The Story of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 at his family’s home, The Mount, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. He died on April 19, 1882 in Down House, Downe, Kent, England. During his 73 years on earth, Darwin would have a profound influence in the fields of natural history and geology. His ideas would help to shape the modern world, but not for the better.
There was another important historical person born on February 12, 1809, not in England, but in America. He would live only 56 years. His ideas would also help to shape the modern world, but for the better. His name, Abraham Lincoln (d. April 15, 1865).
Darwin was born the fifth of six children into a wealthy family, which allowed him to live a life of ease and luxury. His father, Robert Darwin, was a highly respected society doctor, and a shrewd financier. One reason he was successful as a physician was that he took the time to listen to his patients.
Robert Darwin had baby Charles baptized on November 1809 in the Anglican St Chad’s Church, in Shrewsbury. Why that was done is somewhat of a mystery, because Charles and his brothers and sisters attended the Unitarian chapel with their mother, Susannah Wedgwood.
Meanwhile, Robert Darwin remained a Freethinker, meaning that he held the position that knowledge should be grounded in facts, scientific inquiry, and logic, while dismissing religious authority, tradition, Divine revelation, and Church dogma. The baptism of baby Charles was an act of social convenience, not a religious conviction. It was a ritual, without any spiritual reality.
The willingness of Robert Darwin to reject the authority of the Anglican Church came as no surprise to those who knew him, or his own father, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, who was also a Freethinker.
As a Freethinker, Erasmus Darwin was a poet and a philosopher. He promoted an evolutionary philosophy long before it was made popular by his celebrated grandson. It may surprise some to learn that the theory of evolution did not originate with Charles Darwin. It is really a very old belief. The use of the term dates back to the ancient Greeks. As Solomon noted, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Dr. Erasmus Darwin wrote the following in his book, The Temple of Nature (c. 1800)
“Organic life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs’d in Ocean’s pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume.”
Dr. Erasmus Darwin died in 1802, so his grandson never knew him personally, but Charles would have been acquainted with his grandfather’s ideas as part of his family heritage.
As young Charles grew, he spent a lot of time with his father, Robert Darwin, sharing his father’s interests in horticulture, nature, and science. Charles would also be influenced by his father’s philosophical ideas, including that of being a Freethinker. His father was enthralled at the new ideas of the Enlightenment, including that of naturalism and rationalism. There was no need for the Divine. There was no need for the Church of England to tell people how to live, or what the will of God might be. Men could freely think for themselves and come to their own conclusion on all matters, social, religious, and political. Man’s reason is supreme to all others, including any alleged Deity. Men would become better and better over time leading to a glorious state of Utopia. The Laws of Nature are sufficient. There is no need for any outside power, such as God.
Young Charles Darwin was born into this world of ideas. At the age of eight, Charles attended a Unitarian day school. Unitarians deny the Trinity. They regard Jesus as a human being who was a moral teacher, but not the Saviour of the world. Unitarians also reject the doctrine of original sin, predestination, and the infallibility of the Bible. In England, the first Unitarian Church was established in 1774 on Essex Street, London, where today’s British Unitarian headquarters are still located.
When he was nine years old, Charles left the Unitarian day school to attend Shrewsbury Grammar School, where he would study the classics, and the New Testament. The purpose of Shrewsbury was to prepare young men to enter into England’s best schools of higher education, Oxford, or Cambridge. This would allow the graduates to have the proper education, and later the best social standing in England.
At age 16, Charles Darwin left Shrewsbury Grammar School and was sent to Edinburgh to become a doctor like his father, and his grandfather. Unfortunately, when Charles went into the operating lab, he discovered blood and gore, which he did not like one bit. Nor did he like the screams of pain which emanated from patients who did not have much to relieve their pain. Doctors were not judged by skill, but by the speed with which they could get a difficult operation over with. It was all too much for Charles.
