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Darwin the abolitionist

The theory of evolution is regarded as a triumph of disinterested scientific reason. Yet, on the 150th anniversary of "On the Origin of Species," new research reveals that Darwin was driven to the idea of common descent by a great moral cause

By Adrian Desmond   February 2009

Shackled legs, thumbscrews used to crush the fingers of errant female slaves, a six-year-old boy horse-whipped for handing out water in a dirty glass: these sound like scenes from a modern horror story, but all were seen by the young Charles Darwin on his travels with the Beagle around the slave-owning continent of South America. You will find no mention of them in the proudly reasoned, scientific pages of On the Origin of Species. Glance at Darwin’s journals, private notebooks and family background, however, and you will find a man immersed in the rhetoric and fervent belief of the anti-slavery…

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