Did Charles Darwin have a death bed conversion? There is a common internet myth that states that on his death bed, Charles Darwin renounced his theory of evolution and affirmed faith in Jesus. Many well-meaning Christians have repeated this story with the thought that “Even Darwin knew his theory was wrong”. But did this event actually happen? Did Darwin disavow his teaching and accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior?
I’ve looked for the source of this story, and it seems to stem from a report from a woman named Lady Hope. She and her husband were both Christian evangelists. Lady Hope reported having visited Darwin months before his death. Her account was published in the Watchman-Examiner, a national Baptist magazine, on August 19, 1915.
She claimed to have visited Darwin prior to his death. He was bed ridden and was constantly reading the Bible. She claimed at the time she visited him he was reading from Hebrews. When asked about his theory, we supposedly replied “I was a young man with unformed ideas.” Hope also claimed that Darwin asked her to return and talk to her servants about “Christ Jesus”.
This all sounds like a dream come true! The author of the theory of evolution repudiating his work and converting to Christianity. What could be better!
Is Lady Hope’s Story True?
Lady Hope’s story has some major inconsistencies that make it unreliable. Darwin was not bedridden prior to his death. There is no record of him ever asking anyone to speak on “Christ Jesus”, and there are no other accounts of him reading the Bible.
It’s also important to recognize what Lady Hope did NOT say in her account. She never said that he converted to Christianity. She never said that he renounced his theory of evolution. He never backed away from his theory at all. And there never appears any sort of saving relationship with Christ.
What Did Darwin’s Own Family Say?
Darwin’s own family rejected the claim, and one would think they would know better than anyone what the views and beliefs of their father was. In fact, several of his children wrote to set the record straight.
In a letter to James Howe, Darwin’s son Francis wrote in 1915:
“He [Darwin] could not have become openly and enthusiastically Christian without the knowledge of his family, and no such change occurred.”
In a letter dated May 28, 1918, Francis again writes: “Lady Hope’s account of my father’s views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but I have not seen any reply.”
Darwin’s daughter Henrietta wrote in 1922: “I was present at his deathbed. Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. . . . He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier.”
On top of this, Darwin’s wife Emma was always worried about the godless nature of her husband’s theory. If he had converted, she would have rejoiced in the change and surely would have reported it. She did no such thing, however.
What If It Were True?
One should also remember that even if Darwin did have a conversion, this would not show that Darwinian evolution is false. People change their minds all the time. A person stating something out of character could occur from a state of delusion or being heavily medicated.
Do did Darwin have a death bed conversion? The evidence says no. Christians should not knowingly spread a false idea, even if it advances their cause. The idea that Darwin converted and renounced his work falls into this category. It does us a great disservice if Christians are perceived as only being able to win arguments by repeating falsehoods. And this is one falsehood that should be removed from any serious Christian’s arguments against Darwin’s theory of evolution.
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