On holy ground? A creationist in Darwin’s home

What is the real message of Down House?


By Onboleman at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0Down-house
Down House in the county of Kent

I recently decided to pay a visit to the family home of Charles Darwin. Down House lies nestled in the beautiful Kentish countryside of southern England. This fabulous residence housed the eminent naturalist, his wife and ten children for a period of forty years. It was here that he conducted much of his research and developed his theory of evolution by natural selection. It was in the study at Down House that he wrote his most influential work, On the Origin of Species. The house today is a museum run by English Heritage and still features many of the original decorations and furniture from his time, as well as a good selection of exhibitions and equipment relating to his scientific work.

Expectation versus reality

Right at the heart of the Down House museum we have a perfect example of the underlying issue in the Creation/Evolution controversy: the authority of the Word of God.

Of course, given that this was the home of Charles Darwin, I was prepared for the onslaught of evolutionary propaganda, which began as soon as I entered the house. Purchasing my ticket from the gift shop, I was left to peruse the large bookshelf of contemporary works on evolution by some of today’s most prominent atheistic scientists. The narration on the audio device used on the guided tour is by none other than naturalist extraordinaire, Sir David Attenborough. However, those looking for a display of scientific evidence to support Darwin’s theory will be disappointed, finding nothing more than a few musings from his personal journals and a taxidermy display of the oft-used ‘proof’, the Galápagos finches.

Who influenced Darwin?

Some of the most significant influences on the ideas of Charles Darwin were those of geologist Charles Lyell. This is clearly reflected at Down House. Hanging above the mantel in Darwin’s study is an engraved portrait of Lyell, testament to the profound impact he had on Darwin’s life. Elsewhere in the house is the first edition of Lyell’s book Principles of Geology which Darwin took with him on the Beagle voyage (1831–1836). Lyell promoted the view known as uniformitarianism, meaning he assumed that geological processes observed today had operated essentially in the same way and at the same rates in the past. Thus the slow erosion of river valleys seen today, or the gradual depositing of sediments, were understood to indicate that deep valleys and extensive sedimentary rock strata must have been formed slowly over millions of years. According to this view, the rocks provide a picture of Earth’s long history, and one of a slowly changing world, with fauna and flora appearing and disappearing over long periods of time. This provided the ‘bedrock’ upon which Darwin could build his theory of evolution, which posited natural selection as the mechanism by which new species arose. However, it is crucial to note that the Lyellian view of geology was not a theory derived solely from geological observation and scientific enquiry. Rather, there was an ideological bias involved too; as Lyell himself admitted, he wished to “free the science [of geology] from Moses” (see here).1

Darwinism versus Christianity?

Perhaps the most telling part of the museum displays is the section that addresses the subject of evolution and Christianity. It is here that the anti-Christian nature of the worldview of Darwinism becomes visible. In a prominent section of the museum, a large banner with the title ‘Darwinism versus Christianity?’ poses this question to museum visitors:

“It is possible to accept Darwin’s theory and to believe in a God or gods. Why then did some Christians reject it?”

This might seem like a conciliatory statement, until you read the answer on the banner just below:

“One reason is that it is not possible to see the Book of Genesis as the literal story of creation and accept Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

In other words, it is possible to be a Christian and accept Darwin’s theory, but only if you are willing to reject the history found in the book of Genesis. It is pivotal that Christians understand this message: it is either Darwin or Genesis. Trying to have both means that Genesis must be reinterpreted. Those who tread this path have basically placed the words of Charles Darwin above the Word of God—there is simply no way of avoiding the charge of compromise. So, right at the heart of the Down House museum we have a perfect example of the underlying issue in the Creation/Evolution controversy: the authority of the Word of God.

Upon reflection

As I left the house I thought of all the thousands of people, including many children on school trips, who would read these signs and take this message as truth. Darwin is so revered in our culture and education system that many consider evolution as an almost sacred doctrine. The final banner I saw was a quote from Darwin:

“I’m sorry to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as divine revelation, and therefore not in Jesus as the son of God.”2

Make no mistake this is the message of Down House! This is why Christians need to be equipped to respond to the challenges of evolution and raise up a generation of Christians who will stand on the authority of the Word of God.

Published: 13 June 2017

References and notes

  1. Lyell, C., letter to Scrope, 14 June 1830; in Lyell, K.M., Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, pp. 269–270, 2010. Return to text.
  2. Darwin, C., letter to Frederick McDermott, 24 November, 1880; darwinproject.ac.uk. Return to text.