Darwin’s atheism note to be auctioned

Darwin’s atheism note to be auctioned

A private letter in which Charles Darwin confesses to not believing in the Bible or that Jesus was the son of God is set to sell for more than £50,000.

The naturalist and geologist was renowned for keeping his religious views to himself and very rarely discussed the existence of God. He avoided the subject for fear of offending friends and family.

But in a handwritten letter to a potential reader he shared his honest thoughts.

Francis McDermott, a barrister and committed Christian, wrote to Darwin on November 23, 1880, and asked:

If I am to have pleasure in reading your books I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament.

My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament …

McDermott promised not to publicise any response and Darwin wrote back to him the following day, saying:

Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Yours faithfully Ch. Darwin.


Darwin, who died two years later, is still regarded as the greatest naturalist of his age.

There were rumours he converted to Christianity on his deathbed but they were denied by his daughter.

McDermott kept his word and his no-nonsense letter from Darwin remained unknown to scholars for the next 100 years.

The letter will be sold by Bonhams at its History of Science and Technology auction on September 21 in New York.

It has been given a guide price of £45,000 – £60,000.

28 responses to “Darwin’s atheism note to be auctioned”

  1. I am evolved from a microbe says:

    Some creationist loon will buy it and destroy it.

  2. dennis says:

    does Ham have that kind of money. oh please professor DeGrasse-Tyson help this beautiful truth not wind up in the hands of a Hamish person.

  3. Bubblecar says:

    Sensible sentiments but it must be said, terrible handwriting.

  4. Broga says:

    Darwin, a shy and sensitive man, did not want to upset his religious wife. He also knew what the “people of faith” do to anyone who disagrees with them. Their attitudes are much the same today to the extent that they can get away with it. I think the death of Darwin’s much loved daughter Annie aged 10 finally convinced him that there was no loving God.

    I had an example myself this morning when I saw a blind rabbit hop into the undergrowth. I think it had myxomatosis deliberately spread by those creatures most beloved and treasured by God and fashioned in his image.

  5. tonye says:

    If I win the lottery can you guess my first purchase………….

  6. barriejohn says:

    The story about Darwin’s so-called “death-bed conversion” has been well and truly debunked many times.

    When I was a Christian I heard story after story about well-known personages who had either “turned to Christ” upon their deathbeds, or others (the Queen Mum, for instance) who had been sent “gospel literature” and had evidently been much impressed and written to say the same. (I can imagine her having a good laugh, before pouring herself another gin and checking the racing results, personally!) One evangelist confessed that he had sent to Winston Churchill a tape of himself holding forth in the gospel, whereupon his secretary had replied that the great man had listened to the tape, but considered that any god that existed would simply expect men to have lived as moral a life as possible, or words to that effect, and I have no reason to question that, as it seems quite reasonable.

  7. barriejohn says:

    Broga: My sister died of breast cancer, aged 33 years, leaving four girls aged between eight and eighteen months, and that really put the nail in the coffin of religious belief as far as I was concerned!

    Some interesting stuff on Darwin and religion here:

    It is common for Christian apologists to claim a deathbed conversion — so much so that Madalyn Murray-O’Hair wanted her death and burial site kept a secret so that nobody could get away with doing that to her. They cannot convert us through reason and truth, so they “convert” us by claiming that we went over to their side during the throes of death. Perhaps a few were influenced by what novelist Anthony Burgess described as the “vestigial fears” of hell, and perhaps some were weakened or rendered delusory during this most traumatic state, but what we should examine are the opinions of a man during his greatest moments of clarity — not those thoughts when we can would expect someone to be weakened and perhaps even hallucinating.

    So frequent is this Christian lie that George Foote compiled “Infidel Death Beds” to counter this widespread trend.

  8. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: I am sorry about the tragedy of your sister and her three young children being left. The possibility of a loving God collapses in the face of human suffering without considering the rest of nature. I

  9. L.Long says:

    What so many do not realize is that we don’t care if Darwin was or was not any kind of religious, all that counts is his science and what it started. Just as I don’t care that Newton was xtian or that he was an alchemist, its the science that counts! The letter? Meh!

  10. TrickyDicky says:

    @barriejohn says:
    Fri 11 Sep at 4:29 pm
    Infidel Death-Beds (G W Foote) is available here:

    Also available as a free download in a number of different formats from

  11. Angela_K says:

    Speaking of suffering, our spineless politicians have rejected the assisted dying bill; I expect the god squad are crowing and feeling revoltingly smug about it.

  12. barriejohn says:

    L.Long: You’re quite correct, and it doesn’t make one iota of difference to rational people whether Charles Darwin later renounced his atheist or scientific views, but to believers it is VERY important – and they really do play fast and loose with the truth, as I found out myself. I have become a bit of a stickler for finding out the truth now, whatever it might be.

  13. Broga says:

    I heard Justin Welby given loads of time on the BBC to argue against assisted dying. He thought this would “devalue” life. On this point our politicians have no problem devaluing life when they start another war. Welby took the view that relatives could not be trusted not kill dependent relatives. Indicates a sour an sceptical view of humanity.

