Did Darwin Die a Christian?
Collection : Avijit Roy
Published on Darwin Day (February 12, 2006)
Many fundamentalist Christians believe that Charles Darwin repented for his "anti-religious" evolution theory and at last converted to be a Christian just before he died. This story started propagating shortly after Darwin’s death, when a lady named Lady Hope addressed a gathering of young men and women at the educational establishment founded by the evangelist Dwight L. Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts and claimed that Darwin was converted to Christianity in his death-bed. The interesting story was named later as "Lady Hope story". It goes like this:
Lady Hope, who [claimed to] visited Charles Darwin during his last days on earth, has the following to say regarding his views on evolution towards the end of his life:
It was on a glorious Autumn afternoon when I was asked to go and sit with Charles Darwin. He was almost bedridden for some months before he died. Propped up with pillows, his features seemed to be lit up with pleasure as I entered the room. He waved his hand towards the window as he pointed out the beautiful sunset seen beyond, while in the other he held an open Bible which he was always studying.
"What are you reading now?" I asked.
"Hebrews," he answered, "still Hebrews. The Royal Book, I call it." Then he placed his fingers on certain passages and commented upon them.
I made some allusions to the strong opinions expressed by many unbelievers on the history of the creation and then their treatment of the earlier chapters of the book of Genesis. He seemed distressed, his fingers twitched nervously and a look of agony came across his face as he said, "I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything. And to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them." Then he paused and after a few more sentences on the holiness of God and the grandeur of this Book, looking at the Bible which he was holding tenderly at the time, he 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 you very much to speak here. I know you read the Bible in the villages. Tomorrow afternoon I should like the servants on the place, some tenants and a few neighbors to gather there. Will you speak to them?"
"What shall I speak about?" I asked.
"Christ Jesus," he replied in a clear emphatic voice, adding in a lower tone, "and His salvation. Is not that the best theme? And then I want you to sing some hymns with them. You lead on your small instrument, do you not?"
The look of brightness on his face I shall never forget, for he added, "If you take the meeting at 3 o'clock this window will be opened and you will know that I am joining with the singing."
~ Quoted from the Bombay Guardian, 25th March 1916, by Prof. H. Enoch in Evolution or Creation (Union of Evangelical Students of India, P.O. Box 486, Madras 7, India, 1966), pp. 165-167.
The story was initially printed in the Boston Watchman Examiner. Then The story was quickly spread, and the claims were "republished" as late as October 1955 in the Reformation Review and in the Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland in February 1957. However, Later careful investigation proved that the story was nothing but Hoax. Darwin's family including his son and daughter discredited the Lady Hope story.
by Simon Yates
few more details on the spread of the story and its subsequent rebuttal, taken from the book
The Survival of Charles Darwin: A Biography of a Man and an Idea, by Ronald W. Clark, (published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1985 ), p. 199.
“Shortly after his death, Lady Hope addressed a gathering of young men and women at the educational establishment founded by the evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts. She had, she maintained, visited Darwin on his deathbed. He had been reading the Epistle to the Hebrews, had asked for the local Sunday school to sing in a summerhouse on the grounds, and had confessed: ‘How I wish I had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done.’ He went on, she said, to say that he would like her to gather a congregation since he ‘would like to speak to them of Christ Jesus and His salvation, being in a state where he was eagerly savouring the heavenly anticipation of bliss.’
“With Moody's encouragement, Lady Hope's story was printed in the Boston Watchman Examiner. The story spread, and the claims were republished as late as October 1955 in the Reformation Review and in the Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland in February 1957. These attempts to fudge Darwin's story had already been exposed for what they were, first by his daughter Henrietta after they had been revived in 1922. ‘I was present at his deathbed,’ she wrote in the Christian for February 23, 1922. ‘Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. Darwin never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A. . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever.’” (Ellipsis is in the book)
Clark's source for Lady Hope's supposed quotations of Darwin is given as Down, the Home of the Darwins: The Story of a House and the People Who Lived There, by Sir Hedley Atkins KBE, published by Phillimore for the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1974. Henrietta's rebuttal is referenced more fully as: Mrs. R B Litchfield, "Charles Darwin's Death-Bed: Story of Conversion Denied," The Christian, February 23, 1922, p. 12.
Let's see what Charles Darwin himself and his family said about religion/Christianity and Lady Hope story respectively
"By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,—and that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,—that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,—that the Gospels cannot be proven to have been written simultaneously with the events,—that they differ in many important details, far too important, as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye witnesses;—by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many fake religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wildfire had some weight with me. But I was very unwilling to give up my belief; I feel sure of this, for I can remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans, and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere, which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. 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."
( Charles Darwin in his Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Dover Publications, 1992, p. 62. )
"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 Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I., pp. 304-317. You are at liberty to publish the above statement. Indeed, I shall be glad if you will do so. Yours faithfully, Francis Darwin. Brookthorpe, Gloucester. May 28, 1918."
( Quoted from James Moore, The Darwin Legend, Baker Book House, MI. 1994, p. 21. )
"I was present at his deathbed...Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even 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 in the U.S.A. . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever."
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
"I think that generally (& more & more as I grow older), but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."
( Quoted from Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991, p. 636. )