Interview with Randall Keynes
January 22, 2010
Creation author and conservationist Randall Keynes sat down on an extremely rainy Monday in San Francisco to discuss his book, the movie adaptation that hits theaters on Friday, and the controversy surrounding the movie’s release. A well dressed, perfectly mannered British gentleman, he sat attentively at the table behind his neatly stacked map of The City, glasses, and copy of his book.
For those who do not already know, the film Creation, based on Keynes’s book by the same name (also published as Annie’s Box) has been followed by a wake of controversy in the religiously charged United States. Even the name Creation was a controversial choice for a book and movie about Charles Darwin, because it has obvious intelligent design connotations. The book/movie title choice perplexed many people who accept natural selection as fact and angered theists who do not. Keynes explained the ambiguous meaning was part of the decision to change the book name from Annie’s Box to Creation.
“It was chosen because of its double meaning. It is about where life came from, the arts and religion. Darwin’s insights took imagination and boldness as well as science.” Keynes explained.
The movie Creation had difficulties finding a distributor in America. The film, which covers the life of Darwin around the time of his daughter’s death and the writing of On the Origin of Species, was immediately hands-off to the major U.S. distributors, because it may be offensive to Christians. It was after some debate and time that Newmarket Films, ironically the distributor of The Passion of the Christ, picked up the distribution of Creation.
This distribution issue infuriated many non-theists. Many felt a great sense of injustice regarding the Christian-centered point of view of the major Hollywood distributors.
When asked about his reaction to the controversy over the film, Keynes didn’t seem particularly surprised. He explained that he had been part of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York’s Darwin Exhibit in 2005–2006, which presented evidence for evolution.
“They couldn’t find a corporate sponsor. It may not have been because the businesses did not accept evolution,” said Keynes. “We expected spray painting or vandalism but there was none.”
Keynes then explained that he thought Christians and atheists alike could enjoy Creation because it is a love story about a complicated man. He seem surprised when read these specific passages from the review of Creation on Movieguide.org, a Christian movie reviewing community by Ted Baehr, Jeff Holder, and Tom Snyder: “‘Creation’ uses fallacious ‘straw men’ arguments by crudely depicting the Christians in its story as closed minded, cruel people.” It continues later in the review, “The fact that ‘Creation’ is so well done makes it an even more dangerous piece of one-sided propaganda.”
“The facts [specifically about Reverend Innes] are verified by sermons he wrote down and evidence of punishments during the time,” Keynes stated confidently. “It is unfortunate that they missed the positive messages about Emma’s faith.”
Keynes went on to explain that when he wrote Creation, he hoped he could begin to quell these controversies by shedding light on Charles Darwin the man, not the theory. “I hoped people would see how difficult it [developing the theory of natural selection] was for Darwin.”
He came across the inspiration for the book Creation by accident. Keynes is Darwin’s great-great grandson and had access to family keepsakes. While milling through a chest of drawers once owned by Charles Darwin’s daughter, Ettie, he came across a small box. He was told that it was Annie’s box. Inside were a variety of writings in Darwin’s hand about his experience during Annie’s illness and eventual death. Annie was Charles and Emma’s oldest daughter, who died at the age of ten. Charles went into a state of grief and guilt about Annie’s death.
“He [Darwin] was careful to conceal how high-strung he was. Only two people knew the full extent of his grief, Emma and Parslow the butler. Emma would write down his symptoms in her pocketbook when she felt like it or when she was caring for him.”
In the film, Darwin is depicted as having a relationship with Annie after her death, sometimes speaking to her directly. It is unclear if she is a hallucination or a ghost.
“There is no evidence that Darwin saw Annie as a ghost or hallucination. That’s the film maker imagining it in a way for movie audiences,” Keynes smiled. “I would have been disappointed if they didn’t. They had to get the big things right. It is ok to re-imagine the small things for the audience. It is a movie. It is not a book with footnotes,” he said as he gently wiggled his copy of Creation in the air.
“I hope the movie will help people see Darwin and his ideas more positively. He was not malicious. He honestly believed everyone would benefit from a better understanding. Darwin believed it helps us to understand our nature to understand the history of nature.”