Darwin, Evolution and His Critics-Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
Sadly, Darwin continued to hold to his theory despite his many doubts. Dr. Robert Clark (and others) suggest that Darwin’s motivation to hold on to his ideas was his continued rejection of the God of the Bible.


Darwin’s Escape from God: Why Did Darwin Continue to Believe in Evolution?

People believe in evolution for a variety of reasons. As we will see later, one reason is so they can reject the Christian faith. And, as we also observe later, the theory of evolution bears great responsibility for people’s loss of faith, intentional or not.

Like most people during his era, Charles Darwin was raised in a Christian environment. At one point he made half-hearted attempts toward a call to the ministry and becoming a clergy­man.[1] Eventually, however, he lost whatever “faith” he had, concluding that, “The Old Testa­ment was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos [sic]” and “I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.”[2] As he stated in Life and Letters, Vol. 1, pp. 277-278, “Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress.”[3] In fact, it seems Darwin was determined not to be­lieve; for example, to rationalize his unbelief he continued to raise the level of evidence re­quired to sustain faith.[4]

Unfortunately, Darwin’s loss of faith had more serious repercussions than he was willing to admit.[5]

It seems that Darwin could not live with God but neither could Darwin escape God. The battle endured throughout his life and it not only made him physically ill, it also cost him, to some degree, his mental health. Most biographers of Darwin acknowledge his rejection of Christian faith. What they don’t usually do is reveal the consequences. James Moore’s defini­tive biography: Charles Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist is a notable exception as well as the volume by Clark and Bales (Why Scientists Accept Evolution) and that of Sunderland (Darwin’s Enigma).

Dr. Robert E. D. Clark (Ph.D., Cambridge) shows how tortured Darwin’s life was because of his rejection of God. Darwin even referred to his theory as “the devil’s gospel.” T. H. Huxley was Darwin’s most committed and vocal supporter. On August 8, 1860 in a letter to Huxley, Darwin referred to him as “my good and kind agent for the propagation of the Gospel—i.e., the devil’s gospel.”[6]

In Darwin: Before and After Dr. Clark points out that it was from the beginnings of Darwin’s unbelief that the first important instances of physical illness began. Fitting a typical pattern, as his faith in God faded, his consecration to science became almost religious. Nothing was physically wrong with Darwin, “but his illnesses became worse and worse”[7] in spite of his “normal” health.

Yet he was a chronic invalid. Unfavorable reviews of his books gave him continuous head­aches; even half an hour’s discussion with a fellow naturalist about scientific matters would render him incapable of work for hours. If he met people in society, anxiety afflicted him. “My health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering and vomiting being thus brought on,” he wrote. His constant preoccupation became one of protecting himself from anticipations and conflicts while his chronic anxiety brought on the usual digestive and nutritional troubles.

In addition, Charles Darwin was morbid and self critical to an extreme. His letters abound with the typical language associated with a feeling of guilt. A letter “was vilely written and is now vilely expressed,” his manuscript was a “foul copy,” [etc.]; “Psychologically there can be little doubt as to the meaning of these symptoms. Charles Darwin was suffering from a feeling of guilt. But what was worrying him?”[8]

What concerned Darwin was not the initial critical response to his Origin of Species. Even after the battle was won and his reputation assured, his psychological suffering and physical symptoms continued. In other words, Darwin was dealing with a much deeper and fundamen­tal feeling of guilt. As far as the Christian faith was concerned, he had not only banished God from his own life, but, it seemed, the entire universe as well.

Darwin’s real problem lay with the suppression of his religious needs: “His life was one long attempt to escape from Paley [i.e., his Natural Theology], to escape from the church, to es­cape from God. It is this that explains so much that would otherwise be incongruous in his life and character.”[9]

It is clear both scripturally and psychologically that those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) will pay the price. God tells everyone, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows he will reap” (Gal. 6:7). The truth about God is evident to all men through the creation because God Himself made it evident:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

We documented this perceptual and intuitive knowledge of God in some detail in our Know­ing the Truth About Salvation: Is Jesus the Only Way to God? (Harvest House, 1996).

