No other scientific idea has endured as much unfounded hostility as evolution, and no scientist as much undeserved scorn as Charles Darwin. One hundred and twenty-eight years after his death, Darwin's good name is assaulted daily by all manner of creationists, who hold Darwin responsible for everything from the Columbine school shootings to the Holocaust.
It is refreshing, then, that the movie Creation comes out this week on DVD, which means you can finally see it. This movie -- released last year in very few theaters -- tells the story of how Darwin agonized over whether or not to publish On the Origin of Species. It was indeed a momentous decision, for as Darwin presciently understood, the controversy generated by his magnum opus would follow him the rest of his life -- and indeed, long after his life.
Creation, based on a book by Randal Keynes, Darwin's great-great grandson, is well worth seeing. Paul Bettany plays Darwin, and in effect reprises his role as naturalist Stephen Maturin, from the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. His tender and moving performance brings Darwin to life as a man driven by curiosity about the natural world, passionate about his family, and deeply worried about how publication of his revolutionary scientific ideas might affect them.
This view of Darwin as a full human being is a far cry from how Darwin is portrayed by many creationists.
"Darwin was nothing but a blatant racist, a bigot of a man." Thus intoned creationist Ray Comfort, who recently distributed thousands of free copies of Darwin's On the Origin of Species on college campuses. Comfort added his own introduction to Origin, blaming Darwin for a host of atrocities.
The Discovery Institute, the main hub of intelligent design creationism, regularly launches personal as well as "scientific" attacks on Darwin. One Discovery Institute fellow, Richard Weikart, has written not one, but two books arguing that the roots of the Holocaust can be found in Darwin. Another Discovery Institute associate, David Klinghoffer, has tried to link Darwin to Dr. Mengele, H.P. Lovecraft, Chairman Mao, and Charles Manson--although Klinghoffer hastens to point out:
I am not in any way blaming gentle Charles Darwin for murderous Charles Manson. But [the anniversary of Darwin's birthday] does remind us of another stitch, a bizarre one, in the fabric of Darwinism's moral legacy.
It is rather strange to distinguish Darwin from Manson, then claim that Manson is part of Darwin's moral legacy. Klinghoffer is more explicit when talking about the evil of Dr. Mengele:
What would inspire a human being to such devilry? What influence, perhaps early in life, might have nudged him off the course of what could have otherwise been a conventional medical career?
Klinghoffer's answer, of course, is that Charles Darwin "nudged" Mengele toward evil.
Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Wiker went to great lengths to attack Darwin in his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. As one reviewer of the book put it, Wiker went so far as to blame Darwin for:
...eugenics, Nazism, abortion, euthanasia, sex education and contraceptives for the poor, cyber-pornography, and cannibalism.
[Which is silly, of course. Everyone knows cannibalism is Jonathan Swift's fault.]
Why do creationists blame Darwin for such creative lists of malfeasance? To many creationists, Darwin is one of a triad of thinkers whose influence creationists blame for the horrors of the 20th century. In Marx, they see a "science of human history" manifested in systematic mass murder and unimaginable suffering. In Freud, they see a "science of the human mind" responsible for sexual licentiousness and the breakdown of traditional values. And in Darwin, they see a "science of the human species" responsible for eugenics and the denigration of man to the status of an animal.
The movie Creation is important because it shows Darwin as a man, a deeply thoughtful man, filled with compassion and fears over the implications, as well as the reception, of his revolutionary ideas. One striking scene from Creation follows the death and decomposition of a young bird. In another part of the movie, Darwin tries to comfort his children after they witness a fox killing a rabbit. Creation is not oblivious to what can seem like the brutality and pointlessness of an evolutionary view of the world. But rather than portraying Darwin as a blood-thirsty Hobbesian relishing a world red in tooth and claw, the film presents his empathy and sad acceptance of a world imbued with so much suffering.
Creation shows Darwin as human being, and his famous theory not as some scary conspiracy, but as a reasoned and reasonable scientific idea. This is a welcome contrast from the misinformed hyperbole and ad hominem attacks that so often flow from creationists.
Creationists will be hostile to Creation for its humanizing of Darwin. Indeed, the group Answers in Genesis found even the title of the film "offensive" and labeled it a "Hollywood hagiography." The Institution for Creation Research called the movie part of "a strategy of evolutionists to win the hearts and minds" of viewers. There is perhaps no better recommendation for the film than their scorn.