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Emmas Tourment

A good conscience is to the soul what health is to the body; it preserves constant ease and serenity within us; and more than countervails all the calamities and afflictions which can befall us from without. (Joseph Addison)

On December 31, 1835 a twenty-two-year-old theology student set sail on a mission with Robert FitzRoy to chart the coast of South America. His father, a prosperous country doctor, opposed this adventure and the young student himself felt that his decision was not the best choice. He later stated in a letter to his father, “This trip will be disreputable to my character as a clergyman.” But he went anyway.

In 2005 the American Museum of Natural History in New York opened a new exhibit and as a part of this attraction some artifacts from Charles Darwin’s life are on display there. Among the relics shown are beetles, fossils and ferns that Darwin collected fanatically and studied obsessively. Included in the collection are his tiny single shot pistol, his magnifying glass, his rock hammer and the Bible that traveled around the world with him; a reminder that before his voyage he had been preparing for ministry.

Darwin made a tragic mistake—he betrayed his conscience. Anne Wundwood and William Lee Adams wrote in Newsweek, “Darwin was afflicted throughout his later life with heart palpitations and intestinal stress. It is believed that his mysterious illnesses were the result of a parasite he picked up in South America and as Eldredge believes; anxiety over where his intellectual journey was leading him, and the world.” Emma, his wife, felt he was headed for hell. She was tormented, thinking that she and Charles would spend eternity apart. A legend has grown up that Darwin experienced a deathbed conversion and repentance for his life’s work, but his family denies it.

Newsweek November 28, 2005 reports, “It was apparent to many even in 1860 … that Darwin wasn’t merely contradicting the literal Biblical account of a six-day creation, which many educated Englishmen of his time were willing to treat as allegory. His ideas, carried to their logical conclusion, appeared to undercut the very basis of Christianity, if not indeed all theistic religion. Darwin’s ideas of The Origin of the Species go back as far as the 1830’s. But he held off publishing them until 1859, and then only because he learned that a younger scientist, Alfred R. Wallace, had come up with a similar theory.” Darwin took another step in desensitizing his conscience towards God and published the work. Charles Darwin, at the end described himself as an Agnostic; a person who believes that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God or … anything beyond material phenomena. Why did Darwin change? He did not listen to his conscience. What can we learn from Darwin? Never do anything against your conscience.

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