Charles Darwin’s Recantation of Evolution and Conversion
An unusual story published on August 15, 1915 in the American Baptist newspaper, the “Watchman Examiner”, claimed Charles Darwin recanted his theory of evolution and accepted Christ on his deathbed. The article was attributed to British evangelist, Elizabeth Reid Hope, who claimed she had visited Charles Darwin, at the request of his wife Emma, shortly before his death. Despite disclaimers from the Darwin family, the story surfaced again in various Church publications in1922, 1955 and 1957.
We present this story in an “interview format” as a literary device to bring Lady Hope’s words to life. The author has created questions that might have prompted the actual words written in her newspaper article. A few words have been added to facilitate the flow of the interview without changing the content and intent of what she wrote.
Introduction (Interviewer): Welcome to Radical Religious Right Radio. Our motto. We think for you so you don’t have to.
We have a sensational breaking news story to report that will shake the very foundations of evolutionary science. According to a reputable eyewitness account, Charles Darwin, on his deathbed, recanted his theory of evolution and accepted Christ as his savior.
The American Baptist newspaper, the “Watchman Examiner”, first reported the story in 1915, thirty-three years after Darwin’s death. The eyewitness account, as told by a “consecrated English woman”, Elizabeth Reid Hope, has since been buried by the liberal press, until now.
Our investigative reporters found the story and we now proudly present it to you, our faithful and trusting listeners. Through a miracle of faith, we have contacted Elizabeth Reid Hope, who was known by the name Lady Hope until her passing in 1922.
Interviewer: Good afternoon Lady Hope. It is good of you to return, ever so briefly to us, and confirm this earth shaking news. Is it true that you were at Charles Darwin’s deathbed and witnessed his recantation of evolution and acceptance of our loving savior, Jesus Christ?
Lady Hope: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to the faithful and confirm the miraculous happenings* that glorious autumn afternoon as I sat with the well known, bedridden Professor.
Interviewer: Please tell us the occasion of your visit. When did it actually occur?
Lady Hope: It was September 28, when my husband and I were living in Beckenham Kent, about six miles from Downe, where professor Darwin lived. Professor Darwin’s wife, Emma, invited me to pay her husband a visit. Emma, as you well know, was a true believer. I believe she wished me to ask her husband to accept Christ into his life, as his health was failing rapidly, and she feared for his eternal soul.*
Interviewer: Were there any other witnesses to your visit beside his wife, Lady Hope?
Lady Hope: No. The good professor’s son, Francis and daughter Henrietta, were absent. Emma arranged my visit so they would not intervene in my mission. I understand that they closely guarded their father to spare the family the similar embarrassment incurred when Professor Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, accepted Christ on his deathbed.*
Interviewer: I see. Well, Emma Darwin is a good enough witness for me. I can understand her distress to think her dear husband’s soul would burn in hell for eternity if he did not accept Christ. What more do you remember from your visit?
Lady Hope: He was sitting up in bed, wearing a soft embroidered dressing gown, of rather rich purple shade. Propped up on pillows, he was gazing out on a far stretching scene of woods and cornfields, which glowed in the light of one of those marvelous sunsets, which are the beauty of Kent and Surry. His noble forehead and fine features seem to be lit up with pleasure as I entered the room.
Interviewer: Ahh! Apparently, he was expecting you and pleased to see you.
Lady Hope: He waved his hand at the window and pointed out the scene beyond, while in the other hand he held an open Bible, which he was always studying.
“What are you reading?” I asked as I seated myself at his bedside.
“Hebrews,” he answered – “still Hebrews. ‘The Royal Book’ I call it. Isn’t it grand?”
Then, as I watched, he placed his finger on certain passages and commented on them. It was heart warming to realize that Professor Darwin was so knowledgeable of the holy book. When he had finished, I made some allusions to the strong derogatory opinions, expressed by many persons, such as Mr. Huxley, on the history of Creation, its grandeur, and their shameful treatment of the earlier chapters of the book of Genesis.
Interviewer: My goodness, how did Darwin react to that?
Lady Hope: He seemed greatly distressed, his fingers twitched nervously, and a look of agony came over his face as he said: “I was a young man filled with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything, and to my astonishment, my ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion out of them, to my great regret.”*
Interviewer: The poor man. It sounds as if he never intended his wild theories be taken so seriously… and contradict the scriptures.
Lady Hope: It appears so.* He continued on about the holiness of God and the grandeur of this book, looking at the bible, which he was holding tenderly all the time. He suddenly said: “I have a summer house in the garden which holds about thirty people. It is over there”, pointing through the open window. “I want very much for you to speak there. I know you read the bible in the villages. Tomorrow afternoon I should like the servants on the place, some tenants and a few of the neighbors to gather there. Will you speak to them?”
