The standard, long held view of the connection between Darwin’s religion and his theory is wrong. Supposedly he was a Christian who studied at Cambridge to become a minister. But then, during his voyage around the world on the Beagle, the scientific facts persuaded him to believe in evolution and give up his Christian faith. However, an examination of the various influences upon the youthful Charles Darwin reveals an entirely different story.
Charles’ grandfather, Erasmus, a successful and wealthy physician in the 18th century, wrote the book, Zoonomia (Laws of Life), which portrays a pantheistic world in which all life and species evolved. Erasmus’ close friend, industrialist Josiah Wedgwood I, embraced Unitarian theology. Erasmus’ son and Charles’ father, Robert Darwin, also a wealthy physician, probably an atheist, married Susannah Wedgwood. Other marriage ties between the two families followed. Not surprisingly, Darwin males generally were freethinkers, following the Unitarian, pantheistic and atheistic views of their principal sires.
The Son, His Father and His Wife.
Charles Darwin, was born in 1809. His dominant, atheistic father, Robert, advised him to conceal his unorthodox beliefs from his wife. Should he predecease her this would spare her from unnecessary grief because of her spouse’s dying an unbeliever. Charles never spoke publicly about his religious views. However, before he married Emma Wedgwood in 1839 he told her about his rejection of Christian faith. Though probably not herself evangelical, she was nevertheless pious, and the rather gross unbelief of her husband was painful to her. But during his life and even after his death she protected his reputation by concealing his unbelief.
Robert Darwin sent his son off to Edinburgh University in 1825. The sixteen-year-old boy found himself in a university community which was in a continual ferment of radicalism of all sorts advanced by dissenters from the Anglican church, freethinkers, anti-Christians and atheists, materialists and evolutionists. Evolution was in the air. Most influential in this phase of Charles Darwin’s life was Robert Grant, a dozen years his senior. Holding the medical degree from Edinburgh, he had made himself the leading British authority in invertebrate zoology. Grant was an avowed atheist, and evolutionist, and also a social and political radical. On zoological field trips with Grant young Charles listened to his persuasive private lecturing but kept his own counsel. Deeply interested in biological science, Charles abhorred medicine The sight of blood sickened him. After two years he returned home without a degree.
Disappointed, father Robert Darwin decided to send him off to Cambridge University for a degree in theology, after which he could purchase for him a “living” in an Anglican country church. There he could be a sportsman, a scholar, or an amateur naturalist, supported by a government stipend for life. Charles dutifully signed onto the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and entered Cambridge. He surely saw the hypocrisy in an atheist father’s financing his son’s preparation to be a minister of the gospel.
At Cambridge Prof. Adam Sedgwick, a leading English geologist, took Darwin with him on a geology field trip in the south of England. Impressed with the young man’s abilities, he predicted that his student would make his mark in science. Though studying for a degree in theology, Darwin put his greatest energies into geology and other natural sciences. Darwin read Archdeacon William Paley’s classic book on the evidence for God in the designs of living creatures. Darwin was impressed with the book but devoted the rest of his life to disproving it. Reading the standard theology texts, he concluded that he could accept intellectually the arguments for Christianity. Later, however, with a fellow student he decided that he could not affirm having a divine call to the Christian ministry.On the other hand, naturalist Von Humboldt’s reports of his travels to exotic places stirred in Charles a yearning to follow in his steps. Thus when he received his theology degree in 1831, his future was doubtful. With a young friend he was planning a trip around the world when a letter arrived from the Royal Navy inviting him to be the official naturalist on a voyage around the world on H.M.S. Beagle. He accepted and his destiny was sealed.
Darwin’s Theology and His Theory of Evolution.
On the five-year voyage on the Beagle Darwin’s abilities in natural history became apparent. The large collections of specimens of rocks, fossils, plants, fish, marine invertebrates, insects, birds and land animals which he sent back to England made him famous before his return. Shortly after his return to England in December, 1836, Charles moved to London to arrange for the proper use of his specimens and write several books about his observations. He was also reading voraciously, seeking support for his ideas about evolution. Mostly between 1837 and 1840 he filled a number of notebooks with his private brain storming speculations about geology and evolution. Within five months of debarking from the Beagle Darwin had written down his espousal of the theory of evolution of all species. Those early notebooks contained the germinal ideas for most of his research and writing for the next forty years.
His Notebooks also reveal his theological views in those early years from 1837 to 1840. The Creator God of the Bible is discarded, man is degraded to an evolved animal and his mind, thoughts, religion, emotions, language and facial expressions are made into products of evolution. The philosophy of materialism is enthusiastically embraced and human freedom of the will is repudiated. By 1842 Darwin wrote out a lengthy essay in which he gave a detailed summary of his theory of evolution.
Darwin’s Duplicity and Opportunism.
During the five years on the Beagle Darwin was a close companion of Captain Robert FitzRoy. FitzRoy was an opinionated conservative Anglican. It is interesting indeed that on the long voyage young Charles maintained a reputation for being a biblical literalist. Yet as we have seen, after only five months or less off the ship Darwin had written down some of his basic ideas on evolution and his repudiation of the God of the Bible.It is incredible that his thinking could have undergone total transformation from biblical literalism in that short time. No, on board ship he must have acted like an orthodox Christian in order to please his opinionated captain. In the period from 1837 to 1840 Charles Darwin’s reputation was rising, promoted especially by Adam Sedgwick who sponsored him in the Royal Society. Yet to Sedgwick evolution was an abomination, so Charles had to keep his chief love absolutely to himself. In one of his notebooks he wrote out a verbal strategy he could use to conceal his belief in evolution. If Sedgwick had guessed what his young protege was thinking, Darwin’s career would have suffered a severe setback. Yet he yearned to tell his associates about his theory. It was during this time of great inner stress before 1840 that he began to suffer from severe headaches and stomach trouble. Darwin kept his ideas from general circulation for some years until his reputation in the scientific community was established. Nevertheless, he delayed publication of the Origin of Species for 17 years, offering in that book only a few hints on the subject of human evolution. He delayed the publication of his book on The Descent of Man another 12 years until 1871. Always the consummate social and political strategist, he waited for decades for the right intellectual and religious atmosphere and political climate to develop which would assure his victory when his infamous book, The Origin of Species, was published in November, 1859.
