Darwin’s Sad Legacy (April)

Darwin’s struggle with death and suffering

by Dr. Tommy Mitchell on April 14, 2009
Featured in Answers Update

After rejecting the true history of the world, Charles Darwin was never able to reconcile the existence of death, disease, and struggle with the character of a loving God.

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In helping our Answers in Genesis ministry respond to the “Year of Darwin” (it’s his 200th birthday this year), I have spent considerable time researching the life and legacy of Charles Darwin. I’ve sought to understand the culture he grew up in, the events of his life, and the people with whom he interacted. I have read much of Darwin’s own writings and those of his closest associates. All of this study was the basis for our just-released DVD on the life of the infamous man.

The common thread throughout Darwin’s life was his continual struggle with the issue of death and suffering. He was never able to reconcile the existence of death, disease, and struggle with the character of a loving God:

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.1

Darwin was unable to understand why a loving Creator God would allow the horrible things he witnessed in nature and everyday life. Animals fed on one another; creatures ripped each other apart; women died in childbirth, etc. The world seemed heartless and cruel. Darwin’s eventual expansion of the concept of evolution seemed to provide a somewhat positive purpose for the suffering and death he could not explain.

Two of Darwin’s biographers went so far as to imply that the death of his daughter, Annie, caused Charles to walk away from his Christianity:

Annie’s cruel death destroyed Charles’s tatters of beliefs in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity . . . . Charles now took his stand as an unbeliever.2

While there is no evidence that Darwin was ever a believer in biblical Christianity, his writings reveal that Annie’s death did cause him to doubt the existence of a loving God. Ultimately, as he developed his concept that lesser creatures evolved into more complex creatures (i.e., evolution by natural selection), he viewed cruelty in nature as the natural order of things. In other words, struggle and death were required for the onward progression of evolution.

Darwin was not, however, driven away from “the faith” by Annie’s death. Even in his twenties and after sailing on the famous ship the Beagle, Darwin had already rejected the true history of the world as found in Genesis and doubted the truth of the Christian faith. He did not have the right foundation of thinking to help him deal with the question of death and suffering:

Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox . . . But I had come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world . . . was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.3

Thus, even at this early age, Darwin had rejected the book of Genesis (along with the entire Old Testament). Instead, he accepted the concept that the earth was millions of years old and that death has always been a part of our world. The core tenets of his belief in evolution were time and death.

The issue of suffering still troubles countless people, both believers and non-believers. But Genesis tells us of a time before sin when there was no death. Only the biblical account of history adequately explains the origin of death and suffering—they are the result of man’s sin. And only the biblical account adequately explains why Christ the Creator came to earth 2,000 years ago—to shed His blood to die on the Cross, but to be raised from the dead to conquer death.

Ultimately, Darwin’s rejection of history as given in Genesis left him without a foundation upon which to correctly interpret the world in which he lived. Furthermore, the bad fruits of his faulty thinking are all around us today. People have increasingly turned their backs on the Word of God, thinking the Bible is untrustworthy (and thus its message of salvation as well). Too often an evolutionary worldview has been used to justify people’s view on such things as abortion and racism. After all, humans are just animals, aren’t they?

Charles Darwin is honored by the world because he thought like the world. The tragedy was that this godless search for truth left him unable to understand the world in which he lived. What a lesson for our culture today.


  1. Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. II (New York: Appleton, 1897), p. 105.
  2. Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), p. 387.
  3. Nora Barlow, ed., The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1958), p. 71.


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