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The Lie Among Us
History records three Charles Darwins. The most interesting Darwin is the one who repudiated his theory of evolution on his deathbed. A colorful character named Lady Hope claimed to have visited Darwin on his deathbed, where she found him reading his Bible and recanting his life's work. "I was a young man with unformed ideas," she quotes him as saying. "I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything. And to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them."1 Lady Hope's winsome story, which historians have shown was a complete fabrication,2 has been circulating broadly among American evangelicals for the better part of a century and can still be found there.3
History's second Darwin is a sinister character in a story even more popular among evangelicals than Lady Hope's fiction. This Darwin was an enthusiastic and committed unbeliever who combed the globe gathering evidence to rationalize his disbelief. Authors and television personalities John Ankerberg and John Weldon present this Darwin in their popular Darwin's Leap of Faith. They argue that Darwin himself never even found evolution convincing. Their demonized Darwin rationalized atheism by concocting a preposterous theory whose only saving grace was its demolition of the idea that God created the world. To "soothe his fears," Ankerberg and Weldon write, "Darwin adopted a philosophy convenient to his own rejection of God."4 This Darwin is also a fabrication, although lessentertaining than the Lady Hope myth. Reading any one of the many recent excellent biographies of Darwin will put this to rest.
The third and actual Darwin was neither a deathbed convert nor lifelong crusader against belief in God. He was, in fact, a sincere religious believer who began his career with a strong faith in the Bible and plans to become an Anglican clergyman. He did eventually lose his childhood faith, but it was reluctantly and not until middle age, long after his famous voyage on the Beagle. Toward the end of his life he wrote to an old friend about the painful experience of losing his faith: "I was very unwilling to give up my belief." He recalled daydreaming about something that could arrest his slide into disbelief, perhaps the discovery of "old letters between distinguished Romans, and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere, which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels." Gradually, though, he found it harder to imagine being rescued in this way, and "disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete."5
The Demonized Darwin
Unfortunately, the real Darwin is the only one of no interest to anti-evolutionary demagogues. Eager to keep the faithful on track, they smear Darwin and his theory unmercifully. In The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Controversy, the late Henry Morris proposed that Darwin actually got his theory indirectly from Satan. Darwin, argues Morris with a perfectly straight face, was simply one in a long line of dupes spreading a sinister gospel of materialism originally delivered to humanity by Satan at the Tower of Babel.
The very first evolutionist was not Charles Darwin or Lucretius or Thales or Nimrod, but Satan himself. He has not only deceived the whole world with the monstrous lie of evolution but has deceived himself most of all. He still thinks he can defeat God because, like modern "scientific" evolutionists, he refuses to believe that God is really God.6
Ken Ham, who heads the popular Answers in Genesis organization and is currently America's leading creationist, sees an apocalyptic dimension to evolution. On the back cover of his book The Lie: Evolution, Ham writes: "The Bible prophetically warns that in the last days false teachers will introduce lies among the people. Their purpose is to bring God's Truth into disrepute and to exploit Believers by telling them made-up and imagined stories. Such a Lie is among us. That Lie is Evolution."7
And finally, in more careful, restrained, and intentionally secular-sounding prose Phillip Johnson, the leader of the intelligent design movement, says: "The aim of historical scientiststhose who attempt to trace cosmic history from the big bang or before to the presentis to provide a complete naturalistic picture of reality. This enterprise is defined by its determination to push God out of reality."8 In Johnson's opinion natural science is far too natural.
To the amazement of most Europeans, who made their peace with evolution long ago, these views on Darwin and his theory are widespread in the United States. The majority of children raised in America's evangelical culture encounter them somewhere, often from creationist evangelists like Ham who head organizations dedicated to destroying evolution. Ham's Answers in Genesis organization, for example, has almost two hundred employees and sponsors thousands of events every year, from visits to churches to massive rallies in public arenas with music and multimedia presentations. Sixty thousand people visit his Web site every day, and his books, videos, and tracts sell well. A $27 million creation museum opened in 2007. A glossy magazine, Answers, goes out to almost fifty thousand readers.9 And, although Ham's operation is the most polished and best funded, there are dozens of others like it. Spreading the gospel of anti-evolution, with Darwin as the villain, is a million-dollar industry reaching an eager audience of American evangelicals larger than the population of any country in Europe.
But Charles Darwin is not a villain, and these portraits of him are irresponsible and malicious caricatures distorting him beyond recognition. In their eagerness to turn Darwin into a scary boogeyman, his detractors rewrite history and invent motives to suggest that evolution began as a conspiracy to destroy belief in God.Saving Darwin. Copyright © by Karl Giberson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.