A new book on Charles Darwin says a passionate hatred of slavery was fundamental to his theory of natural selection, which challenged the assumption held by many at the time that blacks and whites were separate species.

“Darwin’s Sacred Cause” is among the first of dozens of works about the 19th century scientist to appear in 2009, the bicentenary of his birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking “On the Origin of Species”. You can see a report here about the book by my colleague Mike Collett-White.

I find the choice of title by the authors Adrian Desmond and James Moore to be an interesting one. Other Darwin biographers have written of his gradual loss of religious faith — and he is today a target of scorn by many religious conservatives who would regard his cause as anything but sacred.

A glance at my “Webster’s Comphrensive Dictionary” suggests most meanings for the word do indeed relate to religion: “set apart or dedicated to religious use; hallowed” is the first. But it also says it can mean “dedicated to a person or purpose” and even “set apart from evil” – definitions which do not explicitly evoke things divine.

Still, if my own first reaction is anything to go by, it is indeed a clever word to insert in a title about a book on Darwin.