Maddie and Darwin

Maddie dear, I really think that this is stretching things a tad.

An attempt to do just that will be in one of the most important of the new crop of Darwin books: Darwin\’s Sacred Cause, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, published next month. They argue that Darwin was driven by a moral impulse – abolitionism. He set out to prove that all human beings, regardless of skin colour, were essentially the same, all descended within a few thousand generations from shared parentage. It was Darwin\’s refutation of the scientific racism of his day used to justify slavery.

Darwin published in 1859. The slave trade was abolished by the British in 1807. Slavery itself outlawed in the British Empire in 1833. Even the Americans banned the importation of slaves in 1808 and, well:

Between 1808 and 1860, the British West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard.[65] Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against "the usurping King of Lagos", deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

Darwin may well have been writing about, campaigning for, other things than simply his revelations about evolution and natural selection (that latter being really his point) but I really don\’t think that trying to change public attitudes to slavery was one of them.

One comment on “Maddie and Darwin

  1. Sounds like just another hijacking of Darwin’s ideas:

    Darwin had identified natural selection as the mechanism of evolution by about 1837. In 1844, he articulated the concept in a manuscript, which he did *not* submit but left in his study with a letter to his wife instructing her to publish it “in case of my sudden death.”
    In 1857 he sent a summary of his theory to Asa Gray, a botanist at Harvard. Yet he did still not publish it.

    Darwin decided to publish his theory only when in 1858 he received a manuscript entitled “On the Tendency of Variations to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.”
    from Alfred Russel Wallace, which had been sent from the Malay Archipelago. Wallace had independently deduced a large part of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

    In a panic, Wallace Darwin wrote to friends – Joseph Hooker, a biologist, and Charles Lyell, a geologist- of his fear that “all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed.”

    Lyell wrote back asking what Darwin had on paper to establish priority. Darwin recalled the 1844 paper, which Hooker had read, as well as the paragraphs he had recently sent to Asa Gray. Lyell and Hooker’s suggested a joint presentation of Darwin’s paper and Wallace’s at the next Linnean Society meeting, where the papers caused not the slightest bit of controversy.

    As a campaigner for the abolition of slavery, Darwin would seem to have been remarkably desultory.

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