As one biographer noted, “Almost instinctively he knew he preferred the quiet pleasures of the natural history sciences. By the time the summer recess of 1826 came around, he was privately certain about needing to give up medicine. The catch was how to tell his father.” (Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: Voyaging, p. 63) His father did not take the news well. “He was very properly vehement against my turning an idle sporting man, which then seemed my probable destination.” (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, p. 49)
A decision was made that Charles would go to Cambridge and study theology. He would take the vows of an Anglican minister, and be ordained to serve as a pastor. A good parish position could be purchased, or received through political influence. His father had both financial resources and political influence. Once more the future looked bright for Charles. He needed a sense of direction.
However, there was a practical problem. Charles did not have a calling from God and he was not really interested in saving souls. He was interested in dogs, hunting, and sports. Charles was never really interested in theology or any serious study of the Bible.
To his credit, Charles honestly shared his discomfort with the new direction his father had mapped out for him. “I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard and thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I like the thought of being a country clergyman.” (ibid. p. 49)
“…and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word of the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted. It never struck me how illogical it was to say that I believed in what I could not understand and what is in fact unintelligible.” (ibid. p. 49)
The world would be very different if Charles Darwin had gone down on his knees and embraced the Bible as the Word of God.
During his time at Cambridge, the interests of Charles Darwin centered more on botany and beetles than theology. For some reason he began an extensive collection of beetles. While his studies were continuing, a letter arrived inviting him to go on an ocean voyage. He could study abroad. The idea intrigued young Darwin, and so preparations were made to be part of the Voyage of the HMS Beagle. The voyage lasted from December 27, 1831 unto October 2, 1836, which means from age 22 to age 28 Charles Darwin was at sea.
The purpose of the voyage was to conduct surveys along the coasts of South Africa. England had a lot of seagoing commerce, and needed to find good sea routs to travel. Maps were needed of the shorelines, the deeps of the coast, the currents and tides, and the reefs. The ship was commanded by Captain Robert FitzRoy, who had a social problem. He was going to be commanding a lot of sailors who were viewed as commoners. Therefore, the Captain needed someone his social equal to have fellowship with. Charles Darwin was to join the expedition as a gentleman companion for the captain. For the most part, the Captain and Gentleman Darwin got along well, except in the area of theology. The Captain was a Creationist, while Darwin’s views were beginning to crystalize in a different direction
In later years, after Darwin published Origin of Species on November 24, 1859, Captain FitzRoy wrote to him. “He was afterwards very indignant with me for having published so unorthodox a book (for he became very religious) as the Origin of Species. (ibid. p. 64) Julius Carus, a biologist who knew Charles Darwin, wrote, “I shall never forget that meeting of the combined sections of the British Association when at Oxford 1860, where Admiral FitzRoy expressed his sorrows for having given you the opportunity of collecting facts for such a shocking theory as yours.” (Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. P. 123).
Notice that contemporaries of Darwin called his writings about evolution a theory. A theory is not a fact, it is sheer speculation. Nothing has changed, except the arrogance of individuals to call a theory a fact.
Despite his regrets at helping Darwin collect his material, it was Captain FitzRoy who gave Darwin a copy of the book, Principles of Geology, by the Scottish geologist, Charles Lyell (November 14, 1797 – February 22, 1875). First published in three volumes in 1830-1833, Lyell tried to explain the former changes of the Earth’s surface by reference to causes currently in operation. This is the theory of Uniformitarianism, the present is the key to the past.
The problem with the thesis of Lyell’s book is that it is not provable, and it is contradictory to the Bible, which speaks about Catastrophism in the past, forming the Earth’s current surface according to Genesis 6:9-8:22. Despite not being verified by the scientific method, Uniformitarianism remains a key first principle in the abiding theory of evolution. After reading the first two volumes of Lyell’s trilogy, Darwin was enthralled with the idea of Uniformitarianism. What difference did it matter if it were true or not?
