Many people are under the impression that Charles Darwin, the most well known promoter of evolutionism, died a Christian and renounced his theory. This is mainly due to rumors surrounding his death, and the fact that he studied at seminary as a young man and is buried in Westminster Abbey. This article reveals the truth.
Charles Darwin's thinking and writing on the subject of evolution and natural selection caused him to reject the evidence for God in nature and ultimately to renounce the Bible, God, and the Christian faith.
"I often had to run very quickly to be on time, and from being a fleet runner was generally successful; but when in doubt I prayed earnestly to God to help me, and I well remember that I attributed my success to the prayers and not to my quick running, and marveled how generally I was aided."
He had dropped out of medical studies
after two years at
"I liked the thought of being a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with care 'Pearson on the Creed' and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted."
During his three years of theological
studies at Christ's College,
"I could have written out the whole of the 'Evidences' with perfect correctness, but not of course in the clear language of Paley," and, "I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley's 'Natural Theology.' I could almost formerly have said it by heart."
In a letter of condolence to a bereaved friend at that time, he wrote of "so pure and holy a comfort as the Bible affords," compared with "how useless the sympathy of all friends must appear."
His intention to enter the ministry, he
wrote, was never "formally given up, but died a natural death" when,
Captain Robert FitzRoy was a deeply religious man who believed every word in the Bible and personally conducted divine service every Sunday, at which attendance by all on board was compulsory.
The Progress of His Belief
Despite all of the above religious
influences in his life, the decline of
And when Lyell died in 1875,
Inevitably, the more
"I had gradually come by this time, [i.e. 1836 to 1839] to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos or the beliefs of any barbarian."
On the way, in 1844, he wrote to his friend, Joseph Hooker, "I am almost convinced... that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable." Concerning this, Ian Taylor writes, "Many commentators have pointed out that the 'murder' he spoke of was in effect the murder of
Having abandoned the Old Testament,
"they differ in many important details, far too important, as it seemed to me, to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses."
Summing up the above, he wrote, "by such reflections as these... I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation." On another occasion he wrote, "I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age."
He turned 40 in
1849. Commenting on this,
"... just as his clerical career had died a slow 'natural death,' so his faith had withered gradually."
One immediate effect of
The Role-Models of His Forebears
One major factor that contributed to
Charles's apostasy is worth noting--the role model of his father, Robert, and
of his grandfather, Erasmus. Both were ' freethinkers', so disbelief was an
acceptable trait within the
Surrounded as he was by unbelievers, and having soaked his mind in literature that rejected the concept of divine judgment in earth's history, Charles mused,
"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine,"
The descent into darkness did not stop
there. In 1876, in his Autobiography,
"Formerly I was led... to the firm conviction of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, 'it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.' I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind."
In 1880, in reply to a correspondent, Charles wrote, "I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the Son of God."
In the last year of his life, when the Duke of Argyll suggested to him that certain purposes seen in nature "were the effect and the expression of mind," Charles looked at him very hard and said, "Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times," and he shook his head vaguely, adding, "it seems to go away." And about the same time he wrote to his old friend, Joseph Hooker, "I must look forward to Down graveyard as the sweetest place on earth."
Charles Darwin was a self-acknowledged
agnostic in his later years. Charles Darwin died on
However, the best known is that attributed to Lady Hope, who claimed she had visited a bedridden Charles at Down House in the autumn of 1881. She alleged that when she arrived he was reading the Book of Hebrews, that he became distressed when she mentioned the Genesis account of creation, and that he asked her to come again the next day to speak on the subject of Jesus Christ to a gathering of servants, tenants and neighbors in the garden summer house which, he said, held about 30 people. This story first appeared in print as a 521-word article in the American Baptist journal, the Watchman Examiner, and since then has been reprinted in many books, magazines and tracts.
The main problem with all these stories
is that they were all denied by members of
Moore concludes that Lady Hope probably did visit Charles between Wednesday, September 28 and Sunday, October 2, 1881, almost certainly when Francis and Henrietta were absent, but his wife, Emma, probably was present. He describes Lady Hope as "a skilled raconteur, able to summon up poignant scenes and conversations, and embroider them with sentimental spirituality."
He points out that her published story contained some authentic details as to time and place, but also factual inaccuracies — Charles was not bedridden six months before he died, and the summer house was far too small to accommodate 30 people. The most important aspect of the story, however, is that it does not say that Charles either renounced evolution or embraced Christianity. He merely is said to have expressed concern over the fate of his youthful speculations and to have spoken in favor of a few people's attending a religious meeting.
The alleged recantation/conversion is
embellishment that others have either read into the story or made up for
It should be noted that for most of her married life Emma was deeply pained by the irreligious nature of Charles's views, and would have been strongly motivated to have corroborated any story of a genuine conversion, if such had occurred. She never did.
It therefore appears that
Charles Darwin was a tragically mistaken man who drifted from a childlike trust in One who helped him run to school on time into an abyss of hopelessness and agnosticism. While the spiritual journey of a Christian is a journey out of darkness into Christ's marvelous light, that of Charles Darwin was a slippery slide out of Gospel light (although not saving spiritual sight) into the sheer "blackness of darkness for ever."
Darwin's unbelief, like that of so many people today, had its roots in a mind which first rejected the revelation of God in the Bible and then was unwilling to accept the revelation of God which God Himself has given in nature. This religion of revelation, of the Bible, of the Lord Jesus Christ, will keep us tuned to truth, hope, and life in God, and away from evolutionism, humanism, and atheism, only as we allow it to exercise its power in our hearts. The tragedy of Charles Darwin is that he never did.