It was the spring of 1882 and Charles Darwin was dying. He had heart failure and now confined to his bed. A friend of the family visited him, a woman known as Lady Hope. She had been a strong Christian woman who had given Charles a firsthand look at the life of a believer. In those last days, they often conversed with each other. It was shortly before he died that she recorded Darwin’s deathbed confession; he had finally expressed faith in Christ and recanted his views of evolution.
The above story first appeared, in a similar form, in the 1955 issue of the Reformation Review. Since then, it’s been republished prolifically through email and websites. It is an inspiring story that gives us hope that the accredited founder of the evolutionary-science movement actually came to learn the truth of Christ. The only problem with this story is that it’s not true.
We should all be familiar with the term Urban Myth. Nevertheless, many of us still perpetuate them on a daily basis through conversation, email, and social media. If they were not so popular, a website like Snopes would have become obsolete years ago. No matter how much effort is spent in debunking them, they continue to this day and will clog our inboxes well into the future.
Christianity and Urban Myths
However, there is a type of Urban Legend which is much more insidious than the Escherian staircase or warnings against flashing your lights on an oncoming one-headlight-car. These urban legends have a damaging effect on evangelism. I call this type an Urban Myth theology.
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” –2 Peter 1:16
Many of these legends are presented as inspirational stories but contain no facts. They sound good but are completely false. They are often followed by pleads to forward them on and perhaps even promise blessings for doing so or contain a rebuke for those who refuse. Sometimes they are written as if to provide modern proof for certain biblical accounts-like Joshua’s long day-or evidence that God answers prayer-like a man who unknowing provides milk for a prayerful humble family-but in each case there is no detail, no real names, no clear location, or dates provided to verify the story.
“The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers, if a person only tells them with all his might.” Mark Twain
Taking Back the Truth
These stories look foolish to the world, and Christians even more foolish for believing them. Christianity is based on truth and when we perpetrate lies-knowingly or unknowingly-we damage our witness. In addition, it promotes bad theology. Many of these stories revolve around someone trusting in a “feeling” rather than scripture to discern what God requires of them. The bible says that the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) so we should never trust it above scripture. Other stories promote incorrect theology. For example, presenting angels as guardians, female, or with wings. Sometimes they may give false hope of financial blessings for tithing or other actions of charity. Even worse, they give false evidence for apologetics that will lead to the user being humiliatingly crushed in any debate with any knowledgeable atheist.
We must stick with scripture and leave these Christian urban legends behind. I implore you the next time you get an email or Facebook post with a feel-good story that asks for a like or to send to ten new friends, delete it immediately and gently explain why to the sender. We can not allow these falsehoods to damage our witness of Christ.