Last night I watched the first episode of “Darwin’s Brave New World” on the ABC, a docu-drama style program on the life and work of Charles Darwin.
Can I just say that I have rarely seen such an anachronistic and melodramatic example of television history?
Darwin is portrayed as a man determined to bring down the religious establishment of his time and constantly in danger of being burnt at the stake for suggesting that human beings have descended from apes.
As an example of this, the “opponents” are often shown in the dramatic re-enactments, of speaking against “evolutionists” – as if this term had the same meaning and currently before the publication of “Origin of the Species” as it had afterwards and since. It explicity emplies also that Darwin immediately, from the beginning, in his own mind believed the endpoint of his studies would be to prove the descent of man from more primitive lifeforms. And that his discoveries had led him, not just to doubts about a future in holy orders, but to the rejection of religious faith in total.
It also portrays Darwin as a “fighter for the cause” of atheism, regardless of the cost to himself. In fact, Darwin was highly conscious of his career, and raced to publish “Origin of the Species” when he realised that other naturalists were close on his heels. I am trying – in this instance – to remember the name of a younger naturalist in the East Indies who Darwin corresponded with and from whom he nicked a couple of key ideas (can anyone help me with the name here?).
Richard Dawkins, of course, figures prominently in the panel of experts co-commentating this narrative. I sometimes have trouble telling which character is supposed to be playing Charles Darwin…