2009 sees both the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origins of Species, making it a good time for all things Charles Darwin related.
I’ve been doing some reading on the Great Man himself and I’m mildly surprised to find that he was thoroughly decent human being and an all-round top bloke.
I already knew he was a loving father and husband and not the remote, aloof authority figure expected for a man of his class and age. But Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s most recent book Darwin’s Sacred Cause (review here) argues convincingly that Darwin’s quest for a common human ancestor grew out of his revulsion of slavery and his horror of the racist argument that black people were inherently inferior to whites.
An important part of this was the Christian belief in the essential brotherhood of humanity. Although Darwin drifted away from religious belief later in life, the lessons and impulses of his early life continued to influence him.
In the end of course, Darwin’s moral code was completely irrelevant to his scientific theories. It doesn’t matter if he was a brute who beat kittens* and farted in drawing rooms, the power of his theories derives from the empirical evidence.
But it’s still comforting, somehow, to find out that one of the most important thinkers in the modern world was a good egg.
*He also hatred cruelty to animals. What a nice man.