Myth: Charles Darwin refuted, recanted, renounced, etc.

From : Eileen Irwin

There seems to be some revisionist history going on here, with people stating that Charles Darwin refuted, recanted, renounced, repudiated, or retracted his theory of evolution.

Here's what I have found about Charles Darwin and "Origin of Species":

Charles Robert Darwin, (1809-1882), an English naturalist whose theory of evolution is one of the greatest contributions ever made to science. Darwin stated this theory in "Origin of Species" (1859). In "Descent of Man" (1871) he applied his theory to the evolution of man from a primitive monkey-like animal. Both books aroused world-wide controversy. Many considered them to be offensive, atheistic, blasphemous.

Most scientists, however, agreed with Darwin's theories. Although later research has modified or disproved some of Darwin's findings, scientists still accept his basic ideas. Eventually most Western churchmen also accepted his theory regarding the evolution of life.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, the son of a physician. His mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the pottery manufacturer. Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Charles' grandfather, was a physician and physiologist who had developed certain ideas of his own about evolution.

As a youth Darwin was interested in all living things. He read all the books on geology and biology he could find and collected plant and animal specimens, including fossils. In 1825 he began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh but gave them up after two years. In 1828 he entered Cambridge University to study theology and was graduated in 1831. A Cambridge friend, the geologist and botanist John S. Henslow, helped Darwin obtain a post as unpaid naturalist aboard the surveying ship H.M.S. Beagle.

In 1831 the "Beagle" left on a five-year charting cruise of South American and Australian waters. During this time Darwin observed and studied in many remote regions of the world. He collected great numbers of plant and animal specimens. From detailed notes of his observations he began to develop the theory that was to make him famous.

When he returned to England Darwin settled down to a life of study and scientific investigation. His "Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle" was published in 1840. He wrote three more books during the next six years. In 1844 Darwin began to compile his greatest contribution, "Origin of Species," in which he proposed his theory of natural selection. All life, he said, is a continuous struggle in which only the fittest can survive. (The interpretive phrase "survival of the fittest" was first used by Herbert Spencer.)

While still at work on "Origin of Species" Darwin discovered that the idea of natural selection was not exclusively his. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a young naturalist working in the Malay Archipelago, had developed similar ideas in an essay called "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Independently from the Original Type." Wallace sent his paper to Darwin for an opinion. Darwin took Wallace's manuscript to a friend, Sir Charles Lyell, who decided that both Wallace's and Darwin's ideas should be presented at the same time. On July 1, 1858, both papers were read at a meeting of the Linnaean Society of London.

After publication of "Origin of Species" in 1859, Darwin continued to write on botany, geology, and zoology. When "Descent of Man" (1871) was bitterly attacked, he replied, "I would rather be regarded as a descendant of a monkey than of some people that might be named."

Unlike many scientists, Darwin was honored early in his career. He is buried in Westminister Abbey. Four of Darwin's five sons were also noted scientists. Sir George Howard Darwin (1845-1912) was a mathematician and astronomer. Sir Francis Darwin (1848-1925) was a botanist. Leonard Darwin (1850-1943) became an engineer, economist, and eugenicist. Sir Horace Darwin (1851-1928) was a civil engineer.


No where could I find reference to Darwin retracting, recanting or rejecting his own theories.

From : Rick Mcfarlane To : Eileen Irwin Subj : Darwin's Retraction

Good morning, Eileen.

I thought you might find this interesting.

I still haven't got any answers from our Creationist friends to my repeated requests for anything that would back up the rash of "Darwin Recanted on his Deathbed" claims we've heard here lately. So I went out on the internet and did some research for them <g>.

The following article is by Simon Yates.

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The Lady Hope Story: A Widespread Falsehood

A few more details on the spread of the story and its subsequent rebuttal, taken from the book "The Survival of Charles Darwin: a Biography of a Man and an Idea" by Ronald W. Clark, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1985 (p. 199)

`Shortly after his death, Lady Hope addressed a gathering of young men and women at the educational establishment founded by the evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts. She had, she maintained, visited Darwin on his deathbed. He had been reading the Epistle to the Hebrews, had asked for the local Sunday school to sing in a summerhouse on the grounds, and had confessed: "How I wish I had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done." He went on, she said, to say that he would like her to gather a congregation since he "would like to speak to them of Christ Jesus and His salvation, being in a state where he was eagerly savouring the heavenly anticipation of bliss."

`With Moody's encouragement, Lady Hope's story was printed in the Boston _Watchman Examiner_. The story spread, and the claims were republished as late as October 1955 in the _Reformation Review_ and in the _Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland_ in February 1957. These attempts to fudge Darwin's story had already been exposed for what they were, first by his daughter Henrietta after they had been revived in 1922. "I was present at his deathbed," she wrote in the _Christian_ for February 23, 1922. "Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A. . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever."' (Ellipsis is in the book)

Clark's source for Lady Hope's supposed quotations of Darwin is given as "Down, the Home of the Darwins: The Story of a House and the People Who Lived There" by Sir Hedley Atkins KBE, published by Phillimore for the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1974.

Henrietta's rebuttal is referenced more fully as: Mrs R B Litchfield, "Charles Darwin's Death-Bed: Story of Conversion Denied," _The Christian_, February 23, 1922, p. 12.

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So, it appears that the origin of this fable is one Lady Hope, who, according to Darwin's daughter, apparently made it up wholesale.

Of course, either Lady Hope is lying, or Darwin's daughter is lying, and I'm sure our Creationist friends will try to say that it's Darwin's daughter who is misrepresenting things. But, even if Lady Hope's quotation of Darwin were accurate, notice that it doesn't constitute a denial of evolution, just a wish that he had not expressed his theory as he had done. Anyone familiar with his life, is aware that Darwin intended to express his theory in a much different manner than the actually wound up doing.

He intending to publish a major work on the subject (several volumes), and worked for twenty years, compiling evidence for his ideas. He considered his work only partially completed, when Wallace's article rushed him into premature publication of a summary of his ideas. He always considered "Origin" to be merely a preface to his much larger intended work, and repeatedly said so, but he had to spent the rest of his life defending his theory, rather than completing the work that had been interrupted. Given all that, I can believe that Darwin really did wish that he had been able to express his theory in a different way.