Did You Know?
Charles Darwin was buried inside Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton

Did You Know?

Darwin’s Mystery Illness


Originally published in Creation 14, no 1 (December 1991): 45.

Darwin's later years were characterized by behaviors that may have been due to an illness of some kind.

Did you know that for about the last 45 years of Charles Darwin’s life, after returning from his voyage on HMS Beagle, he suffered a mysterious illness which lasted until his death of a heart attack at the age of 73?

Many have speculated that an exotic parasitic disease contracted overseas was the cause of Darwin’s problem. Others have pointed to the strong predominance of apparently psychosomatic features.

A more recent proposal by David Rutherford in the Australian Natural History journal concludes that Darwin’s problem was most likely agoraphobia, a pathological fear of being in open places.1

Rutherford gives the example that at the age of 33 Darwin retired to a secluded village and constantly declined to chair meetings or attend conferences. Such social ‘demands’ led to symptoms which made these events intolerable for him, such as sweating, dizziness, palpitations, headaches and limb weakness.

Others have suggested, perhaps less charitably, that his knowledge of the enormity of what he had done to mankind contributed substantially to his psychological problems.


The Australian, September 24, 1990, p. 5.


Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

I agree to the current Privacy Policy.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390