Darwin’s arguments against God
How Darwin rejected the doctrines of Christianity
First published: 13 June 2008 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 11 March 2009 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 20 June 2012 (GMT+10)
This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 31(2):12–14.
Charles Darwin grew up embracing the ‘intelligent design’ thinking of his day—William Paley’s renowned argument that the design of a watch implies there must have been an intelligent watchmaker, and so design in the universe implies there must have been an intelligent Creator.1 Concerning this, Darwin wrote, ‘I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley’s “Natural Theology”.2 I could almost formerly have said it by heart.’3
Nevertheless, Darwin spent most of the rest of his life attempting to explain design in nature without the need for any purpose or a guiding intelligence. He labelled himself an agnostic, and gave us his ‘Religious Belief’ in his Autobiography,4 written in 1876 when he was 67.
1. Darwin rejected Genesis as true history
Darwin asserted that different species originated by the extremely slow process of evolution. However, he knew that Genesis taught that God had created plants, animals and man by separate sudden commands. Both premises could not be true. So either his theory or Genesis was in error. Which? He wrote:
‘I had gradually come, by this time [i.e. January 1839, when he was 29—Ed.], to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos [sic], or the beliefs of any barbarian.’4
Comment: Darwin embraced the wrong worldview. The ‘manifestly false history of the world’ is not that recorded in Genesis, but that of his theory and the long ages it requires.
2. Darwin rejected the miraculous in Christianity
Concerning ‘the miracles with which Christianity is supported’, he wrote,
‘[T]he more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,—that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,—that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events,—that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses;—by such reflections as these … I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.’4
Comment: Christianity is indeed a religion of miracle. From the creative acts of God recorded in Genesis 1, through the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt in Exodus, to Christ’s many miracles in the Gospels, and the disciples’ miracles in Acts, we see a God at work who is greater than our imagination can devise. He who brought everything into existence by His spoken word (Genesis 1) is certainly later able to legitimately vary what happens in His creation by the exercise of His will.
Darwin’s arguments are philosophically bankrupt. He supposedly knows that all miracle reports are false because he knows that the laws of nature are fixed. However, he can know that the laws of nature are fixed only if he knows in advance that all miracle reports are false. So he is arguing in a circle: he dismisses the miracles by dismissing the sources; but he dismisses the sources because they contain miracles.
He also invokes intellectual snobbery by assuming that Jesus’ contemporaries believed in miracles out of ignorance. However, Joseph (Matthew 1:19) and Mary (Luke 1:34), for example, knew very well how babies are made—needing both a man and a woman, although they did not know certain details about spermatozoa and ova. They questioned the announcements of the Virginal Conception because they did know the facts of life, not because they did not!
Also, miracles are properly considered not as breaks in the laws of nature, but additions to them. So to disprove miracles, Darwin would need to prove that nature is all there is, with no God capable of acting outside the normal laws by which he upholds it (Colossians 1:15 ff.).5
3. Darwin resented the biblical doctrine of future judgment
‘I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.’4
Comment: If Darwin had read his Bible as well as he had read Paley, he would have known that it says: ‘The Lord is … longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). In fact, by sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die for sin (John 1:29), God the Father provided the way of escape from everlasting punishment.
Darwin also fails to show why the punishment is unjust, relying instead on the fallacy of argument from ‘outrage’. However, a sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely serious. God’s perfect justice requires that either the finite sinner must endure punishment for an infinite duration, or an infinite Substitute must bear the punishment we deserve. This is fulfilled by the God-man Jesus taking upon Himself the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:6).6
4. Darwin thought that natural selection rendered design redundant
‘The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. … Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.’4,7
Comment: Wrong, Charles. Natural selection is the culling of the ‘unfit’ individuals of a population. This can uncover previously unseen combinations of genes that have always been there since Creation and remain unchanged. However, it can act only on existing genetic information, and cannot produce anything new. It has nothing to do with design. And by the way, you didn’t discover natural selection. Edward Blyth, a creationist, observed it and wrote about it in 1835–1837.8
5. Darwin thought that natural selection, rather than belief in God, could account for both the happiness and the misery in the world
‘If the truth of this conclusion be granted [i.e. that there is more happiness than misery in the world], it harmonises well with the effects which we might expect from natural selection. If all the individuals of any species were habitually to suffer to an extreme degree they would neglect to propagate their kind … .’ He then added that many sentient beings ‘occasionally suffer much. Such suffering, is quite compatible with the belief in Natural Selection, which is not perfect in its action … .’ He continued, ‘A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?’4
Comment: Darwin’s views on suffering were highly personalized through the death of his 10-year-old daughter, Annie, in 1851, which ‘destroyed Charles’s tatters of belief in a moral, just universe’ and ‘chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity’.9 But Charles, suffering and death are integral parts of your theory of evolution.
God originally created a perfect world, where there was no violence or pain or death (Genesis 1:29–31). When this sinless world was marred by the rebellion of the first man, Adam’s disobedience brought an intruder into the world—death (Genesis 2:17, cf. 3:19). However, now, because of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, we all can be restored to a right relationship with God and enjoy peace with Him.
