Olivia Judson on “Creation,” the Darwin Movie

Dr. Olivia Judson

Dr. Olivia Judson

IT is once more our delight, dear reader, to post about a column by the splendidly-evolved Olivia Judson — an evolutionary biologist and a research fellow in biology at Imperial College London. This article, part of Dr. Judson’s series in the New York Times, is titled: The Creation of Charles Darwin.

From the title, you can guess that Olivia’s topic is “Creation,” the new movie about Charles Darwin. When we previously wrote this about that movie, Expelled from the USA, recommending the review by Eugenie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education, we said: “It’s unlikely that you’ll find a review anywhere written by anyone more knowledgeable.”

But we hadn’t anticipated a review by Olivia. We don’t want to play favorites, so here are some excerpts from Olivia’s column, with bold added by us:

The script of “Creation” is based on a book called “Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his Daughter, and Human Evolution,” by Randal Keynes. Keynes is one of Darwin’s great-great-grandsons. His book is thus part-biography, part-family memoir.

Unlike most biographies of Darwin, its central event is not the publication of the “Origin,” but the death of Darwin’s adored eldest daughter, Annie, at the age of 10. …

Annie’s death is also the central event of this beautifully shot film. For “Creation” is not a didactic film: its main aim is not the public understanding of Darwin’s ideas, but a portrait of a bereaved man and his family.

Fine, but unless one likes Victorian-era tear-jerkers, what’s in this movie for us? Let’s read on:

Which isn’t to say that Darwin’s ideas don’t feature. We see him dissecting barnacles, preparing pigeon skeletons, meeting pigeon breeders and talking to scientific colleagues. …

At the same time, we see his view of nature — a wasteful, cruel, violent place, where wasps lay their eggs in the living flesh of caterpillars, chicks fall from the nest and die of starvation, and the fox kills and eats the rabbit.

A tear-jerker with scenes of barnacle dissection? Do we really want to see such a film? To find out, we shall continue with Olivia’s article:

Yet though he didn’t speak of her [his daughter, Annie], her death was not without impact on his thinking. According to Darwin’s biographer Janet Browne, “This death was the formal beginning of Darwin’s conscious dissociation from believing in the traditional figure of God. The doctrines of the Bible that Emma took comfort in were hurdles he could not jump.”

Ah, the plot thickens, somewhat. Here’s more:

“Creation” thus takes on two main themes. The first is the difference in religious outlook between Darwin and his wife — and, more broadly, between Darwin and much of Victorian society. … The second, and more unusual, theme is the mental hell of guilt and anguish that the death of a loved one can bring, and how that can fracture a family.

Not even one debate — or even polite conversation — with a creationist? Is that possible? Skipping quite a bit, here’s the end of the article:

Too often, Darwin is depicted as a kind of fossil: an old man with a huge beard looking as though he’s 350. It’s refreshing to see him looking young and handsome; indeed, [Paul] Bettany manages to look astonishingly like the portrait of the young Darwin. And more to the point, Bettany shows Darwin as a man rather than icon, imbuing him with life and love, gentleness and anxiety, tears and laughter. This alone makes it an important film.

Olivia makes the whole thing sound rather mushy. We like a bit of red meat when we go to the theater. Maybe there is some in this film, but it wasn’t mentioned in Olivia’s column.

Anyway, read Olivia’s entire review, and also read the one by Eugenie Scott. Decide for yourself who describes the movie better — assuming you get a chance to see it. As we write this, the film isn’t being shown in the US.

And now a brief digression: Some of you have remarked about our apparent infatuation with Olivia. Ah, but you’re wrong. Despite her appearance, we insist on maintaining a strictly detached, scientific point of view. To show what a great guy your Curmudgeon is, and how fair and balanced we are, check out A Gallery of Creationist Hotties. Factor in that data as you choose your side in The Controversy between evolution and creationism.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Olivia Judson on “Creation,” the Darwin Movie

  1. The Curmudgeon noted

    Some of you have remarked about our apparent infatuation with Olivia. Ah, but you’re wrong.

    Whew, that ‘s a relief!

    For months now, Olivia and I have been concealing our torrid affair from you, afraid that we might hurt your feelings.

    Thank goodness we can be open about this now. No more having to sneak off to Paris on the Eurostar under assumed names! No more donning disguises for our secret trysts at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. At last, we can openly dine together at La Gavroche!

    I should have known that Kathy Martin was the gal for you!

  2. Great Claw says: “For months now, Olivia and I have been concealing our torrid affair from you …”

    Fool! That’s not Olivia you’ve been seeing. Using our secret technology, we’ve been altering your mind so that you only think you’re with Olivia. If only you knew who you were really with! But we have it all on film.

  3. This is the kind of conversation that can only end with a gunshot.

  4. I’ll put this one my NetFlix list.

  5. Carl Sachs says: “This is the kind of conversation that can only end with a gunshot.”

    Yeah, that’s how it goes around here.

  6. Carl Sachs cautioned

    This is the kind of conversation that can only end with a gunshot.

    Thanks for the warning!

    In the exhilaration and relief and not having to conceal things any more, I nearly posted some of Olivia’s more comments about the Curmudgeon’s — er, well, what she called his “short-comings.”

    But you’re right, there’s a danger in that kind of candour. Remarks like that could lead a man to shoot himself. And that would be a tragic loss to the blogsphere!

  7. It’s a cruel world. I can’t even get respect on my own blog.

  8. What do you expect? You are a frog with the hots for a pig.

  9. All right, gentlemen, let’s get back on topic.

  10. Whew! Why does it smell like sweaty gym socks in here??? 😛

  11. It’s merely biology, my dear. We’ve evolved to be like this.

  12. Warning to other readers: do not click on “A Gallery of Creationist Hotties” unless you want to be grossed out.