During the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin spent 39 months on land, and 18 months at sea. As a result, Darwin had a lot of time to reflect, and consider his presuppositional thought that the geological present is the key to the past, for the majority of his observations were geological rather than zoological. He was captivated more by the geology of South America than the biology of South America.
That is an important point to keep in mind because it would have far reaching implications. Darwin wrote 1383 pages of geological note. He wrote 368 pages on zoological notes, and 778 pages of personal notes. (David Herbert, Charles Darwin’s Religious Views, p. 34-35) One result of Darwin being enamored with geology, and Uniformitarianism, is that it presupposes long ages. Again, this is in conflict with the Bible, which postulates a recent creation of the Earth, as opposed to the Earth being billions of years old.
As the Beagle made its voyage, the ship eventually came to the Galapagos Islands, about 600 miles west of Ecuador in South America. The ship was there for only a few weeks, which is important, because it was not at the Galapagos Islands that Darwin had his Eureka moment. That would come years later. What Darwin did do at the Galapagos Islands was to collect specimens to ship them back to England.
What Darwin also did while on the voyage of the Beagle, was to lose his faith. “Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox…But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world,…was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.” (Nora Barlow, The Auto-biography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, p. 71)
An orthodox Christian disagrees and argues that the Old Testament is a true history of the World, for it is a God breathed and is the infallible record of what actually happened. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) When the voyage of the Beagle ended in 1836, Darwin went home, rested for a while, and then began writing his Journal of Researches, and preparing a series on the zoology of the long voyage he had experienced.
Then, strangely enough, Darwin began an eight year study of barnacles. While the subject does not appear to interesting to most people, it remains one of the most authoritative work on the subject.
Three years after returning to England from his extended sea voyage, Darwin married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, on January 29, 1839. Emma was a very religious woman but Darwin was not a religious man. He could not take the vows of a priest in the Anglican Church. He had rejected the Old Testament Biblical narrative. What was he to do?
Seeking counsel from his father before he was engaged to be married, Dr. Robert Darwin advised his son to conceal carefully his doubts, in order to spare his wife any concern. Dr. Darwin knew that “some women suffered miserably by doubting about the salvation of their husbands.” (Ibid. The Autobiography, p. 79)
This counsel of deception was given when Charles was 29 years old, and 20 years before he wrote the Origin of Species. Following their marriage, Charles and Emma lived in London, then, in 1842, moved to Downe village in Kent. They had ten children during the years 1839-1858. Tragically, three of the children died in infancy, or childhood. During these years Darwin kept private notes, which reveal the crystallization of his evolutionary thoughts. In particular was the theory of transmutation, another essential principle that undergirds the theory of evolution.
In reality, what was happening was this. A presupposition, Uniformitarianism, was being undergirded by the theory of Transmutation, in order to give credence to a speculative philosophical construct called Evolution. And all of this was being done in the name of Science. It is enough to make an honest scholar blush, and the angels to weep.
Transmutation is the belief that one species evolves into another species. If Darwin had been honest in what he observed, there are variations within established species, all would have been well. But he went on to postulate that one species gradually became a new species. How this happened necessitated the postulation of yet another theory, the theory of micro mutation, or, maybe, macro mutation. Who knew for sure?
In micro mutation, so the theory goes, changes in species take place over a long period of time. These changes are not observable. When it was pointed out that the fossil record shows no evidence of one species evolving into another species, when it was pointed out that, in the entire world, there are no species mutating into another species that can be pointed to, the evolutionists changed their rhetoric to Macro Mutation. The changes in species, they postulated are so rapid, they cannot be observed. A fish needs a leg to leave the water and walk on land, and there it is! If all of these theories sound incredible, they are. In fact, they require faith, and faith is a religious component. Therefore, evolutionary thought is a religion in and of itself.
As a religion, evolution finds itself, like all other religions, in competition with Christian orthodoxy. If Darwin is correct, than man himself is not a special creation of God, as Jesus taught, and the Bible asserts. Rather, man is a product of the evolutionary process of transmutation. He shared a common ancestor with the apes.
“Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree
Discussing things as they are said to be.
Said one to the others, “Now listen, you two,
There’s a rumor around that can’t be true
That man descended from our noble race
The very idea is a great disgrace.
No monkey has ever deserted his wife
Starved her babies and ruined her life
And you’ve never known a mother monk
To leave her babies with others to bunk
Or pass from one on to another
Till they scarcely know who is their mother.
And another thing you’ll never see,
A monk build a fence round a coconut tree,
And let the coconuts go to waste,
Forbidding all other monks to taste;
Why, if I put a fence around a tree,
Starvation will force you to steal from me!
Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do
Go out at night and get on a stew.
Or use a gun or club or knife
To take some other monkey’s life.
Yes, man descended, the ornery cuss
But, brother, he didn’t descend from us.”
Theologians call the descent of man, The Fall. It took place in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against the known will of God and ate of forbidden fruit. In that hour, the mind of man was darkened, his intellectual capacity was diminished, his will was placed in bondage to sin, and his emotions became corrupt.
Darwin knew that his radical ideas would be opposed by the Church of England, as indeed they should be. He also knew that his wife would be disappointed in him, as she was. Nevertheless, Darwin persisted in his writings and publications and for this reason. Evil is militant. It might be hesitant. Evil might appear to be rational and humble. Evil might seem to be concerned about the good opinion of others, and pretend it is not out to hurt religion. But the essence of Evil is a desire to dethrone God and to be like God. And so Darwin persisted in his thinking, with a view to being published, for good motives, or for bad in his own mind, but it was all evil in the sight of God.
Some Christian scholars try to redeem Darwin by saying he meant well, and was not out to destroy the Church. However, if that is the end result, an alleged good motive is not helpful.
The truth of the matter is that Darwin’s motives for publishing his ideas were totally selfish. Darwin had been in contact with Alfred Russel Wallace (January 8, 1823 – November 7, 1913). Wallace was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist. As the story goes, Wallace conceived of the theory of evolution through natural selection on his own but at the same time as Darwin. The question was this: “Who can get published first?” In the scientific world, the first to be published with a novel idea receives great credit and glory.
On July 1, 1858, Darwin’s views on natural selection were first presented publically, and jointly, with Alfred Russel Wallace. But then the pressure and the race was on. Competition took over and Darwin won.
On November 22, 1859, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life went on sale to the public. Later, Herman Spenser (April 27, 1820 – December 8, 1903), coined the term, “survival of the fittest.” Spenser was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era. Reading the works of Darwin, Spenser took his biological concepts and applied them to economics.
Coining the phrase, survival of the fittest, Spenser intended to draw parallels between his own economic theories, and Darwin’s biological ones. Said Spenser, “This survival of the fittest is that which Mr. Darwin has called, natural selection.” (Principles of Biology, 1864).
Later, Darwin used Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as a synonym for “natural selection” in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869.
In February, 1871, Darwin published The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Because ideas have consequences, Charles Darwin knew that what he was proposing was revolutionary. In his Autobiography, p. 107, he wrote, “My Descent of Man was published in Feb. 1871. As soon as I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838, convinced that species were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man must come under the same law.”
Notice again the presuppositional thinking. A theory was now a “law” of science to which man was subject. A rationale and Biblical response to such arrogance is, “No. Man is made in the image of God. Man is not a mutable species. There is no law that says he is changing, or has changed. It is all a figment of man’s wicked imagination, much like modern day transformers, whereby machines come to life.”
Darwin understood what the final outcome of his idea would be, and still he pressed on. Such is the hardness of the human heart. It will reject the Word of God, and it will hate the God of the Word. So Darwin wrote The Descent of Man in order to boldly proclaim his arrogant position. “Although in the Origin of Species, the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse me of concealing my views, to add that by the work in question ‘light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history.’” (Ibid. Autobiography, p. 107)
Apart from his own pride in his thoughts and book, apart from his incessant need for self-exaltation, there was another reason Darwin published The Descent of Man. Darwin needed a reason for living. If man is a product of time and slime, then he is nothing more than an animal without any real purpose except to accidentally exist for one brief moment. What is man to do? Said Darwin,
“A man who has no assured and every present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for the rule of his life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.” (ibid. Autobiography, p. 78.)