“What shall I speak about?” I asked
“Christ Jesus!” he answered in a clear, emphatic voice, adding in a lower tone, “and his salvation. Is it not the best theme? And, I want you to sing some hymns with them. You lead on your small instrument, do you not?”
The wonderful look of brightness and animation on his face as he said this I shall never forget, for he added: “If you take this meeting at three o’clock this window will be open, and you will know that I am joining in with the singing.”
Interviewer: Glory to God! There can be no doubt that professor Darwin’s soul had been saved.
Lady Hope: I do believe it. Glory to God!* How I wished I could have made a picture of the fine old man and his beautiful surroundings on that memorable day!
Interviewer: I would love to continue our conversation Lady Hope, but our time is up. Thank you for setting the record straight about evolution, and for your eyewitness accounting of the real character and beliefs of the famous Charles Darwin. The Lord works in mysterious ways, does he not?
Lady Hope: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to enlighten your listeners concerning my visit to Professor Darwin. God bless, and good by.*
Interviewer: Radical Religious Right Radio has done it again folks. We have scooped the liberal press, exposed their bias in not reporting the truth about evolution and their beloved Darwin, whom we now know did not consider his theory of evolution to be based on scientific fact. It was just a wild idea that spread across Christendom as a wildfire, destroying faith and morality. Now we know better. Now we know the truth. Thank you for listening, and tune in again tomorrow. May the Lord be with you, always.
* Author’s addition
The following is a rebuttal to Lady Hope’s story:
Lady Hope’s story was either an outright lie or a fantasy that became a reality in her mind after thirty-three years stewing over the great evil Darwin brought into the world.
The story of Lady Hope’s meeting with Charles Darwin on his deathbed was denied by all of Darwin’s family. They insist she never was present at his bedside at any time. Darwin’s son, Francis wrote: “Lady Hope’s account of my father’s views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but have not seen any reply. My father’s agnostic point of view is given in my book, Life and Letters of Charles Darwin.”
Darwin’s daughter, Henrietta Litchfield also replied to Lady Hope’s claim, in a February 23, 1922 article titled: Charles Darwin’s Death-bed Story of Conversion Denied. “I was present at his deathbed, Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never saw her, but in any case, she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated (by her) in the U.S.A. … …The whole story has no foundation whatever.”
The fallacious story of Darwin’s conversion so annoyed his granddaughter, Nora Barlow, that she restored controversial passages edited out by Francis Darwin in the original edition of The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. The second addition included Darwin’s perspective on God and harsh criticism of Christianity.
Referring to the Christian bible Darwin wrote: “But I had gradually come to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world…from its attributing to God the feelings of a vengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian. By further reflecting, … the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported. – 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, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. – The more we know about the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become. – The men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible to us, – I gradually came to disbelieve Christianity as a divine revelation. – I can indeed hardly see why anyone ought to wish that Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and most all of my friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a Damnable doctrine.”
Concerning Paley’s argument from design, Darwin writes: “The old argument of design, as given by Paley, which formally seemed to me so conclusive, fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue, for example, that the beautiful hinge of a bivalve must be made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course that the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”
Concerning God, Darwin wrote: “A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of the millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? … the presence of so much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”
As to those who have blind faith and an inner confidence that god exists, Darwin wrote: “Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists.”
There are those who claim that Darwin was a theist. He wrote: “I feel compelled to look for a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.” This quote is usually taken out of context, for in Darwin’s following words he states since then he has changed his mind. He observes that such grand conclusions cannot be trusted from a mind that came from the lowest animals.
In fact, Darwin’s evolution does not address the beginning of all things. He wrote: “I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginnings of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”
Darwin gives two reasons why he thinks people are religious. A religious belief comes from the “…constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong… an effect on their brains that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God as it would be for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear of a snake.” The other reason was the grandeur of nature. “In my journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.” Later in his life he wrote: “I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such feeling and convictions to rise in my mind.” – “…this sense…can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music.”
On the subject of revelation, he wrote: “For myself, I do not believe in any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities. It appears to me, whether rightly of wrongly, that direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s (human) minds, which follows from the advance of science.”
Aside from the religious fanatics, who ruthlessly attacked Darwin after he published his book, his friends and biographers believed him to be a gentle person who truly cared for his fellowman. Darwin wrote: “I can imagine with high satisfaction giving up my whole time to philanthropy… this would have been a far better line on conduct.” He added, “If he (man) acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives: and this latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure on this earth. By degrees it will become intolerable to him to obey his sensuous passions rather than his higher impulses, which when rendered habitual may almost be called instincts.”
It appears that Lady Hope and others who believe Darwin recanted evolution and accepted Christ on his deathbed, were delusionary or dishonest.