The Evolution of Darwin's Religious Faith

(system) #1
Was Charles Darwin an atheist, a Christian, or something in-between?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


@TedDavis Couple of notes. First Emma Darwin wanted a couple of passages cut from the autobiography The section Darwin wrote about his religious belief can be read at (Nora Barlow edition with the cut passages restored and notes about them).

She herself considered damnation of non-believers unchristian. Her words when asking the removal

“I should dislike the passage in brackets to be published. It seems to me raw. Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief – but very few now wd. call that ‘Christianity,’ (tho’ the words are there.) There is the question of verbal inspiration comes in too.”

Second some of Darwin’s scepticism dates back to just post-voyage when he was considering what to tell his future wife about his beliefs. His father advised not telling her about his doubts. Charles did not follow that advice.

(Jo Helen Cox) #3

Darwin took two books on the Beagle journey, William Paley’s science book and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He figured out Paley did not understand the truth about nature. But did Darwin do the same with Milton?

I believe that Christianity was so enamored with the Paradise Lost epic that no one in that generation realized it did not tell the same story as the Bible. Christian doctrines depended on stories like Milton’s to give them a foundation.

The doctrines had to be discarded as not matching nature. However, to do that, logic insisted one become an atheist, discard the whole belief system. Darwin could not do that, but religion did not give him another option except agnosticism.

Read any Creationist book and you can see that they look more like Milton than reality or the Bible. Preachers still insist we must have faith in the epic stories instead of the evidence God left in nature. They still insist that we choose atheism if we discard the epic.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #4


Thank you for adding this information, including the link. I could have said a great deal more about this subject, but obviously a column can only be so long. Readers are encouraged to add information as they see fit, and I probably won’t respond to such additions unless I see a particular reason to.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #5


I’m away from my library this week and so I can’t say whether or not Darwin had those two books with him on the voyage. I can say with confidence that Darwin did ready Lyell’s Principles of Geology on board the ship, and that he took the first volume with him when he left England (the other two volumes had not yet been published, but they caught up with him along the way). I talked about this here;

Darwin read three major works by Paley as an undergraduate at Cambridge–the same three works that were also assigned to students at some antebellum American colleges, including Yale. See my column here: . When you refer to “Paley’s science book,” I assume you mean his work on natural theology?

As for the influence of Milton on subsequent Christian views of Genesis,I think you’re right, at least to some extent. Let me add a couple of things. The first research university (in the German model) in the USA was Johns Hopkins, which originally offered only graduate education (no undergraduate college). When Hopkins opened in 1876, the inaugural speaker was Darwin’s friend Thomas Huxley. I’d like to say a lot about that very important event, but I’ll cut to the chase. In his address, Huxley referred to the “Miltonian” view of creation, which underscores your point. My other point is that Milton has been seen by some, probably with justification, as holding to something like what was later called the “gap theory,” that is, the view that the creation of the earth/universe actually preceded the six days of creation.


He also took his Bible, since he still intended to become a clergyman when he returned. I got to see it when the Darwin exhibition came to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC in 2005/2006

(Jo Helen Cox) #7

And that Gap Theory was needed because Milton’s view of the Genesis stories was wrong.

I did state that first line as a matter of fact when it was my recollection of something I read some time ago. It just stuck with me. Glad to have you fact check for me.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #8


The only book that I have read on this subject is Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller. I cannot say that it is correct, but I found it convincing.

I understood miller to say that Darwin accepted an Absolute God. That would make him more of a deist than a theist, which would not be too unusual. Certainly the foundation for this view can be found in Western dualism, which is false. Also he was influenced by the ant-Christian views of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus.

(laurence raymond croft) #9


In the article by Ted Davis he makes mentioned to my book, ‘Darwin and Lady Hope - The Untold Story’ published in 2012. I would like to point out that this book is now available (without charge) on RESEARCHGATE. I hope people will read it and consider the evidence I have given before rejecting the truth of Lady Hope’s account of meeting Charles Darwin.
I have been researching the life of Lady Hope for more than thirty years. The results of this research have now been published in my full biography of her entitled: Lady Hope : The Life and work of Lady Hope of Carriden published by Elmwood in 2017. I have also been involved in preparing a collection of original paintings on incidents of Lady Hope’s eventful life. One of these illustrating her interview with Charles Darwin was recently published by the SundayPost. and is available on the internet. Several others are included in an e-book : THE LADY HOPE STORY in Thirty paintings by Blurb, which is available free of charge on the internet. I hope these efforts will go some way in demonstrating that Lady Hope was a truthful and faithful follower of Jesus Christ.