Answer by Diane Eager

Anne Darwin died in 1851 at the age of 10 following an illness described as “bilious fever with typhoid characteristics”.  Her grave is in Priory Church Yard, Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England.  The gravestone is has the inscription “A Dear and Good Child”.

This death of his favourite daughter has been claimed to be the “moment of truth” that motivated Charles Darwin to set aside his training as an Anglican theologian and obliged promoter Biblical creation, then turn and hasten towards the final development of his naturalistic theory of evolution. In Annie’s Box, a book about Darwin’s family life, Randall Keynes (a descendent of Darwin) wrote: “After Annie’s death, Charles set the Christian faith firmly behind him”.

A review of the book in Science, vol 296, p1974, 14 Jun 2002 commented: “Freed from the last vestige of belief that the world was perfect because God created it that way, Darwin continued without spiritual restraint to work out his theory on the origin of species.”  A more recent film with the erroneous title Creation, loosely based on Keynes’ book, portrays Annie as giving posthumous, almost occultic, inspiration to Darwin to publish his theories.

The death of his daughter was certainly a significant event in Darwin’s life, and certainly consolidated his belief that a bad world is incompatible with a good God . However, the real inspiration for his turning away from God came many years prior to this, in his devotion to the teachings of Charles Lyell, the man who promoted uniformitarian geology and the very old earth.  Lyell’s theories were incompatible with Genesis, and both Lyell and his disciple Darwin knew it.

In 1830, long before Darwin’s theories were published, Lyell admitted to fellow believers in uniformitarianism that his aim was to “free the science from Moses”. (Letter to George Scrope, 14 June 1830).  Lyell’s book Principles of Geology, which sets out his theory of slow and gradual processes over vast ages, was published in three volumes beginning in 1830.  Darwin read these, and later admitted that many of his ideas came from Lyell. He wrote in a letter to a colleague: “I always feel as if my books came half out of Lyell’s brains & that I never acknowledge this sufficiently, nor do I know how I can, without saying so in so many words — for I have always thought that the great merit of the Principles [Principles of Geology] was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind & therefore that when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes.” (Letter to Leonard Horner, 29 Aug 1844)

Darwin confirmed his reliance of Lyell’s theory of a vastly old earth and slow gradual processes in the Origin of Species, where he wrote: “He who can read Sir Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognise as having produced a revolution in natural science, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume.” (Darwin, 1859, Origin, Ch IX, p282)

A vast incomprehensible past, undocumented by any witnesses, allowed Darwin and his followers to fill it with their own theories about the origin and history life.  This is the opposite of the Bible, which sets out a clearly documented record of the origin and history of life that has the authority of a witness who was there.  Lyell’s work gave Darwin the option of rejecting that authority and substituting it with his own, and Darwin took up the opportunity, as have all his and Lyell’s followers, who want their thoughts and actions to be freed from the authority of the Creator.

Years later Darwin later confirmed that Lyell had indeed undermined the authority of Scripture.  In 1873 Darwin wrote to his son George: “Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge etc far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise” (Letter to George H Darwin, 21 Oct 1873) By shaking faith in the Deluge, i.e. Noah’s flood, Darwin, Lyell and their present day followers were, and are, not just rejecting God’s power as Creator, they reject His power and authority as judge.

Ultimately, Darwin’s grief over his daughter’s death was just one more step on an already well established path away from God.  For more details on how Darwin went from a bright young theological graduate to an agnostic who denied Christ and the Scriptures, see the article Charles Darwin: The Descent of a Man.  PDF here

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