To suppress this truth is to live in unreality and this is never psychologically or physically healthy. As noted existentialist psychologist Rollo May pointed out in The Art of Counseling, unbelief does have its consequences: “I had been startled by the fact that practically every genuine atheist with whom I have dealt has exhibited unmistakable neurotic tendencies. How [do we] account for this curious fact?”[10]

Thus, whatever else it may be, even Darwin’s prized theory of natural selection appears to be an emotional tool to comfort his unbelief. Dr. Clark explains that Darwin went to great pains to prove to the world that he had discovered the truth of natural selection only after two de­cades involving a painful collection of facts that was carefully analyzed over and over. Darwin thus presented himself as a defender of truth and truth alone; it was only his passionate desire for truth that now compelled him to make his theories public. But in fact:

That is what Darwin wished the outer world to believe. No one today accepts his story. He had thought of natural selection 20 years before and had long since made up his mind on the subject. Moreover, the evidence shows that Charles was not primarily interested in the truth or otherwise of natural selection at all, but he was very much interested in the possibilities of using it to avoid the force of Paley’s Natural Theology.[11]

As Francisco Ayala of the University of California says natural selection “exclude[s] God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design of organisms.”[12]

In essence, natural selection became a kind of substitute for God.[13] Darwin did his level best to escape God, but God was uncooperative:

For year after year, Darwin carried on a discussion with various friends on the subject of design in nature. Throughout he showed the same vacillation. One moment he thought he could do without design; the next, his reason told him that the evidence for design by a personal God was overwhelming. He was forever seeking an escape from theology but never able to find it.[14]

This is exactly what Romans 1 teaches. Thus, despite his faith in evolution, in other mo­ments, Darwin was

…deeply conscious of his ignorance. Indeed, he did not really know anything about the origins of things, and certainly made no pretense of having discovered how species had come into existence. He very much regretted his misleading title, the Origin of Species: if only he had been more thoughtful at the time he would have chosen a different title, but now it was too late. In revising the Origin he felt he had gone too far in his rejection of theology and more than once he added the telling words “by the Creator” when referring to the original creation of the first forms of life. But again, he could not make up his mind.[15]

At one point in Darwin’s life, a letter from botanist J. D. Hooker brought the force of Paley’s Natural Theology back upon him. Darwin realized that Paley could not be disposed of so easily:

No wonder Darwin was disturbed. He had sought to escape from God: now he found his old enemy waiting for him in a new hiding place. His confusion can scarcely be exaggerated. In letter after letter he made the lamest excuses for his inability to think clearly. Intellectually, he said, he was in “thick mud.”[16]

Darwin’s own reasoning processes became increasingly strained because “Darwin was determined to escape from design and a personal God at all costs.”[17] Not surprisingly, Darwin’s letters “exhibit a resolution not to follow his thoughts to their logical conclusion.”[18] Of course, there were exceptions. For example, he spoke of the “impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity.”[19] But then, because his mind was really descended from lower life forms and more kin to a monkey’s mind, how could its reasoning processes really be trusted? Darwin wondered, “But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? …Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”[20]

As Clark and Bales observe:

Reason led Darwin to God, so Darwin killed reason. He trusted his mind when reasoning about evolution, but not about God? What a warning from the author to the reader this discrediting of reason would have made as a preface to the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man! …[But] How [then] could he trust his mind when it thought on the theory of evolution? As Arnold Lunn put it: “A clear thinker would never have been guilty of such inconsistent reasoning. If Darwin was not prepared to trust his mind when it drew the ‘grand conclusion’ that God existed, why was he prepared to trust it when it drew the depressing conclusion that a mind of such bestial origin could not be trusted to draw any conclusion at all?”[21]

In other words, it would appear that Darwin rejected God not from reason, but “because of some violent prejudice” against God[22]—itself an unreasonable reaction. In the end, “Darwin’s determination not to believe cost him his mind.”[23]

It also cost him good science.

Having adopted logical positivism with its exclusion of the metaphysical, Darwin was hardly unbiased in his scientific methodology. Robert Kofahl, Ph.D., argues that Darwin’s particular philosophy of science was intended to invoke naturalism and accomplish something heretofore unthinkable—to remove the concept of divine intervention from the category of scientific en­deavors—a feat that if successful would have profound consequences:

It is this author’s opinion that Charles Darwin had a hidden agenda for science. There is much evidence for this in his writings. Neal Gillespie (1979) of Georgia State University in his important book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, established the fact that Darwin espoused logical positivism as his philosophy of science. His hidden agenda, then, was to remove from the thinking of all scientists any concepts of special creation, divine intervention, or divine teleology in the natural world. That this agenda has been achieved with almost total global success in the spheres of science, education and scholarly disciplines is obvious to any informed observer.[24]

Professor Marvin L. Lubenow comments on this issue are important enough to cite in detail:

Not only was Darwin’s contribution primarily philosophical, it was a philosophy bent on a specific mission: to show that creation is unscientific. The most extensive research into Darwin’s religious attitudes and motivations has been done by historian Neal C. Gillespie (Georgia State University). He begins his book with this comment: “On reading the Origin of Species, I, like many others, became curious about why Darwin spent so much time attacking the idea of divine creation.”
Gillespie goes on to demonstrate that Darwin’s purpose was not just to establish the concept of evolution. Darwin was wise enough not to stop there. Darwin went for the jugular vein. Darwin’s master accomplishment was to convince the scientific world that it was unscientific to believe in supernatural causation. His purpose was to “ungod” the universe. Darwin was a positivist. This is the philosophy that the only true knowledge is scientific knowledge; no other type of knowledge is legitimate. Obviously, to accept that premise means to reject any form of divine revelation. Darwin accomplished one of the greatest feats of salesmanship in the history of the world. He convinced scientists that it was unscientific to deal with God or creation in any way. To be scientific, they must study the world as if God did not exist….
In all of this, it is important to realize that Darwin was not an atheist. He did not exterminate God. He just evicted God from the universe which God had created. All that God was allowed to do was to create the “natural laws” at the beginning. From then on, nature was on its own. With God out of the picture, evolution fell into place rather easily, since evolution seemed to be the only viable alternative to Special Creation….
We are now getting down to basics. The real issue in the creation/evolution debate is not the existence of God. The real issue is the nature of God. To think of evolution as basically atheistic is to misunderstand the uniqueness of evolution. Evolution was not designed as a general attack against theism. It was designed as a specific attack against the God of the Bible, and the God of the Bible is clearly revealed through the doctrine of creation. Obviously, if a person is an atheist, it would be normal for him to also be an evolutionist. But evolution is as comfortable with theism as it is with atheism. An evolutionist is perfectly free to choose any god he wishes, as long as it is not the God of the Bible. The gods allowed by evolution are private, subjective, and artificial. They bother no one and make no absolute ethical demands. However, the God of the Bible is the Creator, sustainer, Savior and judge. All are responsible to him. He has an agenda that conflicts with that of sinful humans. For man to be created in the image of God is very awesome. For God to be created in the image of man is very comfortable.
Evolution was originally designed as a specific attack against the God of the Bible, and it remains so to this day. While Christian Theistic Evolutionists seem blind to this fact, the secular world sees it very clearly.[25]

Darwin further had the “notorious habit of jumping to conclusions without adequate evi­dence” and “of stubbornly maintaining his theories regardless of the valid arguments and evidence that could be brought against them.”[26]

Historian Jacques Barzun, Provost and Dean of the Graduate Faculties at Columbia Univer­sity, further observes that the common view of Darwin as an intellectual and a lover of truth needs qualification.

The phrase “Newton of biology” now appears as a very loose description indeed. Darwin was not a thinker and he did not originate the ideas that he used. He vacillated, added, retracted, and confused his own traces. As soon as he crossed the dividing line between the realm of events and the realm of theory, he became “metaphysical” in the bad sense. His power of drawing out the implications of his theories was at no time very remarkable, but when it came to the moral order it disappeared altogether, as that penetrating Evolutionist, Nietsche, observed with some disdain.[27]

Darwin himself appeared to have serious doubts about how distinctive his theory of evolu­tion was; in at least 45 instances between 1869 and the final edition of the Origin, Darwin deleted the word “my” before the word “theory.” As noted earlier, Darwin hardly invented the idea of evolution, he merely systematized a certain amount of data allegedly in favor of it.[28] Regardless:

To the end of his life, the old warfare continued in Darwin’s mind. Try as he would, he could not escape from God. Gradually his emotional life atrophied under the strain of the battle. Religious feeling disappeared and with it much else beside. Shakespeare was “intolerably dull.” He no longer took pleasure in pictures, in poetry, or even in music. The beauty of nature no longer thrilled him. The world became cold and dead. As we have already seen, even his reasoning powers became distorted when he dwelt upon subjects even remotely concerned with his conflict. Finally the time came for Charles Darwin to die with the conflict still unresolved.29 [29]

In the end, Darwin had simply got a taste of his own medicine. He had deprived the uni­verse of meaning and paid the price. As Leslie Paul observes in The Annihilation of Man (New York: Harcourt-Brace, 1945, p. 154), “The final result of the application of the theory of The Origin of Species to the whole material universe is to deprive it completely of meaning.” Cam­bridge scholar John Burrow observes in his introduction to The Origin of Species: “Nature, according to Darwin, was a product of blind chance and a blind struggle, and man a lonely, intelligent mutation, scrambling with the brutes for his sustenance. To some the sense of loss was irrevocable; it was as if an umbilical cord had been cut, and men found themselves part of ‘a cold passionless universe.’”[30] What Darwin had wrought for modern man is, in the eyes of many, hardly worth the meager scientific validation it has encountered.

Darwin’s Origin is today much less convincing. As an illustration, we may cite the esteemed entomologist, W. R. Thompson, who penned the introduction to the Origin of Species for the “Every Man Library” No. 811 edition (1956). Thompson reveals not only severe problems with Darwin’s basic thesis, especially descent by natural selection, he also shows how the manner in which Darwin argued appeared to give his theory more credibility than it deserved.

