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For 36 years, *Charles Darwin had a mysterious illness, which gradually debilitated him. In 1959, a physician and psychiatrist began researching the matter. Eighteen years later, he published his report. This is the story of Darwin's strange sickness—and its cause. This is science vs. evolution—a Creation-Evolution Encyclopedia, brought to you by Creation Science Facts.

CONTENTS: Darwin's Strange Sickness

Colp Decided to Solve the Mystery: Why was Darwin sick for decades?
Background of the Problem: Why would a strong, healthy young man develop such a condition?
The Terror Deepens: By day and by night, Darwin had no rest
Darwin's Campaign to Sell an Impossible Theory: He shared the spirit that dominated him
He Deliberately Chose His Course: and yielded his life to a powerful presence
Conclusion: The depth of Colp's research clearly provides solutions
For Additional Study: Where to obtain further information

Page numbers without book references refer to the book, HISTORY OF EVOLUTIONARY THEORY, from which these facts are summarized. An asterisk ( * ) by a name indicates that person is not known to be a creationist. Of over 4,000 quotations in the set of books this Encyclopedia is based on , only 164 statements are by creationists.


Why Darwin was sick for decades?

But there is more to it than that. Not only do we learn that Darwin found no evidence of evolution on his celebrated voyage, we also learn that he was remarkably robust and healthy during that time.

Why then did he later become a partial invalid? For most of the remainder of his life, Charles Darwin seemed to have a variety of physical symptoms, all the while cared for by his dutiful wife.

Medical professionals have puzzled over this for years, wondering why he became such a chronic invalid, when, during the voyage, he was so energetic. Then *Ralph Colp, Jr., a physician and psychiatrist, became interested in Darwin's case and, in 1959—a century after Darwin's book,—began researching everything he could find on Darwin. For the next 18 years he exhaustively studied into the matter, and in 1977 published a book on his conclusions (To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin).

In some respects, Colp is one of the leading experts in "Darwinia" to be found anywhere. He has analyzed everything Darwin wrote and everything written about him. It is maintained by some that Colp had a photographic memory on the essential content of that data. Combining his medical, psychiatric background with an in-depth understanding of Darwin's life, behavior, and symptoms, Colp was prepared to write his book.


Why would a strong, healthy young man develop such a condition?

"A few years after returning to England from his five-year voyage of exploration, Charles Darwin became a semi-invalid who suffered daily for the rest of his life. Doctors were baffled; they could find neither cause nor cure.

"As a young man Darwin had uncommon strength and endurance. During the Beagle expedition, he endured rough seas, primitive conditions on overland treks and rode spirited horses with the roughest gauchos in Argentina. Whenever he encountered a mountain on his inland treks, he usually climbed it. Yet a few years later, he was afflicted with almost daily weakness, vomiting, and chronic fatigue."—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 113.

Various theories about Darwin's health problem have been devised, but none have been as thoroughly researched as Colp's. Indeed, there are oddities about Darwin that lend strong credence to Colp's ideas. You will recall statements by Darwin, quoted elsewhere in these Encyclopedia articles, that he did not like to think about the human eye because it disturbed him and the sight of a peacock's feather made him sick. Why would those thoughts and sights so deeply disturb him? Because he knew, deep down, that he was on the wrong track in his theories.

He also wept frequently over a letter his wife gave him early in their marriage.

"In 1839, Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwook, whose traditional religious beliefs were opposed to his unorthodox inquiries into the origin of species. Soon after their marriage, she wrote him a letter, begging him to reconsider challenging the Bible's account of Creation, lest they be separated for eternity in the hereafter. All his life he cherished her touching letter (many times I have kissed and cried over this), but remained committed to his scientific career."—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 110.

Why would Darwin weep over that letter, if he did not believe what it said? He wept over it—and repeatedly—during his life, because it was telling him something he believed—yet emotionally did not want to accept. For the same reason it made him feel sick when he thought of evidences for Creation which were unanswerable, such as the complex structure of the eye or the orderly pattern of a peacock's feather. Those evidences make him feel sick, for he knew they were not true.


By day and by night, Darwin had no rest.

Then there were those feelings of terror he would experience, as though he feared—and was awaiting—some terrible retribution for what he was doing to convince the Western World of an error without evidence,—yet an error which was to hurt many others as it was going to hurt him.

"Darwin suffered from extreme anxieties as he developed his theories. Colp traces the beginning of Darwin's illness to his first work on evolutionary theory. From the first, his wife Emma worried whether his scientific investigations were going to cost him his soul.

"Darwin dreamt of being beheaded or hanged; he thought a belief that went so contrary to biblical authority was `like confessing a murder."—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 113.

Some have suggested that Darwin got Chagas disease in South America, but the symptoms do not match. As Colp has clearly shown, Darwin's problem was caused by an intense conflict in his mind. The evidence clearly pointed him in one direction, but he obstinately chose to go in another.

*Darwin was not the only one with such a "health problem"; others experienced it also. For example, *Hugh Miller (1802-1856) started out as a Christian, but was talked into error by associates. He published several books on geology and sedimentary strata; and, in his last (Testimony of the Rocks), he publicly switched over to the "millions of years" theory. Except for partial silicosis, he had always been in good health.

"While writing Testimony, he suffered from horrible dreams and visions, awakening convinced he had wandered the streets all night. (At such times, he insisted on checking his clothing for mud stains, but none were found.) He often wrote all night and day, with a knife and gun at his side to repel imagined burglars or intruders. There were searing headaches; He thought his brain was burning out."—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), pp. 305-306.

