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By Joseph Hubbard

Q FOR JOSEPH . I was at a “John Mackay” night last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.
A friend said to me that he thought Darwin recanted his views on evolution near the end of his life, and gave up his evolutionist views. I have heard that before, but also heard that it is not true. I didn’t get to ask John last night, can you shed any light on this? Rex.

Thank you very much for your question. This has been speculated on for many years, namely that Darwin recanted his views on evolution, and then became a Christian while on his deathbed. While it would be wonderful if Darwin had become a Christian, the whole story is basically an urban myth. Reports of some kind of a conversion came floating in within weeks of his death. The most famous of these is the report by Lady Hope.

 Lady Hope was the daughter of General Sir Arthur Cotton. She and her father were active evangelists, living near to the home of Charles Darwin. While attending a conference in 1915, she claimed she had visited Charles Darwin, where she found him dying, having been bed-ridden for months, and reading a book. When she asked him what book he was reading, he told her it was the book of Hebrews. He then supposedly asked her to tell his servants about “Christ Jesus”.1 
While it would be wonderful to report this account as true, there are too many inconsistencies.

First, if Lady Hope had visited Darwin, it would have been at least six months before he died, because the records indicate it was Autumn, and Darwin died in Spring.  Furthermore, Darwin was not bed-ridden for a long period before his death. He also never mentioned this conversion in any of his 14,000 notes and letters that he wrote, something that seems strange if he had genuinely converted. Also, every member of Darwin’s family has denied each and every report that Darwin came to Christ. His son Francis wrote, “He (Darwin) could not have become openly and enthusiastically Christian without the knowledge of his family, and no such change occurred.”2 Also, if the story were true, why did Lady Hope wait for 33 years before relating it?

A close examination of this tale is fascinating because of what it does not claim. The actual report of Lady Hope’s story does not say that Darwin renounced evolution, it merely states that Darwin speculated over the outcome of his ideas. Also, it was obviously not a death bed meeting. It took place several months before Darwin died. Most telling is that Lady Hope never described Darwin actually professing faith in Christ. She simply reported that Darwin was reading the Bible.

So unfortunately there is no provable truth to a conversion of or a recant by Charles Darwin, but only God knows the heart of a man.

I hope this answers your question!

God Bless

1. The New Answers Book 4; Chapter 6 “Was Charles Darwin a Christian?” – Dr Tommy Mitchell.
2. James Moore, The Darwin Legend, p.144

For more on this question from the Ask John Mackay website see Ian Taylor’s answer to the question: DARWIN’S DEATH: Did Darwin recant of his evolutionary theory as he neared death?  Click here

For more information on Darwin’s life and beliefs see Chapter 5 of Ian Taylor’s Book In the Minds of Men.  Click here

For more information about Darwin’s transition from a bright young theological graduate to an agnostic who denied Christ was the Son of God see our Creation Research article The Descent of a Man.  PDF here

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