When another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, in 1858 sent Darwin a short essay outlining the essence of Darwin’s own theory, his hand was forced. An arrangement was made for joint credit to be given the two men, but Darwin wrote the definitive book. In the fifteen months of the crash writing project, Darwin’s illnesses all converged on him. He could scarcely write twenty minutes without excruciating stomach pains, and he suffered from violent headaches and vomiting. During the two weeks when the book was being printed and bound for sale, Charles was undergoing treatment in the hydropathic clinic at Ilkley. In a letter to fellow scientist J.S. Dalton he wrote: “I have been very bad lately; having had an awful ‘crisis’ one leg swelled like elephantiasis–eyes almost closed up–covered with a rash & fiery Boils…it was like living in hell.” Could it be that God was trying to tell Darwin something? He would not listen. A lost soul ruled by satanic power, he had to be a man of iron will wholly given over to a consuming vision.
Charles Darwin’s Hidden Agenda for Science
There is no evidence in all of Charles Darwin’s published correspondence and writings that he ever embraced biblical Christianity. As we have seen, virtually all the formative influences on his thinking were contrary to Christian faith. He always concealed his rejection of Christianity, but in his 1876 Autobiography he stated his unbelief in very blunt, even crude words. His closest scientific associates were all men who had given up biblical Christian faith, and some of them were committed enemies of the faith. For example, Sir Charles Lyell, the father of modern geology, was determined to discredit the biblical record of earth history, and Charles’ “bulldog,” anatomist T.H. Huxley, wrote that he was “sharpening [his] claws,” ready to “disembowel” any clergymen who criticized Darwin’s Origin of Species.
It is clear that Charles Darwin’s hidden agenda for science was to drive out of the thinking of all scientists any concept of divine special creation, divine intervention into the world, and divine teleology (purpose, plan or goal) in the natural world. This amounts to redefining science wrongly to make it an automatic weapon against Christian faith. Darwin’s theory has often been criticized by secular scientists, but his agenda for science has long enjoyed universal success in the secular establishment.
Even a hint that your views on evolution might differ with those of the scientific establishment is enough to force you out. (2007)
This week, in Britain, we have had the highest profile proof that even a hint that your views on evolution might differ from those of the scientific establishment is enough to force you out. Prof. Michael Reiss, an evolutionist and the Royal Society’s director of education, resigned under pressure (given the push) within a couple of days of merely suggesting that creationism and ID could be discussed in classrooms—even if it was in order to explain why they were, in his view, wrong.
Immediately, atheistic scientists called for him to be ousted, claiming he was wanting creationism to be taught as an alternative to evolution. This was not his position, so he was not pushed out because of what he actually said, but because other people misrepresented what he had said. The Royal Society should have defended Reiss against those who were twisting his words, but instead they gave in, thus saving their own reputation for evolutionary orthodoxy.
Note, at the risk of repetition, that Reiss is an evolutionist himself. He was simply saying it was OK for pupils to express their own opinions. He said, ‘There is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have—hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching—and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion.’3
But doubts about evolution are not allowed. Scientific evidence that counters it is ruled inadmissible. So, despite his obvious support for evolution, Reiss received a torrent of abuse from other top-level scientists and members of the Society for even suggesting that evolution could be debated.
On the Origin of Socialist Darwinism
Socialist Darwinism is the idea that natural selection promotes societies that cooperate as moral communities. This concept actually predates Social Darwinism, which later emphasized competition and individualism. Socialists throughout the 1860s-70s praised Darwin’s theory as promoting progressive social change.
As Eric Michael Johnson has documented in The Struggle for Coexistence (pdf here), the earliest consistent application of Darwin’s ideas for human society can be classified as Socialist Darwinism. For these authors, evolution demonstrated that the inequality maintained by institutions of God and State were not facts of nature but were imposed by power and privilege. It was therefore necessary for society to be redesigned from the bottom-up following scientific principles.
“I am a Socialist because I am a believer in Evolution,” wrote the women’s rights activist Annie Besant. She saw in Darwin’s work the clearest evidence yet that the status quo was not divinely ordained. Social species had evolved traits for cooperative behavior and humans, the most social of all animals, displayed the most elaborate moral instincts. Because evolution had shaped human physiology, behavior, and mind, Besant concluded, “it was not possible that Evolution should leave Sociology untouched.” Like Besant, many nineteenth-century socialist scholars, scientists, and activists quickly deployed Darwin to challenge the status quo.
The most prominent advocate for Socialist Darwinism was the Russian prince and naturalist Peter Kropotkin. His 1890 papers on “Mutual Aid Among Animals” (later published as the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution in 1902) synthesized the argument promoted by the “Darwinian Left” over the previous thirty years. In the process, Kropotkin closely hewed to Darwin’s theory of natural selection and demonstrated how the feeling of sympathy could evolve to form the basis of human morality.
The one factor that united diverse Socialist Darwinists across England, Europe, and Russia was a commitment to building on Darwin’s “moral sense.” For group-living species, natural selection had promoted traits that emphasized sympathy and cooperation. They believed it was wrong to ignore what Darwin called “the noblest part of our nature” in our efforts to improve human society.