My great-grandfather Darwin is still trouble'
PUBLISHED: 18:09 08 October 2009 | UPDATED: 11:11 12 August 2010
DARWIN S great-grandson and author of a book which inspired the blockbuster film Creation has claimed that his ancestor is still controversial . Randal Keynes talked about his book last Saturday before a large audience at Down House, Downe, where Charle
DARWIN'S great-grandson and author of a book which inspired the blockbuster film Creation has claimed that his ancestor is "still controversial".
Randal Keynes talked about his book last Saturday before a large audience at Down House, Downe, where Charles Darwin lived with his family for 40 years.
Mr Keynes' book, Annie's Box, detailed Darwin's relationship with his 10-year-old daughter, who died of scarlet fever. The book has been renamed Creation to tie in with the movie, which is in cinemas now.
Mr Keynes said: "I am almost happy with all aspects of the film but a tie-in deal means you have to call your book by the name of the film. The film was called Nature at one point. Perhaps they thought it meant almost nothing."
The film, part-funded by the BBC, did not have an easy ride in America, where Darwin still means trouble, making distributors wary. This echoed the problems with the stateside Darwin exhibition in 2004, which then came to the Natural History Museum in London.
Mr Keynes said: "When exhibitions need a corporate backer they are normally queuing up to do it. The corporations know that Darwin is trouble. If they have other things to fund, then why fund something that is going to be trouble?
"It is not rejection. It is recognising that Darwin is still controversial.
"Creation has been made an issue by a small amount of people who demand attention."
It was different once an exhibition or film opened. "People come, many people disagree and are perfectly polite," he said. "There isn't a problem about religion. We can all relax about the issue."
He pointed out that his great-grandfather's magnum opus On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, was not incompatible with the Christian faith.
He added: "The reviewers thought it was hateful. The publisher took the book on because they knew it was going to be controversial.
"Biblical experts at the time didn't believe in the literal truth of the first chapter of Genesis. It was figurative.
"They had accepted the geologists' view of the age of the Earth.
"Darwin did not believe they were incompatible. He was quite clear on that."
There was laughter from the audience when he said that was the biggest difference between Darwin and Richard Dawkins.
Mr Keynes began his book after he found a box in a chest of drawers, with "writing case" engraved on the top. In it, he found a lock of hair, a brooch and a chart detailing Annie's illness as well as other mementoes.
The father-of-two said something he wished the film, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, had delved into was the guilt Darwin felt about marrying his cousin.
He said: "Often that was a terrible weight for Darwin because so much of his life as a scientist showed how cross-breading weakened [species].
"There was a clear irony for him."
Mr Keynes has spent nearly a week in Downe with World Heritage Site assessors in a renewed bid to get the house and its gardens included on their list after a previous bid was rejected last year.
But the 61-year-old author said he tried to avoid the family legacy, preferring to lead his "own life", but was drawn into the family business by his passion for restoring Victorian buildings.
The former civil servant said: "I wanted to make my own life and there had been talk of Darwin in the family.
"When I found out about Darwin I was so surprised. He was so different from what I expected. I just imagined this Victorian scientist who was preoccupied with a rational, cold view of humanity and nature, with the struggle for existence and what we find in this book is that he was far from our idea of Victorian parents. He loved his wife and children.
"He was completely free of prejudice.