    What personal experience does Welby or that RC top cat have of terminal illness of close relatives. My wife shared caring with her brothers for her mother, at home, till she died asking for death. We both cared for my mother at home when she was in a terrible state for her last three months -in great pain and doubly incontinent.

    My mother pleaded for death every day. My wife, a doctor, enabled her to stay at home as the care was beyond me. The experience came close to breaking me. If my wife had said she couldn’t cope then my mum would have had to leave – which towards the end she asked to do out of guilt. My wife never complained and my mum died at home aged 100.

    OK, I am unloading a bit too much here. However, listening to Welby and his religious mates accusing families of killing relatives awoke a lot of feelings in me, including anger.

  14. AgentCormac says:

    Allahu Akbar? Hmmmm – apparently not.

  15. Lensman says:

    I guess the 87 ‘devout’ muslims that died today when a crane collapsed in the Democratic Paradise of Saudi Arabia weren’t devout enough. And why do the BBC insist on referring to Mecca as the holy city of Mecca. I live near Canterbury and we never refer to it as the holy city of Canterbury, just Canterbury.

  16. 1859 says:

    @ Broga: I think your anger is fully justified . I watched my 76 year old mother – a once strong, proud self-made business woman – degenerate into a human cabbage with more holes in her brain than a piece of Swiss cheese. In the end she couldn’t even feed herself and in a desperate attempt to regain some dignity she would try and fail to get a spoon full of soup to her mouth. When she died my oh-so-pious-and-loving catholic relatives came to the house and started dismantling a pathetic, plastic chandelier in the hallway to take home! No, if god can allow people to end their lives with such sordid misery, if he can allow such monsters as ISIS to spread their gloating cruelty across the world, then god is one of the most evil inventions of the human mind. I told my catholic relatives to take the chandelier and see it always as a token of their squalid ignorance.

  17. RussellW says:

    After my wife died from breast cancer, my atheism kept me, relatively, sane. I can’t imagine how believers can reconcile the undeniable facts of pain and suffering with their loving, omnipotent god and not become barking mad.

    None of my wife’s bible-bashing friends were stupid enough to express the usual Christian platitudes to me.

    Regardless of the specious arguments employed, basically the Christian response to euthanasia is the assumption that human lives belong to their ridiculous god,so we basically have no right to end them ourselves.

  18. Stephen Mynett says:

    Many theists love to see us suffer, their whole outlook is based around a story involving a man being tortured to death on a couple of planks and they seem to think suffering in us is not only OK but obligatory because of that.

    Broga, I can empathise with you to a degree, although not as close as a family member, I remember watching many of my haemophiliac friends decompose after receiving HIV infected blood. There were no drugs to fight it then and all of them knew what was coming, yet many had to spend the last few months in hospital, losing their dignity as things worsened, many would have taken the option of a quick and early release.

    If Welby and co can really justify allowing things like this to happen they are seriously perverted but then pervert and church do seem to go together rather well and all too often.

  19. andym says:

    I see the assisted dying bill has been voted out. I wonder how many MPs who voted against were scared of a backlash from a vocal minority of Christians. A minority even among Christians.

    Christianity. 2000 years of poking its nose where it doesn’t belong.

  20. barriejohn says:

    Stephen Mynett: It’s all to do with their “guilt” over “sin”, and the so-called need for “redemption”. This is why Mother Teresa thought it such a wonderful thing for the poor to suffer, and why Lord Longford was so comprehensively taken in by that fraud, Myra Hindley.,_7th_Earl_of_Longford#Myra_Hindley

  21. Brian Jordan says:

    Try as I might, I can’t find a newspaper giving or linking to a list of which MPs voted for, against or abstained. Or, by elimination, just swanned off on a Friday afternoon. Shurely we should be told.

  22. Eric T says:

    Yesterday’s debate on assisted dying is available in Hansard at
    and the division list of MPs voting for and against starts there on page 724.
    Is there any wonder that people seem to think that MPs are out of touch with the rest of us. They can afford to go to Dignitas, so why should they care about the rest of us?

  23. Stephen Mynett says:

    Barriejohn, if Longford was still around he would probably have befriended Rose West.

  24. barriejohn says:

    Stephen Mynett: You’re so right, and I bet “she used to give her mother flowers and that”!

    Actually, any acts of kindness would be beside the point, as their attitude is that the greater the sin the greater the demonstration of “God’s grace”. I witnessed this sort of thing over and over again, with Christians trying to outdo each other in the “I was a miserable sinner” stakes, and ending up looking quite stupid (not a difficult thing, I grant you). There was also a particular brand of open-air preacher who used to attend racecourses, fairs, etc, and always announced that their converts were “gloriously saved”. Just how that beat the run-of-the-mill salvation experience of normal Christians I have no idea!

  25. Canada Dave says:

    And just where is this god….. right about now while hundreds of thousands of
    pathetic refugees stream across the southern flank of Turkey …headed for who knows where……. and what awaits them.
    Fleeing their homes from the muzzle of the AK47 pointed at the head of their children.
    A god that would seemingly care about the plight of the mythical 40,000 Jewish people said to have fled Egypt……yet cares noting for the plight of the children of Syria.

    Have a listen to this and try not to cry out ……there is no god.