2009 has been called ‘The Year of Darwin’. It is the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his hugely influential book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection - a book greatly applauded by many and yet greatly regretted by not a few. This has been a significant year for promoting evolution even more than usual, with events organized all over the world in Darwin’s memory. In the UK a £2 coin has been struck to mark it, on its reverse an image of Darwin facing a chimpanzee. To many, this milestone marks more progress on the onward march of atheism. But believers in the Bible-based account of divine creation have nothing new to fear, in fact have nothing at all to fear. Our faith rests on the perfect revelation of the Creator God Himself, not the imperfect reasonings and biased proposals of man. What kind of man was Darwin to have such a deep and lasting influence upon science and popular thinking? How did he reach those conclusions which are now taken for granted? Did he have any encounter with the Bible and Christianity? What about his family life and lifestyle? Here are some answers to these questions1.
Charles Robert Darwin was born on 12th February 1809 in Shrewsbury, England, the second youngest of six children. His father Robert Darwin was a wealthy doctor, with a staunch Unitarian religious background, as had his mother Susannah, the daughter of Josiah Wedgewood, the pioneer of the elegant blue and white Wedgewood pottery. As a baby Charles was ‘baptized’ in the Anglican church but attended the Unitarian chapel with his mother. His first school was run by a Unitarian preacher, but when he was eight his mother died, and thereafter he and his older brother Erasmus went to a local Anglican boarding school. After his schooling, for a short time he was an assistant to his father who sent him to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine at the age of sixteen. But contact with human suffering and the sight of blood proved too much for him. He neglected his medical studies and side-stepped into taxidermy, botany and zoology during his second year. This annoyed his father immensely, who then sent him to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to study for a BA degree, intending this to be a step towards ‘the ministry’ in the Church of England. However, his interest in natural history developed further at Cambridge, influenced by Sedgwick, a geologist and Henslow, a botanist who believed that scientific work was ‘natural theology’. William Paley’s writings also impressed him, Evidences of Christianity, and Natural Theology which argued for design in nature and explained adaptation as God acting through laws of nature (which it is!). In his final examination in January 1831 he came tenth out of a pass list of 178.
He spent the rest of 1831 doing fieldwork in geology and biology, then in December, he found a place as a self funded naturalist on HMS Beagle under the command of Robert Fitzroy, a strict man with fundamentalist religious beliefs. The voyage was to take two years charting the coast of South America, but it lasted for five years and circumnavigated the globe. Darwin was often badly seasick, for many days lying in his hammock eating only raisins. On board the Beagle, he would often quote the Bible as an authority on morality. Observing the great variety of geological formations in different continents Darwin tried to reason how these came about by the effects of natural forces. He also observed many fossils and living creatures never seen before, sending many specimens back to England. At this time he read Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology which described gradual geological change over immense periods of time. These observations and ideas set him thinking about a new theory to account for the origin of different species which here to fore he had believed were the result of divine creation. The Beagle returned to England in October 1836. By then, Darwin was a celebrity thanks to the specimens and reports he had sent home. He travelled and lectured widely, interacting with many other scientists. He developed his theory about Transmutation of Species (he did not call it evolution) and started to write seriously. Work on his famous book had begun, but aware of its controversial nature he hesitated repeatedly over publication. That would not be until 1859, but other things intervened.
