Charles Darwin suffered extreme ill-health for most of his working life. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica says, ‘Some of the symptoms—painful flatulence, vomiting, insomnia, palpitations—appeared in force as soon as he began his first transmutation notebook, in 1837. [This is the year after he returned to England from his five-year voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle.] Although he was exposed to insects in South America and could possibly have caught Chagas’ or some other tropical disease, a careful analysis of the attacks in the context of his activities points to psychogenic origins.’1(Psychogenic means originating in the mind or in mental condition.) Other symptoms included ‘nausea, headache … sensitive stomach, spells of faintness, twitching muscles, spinning head, spots before the eyes.’2 Today we would call this an anxiety-caused psychoneurosis.3
So then, what caused this condition of extreme stress in Darwin? What was he so worried about? And how is it relevant to us today?
Rejection of religious influences
Charles’s thinking and writing on the subject of evolution and natural selection caused him to reject all the religious influences in his life. One of these was William Paley.
In his early twenties Charles was willing to become an Anglican clergyman. As part of his theological studies at Cambridge he read William Paley’s book Natural Theology,4 which begins with the famous ‘watch’ argument for creation (a watch requires a watchmaker and so design requires a Designer), about which Charles said, ‘I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley’s Natural Theology. I could almost formerly have said it by heart.’5
Another religious influence was his wife Emma, whom he married in 1839, and who used to read the Bible to their children. As Charles developed his theory of natural selection, these influences diminished. His son Francis recalled him as saying, ‘I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age.’6 And the death of his eldest daughter Annie from fever at this period of his life hammered the final nail in the coffin of his Christianity.
More than all this however, Darwin knew that his theory was sheer atheistic materialism—a bombshell which when released on Victorian society would undermine people’s faith in God, the Bible, and the Church. In effect, he was shaking his fist at Almighty God. Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge, the foremost geologist of his day and a creationist, recognized this as soon as he read the Origin, about 1861. He wrote, ‘From first to last it is a dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked and served up…And why is this done? For no other reason, I am sure, except to make us independent of a Creator.’7
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