'Creation' Portrays Darwin Conflicted Over Faith

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The new movie Creation tracks Charles Darwin's crisis of faith while he was writing On the Origin of Species after the death of his beloved young daughter Annie. Renee Montagne talks to Randal Keynes, who is the great-great grandson of Darwin. He also is the author of the book on which the film is based Annie's Box.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Next were going to look at the very private struggle behind a theory that changed the world. Creation, a new movie out today, traces the life of Charles Darwin and the years leading up to the publication of his book, On the Origin of Species.

Hes a loving family man, devoted to his deeply religious wife, Emma, and haunted by the death of his daughter, Annie. The movie also finds him to be a man of science, tortured by the explosive implications of his research on evolution. Here, Charles Darwin, played by Paul Bettany, arguing with a fellow biologist whos pushing him to publish.

(Soundbite of movie, Creation)

Mr. PAUL BETTANY (Actor): (as Charles Darwin) There is no book, theres fragments and theyre not in any fit state to publish.

Mr. TOBY JONES (Actor): (as Thomas Huxley) Nonsense. Ive read your detailed abstract and the argument is hugely powerful.

Mr. BETTANY: (as Charles Darwin) But thats my point, you see, you cant be entirely sure of that and thats why I need more time, I need...

Mr. JONES: (as Thomas Huxley) Mr. Darwin, sir.

Mr. BETTANY: (as Charles Darwin) Yes.

Mr. JONES: (as Thomas Huxley) Either youre being disingenuous or you do not fully understand your own theory. Evidently what is true of the barnacle is true of all creatures, even humans. Clearly the Almighty can no longer claim to have authored every species in under a week. You killed God, sir. You have killed God.

MONTAGNE: Creation is based on a book by Charles Darwins great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes. The book was inspired by a discovery Keynes made when he went looking for clues about his ancestor.

Mr. RANDAL KEYNES (Author, Creation: Darwin, His Daughter & Human Evolution): There was this big chest of drawers in my parents home, which I understood was full of pictures, letters, diaries, childrens games and books. I went to that chest of drawers, and I found this little writing case. When I opened it, I saw it was a childs writing case with a folded piece of paper that I recognized by then as Darwins handwriting. Its a sort of a scrawl. Hes an untidy writer. I saw this note and it was headed Annies Illness, and he had clearly been looking after her.

MONTAGNE: Hmm-umm.

Mr. KEYNES: She died at the age of 10, probably from tuberculosis. She had a lingering illness and this box must have been kept, I guessed, by Emma to remember her by.

MONTAGNE: That seems to have unlocked a whole story of a side of Charles Darwin that you might not have known or that people might not really know.

Mr. KEYNES: Quite unexpected, yes. I had always thought of Darwin as a great scientist, and great scientists, we reckon, spend most of their time in their laboratories in a white coat, not at home. When I saw that Darwin was devoted to his children from this little note about how he had cared for Annie, I quickly realized that Darwin had done most of his scientific work in his home, and that his children were always around him as he worked. This was a completely different view of a great scientist.

MONTAGNE: And Annie seems to have been - dont know if you can quite call her this - but something of a muse.

Mr. KEYNES: Yes, she was, in a sense, a favorite. Although, he never showed any favoritism towards the other children when he wrote about her, there was clearly something very special in their link. The movie maker, they suggest that Annie was a muse for Darwin. His memory of her encouraged him to carry on with his work and put it into a shape that would make sense to the readers of his time.

MONTAGNE: One of the reasons, in the film, that Darwin would not, for years, publish his work was that his beloved wife, Emma, had a deep faith in God. And here in the film, Emma, played by Jennifer Connelly, she challenges him.

(Soundbite of movie, Creation)

Ms. JENNIFER CONNELLY (Actor): (as Emma Darwin) Do you really care so little for your immortal home? Charles, do you not care that you may never pass through the gates of heaven? That you and I may be separated for all eternity?

Mr. BETTANY: (as Charles Darwin) Well, of course I care. Of course, I do. What do you think has kept me in limbo all these years?

MONTAGNE: Its pretty compelling argument from someone he dearly loved. But it didnt, in the end, change what he knew it to be true from his own work.

Mr. KEYNES: It didnt, because he had this great conflict between what his wife hoped was true, what he would have loved to be able to agree with her on, but what he just couldnt accept from his understanding of the natural world.

(Soundbite of movie, Creation)

Mr. BETTANY: (as Charles Darwin) Dear Hooker, I have finally decided. I think I owe it to my children to at least have the courage of my own convictions. My title will be On the Origin of Species, and I shall endeavor to keep God out of it. Although, no doubt he will see it as a personal attack.

MONTAGNE: Given how much evolution creates such a gulf between those who take it as scientific fact and those who would deny it, he and his wife were on opposite sides of that gulf. Did they find a common ground?

Mr. KEYNES: I should just explain what Emmas views were. She didnt believe in the literal truth of the Bible as some people with fundamentalist views do now. She believed in the importance of the commitment of faith in order to be able to enjoy the rewards of salvation. And she saw faith as a challenge, a difficulty, and I think this is true for many Christians. Darwin couldnt make that commitment, and it was because she knew he couldnt make that commitment of hope that there was salvation in the afterlife.

It has to be said that between the two of them, it was really she who made the great concession. Emma decided that her love for him should prevail over her fear that he wouldnt be joining her in the afterlife. And she just gave her love to him through the rest of their lives together, hoping, hoping, hoping that they would meet again, but not knowing.

MONTAGNE: Randal Keynes, the new movie, Creation is based on his book, Creation: Darwin, His Daughter & Human Evolution.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

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