Creation (dir. Jon Amiel) distributed by Icon Film Distribution, 2009.
This article was first published in Evangelicals Now (September 2009).
© Tony Watkins, 2009
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Charles Darwin has massively influenced the modern world. 200 years after his birth, his struggles leading up to publishing On the Origin of Species are explored in a new film, Creation, starring Paul Bettany as Darwin.
The title is surprising but apt, since the film is partly about the creation of his book and partly about his doubts that God directly created every distinct species. But above all, it is the story of Darwin’s struggles over one particular aspect of creation: suffering.
Creation doesn’t tell the story in chronological order, indicating Darwin’s inner turmoil. His disquiet is partly intellectual. His meticulous explorations in the natural world have led him to conclusions that don’t mesh easily with the predominant views of his day.
We see Darwin deeply concerned about what effect publishing his ideas will have on his devout wife, Emma. But it is not simply a question of religion versus science. A two-hour film inevitably simplifies complex issues, and Creation doesn’t reveal that On the Origin of Species brought Darwin into conflict with some of his fellow scientists, nor that there were Christians who accepted his ideas unhesitatingly.
Darwin stumbles repeatedly over the problem of suffering. He is troubled by nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, and he presses his friend, the local vicar, on the question of why God created 900 species of intestinal worms. Much more personally, Darwin is torn apart by grief over the death of his much-loved daughter Annie, aged 10. Their relationship forms the heart of the film.
Creation is not a story of a man who has set himself to be at war with God. We see Darwin’s unease at his friend Thomas Huxley’s truculent insistence that Darwin’s ideas have killed God. Rather, it is a touching portrayal of a man whose faith is crumbling in the face of unbearable heartache. And no one gives him anything like a satisfactory answer. He is simply told that God moves in mysterious ways.
Darwin’s enormous passion for science is evident, and he is driven to discover truth. How sad, then, that he finally rejects the most important truth of all because no one helps him to see that God understands our pain, having suffered to reconcile us to himself. There is mystery in suffering, but only in relation to God can it have any meaning at all.