In less than 70 years, Adolf Hitler would discover the ideas of Darwin, and follow those impulses and instincts which seemed best to him to justify starting World II, and the slaughter of the Jews. Darwin understood something, and so must we. If there is no God, there is no Ultimate Authority, which means there is no right or wrong, only impulses and instincts which seem best to the individual.
Darwin was fine with this line of reasoning, because he believed himself to be a civilized man with good impulses, and noble instincts. Darwin foolishly assumed, like many other self-righteous and self-serving elitists, that, in an age of reason, men would become better and better. I doubted if Darwin anticipated men like Joseph Stalin, Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler taking his ideas and applying them to national interests, thereby plunging the world into an abyss of unspeakable horrors during World War I, and then World War II.
That Darwin is not being misrepresented is confirmed by his autobiography which he began in 1876, and which was published after his death on April 19, 1882 at age 73. Darwin’s last serious studies were on earthworms, which was properly an appropriate way for him to end his life. Perhaps he thought he was studying his family tree.
Surprisingly, Charles Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey, a large Gothic Church in Westminster. He was buried next to John Hershel, the astronomer, Isaac Newton, who was a devout Orthodox Christian. “Emma knew that Darwin expected to be buried in Downe churchyard, alongside Erasmus and the Darwin’s two dead babies, ‘the sweetest place on earth,’ he had once remarked…” (Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 495)
He who rejected God, and the authority of the Church, found his mortal body resting forever in the arms of religion. He who had promoted a list of lies during his lifetime had one last lie to promote, and that is that faith and pseudo-science can be reconciled. “True Christians, an Anglican tabloid urged, far from fearing ‘lest the sacred pavement of the Abbey should cover a secret enemy of the faith,’ may rejoice in Darwin’s burial at Westminster as a visible sign of ‘the reconciliation between Faith and Science.”
The Anglican tabloid was wrong. There is no reconciliation between faith, and so called science, which is built upon a theory, not scientific facts. In recent years, some people have suggested that on his deathbed Darwin recanted the error of his thinking. He uttered a “deathbed confession.” But there is no evidence that Darwin ever repented and called upon the name of Jesus Christ, as Lord.
The idea of Darwin confessing the error of his ways is an Urban Legend first put forth in 1915 by Lady Hope, a woman who had actively evangelized in the area where Darwin lived. She is said to have visited Darwin near the end of his life, which she might have done. But her story of Darwin’s repentance does not fit the known facts. There are too many historical discrepancies. In addition, why did she wait so long to tell her story? Darwin’s family consistently denied the reports by Lady Hope.
In evaluating the life of Charles Darwin, keep in mind what he believed, or did not believe. Darwin was not unbiased. He formed his views over a period of many years, not based on facts, but on his faith in the ideas that were in vogue, and on his own life experiences of suffering and pain. He questioned how a loving God could let children suffer.
Darwin never walked away from Christ, or the Church, because he never believed in Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. His whole life was one of skepticism, rationalism, and, in the end, atheism.
Darwin rejected the argument of design. “My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details.” (ibid. Autobiography, p. 130)
Darwin rejected Christianity. “…I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.” (ibid. Autobiography, p. 72)
Darwin embraced Naturalism and Rationalism. He believed in the laws of nature, but rejected the Law of God. Because of his commitment to nature, Darwin wrote that even human thoughts were little more than secretions from the brain, no more wonderful than inert matter being subject to gravitation. “Oh you materialist!” he exclaimed. (Janet Browne, Charles Darwin” Voyaging, p. 383.)
Darwin rejected the Biblical revelation of hell, and called it a damnable doctrine. Nevertheless, let God be true and every man a liar.