenth century were racist. Saying that Darwin was a racist is little more informative than saying he lived in the nineteenth century. Far more important, I think, is Darwin's attitude about the treatment of other races. Here, Desmond and Moore do us a great service by illuminating the real passion of Darwin's anti-slavery and anti-cruelty. By making Darwin's evolution primarily ideological, however, they miss an important point: that science can be used to serve different ideologies. Common ancestry and natural selection can be interpreted to serve slavery and cruelty just as easily as to oppose them. Darwin's equivocation on this point in Descent, where he declares slavery a "great sin" (vol. 1, p. 94) but still holds a bleak view of the future of non-white races, illustrates this point. Most scientific ideas do not have one inexorable ethical consequence. Neither view of Darwin - as racist or as anti-slavery ideologue - does justice to the complexities of the development and application of his theories of evolution.
Meanwhile, the Toronto International Film Festival announced that it will premiere the new Darwin movie Creation on opening night. Check out the trailer. Meh... it looks awfully melodramatic to me, and I'm not buying Jennifer Connelly as Emma. (The look is not quite right; even made up frumpy she doesn't look like Emma.) I hope it's at least a decent movie, but my knowledge of the subject will probably ruin it for me. According to IMDB, it opens September 25 in the UK, October 15 in the Netherlands, and December 23 in Belgium. I'm sure all my Belgian readers are marking their calendars right now. No word on a US opening date, but maybe that'll change after TIFF. I hope so; I'd like to see it on the big screen.