This is a movie on the life of Charles Darwin, both personally and professionally. Darwin, who has slowly been losing his religious believes since the loss of his eldest daughter, is torn between his deep belief in science and his ideas on evolution and the effect that publishing his findings will have on the religion-driven community.
This film could be a good companion of a lecture (series) that adequately covers Kuhn’s theory on paradigmatic science and the revolutions that are sometimes necessary for the start of a new paradigm. Furthermore, it covers pressures to publish and the sometimes hectic and stressful personal problems that accompany this.
This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.
Key words: Conflict of Interest / Scientific writing
Medium: This film is available on DVD
Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Biography/ Drama/ playing time: 108 min.
Creation is a film on the life of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany), the famous biologist who is famous for his book ‘On the origin of species’, published in 1859. The film concerns the period of his life where he was struggling with publishing his book. It covers the conflict between science and religion, his personal problems with his deceived daughter Annie Darwin (Martha West), whom he loved very dearly. Furthermore, it deals with the impact that Annie’s death had on his marriage with Emma Darwin (Jennifer Connelly). Though this film mainly highlights personal conflicts, it also adequately covers the conflict of science and religion and the impact this ‘battle’ had on Darwin’s wish to publish his findings.
Darwin, who has slowly been losing his religious believes since the loss of his eldest daughter, is torn between his deep belief in science and his ideas on evolution and the effect that publishing his findings will have on the religion-driven community. He is troubled by the death of his daughter and the religiosity of his wife and some visiting friends.
The selected three fragments of the film should be viewed in sequence as they share an educational purpose.
The first fragment focuses on the problem of a religious society that is strongly against the ideas of Darwin. Darwin is having a conversation with his wife about publishing his findings. After he tells her he is considering publishing ‘and be done with it’, she attacks him by claiming that he cares too little for his mortal soul. This fragments deals with the religiosity of his wife and the problems Darwin had with this; he loved his wife, but he felt the need to publish his findings in an objective manner.
The second fragment is a scene where Darwin is in church with his family. The priest who is speaking to the people in church publicly addresses him, although he addresses him without many people noticing it. Darwin struggles with this attack on his belief in science and decides to leave church. This fragment deals with Darwin’s own problems with his (lack of) religiosity and his religious surroundings.
The third fragment shows the other side of the problem. Darwin is pressured into publishing his findings in order to ‘reclaim science’s claim to the truth and make people believe in evolution instead of creation.’ When pressured into publishing, Darwin starts to doubt his findings, believing he needs more samples and time before he can publish his work adequately. What becomes clear in this fragment is that Darwin is torn between his belief in the truth of his work and the concern for the impact it will have on society. He will also be under huge pressure when his work is published; this also makes him second-guess his consideration to publish.
During the three fragments and the remainder of the film, Darwin is struggling with religion in a number of ways: his wife is a very religious person, he lost his eldest daughter due to an illness for which he partially blames himself and he is faced with a scientific dogma which is still religious and creationist. The struggle between publishing his results on evolution and the religious bubble he lives in is the main issue of the film.
This film challenges our ‘natural’ way of looking at the world and makes us realize that someone had to swim against the stream in order to make facts known. This line of thinking is roughly in line with Kuhn’s vision on science operating in a paradigm.
The science vs. religion part of the movie is rather realistic: it highlights the period in history during which Darwin wanted to publish his findings on his Revolution Theory. The conflict of religion versus science runs through his personal and professional life and was very difficult for him and other researchers dedicated to publishing ‘facts’ as opposed to religion-tainted science.
The selected fragments are helpful when viewed in sequence to illustrate a discussion on intellectual conflict of interest (1) and value-driven versus value-free science (2).
One could pose that Darwin has the duty, as a scientist, to publish his findings. He has done the research and he is aware of the ‘facts’, but is struggling with the impact his findings could have on society. This intellectual conflict of interest is an interesting topic for a discussion on the duties of scientists and whether or not they may allow themselves to be influenced by society or their personal beliefs.
These fragments could also be used in a lesson-plan designed to illustrate the context in which science is embedded; the personal and communal values that colour how new scientific ‘facts’ are accepted and communicated to the scientific community and the public. Discussion of this topic could be on values in science and their importance for the individual researcher or on the shared values that make up the environment in which scientific discovery is communicated and accepted. Discussions on the possibility of value-free science and the role of religion could be discussed, as well as the historical context of the problem.
I will propose two possible discussion lines that could aid in designing such a lesson-plan: (1) Darwin is torn between ‘pure’ science and his believe in the truth of his work and the impact it will have on society; what should Darwin do; should he publish his findings or not? (2) Darwin does not seem to take a side in the conflict between religion and society: do you think this is the right thing to do or should a scientist take a side between such conflicts as they directly affect his work and the acceptance of his work?
After Darwin is reconciled with the death of his daughter Annie he regains the strength to continue his work. After he finishes the manuscript he decides that his wife Emma should make the decision on whether or not the manuscript should be published. Emma reads the manuscript and decides that he should publish and she declares that she hopes that ‘god will forgive them both’. Darwin posts his manuscript and with that he definitively shared his views with the world.
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