Evolution and Recent History: Darwin, Evolution and His Critics-Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2002
People believe in evolution for a variety of reasons. One reason is so they can reject the Christian faith. Darwin himself lost his faith, and the repercussions in his life were quite profound.

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 in a future installment, 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, e.g., 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 and that of Sunderland.

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 ourKnowing 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]

(to be continued)


  1. Robert T. Clark, James D. Bales, Why Scientists Accept Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: 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), pp. 235-239 and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York, Warner, 1991).
  6. Ibid., p. 45, citing Francis Darwin, ed., Charles Darwin: 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.


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