The strain of overwork affected his health. Stomach problems and heart disease, worsened by stress, plagued him for the rest of his life. His doctors recommended spells of living in the country. One such spell with his Wedgwood relatives found him with a charming and intelligent lady called Emma, his cousin nine months his senior. Romance blossomed, and in January 1839 Charles Darwin married Emma Wedgewood in an Anglican/Unitarian ceremony. Emma held staunch Christian beliefs which she never abandoned. He had told her all about his new ideas on origins,by that time clearer in his mind. They candidly shared their differences, but Emma expressed her deep concerns that they might be separated after death because of this. They lived at Downe, Kent, where they had ten children. Two of them died in infancy, and he was particularly distressed by the death of his 10-year old daughter Annie in 1851. By then he had abandoned any profession of Christianity and had stopped going to church. Later in life he professed to be ‘an agnostic’ rather than an atheist denying the existence of God. But his upbringing, his belief in the truth of the Bible while at Cambridge, his quotations from scripture on board the Beagle, his church attendance in the early years of his marriage were all now far away. He adopted the position of denying all miracles and denying the factual and historical basis of the Gospels. Charles Darwin died on 19th April 1882. He was given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey. Sadly, there seems to be no truth in a story published in 1915 that here turned to Christianity and trusted Christ at the end of his life2. It is sad also that this story is still used by some to discredit evolution without checking the facts. Many other better reasons exist, the greatest being the Bible, the word of God.
Darwin was forced to publish swiftly.In 1857 Alfred Wallace published a paper on the Introduction of Species.S eeing the similarities with Darwin’s theory his friend Lyell urged him to establish precedence. On 18 June1858, another paper by Wallace described natural selection. Shocked that he really had been forestalled, Darwin consulted Lyell. They quickly decided on a joint presentation of Darwin’s work at the Linnean Society on 1 July. However, his youngest son of 18 months died of scarlet fever on 28 June and he was too distraught to attend.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (its full title) was published on 22 November 1859. All 1,250 copies sold out at once. In the book, Darwin set out ‘one long argument’ with observations, inferences and consideration of anticipated objections. He did not link man to animal ancestors in this book, afraid of its deeper implications, but in two more books published in 1871 and 1872 he clearly stated this link. His 1859 book has been called the most influential book ever published, although that accolade far more deservedly belongs to the Bible, and for far better reasons.
Reaction to it was mixed. Some scientists supported it enthusiastically, most notably Thomas Huxley,whose vigorous support earned him the title ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. But others had grave doubts3. The same was true within the Church of England - his Cambridge tutors Sedgwick4 and Henslow dismissed the ideas, but the growing band of liberals interpreted natural selection as ‘an instrument of God’s design’. The process continues. In 2008, the Church of England issued an article saying that the 200th anniversary of his birth was a fitting time to apologize to him.5 Darwin never observed the transmutation (change) of species - this has never been observed because it does not happen! Species are permanent with fixed boundaries. What he did observe was adaptation within species in response to environmental conditions, a well recognized process throughout nature. His bold, hypothetical jump was from ‘micro evolution’ (observed) to ‘general evolution’ (imagined). Once he publicized this idea, others gladly seized upon it, and have used it ever since to bolster atheism and materialism because that is what they prefer.
So is 2009 the Year of Darwin? – the man who gave mankind its true place as descended from primates and then from vague ancestors all the way back to nothing?
No, it is 2009 AD – ‘the year of our Lord’. Year after year we remember the Son of God becoming man in order to redeem us, so that we might obtain the privileged place of the very sons of God, 1 John 3. 1. ‘His name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him’, Ps. 72. 17.
BERT CARGILL was a chemistry lecturer for over thirty years. He has contributed to the work of the St. Monans assembly ever since his conversion as a teenager and has written several books and articles on this and other subjects.
Factual material from Charles Darwin -Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org
Darwin’s Deathbed Conversion – a Legend? www.answersingenesis.org
‘I have also seldom read a scientific book which makes such wide ranging conclusions with so few facts supporting them … I regard this as somewhat of a high-handed hypothesis, because he argue susing unproven possibilities,without even naming a single example of the origin of a particular species’, J.H. BLASIUS, director of the Duke’s Natural History Museum, Germany, in 1859.
Sedgwick wrote to Darwin, ‘I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly, parts I laughed at till my sides were sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous’. Cited by H.Enoch, Evolution or Creation?, Evangelical Press, p.145.
M. Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs (2008) wrote,‘ Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still’.