Two spiritual events can be traced in the life of Charles Darwin. Had those events turned out differently, one wonders what effect it might have had on his scientific contributions.
The first came with the death of his favorite child, his daughter Annie. At age 10, the child contracted scarlet fever. She agonized for six weeks before dying. Also a casualty was Darwin’s faith in a beneficent Creator. The book Evolution: Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer, tells us that Darwin “lost faith in angels.” That is an odd expression. Why would it be used? They probably told him that God was picking flowers.
Is there any analogy more slanderous to God than the one in which God is picking flowers? Up there in heaven he has the most beautiful garden imaginable. But it is not enough! He is always on the watch for pretty flowers, the very best, and if he spots one in your garden, he helps himself, even though it may be your only one. Yes, he needs more angels, and if your child is the most pure, the most beautiful, happy, innocent child that can be, well—watch out! He or she may become next new angel. Sappy preachers give this illustration all the time, apparently thinking it gives comfort.
Not surprisingly, the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is nowhere found in the Bible. However, a parallel analogy is found in 2nd Samuel, where it is used to make exactly the opposite point: the flower picker should be executed. The setting is when King David took for himself the attractive wife of one of his subjects and, upon impregnating her, had that subject killed to cover his tracks:
“The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
“David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1-7, NIV)
Now, this analogy appeals to us. This is just. The man is not expected to take comfort that the king stole his wife. No, he deserves execution! So how is it that when we are told God has done the same, we’re expected to feel all warm and fuzzy?
Isn’t this like Abraham Lincoln saying that he was not smart enough to lie? His meaning was that if you lie, you have to adjust every subsequent statement to be consistent with that lie, otherwise you will get caught. Telling the truth presents no such challenge.
The picking flowers analogy is an attempt to cover a lie, and as we have seen, it doesn’t satisfy. The lie is that, when we die, we don’t really die because the soul lives on, going straight to heaven if we’ve been good. Thus, death is a friend. It is a chance for promotion, and we are all happy to see good people promoted. In this context, the Bible’s hope of a resurrection is meaningless. (Acts 24:15) How can someone be resurrected if they never actually died?
Better to tell the truth from the start, and then you don’t have to invent ridiculous stories to cover your tracks. Death is not a friend, it is an enemy. Nor is it God’s purpose for humans; it came upon us due to rebellion. Nor does it bring us into a new state of consciousness; instead we become nonexistent, a state that can be likened to unconsciousness or sleep. Nor does God purpose to leave us in this sad predicament, but he’s taken steps to eliminate death.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned,” says Romans 5:12. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:25) “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten….Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10)
“After he had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead…’” (John 11:11-14)
How different history might have been had Darwin known the truth about death. Not just Darwin, of course, but everyone of his time, as well as before and after. Instead, fed a diet of phony pieties—junk food, really—he and others of inquisitive minds searched elsewhere in an attempt to make sense of life.
The second spiritual event revealing another crisis of faith, is to be seen in a letter of Darwin’s to American colleague Asa Gray. Darwin stated: “…I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world.”
Plainly, this statement concerns, not science, but God. His question was spiritual, or at least philosophical: ‘Why is there so much misery? How does that square with a God who is supposed to be all-loving and all-powerful?’
Bear in mind that, in younger days, Darwin trained to become a clergyman. This is not to say that he was unusually devout. Rather, he was undecided as a youth; he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Most go through such a phase. Many never emerge. At the time, the clergy represented a respectable calling for educated people who didn’t find a place anywhere else.
Why didn’t he know why God permitted suffering? It’s not as though an answer does not exist. It is outlined in chapter 44. If Charles Darwin had been familiar with the answer, yet rejected it, that would be one thing. But it seems clear that he had no clue. The fault is not his. It is that of the church, which was charged to make certain truths, or teachings, known, but which failed to discharge that commission, choosing paths more self-serving. You might say that Darwin was spiritually starved.
Had he known the Bible’s answer regarding misery and suffering, it may be that he, and other active minds of his day, might have put a different spin on discoveries of rocks, fossils, and finches. It is why Jehovah’s Witnesses are so enthusiastic over Scripture, sometimes to the point of being pests. The Bible’s explanation of the causes of suffering and death is tremendously liberating. It affects powerfully one’s outlook on life. (July 2006)
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!