But in a manner of this kind a great deal depends on the manner in which the arguments are presented. Darwin considered that the doctrine of the origin of living things by descent with modification, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory unless the causes at work were correctly identified, so his theory of modification by natural selection was, for him, of absolute major importance. Since he had at the time the Origin was published no body of experimental evidence to support his theory, he fell back on speculative arguments. The argumentation used by evolutionists, said de Quatrefages, makes the discussion of their ideas extremely difficult. Personal convictions, simple possibilities, are presented as if they were proofs, or at least valid arguments in favor of the theory. As an example, de Quatrefages cites Darwin’s explanation of the manner in which the tit mouse might become transformed into the nutcracker, by the accumulation of small changes in structure and instinct owing to the effect of natural selection; and then proceeded to show that it is just as easy to transform the nutcracker into the tit mouse. The demonstration can be modified without difficulty to fit any conceivable case. It is without scientific value, since it cannot be verified; but since the imagination has free rein, it is easy to convey the impression that a concrete example of real transmutation has been given. This is the more appealing because of the extreme fundamental simplicity of the Darwinian explanation. The reader may be completely ignorant of biological processes yet he feels that he really understands and in a sense dominates the machinery by which the marvelous variety of living forms has been produced.
This was certainly a major reason for the success of the Origin. Another is the elusive character of the Darwinian argument…. The plausibility of the argument eliminates the need for proof and its very nature gives it a kind of immunity to disproof. Darwin did not show in the Origin that species had originated by natural selection; he merely showed, on the basis of certain facts and assumptions, how this might have happened, and as he had convinced himself he was able to convince others. But the facts and interpretations on which Darwin relied have now ceased to convince.[31]

It is worthy to note that Dr. Thompson penned the above words nearly 50 years ago. In subsequent years, recent developments and discoveries throughout the sciences have made belief in evolution more and more difficult. So much so that some scientists have now abandoned the theory while others, although continuing to exercise faith that evolution is true, concede that convincing evidence for it may never be forthcoming.

In the end, Darwin also continued to exercise faith in evolution because he had little choice. He found the theory an emotional necessity and had convinced himself as to its plausibility, despite innumerable problems.

Darwin may have succeeded in convincing himself about evolution, but as we will see in Part 3, it was another story entirely for the scientific community.


  1. Robert T. Clark, James D. Bales, Why Scientists Accept Evolution (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), p. 29.
  2. Charles Darwin (ed. J. W. Burrow), The Origin of Species (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1974), pp. 30-31.
  3. In Clark and Bales, Why Scientists Accept Evolution, p. 31.
  4. Ibid., p. 33.
  5. Ibid., p. 33, cf. Nora Barlow, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Collins, 1958, 235-239 and Moore, below.
  6. Ibid., p. 45 citing Life and Letters, Vol. 2, p. 124.
  7. Robert E. D. Clark, Darwin: Before and After (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), pp. 84-85.
  8. Ibid., p. 85.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Rollo May, The Art of Counseling (NY: Abingdon, 1967), p. 215.
  11. Clark, Darwin: Before and After, pp. 85-86.
  12. Cited in Charles Colson, “Planet of the Apes?”, Christianity Today, August 12, 1996, p. 64.
  13. Clark, Darwin: Before and After, p. 87.
  14. Ibid., p. 88.
  15. Ibid., p. 87.
  16. Ibid., p. 89.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid., p. 87.
  19. Clark and Bales, Why Scientists Accept Evolution, p. 38 citing Life and Letters, Vol. 1, p. 282.
  20. Ibid., p. 38 citing Life and Letters, Vol. 1, p. 285.
  21. Ibid., pp. 38-39.
  22. Ibid., p. 40.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Robert E. Kofahl, “Correctly Redefining Distorted Science: A Most Essential Task,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, Dec. 1986, p. 113.
  25. Marvin Lubenow, Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), pp. 191-192.
  26. W. R. Bird, The Origin of Species Revisited (NY: Philosophical Library, 1989), Vol. 2, p. 129, citing Canon, “The Basis of Darwin’s Achievement: A Revaluation”, 5 Victorian Studies 109 (1961).
  27. Jacques Brazun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (Garden City, NY, Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1958), pp. 84-85.
  28. Bolton Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Com­pany, 1969), pp. 38-138.
  29. Clark, Darwin: Before and After, p. 93.
  30. Darwin (ed. J. W. Burrow), The Origin of Species, p. 43.
  31. W. R. Thompson, “Introduction,” The Origin of Species (Everyone’s Library, No. 811, 1956. Published separately by EPM, Britain with additional comments by Frank Cousins), pp. 8-9.


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