Miller shot himself three years before *Darwin published Origin.

"Young Darwin, of the Beagle, was quite different than the older semi-invalid philosopher, of Down House [Darwin's home], who was easily tired and had daily bouts of headaches, abdominal pain, and vomiting. As a young man, he thought nothing of riding with the `sinister' gauchos on the pampas, trekking 400 miles through wilderness, excavating fossils by hand with a geologist's hammer and climbing unexplored mountains."—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 449.

Darwin's "contribution" to science was the theory that one species changes into another. Yet there was no scientific justification for that idea, since it was never verified by the evidence.


He shared the spirit that dominated him.

"When he [Darwin] first met Thomas Huxley, later to become his great friend and champion, Darwin was examining some of his specimens at a laboratory table in the British Museum. `Isn't it striking,' young Huxley remarked, `what clear boundaries there are between natural groups with no transitional forms?' Glancing up from the tray of preserved specimens, Darwin quietly replied, `Such is not altogether my view.' Huxley later recalled that `the humorous smile which accompanied his gentle answer . . long haunted and puzzled me.' "—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 111.

Huxley should have fled on the spot from that strange smile instead of becoming captivated by the spirit that dominated Darwin. The evidence was lacking, but Darwin promoted his theory anyway, convincing men like *T.H. Huxley, who would not otherwise have swung over to the evolutionary view.

After the voyage, *Darwin initially had *Charles Lyell, another wealthy amateur "scientist," partly on his side for animal evolution (although he never did win him over to human evolution). Shortly afterward, he won over *Joseph Hooker who since his youth idolized Darwin. Next came *Huxley who, like Hooker, had more respect for Darwin than concern over the paucity of evidence.

Then Darwin went after the most influential in England's scientific community.

"Initially plagued by doubts as he began writing Origin of the Species (1859), Darwin first `fixed in my mind three judges, on whose decision I determined mentally to avoid'—the botanist, Sir Joseph Hooker; the comparative anatomist, Thomas Huxley; and the geologist, Charles Lyell. Lyell alone of the three was afraid to go the whole way; his years of fence-sitting greatly upset Darwin. He would put aside his `awful misgivings' if they could agree with his approach and conclusions.

"Darwin mounted a personal campaign to convince about a dozen other top men in natural history of the truth of evolution. He even picked and targeted them and kept running lists of who were still `unconverted.' If these colleagues could be won, he thought, my theory will be safe."—*R. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 356.

Yet Darwin, of them all, had known the other side very well. In his own youth, he had read William Paley's Natural Theology (1816), parts of which he knew by heart, and was attracted to the idea of studying God's designs in nature. What happened that made the difference?


and yielded his life to a powerful presence.

It is known that, in South America, Darwin witnessed witch doctor seances. Some students of Darwin's life say that, at that time, devils obtained control of his mind. At any rate, Charles Darwin was the man who, almost single-handed, won over the leaders of British science to the new theory. Yet, all the while he had those "awful misgivings," the terrors by night and the weeping over that letter.

Darwin deliberately did what he did, and he was well-aware of the consequences of his actions. The great masses of men are in the lower lands, trusting in the words of others to guide and instruct them. They believe what they believe because of what they have been told. But there are others who have climbed the steeps and have surveyed knowledge from the mountaintops. When such men twist truth in order to serve their emotional desires, they lead many others astray. But they cannot blame another; they know for themselves the truth of the matter. Darwin was such a man, and the emotional conflict caused by his choice filled his life with misery. In contrast, Huxley and Hooker had no such conflicts, for they were assured by Darwin that he had firmly established evolutionary theory as the basis of all future science. Any doubts that arose were swept away by the comforting assurance that their leader, Darwin, surely must have encountered them earlier and resolved them.

Huxley and Hooker had no psycho-physical problems; but Darwin, the one who, better than anyone else, knew the truth of the situation—the emptiness of the theory,—lived a life plagued with guilt, compulsions, terrors, and fear about the future.


The depth of Colp's research clearly provides solutions.

According to Colp, Darwin's weakness, nausea, inability to work, depression, insomnia, and other symptoms were all part of a complex psychosomatic condition brought on by deep conflicts about his lifework. As Colp sees it, Darwin's theorizing about evolution injured his health because he saw too many conflicts in his theories. Colp says that Darwin even experienced an "identity crisis" as a result of his emotional turmoil.

Colp decided that the physical problems started when Darwin began his theorizing, and worsened thereafter. Colp believes it was this guilt and ambivalence that kept Darwin for years from writing his book, until he did it to keep Wallace from obtaining prior credit ahead of himself.


Where to obtain further information.

For more on the two topics in this section, see *Charles Darwin, Autobiography (1958 reprint); *Francis Darwin (ed.), Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887); *Charles Darwin, Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships, Adventure and Beagle (Vol. 3 only, 1836) [Vol. 1 was written by Capt. King and Vol 2. by Capt. Fitz Roy; parts of Vol. 3 were later reprinted in books with other titles]; and *Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, (1st ed., 1859; 2nd ed., 1860; 3rd ed., 1861; 4th ed., 1866; 5th ed., 1869; 6th and last ed., 1872).


To the next topic in this series:

THE CASE OF ARCHAEOPTERYX: The story behind what may be yet another evolutionary hoax.