They obscure the fact that they fail to accomplish their aim

Allen Esterson has a wonderful article on a 2009 book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, in which they claim that moral passion about the horrors of slavery was Darwin’s motivation for “determined pursuit of an explanatory theory for the transformation of species of which he became convinced as a result of his experiences during the Beagle voyage of 1831 to 1836.”

I once tried to read their 1991 biography of Darwin but I stopped fairly soon because it’s full of nudging innuendo about motives and agendas and complicity – you know the kind of thing. It was obvious bullshit, because it was always stuff they were reading in, not anything they demonstrated or offered good evidence for. I found it very annoying and smug, and it’s a treat to see Allen whisk aside the curtain.

This article explores the means by which the authors seek to persuade readers of the validity of their thesis, and concludes that far from providing compelling evidence, by providing a mass of historically interesting material relating to slavery that is actually tangential to their case, they obscure the fact that they fail to accomplish their aim.

Yes that sounds like them.


  1. says

    So perhaps Desmond’s The Politics of Evolution, which has been languishing on my To Read stack for several years, should just be shuffled to the bottom of the stack, or perhaps altogether aside? I mean, he does this a lot, does he?

  2. phill says

    I wonder if Desmond and Moore are religious, because their hypothesis seems to be based on the religious tendency to frame a conclusion and then seek ‘evidence’ to confirm it. If you read Darwin’s ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ you can see the thought processes that led to the theory of evolution taking shape. A wonderful moment is when Darwin stood on the vast shingle plains of Patagonia and viscerally understood the concept of deep time revealed by the stepped layers of rounded pebbles derived from the Cordillera he could see in the far distance. Darwin had a copy of Charles Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ with him on the voyage, a gift from the captain of The Beagle, in which Lyell promotes James Hutton’s concept of uniformitarianism. Darwin was much impressed with this and he and Lyell became close friends after the voyage. The impact of the burgeoning science of geology is a much more likely driver for the theory of evolution than a search for moral understanding.

  3. says

    Dude, if you think “to frame a conclusion and then seek ‘evidence’ to confirm it” is a religious tendency, you need to get out more; not least because you’re doing it yourself in that actual sentence. Even if you cloak it in “I wonder”.

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