Charles Darwin – the Devil’s Chaplain?


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As a young boy, he hated going to school, and his father thought he was a failure. He dropped out of medical school, because he couldn’t see blood. Finally, he decided to become a priest. However, fate decided that this unstable young man would become one of the world’s most famous scientists – a thinker, who would drastically change our understanding of life and nature. At the end of his eventful life he had become an icon of science, a genius of a researcher whose powerful ideas still affect us today.


ZDF, 2008
Length: 42/52 minutes
Directed by: Eike Schmitz
Story by: Susanne Utzt, Eike Schmitz
Camera: Manfred Pelz
Editors: Vincent Assmann, Mathieu Honoré
Music: Brynmor Jones
Narrator: Chris Eldon Lee
Sound design & mix: Sebastian Reuter
Production assistant: Natalija Yefimkina
Adviser: Dr. Matthias Glaubrecht
Commissioning editor: Hans-Christian Huf
German or English version

Charles Darwin was born 200 years ago in Shrewsbury in the West of England. 150 years ago, his influential work “On the Origin of Species” was published. Throughout his life he kept asking fundamental questions: What was the origin of life? How had man come into existence? Was he created by God or did he descend from apes?

Eventually, Darwin struck upon the idea that all creatures might be the result of natural selection – in other words, of „evolution“. His proponents hailed Darwin as the greatest scientist of all times, his enemies thought he was an agent of the devil. How did the man who would be priest turn into such a heretic?

The film „Charles Darwin – The Devil’s Chaplain?“ sketches Darwin’s dramatic transformation from a student of theology to the harbinger of modern biology. We accompany him on his sea voyage on the „Beagle“ around the world. We witness him become a passionate researcher of exotic species on the Cape Verde Islands, South America and the Galapagos Islands, and we follow his career as a scientist in Victorian England.

Darwin’s path to success, however, is full of struggles. For two decades, he keeps delaying the publication of his preposterous new theory on the evolution of species. He is afraid both of losing his reputation, and of hurting the feelings of his pious wife. Throughout his lifetime, he suffers from the conflict between scientific knowledge and Christian doctrines of belief.

The film presents the paradoxes and complexities in the life and thought of this unusual man. His theory, which he described as the „murder“ of Victorian ideals and certainties, continues to be fascinating into our present.

“Charles Darwin – The Devil’s Chaplain?” – the film in time for the Darwin anniversary.