Darwin’s Deathbed Recantation: It’s Dead!

THE absence of significant creationist activity in this morning’s news means that once again, dear reader, your Curmudgeon has the time to bring you the view from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom.

That outfit has long been a paradox. On the one hand, they’re happily spreading full-blown creationism far and wide, and they operate the infinitely foolish, yet presumably profitable Creation Museum. On the other hand, they’ve always had this posted at their website: Arguments that should never be used. It’s a list of some of the worst — but most commonly seen — arguments for creationism. AIG recommends that those arguments shouldn’t be used, because: “Answers in Genesis is not willing to distort evidence or resort to bad logic to defend the Bible.”

These arguments are too obviously false even for AIG, and apparently they’re so easily and so often rebutted that their continued usage is embarrassing. One can be embarrassed despite being a creationist, it seems.

AIG’s publicly listing a few discredited arguments is very clever in its own way. They’re trying to achieve credibility, or at least a measure of self-esteem, by proudly asserting that they’re not completely crazy. Whatever the motivation, it’s always welcome when at least a few creationist arguments are retired.

Now it appears that they’re sending another creationist standard to the Retirement Home for Absolutely Useless Arguments (RHAUA) — those that have seen long and faithful service, but which are now so universally laughable that it’s time to say goodbye.

Today’s article is about one of the most often-repeated myths in the whole creationist bag of tricks: Darwin’s Deathbed Conversion — a Legend? Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

It has been widely held among many sincere and well-meaning Christians that Charles Darwin on his deathbed not only renounced evolution, but also accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. The tale of this deathbed conversion has been passed down over the years as fact. This “event” has even been used as “evidence” that evolution is false. The overzealous have, at times, boldly proclaimed, “See — even Darwin knew that this theory was not true!”

We’ve all seen this claim in one form or another. Let’s read on:

The most often cited evidence for the alleged conversion of Darwin comes from a woman known as Lady Hope.

[…]

While traveling in America in 1915 she attended a conference in East Northfield, Massachusetts. While there she apparently told the story of a visit she had with Darwin before the scientist’s death.

[…]

Lady Hope further claimed that before her departure she was asked by Darwin to return and speak to his servants in his summerhouse. When asked about the subject on which she should speak, Darwin was said to have replied “Christ Jesus!”

That, more or less, is the legend, but it’s often embellished by zealous creationists when they retell it. AIG is aware of this:

Further, it is fascinating what Lady Hope’s story does not say. It does not say that Darwin renounced evolution. It merely says that Darwin speculated over the outcome of his ideas. He never backed away from evolution. Nor does the Lady Hope story say that Darwin actually became a Christian. The story, even if true, merely claims the Darwin was reading the Bible and made a statement about Christ.

And then AIG provides the counter-evidence:

As soon as this story became public, the denials from Darwin’s family began (as they did after every supposed “conversion story” became known). In a letter to James Howe, Darwin’s son Francis wrote in 1915: “He [Darwin] could not have become openly and enthusiastically Christian without the knowledge of his family, and no such change occurred.”

In a letter dated May 28, 1918, Francis again writes: “Lady Hope’s account of my father’s views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but I have not seen any reply.”

Darwin’s daughter Henrietta wrote in 1922: “I was present at his deathbed. Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. . . . He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier.”

AIG concludes as follows:

Given the weight of evidence, it must be concluded that Lady Hope’s story is unsupportable, even if she did actually visit Darwin. He never became a Christian, and he never renounced evolution. As much as we would like to believe that he died with a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, it is much more likely that he didn’t. It is unfortunate that the story continues to be promoted by many sincere people who use this in an effort to discredit evolution when many other great arguments exist, including the greatest: the Bible.

Retiring this legend is only a small loss to creationists, who have so many others they can recycle. Besides, it apparently suits AIG to think that Darwin died unsaved.

The ultimate reason not to use the “deathbed recantation” story isn’t mentioned, and it’s this: Science doesn’t operate like religion. If Moses had denied the divine origin of the Ten Commandments on his deathbed, that would have been devastating for his followers; his word was the only authority for their belief.

But acceptance of a scientific theory doesn’t depend on anyone’s testimony. It’s based on whether the theory is a successfully tested explanation of verifiable data. Galileo was forced to reject the solar system, but astronomers pay no attention to that; they can see the evidence for themselves.

Therefore, even if Darwin had truly changed his mind as death approached — or if he had totally lost his mind — that would have been utterly irrelevant to the work he had previously done.

Anyway, the tale of Lady Hope and Darwin’s deathbed recantation is now in AIG’s “Don’t even bother with this one” category. Nevertheless, your Curmudgeon will maintain his preparations for the inevitable. Our own bedroom will continue to be known as the “Recantation Chamber,” in order to facilitate post-mortem rumors. One might as well go out with some style.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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One response to “Darwin’s Deathbed Recantation: It’s Dead!

  1. John Phillips, FCD

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

    That was the main reason I became gagaxian. Does that mean I will have to become an evilutionist again. Decisions, decisions, decisions.