This sad outcome for Darwin shows the baneful danger of compromise with the concept of millions of years. Darwin’s main opponents in the Church had views very much like today’s ‘progressive creationists’, who believe that God created species over millions of years. But this view entails that God had created the germ that killed Annie as a deadly pathogen. This contradicts the biblical teaching that death is ‘the last enemy’ (1 Corinthians 15:26) and ‘the wages of sin’ (Romans 6:23). This teaching implies that God had created the germ as a beneficial agent, and that it became deadly only after the Fall.10
6. Darwin discounted the inner conviction of others as evidence for God
‘But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomadans [sic] and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God. There are also many barbarian tribes who cannot be said with any truth to believe in what we call God: they believe indeed in spirits or ghosts, and it can be explained, as Tyler and Herbert Spencer have shown,11 how such a belief would be likely to arise.’4
Comment: Bible-believing Christians do indeed have an inner conviction about their relationship with God. They have a positive peace with God about their sins (as distinct from a negative mental obliteration of the concept). This is because at the heart of Christianity the penalty for sin has been paid by Christ’s death and resurrection, and so God can justly forgive sin (1 John 1:9) and thus give peace of mind to all those who come to Him through Jesus Christ. Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and animism provide no such assurance, because no other religion has an adequate answer to the sin problem.
The inner conviction of the early Christians would never have been produced were it not backed up by irrefutable historical proof that Jesus rose from the dead. There are at least 17 cultural factors that would have doomed Christianity in the first century if there had not been this proof.12
7. Darwin discounted ‘grand scenes’ (like that of a Brazilian forest) as evidence for God
Comment: In the Bible, David saw evidence in nature that pointed him to God (Psalm 19:1). Darwin had done so too in the Brazilian forest in his mid-20s, but not in later life when he had quenched all such feelings with his evolutionary dogma. As Christians, we should be aware that our feelings go up and down with our moods, our appetite, our health, etc., but our Christian faith depends on what God has said in His Word, the Bible, not on what we feel.
8. Darwin discounted man’s ability to reason
Darwin acknowledged that a ‘First Cause’ was a more impressive idea than blind chance, but then wrote,
‘[C]an the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?’4
Comment: We now know that there is zero chance of the universe being the way it is by accident, and there is zero chance of proteins randomly combining to form life. The best Darwin could do to void the evidence for a First Cause was to invoke his own theory. In fact, the reason why the mind of man can contemplate such things is because man is not an evolved animal, but is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26; James 3:9).
This is something to remember when debating sceptics—given their own evolutionary assumptions, why should we trust their sceptical thoughts to be true? Natural selection works only on survival value, not on logic or truth. C.S. Lewis pointed this out long ago.
9. Darwin thought that belief in God was the result of ‘constant inculcation’ of children
‘[I]t would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.’4
Comment: God made mankind in His image. It is not surprising therefore that children easily believe in God. This even includes children who are NOT inculcated, such as in Japan where most adults don’t think of God as Creator.13 It is also not surprising that in later life many become atheists when they are taught by the government schools and media that they are nothing more than evolved pond scum.
Darwin’s argument commits the genetic fallacy—the error of trying to disprove a belief by tracing it to its source. For example, Kekulé thought up the (correct) ring structure of the benzene (C6H6) molecule after a dream of a snake grasping its tail, but chemists don’t need to worry about correct ophiology to analyse benzene! People can believe the right things for the wrong reasons.
Our faith is based on God’s Word, and no human being will ever be able to prove whether or not God exists (Hebrews 11:6), as that would then make him/her superior to God. Nevertheless Christian faith is not irrational and is supported by logic and reason (Romans 1:18–20, 1 Peter 3:15). Darwin committed logical fallacies, and his arguments against God fail because he disregarded the evidence that God has supplied, both in His Word and in nature.
- This argument was first used by Cicero (c. 106–43 BC) who wrote: ‘[W]hen you look at a sun-dial or a water-clock, you infer that it tells the time by art and not by chance; how then can it be consistent to suppose that the world, which inludes both the works of art in question, the craftsmen who made them, and everything else besides, can be devoid of purpose and reason?’ (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 34, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, p. 207, 1951.) Return to text.
- Paley’s writings were required reading for Darwin’s B.A. degree at Cambridge, 1828–31, acquired when he was 22. Return to text.
- Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, C. Darwin to John Lubbock, 15 November, 1859, D. Appleton and Co., New York, Vol. 2, p. 15, 1911. Return to text.
- The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, (with original omissions restored, edited with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow), Collins, London, ‘Religious Belief’, pp. 85–96, 1958. Return to text.
- For more about miracles, see Sarfati, J., Miracles and science, 1 September 2006. On the reliability of the Gospels, see CMI’s Bible Q&A. Return to text.
- See also Good news. Return to text.
- Darwin here added a reference to his book On the Variation of Domestic Animals and Plants, in which he argues that if the shape of stone fragments (that a builder might use) deposited at the bottom of a precipice depends on factors such as the type of rock, lines of cleavage, and the action of storms and earthquakes, rather than on divine preordination, how then can it be maintained that God specially ordained each of the innumerable variations in our domestic animals and plants? See www.fullbooks.com/The-Variation-of-Animals-and-Plants-underx29808.html, 21 August 2007. Return to text.
- Edward Blyth was one of several scientists who wrote about natural selection before Charles Darwin did. See Grigg, R., Darwin’s illegitimate brainchild, Creation 26(2):39–41, 2004. Return to text.
- Desmond, A. and Moore, J., Darwin, Penguin Books, London, p. 387, 1992. Return to text.
- See Batten, D., Ed., Catchpoole, D., Sarfati, J. and Wieland, C., The Creation Answers Book, ch. 6, ‘How did bad things come about?’ Creation Ministries International, Queensland, Australia, 2007. Return to text.
- Herbert Spencer believed that religion originated in the worship of ancestors appearing as ghosts, and arose from a fear of the dead who had passed beyond the control of the living Return to text.
- Holding, J.P., The Impossible Faith, www.tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.html, Xulon Press, Florida, USA, 2007. Return to text.
- See Children believe in God, Creation 22(2):7, 2000. Return to text.