ii. Darwin’s Escape from God: Why Did Darwin
Continue to Believe in Evolution?
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
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
1. Robert T. Clark, James D. Bales, Why
Scientists Accept Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1976), p.
2. Charles Darwin (ed. J. W. Burrow), The
Origin of Species (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1974), pp.
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.
10. Rollo May, The Art of Counseling (NY:
Abingdon, 1967), p. 215.
11. Clark, Darwin: Before and After, pp.
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.